Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Me on Twitter earlier today...

...pointing to me on Facebook earlier this month.
The next seven weeks will be a steady toil to get my home ready for the people leasing it for the next two years.

Then in mid-August, I join the faculty of the American International School in Egypt (West Campus), in Giza. My wife and son and I will have quite the adventure. From this unintended change, we expect great experiences and possibilities.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

This Last Month in Public Policy

Speaker Ryan and the 45th President of the US are trying to pass a thing they are calling a health care bill AGAIN this week. You may remember that not long ago, they tried the same thing, but shortly before a scheduled floor vote in the US House, they pulled the bill and declared 'Obamacare' to be the 'law of the land'.

It is amusing (or maybe the word I want is pathetic?) given that bills to 'repeal Obamacare' were part and parcel of GOP legislative agenda for the past 7 years and they voted successfully on such measures slightly more frequently than every 7th week over that 7 year span. Yet here, given almost the same 7 week time frame, they fell short, and now 7 weeks later, seem to be short again. Also not a surprise: they are blaming the Dems, despite holding majorities in both chambers and controlling the White House. And it's actual coincidence that I needed to use the number 7 7 times to make this point.

It's also amusing (in a slightly less happy sense of the word) that the language the GOP are using to justify this legislative agenda is oddly accurate in describing the current ACA. It is flawed. It is expensive. It does need work. If a legitimate polling outfit asked questions about the current law, they would find a majority supporting change. What a legitimate polling firm would also do is ask questions to filter that opinion of change.

For this next part, I shall MAKE NUMBERS UP, not go track down actually polling data. I am making a point about "getting it," not the actual numbers.

SO they would sort into folks who really support something like the GOP plan (repeal & replace with something that has 'freedom' and 'access' and tax breaks... over 15%?), folks who want to scrap one part but keep the rest (another nearly 15%, and no unified agreement on which parts to keep or scrap), and folks who vocally support something like single payer (over 25%?) plus folks who support progressive tweaks to the existing model and would also accept single payer, but think it's an un-winnable fight (nearly 30%?). The GOP sees the bottom line on such a poll and declares more than 4 out of 5 of Americans don't like Obamacare. Technically that is true, but fails to contemplate the "why"... and the problem the GOP are running into is that the folks who want some kind of change to the existing law are still a sizable bipartisan majority in support of the status quo if the alternative is the actual GOP plan. When you lump the people who thinks something goes too far with the people who think something doesn't go far enough into a single group who 'agree the something does whatever it does in a less than ideal way,' you also are guaranteed that they will not agree on how to fix it. Apparently nuanced understanding of complicated policy is hard. Who knew?

She probably did.

On the topic of costs, I know a few things anecdotally that speak to perceptions that are out there. My employer pays for coverage for myself, wife, and son. That comes out to just under $1500 a month for a plan that is considered 'adequate' under current law. The family deductible is $1500 and the annual out of pocket cap is $10,000. Some things are covered at 80/20 until that cap is hit, regardless of the deductible status (I always pay about $1000 for an MRI--my policy covers diagnostic imaging, fully... apparently MRIs aren't diagnostic imaging--unless it's in the same benefit year, AFTER the 5 day hospital stay for brain surgery...then it's free :)). Some things are covered at 100% regardless of the deductible, BUT are only allowed once a year, regardless of the cap. So, if I have my annual 100% covered visit in late September one year and in early September the following year, I will pay full for the second visit, even if I've reached my annual out of pocket cap.

I'd really hate to know what an entire lifetime of dealing with a congenital heart disease would do to a family's finances, I've only had my brain thing since I was 40. Hopefully Billy Kimmel will never need to find out. But I also know that according to Mo Brooks, a GOP lawmaker from Alabama, three hour old Billy Kimmel needed to be leading a "good" life, so he'd stay healthy and not have a pre-existing condition. I suppose he could also move.

A lot was said about having access being the goal. As opposed to having coverage being the goal or as opposed to getting care being the goal. If I am self-employed, making the same income but paying $1500 a month for my current coverage, I'd be at or below 0% income to savings. If I had 0 or negative savings and then had an additional $10k in medical bills, I'd be bankrupt. And that is COVERED and INSURED under current law. So I'd definitely argue that changes need to be made. I'd be one of the over 4 in 5. But if the GOP proposal went through and I qualified for identical coverage, the projected cost would be up from 2/5th of my monthly after tax income to 3/5ths+ of same. That presumes the now-twice surgically treated adenoma doesn't disqualify me from coverage at all or scales my costs up, which is not at all a given. Access to insurance is the same as having access to a Lexus or BMW or Tesla. I can test drive the heck out of either.  Can't actually put down the coin to BUY one, but I have access.

