Drawing the Line at the Eff Word

It’s amazing the power the “eff word” summons.

I’m a U.S. Army veteran; the word is not foreign to me. There were times in my life when I could weave a tapestry of obscenity that would make a prisoner blush. Likewise, I’m certain that in my younger professorial days, I too used that openly in class a few times — perhaps to make a strong point or get the students’ attention. But as I matured and began to grow a family, the word was more and more reserved for only the rarest of occasions. In fact, I soon found myself rather put off by it.

Last year, I sat in the bleachers watching a football game with my wife and daughters on a chilly fall evening. Shortly after we found our seats, three teenage boys sat directly behind us. They were laughing and carrying on as you would expect from any lively youth. When I first heard what I thought was the eff word in their conversation, I stiffened and was suddenly transformed into a human radar, scoping the airwaves for a second strike. In that moment, I felt my blood pressure rise.

I thought to myself, “How dare these hooligans not have the sense to reserve that word for use in the shadows of society and certainly not in front of adults and mixed company.” Then it happened … and loudly! Laughter ensued and the word reverberated from the lips of the inexperienced linguists. Their shenanigans were cut short when I spun around with a glaring, all-knowing eye and said, “If you’re gonna keep using the eff word in front of my family, you’re gonna have to move!”

Slow motion followed. There was a stillness. Other adults were in the area and stared at me as if I were a lunatic. Upon looking at the boys, I saw they were much younger than I had expected — probably around fourteen. The leader of their crew looked me square in the eye and said without a quiver, “Freedom of speech!”

When not serving as an administrator, I am a professor of communications — journalism, to be exact. I’m a defender of free speech, but I’ve also studied desensitivity to things like media violence. It occurred to me that we, as a society, have become desensitized to a point of calamity. There is real fear today about how words can hurt people. We are more sensitive to words today than we ever have been in the history of humankind. We take careful precautions to be inclusive and debate over potential implications of this word or that. Yet “the queen mother of dirty words,” as Ralphie so eloquently put it in the movie A Christmas Story, has become commonplace and is often bandied about like a shuttlecock in a badminton match. Perhaps some people believe that the word doesn’t hurt anyone and therefore should be acceptable. Or that it can be like secondhand smoke — you occasionally have to walk through it.

There certainly wasn’t a “village” of adults in the bleachers of that ball game that supported my alarm. If anything, the blasé reaction of those around me made me wonder if the word had so penetrated the universe that it is as common in most households as, “I’m going to the effing store to get some effing milk.”

My wife placed her hand on my knee. I needed that, and it calmed my resolve, allowing me to rebalance, and I asked the young man, “Really? That’s your answer?” I gestured for them to draw closer to me, and the boys leaned forward. I whispered, “Guys, if this were the U.S. Army, and you were recruits in my platoon, I might allow this. But you’re in front of my wife and daughters here, so you need to clean it up.”

I’ve worked at three vastly different campuses over my 18-year teaching career and have found the eff word in some of the strangest places. Yes, on stage, in art and literature. Certainly, in locker rooms, private conversations and hallway chatter. Videos, movies and documentaries we might show in class — all have included the word at some point. It’s at cocktail parties and gatherings, but it was in a boardroom and with high-level administrators that the word sneaked into conversations and seemed to hang like an uncertain cloud. I recall it spilling out during a job candidate dinner. The break room with the paper-thin walls. The free speech space on the campus quad. I even remember talking with a student who was using the word aggressively to discuss sports on Facebook. My intention was to express to him that the overuse of the word in social media might not shed a positive light on his professional desires to be a sportscaster. He now works at ESPN, but I digress.

Although an article like this will have little impact on how the eff word is used and interpreted in greater society, my encouragement for higher education is a renewed focus on professionalism. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I still believe that a carefree use of the word places a melancholy miasma over professional environments. No word in the English language can more swiftly bring people to attention and, at the same time, lower the collective IQ of the room.

In the bleachers, the young men — our future leaders — rolled their eyes at me, shook their heads, dismissed my comments and quickly vacated the area. I was in no mood to be their mentor and certainly wasn’t ready to take them on a camping trip to show them how to be good citizens. Rather, I was flummoxed by their panache and disregard for their surroundings.

My hope is that our students — past, present and future — can know to carefully select the time and place by which they use the constellation of words at their disposal. Words can yield power, land jobs, affirm, deny, provide insight, distract, lift up or hurt. In a world where words have so much significance, I suggest we return to the old adage of choosing our words wisely — and yes, that includes the eff word.

QPS funding questions challenge ‘putting an accurate budget together’ – Herald

QUINCY — Concerns about state and federal funding lead to questions for Quincy Public Schools in budgeting for the coming fiscal year.

