Our 3-hour Drive

We just got back from a trip to Ft Lauderdale.  We left yesterday afternoon after getting home from work.  We were going down to Nova Southeastern, one of the schools Natasha is interested in attending.  She only had to be there this morning at 10:30, but we through going the night before would be more relaxing.  We were wrong.
We made hotel reservations for last night.  Since we left home at 4:30 PM, we figured that we would have no trouble getting there by 8:00 PM, get something to eat and relax a bit before going to sleep.  All was going well for the first hour of travel down the FL turnpike.  However, we notice that while there were vehicles on our side of the road, there was no traffic at all on the other side of the road.  In fact, we went a few minutes noticing that there was no traffic going the other way.  That was strange.
As we rounded a curve, we saw ahead why there was no traffic.
Up ahead was a plume of dark smoke.  We had seen the smoke before off to our left, but not knowing that the road was going to curve in that direction, we did not at first associate it with a problem on the road.  But as we rounded the bend, we could see that the road directly led to the smoke.  And not only that.  We could see flames shooting up from the roadway.
As we approached the scene, we could see that flames were spread quite widely over the roadway on the opposing side of the turnpike.  We had almost gotten to the site when police finally stopped traffic on our side of the road.  In fact, we were only about 5 cars from the front of what would soon grow into a hugh line several miles long.  We had almost made it past.
However, with the traffic stopped, we could do nothing.  It was raining, and when the smoke drifted in our direction, the smell of burned rubber and who knows what else filled the air made it almost choking to breathe.
We sat there for over two hours, but not before emergency vehicles tried to make there way through the backed up traffic forcing people to move to the side of the road to let them through.  Finally at a little after 7:15 PM, they finally let us go.  Apparently at least 2 tractor trailer trucks had an accident of some time and burned.  We heard from the one police officer that there were 4 trucks involved.  But as we passed, we could not really tell from the wreckage how many there really were.  These trucks burned down to nothing melting or burning most of the trailer portions until you could just see some of the side rib frames and bits and pieces of the sides that were left.
No sooner than we started to move than I notice a thumping sound coming from the back of the car.  The thumping got steadily worse and pulled over to the side of the road just a few miles from the accident scene.  We had a flat rear tire on the driver’s side.
Pulling off to the side of the road and/or passing the wreckage I must have picked something up in that tire.  It was pouring.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  It was miles in either direction to the nearest exit and there were no houses or building to be seen anywhere around us.  The only light other than passing vehicles was from a sign for an ‘adult’ store.But I had to try to get out and change the tire.  I don’t know if you ever tried to change a tire along the side of a busy highway with cars and trucks zipping along at about 70 mph or more trying to make up for lost time waiting for the prior accident to be cleaned up, but it is just a bit scary.
I got three of the lug nuts off the wheel, but could not get the last two off.  The power of the air guns that automotive shops use can apparently tighten the nuts so much that it is nearly impossible to get them off.  That along with the fact that the jack handle provided with a Buick LeSabre is a piece of crap!
So we called the ‘road rangers’ for assistance, but were told that due to the accident, they didn’t think they could get to us for several hours.  Similarly, a call to our insurance to get someone out there was rewarded with a similar comment that they could not get on the turnpike just south of us at Ft Pierce because all traffic was being diverted.
Finally we got someone from the turnpike service plaza about 30 miles back to the north of us to come down to help us.  So we sat in the car, in the rain, in the dark and waited for nearly an hour and half until someone showed up.  During that time, I could not easily get beyond the fear that someone would drift a little from the  right lane and smash into us at about 70 mph. 
Fortunately, the service truck had a tank of compressed air because our spare (donut) tire needed air.  Even if we had been able to get the other two lug nuts off, we were not going to go anywhere without that air.
Finally $100 later and 2 hours after stopping with the flat and 4 hours after getting stopped by the accident, we were on the road again. We made it to Ft Lauderdale without further difficulting, but we did not get there until a little after midnight.
The next morning we got up early to go to Nova University.  On the way, we stopped at a shopping center to grab a quick breakfast at McDonalds where we saw a Gemini tire store.  I thought I would stop to see if there was anything they could do. 
The guy from Gemini Tire examined our tire and told us that it could not simply be repaired (there was a hole from a nail or something) because there was damage to the side-wall of the tire.  However, rather than taking the opportunity to sell us a tire, he notices that the tire, a Michelein was of a type that is typically sold at ‘club’ stores.  In fact, we did get it at Costco.  He suggested that we take it there since it did not appear to be too old to see what they would do.
Because we were from out of town through we had no idea where we might find a Costco.  However, this wonderful man from Gemini Tire gave us directions to the nearest Costco which as fate would have it was only about a mile from Nova University next to a shopping center.
We attended the event at Nova and when it was over, we went to Costco to see what they could do.  There is no way to express my surprise when the service man at Costco’s tire department told me, ‘No problem.  We will either fix it or give you a new tire, no charge.’  I was shocked.  Unfortunately it was already afternoon so he told us that it would be about 3 hours until they would get to it.
We walked around the shopping center and when we got back three hours later, our car was just being finished.  They had to replace the tire with an identical new tire.  And yes, there was no charge.
Thanks to the both Gemini Tire and Costco, our disasterous trip turned out alright and we made it back home with no further adventure. 
By sharepointmike Posted in Travel