And hey, why stop with talking about health care, insurance coverage, and the insensitive and inhumane approach now being pursued in DC when I could also bring up education policy, or overt contemplation of revoking portions of the First Amendment, or cancelling School Lunch Standards, or having a rudimentary grasp of history, or knowing who the despotic dictators are and how to NOT invite them 'round to dinner. But I actually would rather go dig a hole in the back yard and then go to the dentist for the THIRD time today... so that's the plan.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Change is a Comin'

So life is an interesting thing. 2016 was colossally bad in many ways for many of us. People who've followed me in the past know I had a major medical issue recur this past spring. Those same people probably know my political leanings and know that November wasn't my idea of a good outcome. Hyperbole aside, collapse of a once great civilization is something that seems like it might come to pass in the next four to (ugh) eight years. Something I didn't really bring up publicly were changes to my job situation. And without specifics, that also was far from ideal in how it unfolded in late spring, summer, and into the autumn.

So how is 2017 doing, so far?

Well, the health situation is stable. So that's good.

The political situation is a complete cluster*&^$, but I am heartened to see the Resistance emerging in unexpected places, like the twitter feeds of @AltNatParkSer and @RogueNASA, amongst others.

The job situation found something that can be called a resolution, but not an ideal one, nor one that was satisfying.

But what does that /really/ mean? It means I have been free in the last few months to consider other options and look beyond where I might normally look.

I am a theater teacher and not a lot of high schools have theater openings. Of those that do, more than not aren't full time. Locally, there were no options. Looking further afield within Oregon wasn't particularly fruitful, either, and once I start looking beyond that, what is the actual limit?

A few of my friends are teachers in places FAR further afield. Nanchang, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, etc... so my search went that wide, too. And I found something. So, come August, we'll be venturing forth to something new. And I'll be teaching and producing theater again in the space shown here.

More details as the spring and summer unfold. And THIS will become a more active site, again.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I maybe don't know how insurance works...

Money started getting tighter this month. Didn't seem like it should be, since we'd been the recipients of significant largess after an ongoing online effort to defray some medical expenses. So, I dove into the bills we've paid, the ones we still have to pay, the online account pages for the insurance carrier, etc... to see what I could find.

The discoveries are confusing. The "benefit year" for my medical insurance plan runs from Oct 1 to Sept 30, so bills incurred in the final quarter of 2015 and those incurred in 2016 thru now are all in the same 'year'... The way I understand it, I have $10,000 cap on out of pocket expenses in that benefit year. Imagine my surprise when I read my annual summary for 2016 (Jan-present, so still a work in progress) and see a Patient Responsibility total of $14,534.86 for care I have received in the calendar year. Add to a PR of $531 for service in late December (the initial vision screening) and $300+ in PR for my son from an accident in late February. By my math, our family out of pocket responsibility seems to have hit nearly $15,400 so far in the benefit year. This would explain why we are short money month to month, despite having paid $7700 worth of bills from my online donation effort, about $250 / month from our own paychecks and another exactly $1500 thus far from our HSA. We will continue to get $250/month from that HSA source through Sept 20, which would basically recoup the $$ spent from our pocket funds up til now OR it can mostly cover the still $1500 outstanding from the ENT surgeon and anesthesiologist (which can't wait to be paid over these next 5 months). The hospital did cut us a break because we paid off the actual hospital (though not surgeons, labs, imaging, or anesthesia) within three days of the check in, and the imaging provider and neurosurgeon gave breaks, as well (and many many thanks to them!!!), so our ACTUAL costs over the year haven't been $15,400they are closer to $12,200but the insurance sees our responsibility as that much, and my question is how is that possible... a $10,000 cap should mean that when $10,000 is hit, then ALL additional charges aren't the patient responsibility... but apparently, we blew right thru $10k and are beyond halfway to the NEXT $10k.

We set the online goal for $12000 with the intent to create a cushion for added child care expenses we thought might possibly happen and thankfully, those pretty much didn't (again, generosity on the part of providers rather than us not having additional needs). I didn't think the cushion would be short by 50% on actual medical billing and be $200 of the actual medical costs for the year (to date). The fact seems to be that if the effort is 100% funded (it's at about 65% now), it will actually be SHORT of the billed 'patient responsibility' medical expenses I've seen since this event started.