“It’s not going to handicap putting a budget together. It handicaps putting an accurate budget together,” Superintendent Roy Webb said. “We’re going to do the best we can, probably plan on flat funding for the state and federal funding, but that’s not going to be accurate. If it comes in lower, we’ll have to amend the budget.”

A budget proposal needs to go to the School Board in August, Webb told the Finance Committee on Monday, potentially before the district has a clearer idea of state and federal funding levels.

“I don’t think some federal grants will be as high as they were this year. Some rhetoric coming out of Washington is talking about cutting the 21st Century grant, cutting some title funds,” Webb said.

The district still is waiting on allocation information usually available in April or May for federal funding which makes up about 10 percent, or $5.5 million, of the budget.

The district also hasn’t seen its allocation in general state aid payments. The state budget mandates distributing some $6.7 billion in education funding through an evidence-based funding plan which has not been approved.

There are two proposed funding plans, and “both are very positive to QPS,” Webb said. “Until they pass a funding formula, we will not be getting our general state aid.”

Another $5.2 billion in the state budget can be allocated to cover “categorical” payments for transportation, special education, federal grants and school lunch.

In the 16-17 school year, the state provided regular general state aid payments but fell behind on categoricals. “If they would have paid one more categorical, which would have given us four categorical payments, we would have had about a balanced budget,” Webb said.

The June 30 treasurer’s report showed the district finished the year with a deficit in the education and transportation funds, due to delayed state payments, and in the building fund. Loans from the working cash fund — $2.75 million to education, $750,000 to transportation and $500,000 to building — will be repaid this month with the district’s first installment of property taxes.

In the building fund, “we didn’t get shorted funds by the state. We overspent,” Finance Committee Chairman and School Board member Richard McNay said.


The committee recommended the School Board accept several bids the sole food, nonfood and VPT (value-pass-through) bid to Kohl Wholesale for $686,916.18; bread to low bidder Kohl Wholesale for $112,685.30; produce to low bidder Central Illinois Produce for $1.50 for full case and $1 for broken case; and the sole milk escalator bid from Prairie Farms for $250,321.25.

Members heard a report from the Financial Over-Watch Committee. Webb said committee members intend to look closely at energy and paper savings going forward and reviewed but decided against joining the Western Area Purchasing Co-op.

Science teachers go back to school to hone classroom skills

Even teachers need to go back to school, especially when it comes to learning how to teach science better.

That’s an idea the University of Oregon has embraced with such gusto it has become a leader in efforts to make science classes more effective and engaging. And interest is spreading, from veteran professors to young doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows.

Andy Karduna has been teaching human physiology for more than two decades. Computational biologist Nyasha Chambwe has served as a teaching assistant and co-taught a semester-long seminar course. The two, at opposite ends of their academic careers, shared the same goal as classmates at the UO’s recent Summer Institute on Scientific Teaching: to learn how to teach science.

Funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and directed by UO Science Literacy Program director Elly Vandegrift, the institute brought 55 faculty and postdoctoral researchers from across the country, including 23 from the UO, to campus for a week of evidence-based science teaching workshops.

“We are trained to be experts in our disciplinary fields, but that does not mean we have practiced how to communicate the science to nonexperts or have learned about approaches that support learning for all students,” Vandegrift said.

Karduna has tenure and serves as director of graduate studies for the UO’s Department of Human Physiology. Come this fall, he will develop a new a science class for students who aren’t majoring in science.

“I’m at a point in my career where I wanted a challenge, but I was never trained to teach,” Karduna said.

One of the approaches is called active learning. That’s where students are being engaged, participating and being assessed throughout an entire class rather than sitting passively through a lecture.

“There’s lots of evidence that students in lecture-based classes are much more likely to fail than students who are in active learning classrooms, and the impacts are much worse for students from minority, low-socioeconomic and first-generation college groups,” Vandegrift said.

Chambwe, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, is preparing to apply for faculty positions. She knows, wherever she lands, she will be teaching. Like most faculty, she was not trained to be a teacher or communicate to nonexperts. 

“When I was a student, active learning wasn’t prominent, so I’m trying to learn those skills,” Chambwe said.

Attendees spent the week in discipline-specific groups (biologists with biologists, chemists with chemists). They created 25-minute courses based on active learning rather than lectures. The groups presented the courses to their peers at the end of the week.

Training in scientific teaching includes backward design and inclusive teaching practices as well as approaching science teaching in the same way scientists approach research. Backward design is when teachers develop the curriculum based on the course goals and what they want the students to learn. Assessments and class activities are all determined by the goals.