What do standardized tests really tell us.

It’s been awhile since I’ve added anything here, but it hard to decide which of the strange things I hear are worthy of being documented.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Maybe it should all be documented.  Otherwise, if the truth does not get out there, there will be no change agents.
Today I heard a story from a teacher about FCAT and Florida Writes.  These tests are given annually to measure the progress of students in the school system.  Every state probably has something similar, so while the name in your state may be different, you probably can relate.
One of the students came up to this teacher to complain that she was not ready for the Florida Writes exams because she had not been taught how to write in class.  The teacher was shocked by this comment.  Afterall, they had been going over writing skills since the beginning of the school year and had even been doing ‘practice’ tests in which they would have to write short stories based on a ‘random’ topic just like the official exam.  The student replied back, ‘But I’ve not been here since the beginning of the school year.  I only started in September.’  Now between you and me, if she did not learn what she needed between September and now, I seriously doubt that August would have made all that much of a difference.
But is the problem even greater than that.  Are students being passed on from grade to grade because they receive special help during the exam?  Sure some students are evaluated as special needs children and are given more time, but I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about cheating.  What you say?  That would never happen? 
When the teacher told this same student that they would have to go down to one of the other classrooms tomorrow to find out where they were suppose to sit for the exam, the student replied back, ‘Well, maybe Mrs. xxxxxxx (name withheld) will at least help me write what I’m suppose to.’
Am I reading too much into that statement or do you envision the same thing happening that I am?
Well, last year at a different school I heard of a teacher who asked a student about a make-up test he took as part of the FCATs because he was sick the day of the test.  The teacher asked him, ‘How was the test?’
The student said, ‘Pretty easy.’ 
The teacher said, ‘What do you mean?’ 
The student said, ‘Well they gave us the answers.’ 
The teacher said, ‘They gave you the answers?’
The student said, ‘Yeah, they said: Question 1… a…. Which of the following objects do not have straight sides? a) a circle, b) a square, c) a triangle, or d) a rectangle’
Ok, so they did not use the words, ‘The answer is "a"’, and perhaps some of the kids still did not get it, but obviously some did.
Is this illegal?  Of course.  But try to prove that it happened.  There is a lot of pressure from states to have kids meet certain requirements.  It affects funding which in turn could affect whether the teacher keeps their job.  If too many of their kids do poorly, the teacher is blamed and kicked out.  So there is financial incentive to cheat.
Does this really happen.  I recently read (if you have been watching the books I’ve been reading) a book called Freakonomics.  In this book the authors talk about a study they were involved in that spanned a period of years.  They were able to ‘prove’ that cheating did occur in standardized tests.  Some of the cheaters were very sophisticated.  Others were not.  The more sophisticated, the more difficult it is to identify when cheating occurs.  However, it should be assumed that cheating does and will occur.
Who really loses?
The kids.  They learn that they do not have to learn.  They learn that they can be given the answers and grow up expecting to continue to be given the answers.  This is not the future generation we want.  This will not help America remain a world power.  This will not help these kids get and keep the type of jobs that they might aspire to.
Fortunately, most teachers are honest and most students have to earn the grades they receive.  But we need to do a better job at identifying those who do cheat through statistical analysis of test results over a period of years to identify in which grades, by which teachers, in which schools cheating is more prevalent and then put a stop to it.  We cannot depend on heresay.  We cannot depend just on what one or two students say.  But statistical analysis does not lie.  Let’s use technology to find these cheaters.
As we enter this year’s round of standardized testing.  I want you to think about that and what type of future you want our young generation to become.