So... If anyone knows WHY the numbers add up as they do, we'd love to understand better. If anyone can help in any other way, We'd appreciate that, too

REPOSTED.. this particular version comes from SEATTLE EDUCATION

REPOSTED.. this particular version comes from SEATTLE EDUCATION, but as you will read below, there is a deeper lineage than that... everything that follows is the work of OTHER AUTHORS, reposted in part because that is the objective and in part because I agree with everything herein.
What’s the big secret about the SBAC and PARCC test questions?
Back in the day, after I took a test and it was graded, I got my test paper back to see what questions I got wrong. It was part of the learning process.
It seems these days that Pearson doesn’t want the students or teachers to know what the questions are, therefore what questions each student needs to review and focus on to further educate themselves.
It has now gotten to the point where if ANYONE shares one question on the PARCC or SBAC tests, they are to be censored and threatened with legal action.
This is education?
An article was written by a teacher about the Common Core Standards PARCC test (the equivalent of the SBAC used in Washington State) and posted on the blog Outrage on the Page. It described the type of questions given, with examples of specific questions and critiqued each one superbly.
The people at PARCC/Pearson, weren’t happy about this and threatened the publisher of the article with legal action.
Because of the threats, the questions were deleted from the article.
Tweets about the article were taken down and Diane Ravitch’s post on the article disappeared off of her blog overnight. Because of these actions, I and other education journalists are reposting the article that was written by a teacher and revised after threats from PARCC/Pearson, and sharing it broadly on our websites, twitter and Facebook.
Please share widely the following thoughtful article written by an educator about the PARRC test.
The PARCC Test: Exposed
The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.
I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?
There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.
The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate
In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.
A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]
The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according toScholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).
Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?
So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.
Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1
Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.
  1. Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.
The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”
However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]
The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2
Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.
 Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.
It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”
In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. EvenCCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says:“Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.”Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.
However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3
  1. In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.
Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)
Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.
Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)
So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.
censored moneyWe can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.
In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.
ParccPost script by the editor:
I just came across this cartoon on Facebook and wanted to share it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Money: Who has it and where it goes

A short reflection today on two events from the past 24 hours...

#1 was a unforeseen consequences of something really good that went sideways, but then straightened out.  Last month, the MRI bill was just north of $2k. I figured I'd do half at the time and then half again. So I sent $1000 via my bank's bill pay system.

But THEN I got an EOB from my insurance carrier detailing a recoding and indicating the new MRI balance would be just over $340. (Thanks, MB, for the work on that end, btw!!!)

THEN I got this month's MRI bill showing that $340 amount and no recent payments.

Turns out that the account I had with the same provider was NOT the account number for the current visit. So my $1000 had gone into the ether to whence, we knew not. But phone calls were made and payment details passed on and today, I have been credited with the payment; MRI is paid in full and refund is en route via EFT and can be applied to something else.

#2 was a note from our friends at the IRS, wishing to confirm the return filed in my name and with my SS# was in fact filed by me. I am not due a refund this year (I underwithheld), but someone else submitted some other numbers that apparently supported them getting a nice comfy refund. And while they have been waiting, the IRS decided it was fishy. Good IRS. Let's make sure they remain adequately funded, shall we? The only real consequence for me is that I may NOT file electronically this year or possibly in the next several years. BuhBye TaxSlayer :P

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spring! Good & Less Good things make for interesting days

I'm back to work as of yesterday. Have had a good couple of days catching up with all my students and the cast of my show. I am so very pleased with the accomplishments of the music director and choreographer, who've been running rehearsals while I've been gone. I had an amazing substitute (who is also one of my theater parents) who did a great job keeping my groups going up to spring break and then she teamed the final week with my student teacher, who has already started on his lesson for my Intro class. There are some challenges at work, though, so we'll see how that all shakes out.

I spent the weekend and part of the previous week, doing productive, but relatively undemanding work at my house. Some gardening and landscape work, but no heavy lifting (20# restriction was the thing for the last part of my time away from work). The home front has challenges lurking, too... spring break was supposed to be 8 days of being on top of my sloth-like remodeling effort, but that is largely on hold, as the reserves that were paying for it have been exhausted paying instead for this other thing. Thus the projects with no price tag except time and (eventually, now that I am cleared to do some more actual work) sweat.

Also spent some of the weekend sorting through various tupperware / rubbermaid containers, figuring out which connected to which MealTrain providers (that was an amazing several days of very good, no hassle food... so much thanks to Kirie for organizing it and making several deliveries). Going to return those this week.

Some of the bills are still just arriving. Saw first bills today from pre-op labs and anesthesia ($272.38 and $462.00). Also got the updated balance from the pre-op MRI ($340.80). On the bright side, two providers are paid in full: the hospital & the eye doc, and I have balances partially paid, though with very close to $1200 remaining, collectively: neuro & ENT surgeons, who haven't sent updated bills.

The most troubling thing to come in the mail today was the note from the IRS indicating someone has already filed a return this year using my name and social security number. So yeah. That's fun.

Looking forward to having a regular month that only sees correspondence from the water district, Rogue Disposal, Pacific Power, and the internet provider :)