Summer institute participant Matt Barber, an assistant professor of biology at the UO, already is putting the lesson into practice as he prepares to teach his first college course.

“I’m learning techniques before I create the class so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Barber said.

So is Karduna, who said he feels prepared now that he’s equipped with “a tangible skill set that I can use to develop a new class and make my current classes better based on evidence-based teaching.”

The summer institute is just one of several ways the UO is helping improve science teaching for college students. The Science Literacy Program provides general education courses for nonscience majors, hosts weekly journal club for science faculty and, as an affiliate of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, offers workshops for scientists to improve their science communication skills.

By Molly Blancett, University Communications

Lack of interest dooms first Iowa tuition task force meeting | Local …

Larry McKibben

Rauner calls lawmakers back for special session on education funding bill

Staff Writer

Gov. Bruce Rauner, on Monday, said that state lawmakers will come back to Springfield for a special session on Wednesday, July 26, centered on Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), a school funding reform bill that would alter the way money is distributed to schools statewide.

“Democrats have been holding this bill since May 31. Our families and students cannot wait any longer,” Rauner said in a written statement. “We must act now, which is why I’m calling lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session. Our schools must open on time.”

Public schools across the state may not open on time unless the bill is sent to Rauner.

He plans to amend the bill to cut “Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) pension bailout that’s currently included in the bill, which then would provide more money to children and schools statewide,” according to a written release.

Last week CPS released its budget for the upcoming school year. The district maintains that it will open on time this year despite uncertainty in Springfield, regarding SB 1.

CPS’ $2.28 billion budget relies on $300 million from Senate Bill 1 (SB1), which was passed in May by the Illinois legislature. The monies would go toward current and past due pension payments.

In a previous article in the Herald, CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool said the governor “is holding children across the state hostage as bargaining chips for his political agenda, but we won’t let Chicago children be used as pawns in his game.”

The district will spend more to educate students this school year. Per pupil spending for next year will increase to $4,290, up five percent from the $4,087 rate at the beginning of the previous school year.

This fiscal year the district said it would receive $2.281 billion, a reduction of $43 million. Last fiscal year, the district received $2.324 billion.

The reduction in monies for the budget, according to CPS comes from the projected decline in enrollment. CPS also expects a population decline of about 8,000 students this fall.

Additionally, CPS said it expects to see a decrease in federal dollars.

“CPS will have about $40 million less in federal funds to distribute to both district-run and charter schools,” CPS said in a written statement. “This is due to a likely reduction in the overall amount of federal Title I and Title II funds going to school districts nationwide, declining CPS enrollment and a lower concentration of poverty in Chicago.”

Special education funding will see a bump in financing this academic year.

Budgets for schools in the district were made available on Monday.

Area schools budgets are listed below:

Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E 56th St., will receive $2,443,323 a little over $100,000 less than it did previously.

Dyett High School for the Arts, 555 E. 51st St., will receive $2,352,958 this school year.

Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., will receive $6,572,707 a decrease from last year’s $7,212,773.

Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., will receive $12, 385,874 a small increase from last year’s $12, 362, 130.

Kozminski Elementary Community Academy, 936 E 54th St., will receive $1,871,510 this year increase from last year’s $1,823, 071.

Murray Language Academy will receive $3,902,027 a decrease from last year’s $3,763,935.

Ray Elementary School will receive $4,746,457 a decrease from last year’s $4,788,335.

Reavis Elementary Math Science Specialty School, 834 E. 50th St., will receive $1,631,041 an increase from last year’s amount, $1,582,848.

Shoesmith Elementary School, 1330 E 50th St., will receive $2,411,268 a decrease from the previous school year’s, $2,451,260.

The figures released today will be readjusted this fall, based on the each school’s actual enrollment.


College comes early for high school students

July 24, 2017


While some students spend summer with feet in the sand, others are getting a start on college coursework through the North Shore Community College Early College Experience.

The program is designed to offer high school students dual enrollment college courses offered at high schools, NSCC’s campus, or online and provide students with the college experience to prepare them for post high school. Students are allowed to take these classes during any of the semesters.

More than 80 students are enrolled in the program this summer, taking classes such as computer science and marketing, according to Eileen Mieses, Early College Career Coach, who is responsible for advising students.

“When you start learning the skills in high school, you get to know expectations for after you graduate,” Mieses said. “We are offering that kind of environment here.”

The choices in courses is a mix of career-focused and general education classes that are transferable with most colleges and universities, Mieses added.

When taking classes, students are fully immersed into the college experience. They meet with college-level professors, get to use the resources at NSCC, and even get their own student I.D.

