Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, "L.A. Unified board picks Richard Vladovic as new president. By replacing Monica Garcia with Vladovic, the LAUSD board signals the waning influence of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This begs the question: Are days numbered for embattled Superintendent John Deasy?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ups & Downs of "Value-Added" Test Scores

The Los Angeles Times has been blowing smoke about what a big deal it is publishing LA Unified teachers' "value-added" test scores. They say it's an accurate way of measuring a teacher's effectiveness. The LA teacher's union, UTLA, answers that these statistics are a private personnel matter between the teacher and LAUSD.
The "value-added" statistics are arrived at by comparing a student's score earned the previous year on the annual State-mandated test with the score the kid earned after 8 months studying the subject under you. Or me. Or the teacher down the hall. A couple of months ago I was apprised of my "value-added" scores. Out of 120 or so kids, 22 went up, 37 went down, and the remainder stayed the same. I guess that means last year I produced a net loss of 15 kids. Maybe those 15 kids hated my guts. Maybe they decided to take a year off in English and I couldn't inspire them to change their plan. I do know that if they didn't try to make dominoes on the Scantron card they would've at least gotten a "basic," because these tests aren't difficult if you apply yourself beforehand. That also means a large percentage of radio talk show hosts, school board reps and politicians couldn't score basic, either--even after applying themselves.
Students often ask me before class,"Mr. Blocker, what are we gonna do today?" September through October I tell them to do their dispatch and write down the agenda. After that, I tell the boys, "I'm going to teach you how to drink whiskey and play poker." That momentarily perks them up until they go inside and read the agenda. (I never get them to write it down.) When the girls ask, I tell them they're going to learn how to balance trays loaded with drinks and carry them without spilling. Some are enthused; others want to learn poker. I give those girls an automatic A, just like how I reward the girls who want to be doctors instead of nurses.
I often survey the students about what they think about my classes and instruction. They often complain that we do too much writing and reading and not enough movie watching.
"Why do we have to do all this reading and writing anyway?"
"Because it''s an English class."
"When are we gonna watch a movie?"
"Today." The entire class invariably erupts in cheers until I continue, "It's called, Mr. Blocker, Great American Teacher." Before I finish they drown me in boos. Adding, "In fact, it's going to be a live, staged event," offers fetid consolation.
Every September nature and the counseling office deliver a new crop of kids to face this cerebral routine. I wonder how a decade's worth of value-added scores will look: flat, peaks 'n' valleys, a steady rise or decline? When do we know enough to enroll more kids in my class or pull-the plug on a dead career?
I don't care who sees my scores. In fact, I don't care who walks into my room as long as they are unarmed and sane. The way I see it, it's public property so the public ought to have access as long as they're cleared by the principal and security.
In 9 years of teaching I've only experienced two bad encounters with parents. One told the vice principal, my supervisor, that I was a "white man intent on bringing down young black males." That was during my first year. She was mad I got her kid suspended for throwing a pencil back at me while storming out of the room after I accused him of cheating on a test. I understand her anger. Nowadays I'm mum about about catching students cheating. It means they give a turd whether they pass. It could even mean a high score, in turn maybe pulling up my "value-added" score.
The other parent? She complained, "Muthafuckah, you used a profanity in front of my child." She was right, too. One morning the kid pissed me off by sprinkling Jolly Rancher candy wrappers on an otherwise reasonably clean floor. So I barked, "pick that shit up."
"Fuck you, bitch. I ain't yo slave," she quickly noted.
It was about 10 minutes past the opening 8 a.m. bell. A lot of day still ahead. What that kid told me makes more sense than what I hear from 99% of the adults who want to comment about how well I teach.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sardines for My Friend

It's 10 o'clock at night October 30, and the gray-and-white semi-feral cat who hangs around the condo building is scratching at the window. He ordinarily doesn't come up to the top floor, but he's out there, silently meowing, claws sticking into the screen's mesh. His eyes fully dilated, pupils blacker than a limousine.
The college kids downstairs have been feeding him for the past few weeks, but they're apparently gone. I go to the cabinet, pull out a can of sardines and empty it onto a paper plate. I eat a filet myself while stepping to the front door. Outside on the balcony overlooking the neighborhood of apartment buildings and houses, I set the plate down, and he stops meowing and begins eating eagerly.
I'm in boxers and a t-shirt standing barefoot outside in a cold wind waiting for this cat to finish chowing down. This could be the first time he's filled his belly all day. How did he survive before the kids downstairs started feeding him? I imagine he waited and pounced on grounded birds and paused rodents. It's not safe down there. Two years ago a yuppie got shot chasing a kid who stole his backpack off the side of a basketball court at the nearby park. Cars are routinely raided for coins, poorly installed stereos and expensive GPS systems that merely restate what windshields display for free.
My new friend is completely focused now on his plate of fish. I'm slightly worried I may startle the Japanese chick next door should she poke her head out her front door or window while I'm standing in my underwear waiting to bus the cat's table. I don't want to leave a dirty paper plate on our landing.
Meanwhile, a cold wind steadily blows in from the west. Down there beyond the wrought iron, many street lamps mark lonely vigils lighting silent, still cars. TVs flicker from assorted windows. In the moonless night, east Long Beach flattens from Signal Hill to Alamitos Bay and the bright lights of harbor cranes to the west. Mexican ranchera accordions and trumpets from a distant radio provide a faint soundtrack. I can't understand every lyric, but I know the man singing is trying to sound sad about once-promising love.
Above it all, a hungry cat who's not wild anymore satiates his returning hunger. I wish I could lose weight quickly.
I haven't written a damn thing in this blog for more than a month. I originally wanted to use it as a forum to write about my political views.
There's an election Tuesday.
But tonight I am honored that the cat came up to see me when he got hungry and there was no one downstairs. It makes me feel like I was a viable option for him, and now his choice is successful. That's better than Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown. The economy is fine for one homeless cat. At least for tonight.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Apocalypse Will Be Televised Even If No One Shows Up

I remember years ago watching on cable TV a football game being played inside an empty stadium. The score was 0-0 after three quarters. The commentators were a couple of washed-up jocks, and the sponsors were selling beer, fast food and boner pills.
Today CNN is recreating a similar scenario with blanket coverage of Rev. Jerry Jones, shepherd of the 50 or so saps comprising the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, threatening to burn Korans tomorrow--the anniversary of 9/11.
But wait! It appears he's calling it off after scoring a meeting with a big-shot imam in New York to discuss relocating the proposed mosque further from the World Trade Center site.
Hold on. CNN is now reporting the imam denies any such agreement. Jones says the book burning is back on.
Toss onto this growing pile of crap reports that the Obama Administration, including the President himself, has been on the phone negotiating with Jones to call off the bonfire. An Arabic cable news network will air the spectacle to the Muslim world, potentially infuriating a hordes of self-appointed Saladins to burn flags or worse--shove a bomb up their ass before boarding a U.S.-bound jet.
Bill Maher couldn't write a better sequel to "Religulous." Instead of anointing  Billy Joe Bible spokesman for American Christians, shouldn't the Imam be talking with the Archbishop of New York? For that matter, wouldn't it be a nice idea for leaders from the main faiths--Christianity (Catholic and Protestant), Judaism and Islam met to compare notes on current events and bridge building? Heck, invite Buddhist monks, too. But we better put Samoan bouncers at the door to turn away whackos.
As for the Mosque--instead of telling Muslims what they can't do in an otherwise free society, we ought to also finance a cathedral and a synagogue inside the same area. In addition to providing jobs under Obama's Economic Recovery Act, humanity would be wisely hedging our Eternal bets, as well as honoring the Christians, Jews, Muslims, and athiests who died in the WTC because demons acted on behalf of their god.
If we are going to pit our brothers against each other lets do it in a controlled environment where people will want to buy a few tickets--or beer, burgers and Viagra.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Welcome to Blocker's Blog, a place where you will find ideas and opinions that hopefully will make sense. I'm not here to piss anybody off, unless they need pissing off. I will voice opinions on current events, pop culture trends and observations about everything from comic strips to movies.
Right now (Mon. Sept. 6 @ 10:30 p.m.) on the news it seems protesters are forming at 6th & Union in the Westlake District. They are angry because officers from the Los Angeles Police Dept. shot a knife wielding man who reportedly lunged at them earlier today after ignoring their shouts to drop the knife.
Even though protesters claim the cops could have acted with more restraint, these kids are mad about something other than the death of that chump. After all, the locals called 911 to complain about this fool in the first place. No, these guys are out there protesting what they feel is a hostility toward illegals as a whole. Los gringos aren't so simpatico anymore.
I'd be pissed off too if I busted my ass to walk up here through the searing desert, trying to elude La Migra y coyotes trying to hold me for $2,000 ransom, only to get up here and there aren't any jobs, childless women or reasonably priced beer.
It's all gone. The only thing left are cops, lunatics and slumlords wanting rent. And it ain't gonna get better anytime soon. Welcome to America. Good luck. My advice is to travel light, use your wits and don't pay any attention to statistics. Keep a low profile and pay attention to your instincts--and the cops if you've earned one's undivided attention.
If you're an American who thinks we're being invaded, chill out. Go to East LA and order a No. 7, or go to Valley Boulevard and get a hot bowl of Pho. This ain't 1964 any more. And that's a good thing--just ask a black person. Yep, cracker. It's time to turn off KKK-FI and roll down your window. Hear that thumping bass from the lowrider in the next lane? Listen to the lyrics. They can't sing, but the rhymes are pretty clever if not overtly violent.