Edgar Jay Rodriguez, who is a rising senior at Lynn English High School, has taken five courses as part of the Early College Experience program.

He recommends the programs to other high-schoolers.

“Some people second guess themselves but it’s the right decision because it will prepare you for college,” he said. “Here they treat you like college students and how it is supposed to be in real life, but it gives you the opportunity to explore before you go to college.”

Damilda Abraham, a rising senior at Lynn Classical High School, enjoys the program because of the selection in classes that aren’t offered at high school, in addition to the chance to complete college credit.

“NSCC is giving me a lot of opportunities to literally experience the world we are about to transition into,” the Northeastern University hopeful said. “A lot of the kids in Early College program, we are all motivated. We are all determined. It’s one thing we all share in common.”

Matt Demirs can be reached at mdemirs@itemlive.com.

Lack of interest dooms first Iowa tuition task force meeting

Larry McKibben

Under federal sanctions, West Virginia colleges need $245m

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s public colleges need $245 million in the next month after U.S. education officials put sanctions on them for Title IV programs for federal student grants and loans, according to state higher education officials.

Records obtained by The Charleston Gazette-Mail additionally show state officials knew for months that if they were late submitting an audit of incoming federal money for a third-straight year, West Virginia’s colleges and universities would face sanctions.

State Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill said officials may loan from the treasury and return it later. He said larger schools have enough cash to avoid significant problems. West Virginia University and Marshall University officials said they’re still figuring out what to do, since they had just learned of the sanctions.

Higher Education Policy Commission spokeswoman Jessica Kennedy said the U.S. Department of Education usually gives schools the money so they can distribute it to students. Under sanctions, schools pay up front and request federal reimbursement.

The sanctions will last five years. They affect pots of money that include the Pell grant and federally subsidized student loans. U.S. education officials have usually reimbursed institutions in about two weeks when colleges have been under similar sanctions, Hill said.

Gov. Jim Justice has promised to find out who is responsible for the error. Then, “heads will roll,” he said.

West Virginia’s five-member congressional delegation also sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday, asking her to reconsider the sanctions.

“The people who will be harmed most by these sanctions are the low income students who rely on federal financial assistance to attend colleges,” the letter states.

Hill said he wasn’t worried that this year’s audit would be late again, but then the Consolidated Public Retirement Board didn’t finish putting together retirement liability information until just before Christmas.
Documents show Hill learned in early March the state would be late in sending in its audit information, which was due March 31.

Graduation rates could take hit under federal changes


Because of changes to a federal education law, students who earn Indiana’s general diploma will not be recognized in high school graduation rates across the state. Not only will those students not be considered graduates to the federal government, but the move could also hurt local schools’ accountability letter grades, which are a factor in grant consideration and state intervention with failing schools.

Education news source Chalkbeat reported the move would likely cause graduation rates to drop and school A-F letter grades to take a hit because graduation rate constitutes a large portion of a high school’s grade, and local superintendents worry the change brought upon by the full implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act could negatively impact the county economy if students are ushered toward academic-intensive diplomas and led away from skill-based careers.

“That’s the underlying factor,” Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said. “What it does for how schools are judged. A general diploma would basically be a failure. In ISTEP terms, it’s basically not passing.”

Critics of the general diploma say it’s not challenging enough for students who want to pursue higher education or work most jobs, but Hochgesang said it is ideal for students with special needs or those who don’t plan on attending college after high school. He expressed concern that those kids will now get pushed toward Core 40 diplomas.

“This county especially needs those type of workers,” Hochgesang said. “I think it’s going to hurt even our local economy because we won’t have those (workers). They’ll be pushed to other areas or to the higher degree and different places like that. I think it may be bad for Dubois County.”

To graduate with the basic Core 40 diploma, students must earn eight English and Language Arts credits; six mathematics credits; six science credits; and five directed electives credits, which include world languages, fine arts and career and technical education courses. Physical education, health and wellness and other electives are also required.

Southeast Dubois Superintendent Rick Allen expressed similar concerns with the changes to the federal law, saying in an email that a lot of students who may want to enter the workforce after graduation opt for the general diploma, which helps them take more hands-on courses and avoid college prep courses.

He added he believes schools should get credit for graduating those students, asking, “Are they telling public (schools) across the country those kids don’t count?”

Jasper High School Principal Brian Wilson said Jasper will continue offering the general diploma as long as it can even if it won’t count toward the school’s graduation rate, but noted if students can’t decide between pursuing it or a Core 40 diploma, the school’s staff will probably guide the student toward the Core 40 requirements.

“There will be those students that we have to decide, ‘Is this the best thing for them or not?’” Wilson said. “If it’s up in the air, we’re going to obviously try and get them a Core 40 because I don’t think any of our community wants our graduation rate to go from 96 percent to 88 percent because we’re having kids graduate without a Core 40 or (Core 40 with) academic honors.”

Wilson remembered a time not too long ago when former Indiana Gov. and current Vice President Mike Pence visited Jasper and led a discussion on the importance of preparing students for work after high school.

“We were sitting there and listening to him talk about the need for greater vocational training for filling all of these jobs that are out there that require skills,” he reflected. “Now, because of the federal guidelines, we’re looking to go back in the other direction. It doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

It should be noted that the new ESSA legislation won’t affect most of the state’s students. According to Chalkbeat, in 2016, just 12.2 percent of students earned a general diploma, while many more earned one of the Core 40 diplomas. Wilson said that in the past four years, between 96 and 97 percent of Jasper’s senior students have earned Core 40, Core 40 with Academic Honors or Core 40 with Technical Honors diplomas. All public Indiana four-year universities currently require at least a Core 40 diploma for admission.

Still, the Indianapolis Star reported that more than 8,600 students from 450 high schools earned a general diploma in 2016. Under the new rule, Indiana’s federally reported graduation rate would have been 78 percent, rather than the 89 percent that was reported that year.

In the state’s high school accountability system, 60 percent of accountability grades come from factors such as graduation rate, the number of students who pass Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests and those who earn professional credentials before graduation. The remaining 40 percent is divided evenly between ISTEP test results and result growth.

Congress approved ESSA in 2015 and it will take full effect during the upcoming school year. It sets rules for how states hold their schools accountable and measure their progress, requiring states to report graduation rates uniformly nationwide. The effects of the change could be felt as early as fall 2018 — when the 2017-18 accountability grades are issued — but the Indiana Department of Education is currently seeking clarification as to when exactly the legislation will start impacting Indiana schools.

‘We’re Begging for Education.’ Meet the Teacher Who Panhandled to Buy Her Class School Supplies

An Oklahoma teacher stood at a highway intersection panhandling for school supplies last week. She was surprised when she made $52 in 10 minutes and “overwhelmed” by the support she received online in the days that followed. But the interaction that affected her most was a young woman who approached her, donated her waitressing tips and said, “I’m alive today because of a teacher like you.”

“That just choked me up,” said Teresa Danks, a third-grade teacher at Grimes Elementary School in Tulsa, Okla., who set out to raise money for her classroom and send a message about education funding challenges that she thinks too few people understand.

Oklahoma has recently led the nation in cuts to general education funding per student, according to a report by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Oklahoma also ranked 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for average teacher salary, which was $45,276 in the state in 2016, according to a report by the National Education Association.

Danks, 50, said she typically spends $2,000 to $3,000 of her $35,000 salary on classroom supplies each year. Recent budget cuts have worsened the financial burden on teachers, who are often tasked with purchasing their own classroom supplies. Oklahoma’s budget crisis has led to larger class sizes, textbook shortages and, in some districts, a four-day school week, the Washington Post reported in May.

“It’s just getting to the point where we don’t have anything else to cut,” Danks told TIME.

She stood outside last Wednesday with a sign that read, “Teacher needs school supplies! Anything helps.” She was hoping to draw attention to her need for supplies for art and science projects — beads, pipe cleaners, pom poms, googly eyes and paper towels — and then continue raising money online.

“I mean, they sound silly, but these kinds of things are what you need — paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, they make the good little rocket ships when we do our solar system study,” she said. “Most of these kids will never leave the city they live in or the rural community they live in, so teachers are trying to bring the world to them.”

Deborah Gist, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, said state budget cuts have been “really, really difficult” for the school system.

“We certainly know — and I know personally from having been a teacher for many years — that it is unfortunately commonplace in our country for teachers to invest many hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars in their classroom,” she said, adding that she took a second job at a pet store and later as a restaurant hostess to make money for her classroom when she was a teacher in Texas.

“We try to do what we can to make up for the lack of investment on the part of our state in our schools,” Gist continued, “and I’ll continue to advocate for that.”

After Danks’ brief panhandling stint, she posted photos of her effort on Facebook and created a GoFundMe page, which had raised $3,500 as of Monday afternoon — surpassing her $2,000 goal for her own classroom. Danks plans to continue raising money to give to other teachers in partnership with DonorsChoose.org, an organization that has raised more than $500 million to fund classroom projects for public school teachers across the country.

“I definitely am going to be pushing forward this movement,” she said. “I would love to see teachers across America standing out there with their signs, saying just that we’re begging for education.”