Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Small Correction

Jason France:

For instance, without mainstream media coverage by folks like Stephanie Simon at Reuters, I have little doubt that inBloom would still be in business selling out children’s data to not just the highest bidder, but any bidder.

My understanding of the inBloom business model is that they were meant to be in the business of charging schools to retain their data which they would then give away to businesses and other parties. They were a non-profit after all!

Apparently I have the House to Myself Until 3:30

The Thing About "Developmentally Inappropriate" Standards and Tests

I don't know what the proper definition of "developmentally inappropriate" is in the specific or general case, but in practice, what is going to happen is that if the standards/tests are "developmentally inappropriate," you can tell because the scores won't go up no matter what you do instructionally. That's the functional definition, as far as I'm concerned.

For example, the number of times the average 3rd grader can bench press 300 pounds is zero. After a rigorous training program, it is still zero. Thus, it is a "developmentally inappropriate" assessment.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Role of Eastern Europe in the Semiotics of International Comparison

Peter Greene:

South Korea is on the reformster short list of Countries We Want To Be Like (right up there with Finland and Estonia).

Maybe I'm behind on the international comparison discourse, but my impression is that we're supposed to regard the former Soviet bloc as pathetically backward following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Thus, any time we underperform Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, etc., it is simply an embarrassment.

This, of course, forgets that these countries have long intellectual traditions on their own, and in particular were no slouches in math and science under communism. There is no particular reason to think we should outperform all these countries in all areas of education indefinitely.

Campus Life

The original plan for this trip had us finding a small flat in Stirling, with Jennifer commuting to the campus a couple miles out of town by bus. This would have been a real Scottish immersion, but also pretty much moving across the ocean to go from one tatty Victorian neighborhood to another. As it turns out, it is hard to rent in Stirling if you aren't there, and late in the process we realized the uni was opening a block of brand new on campus family flats as part of an overhaul of its mostly 1960's era student housing, so we ended up on campus at Alexander Court.

The University of Stirling is not actually in Stirling (pop. 45,000). It is a couple miles north on the former Airthrey Estate. The university was built from scratch on the grounds in the 1960's. It is like a compact campus plopped onto one side of a nice old park, with 60's institutional architecture centered around a nice little lake. We're on the far side of the lake, past the 9 hole golf course and the rugby and football pitches, a full mile from the main entrance to campus.

Our three bedroom flat is fairly minimal, as you'd expect, but big for Scotland. The master bedroom has a nice workspace that I occupy, the biggest problem being that sometimes I realize I've spent about 20 hours of my day within a 6 foot square. There are a few conveniences for international families, including a TV.

Here's a peek into our flat while the finishing touches were still being put on last August:

2013-08-18 at 19.49.14

My current theory is that we lucked out by being the last family to request a flat, and the last one available was the ground-level handicapped accessible flat (which they'd have to keep open just in case). This gives us a glass door and full length window opening out onto a patio and garden, directly out onto the junction of a dirt road and several trails leading to campus, up to the pitches, into the woods or up into the hills. I guess you could say it is a high traffic neighborhood, but with mountain bikers and hillwalkers instead of the Honda Civics blasting reggaeton and unlicensed motorcycles we get in Elmwood this time of year.

There are eight other families living in this block: two from Malaysia, one from Iceland, Zimbabwe, Thailand, and Scotland, and Arab and Carribbean families. Mostly they all have early elementary or younger kids, so there hasn't been a lack of playmates for the girls. The rest of the students in the courtyard are mostly Asian grad students who were seen more than heard and barely seen.

After the end of the school year, Alexander Court hosts a variety of visiting groups, this year including members of the Team Scotland and event support staff preparing for the Commonwealth Games, a couple of pipe bands (including the Dunedin, Florida high school band), a bunch of karate enthusiasts and a group of spiritualists.

So from my point of view -- since I'm not the one studying here -- it has mostly been like living in a little managed apartment in a low-key resort for a year.

What is extraordinary about this place is the overall setting, in this strategic bottleneck between the lowlands and highlands, between the Pictish fire hill of Dumyat and the Abbey Craig, where William Wallace waited for half the English army to cross the Forth before falling upon them, next the ancient standing stone perhaps commemorating where Kenneth MacAlpin's Scots assembled in 834 to before the battle that united Scotland under one king.

2014-08-03 at 21.02.28 2014-08-03 at 21.02.44

Peter Greene on Tenure

Peter Greene:

The threat of firing is the great "Do this or else..." It takes all the powerful people a teacher must deal with and arms each one with a nuclear device.

Give my child the lead in the school play, or else. Stop assigning homework to those kids, or else. Implement these bad practices, or else. Keep quiet about how we are going to spend the taxpayers' money, or else. Forget about the bullying you saw, or else. Don't speak up about administration conduct, or else. Teach these materials even though you know they're wrong, or else. Stop advocating for your students, or else.

Firing simply stops a teacher from doing her job.

The threat of firing coerces her into doing the job poorly.

My parents taught in a small town, and I think this is easier to understand in a small town context, where everyone goes to the public school, and a career teacher may teach every child in the town for a generation or more. I grew up in a town of 8,000, and my father taught math to half the 8th graders in town for about 30 years.

So if you're a Democrat, you're going to get all the Republicans' kids. If you play for South Side, you've got all the Moose Club's players' kids. All the doctors, and lawyers, an professors; the drop-outs, perverts, meth addicts and child abusers, too. They mayor's kid, the principal's kid, the prison warden's kid. Everyone.

Some of these people, and/or their kids will not like you and would like to see you lose your job at some point. It isn't that hard to wrap your head around that teaching is a unique profession.

Monday, August 04, 2014

If Only Education Had the Rigor of Medicine

Elizabeth Preston:

Today, the American Heart Association says that people with coronary artery disease should take daily fish oil supplements. Nutritional guidelines in the United States, Canada, and Europe call for fish twice a week. Yet for all the enthusiasm that has surrounded these famed fatty acids in the past few decades, their performance in clinical trials has been mixed.

Standards are By Default Ignored

There was some hand wringing over the politicization of standards writing post-Common Core, with legislatures taking an even more hands on approach.

I would say the most likely outcome of this will be for schools to pay even less attention to standards. In 2014, that means just worrying about the tests, in the optimistic future, it means paying more attention to kids and the world around them (writ large). Even at the peak of Common Core-mania, people weren't focused on the standards.

This ends with the whimper of fat binders pushed into a high corner of a bookshelf.

Friday, August 01, 2014

I've Been Blaming High Fructose Corn Syrup

I had a Scottish Macaroon the other day. This is a pretty good description:

Well, today I present one of Scotland’s national sweets: the macaroon bar. It’s about a million miles from the French macaron. They both contain sugar and the names are a little bit similar, but that’s about as far as it goes.

The Scottish macaroon bar is something of tooth-aching sweetness. It has a snowy-white intensely sugary interior that has been dipped in chocolate and then rolled in toasted coconut. This is probably as bad as sweets can get (and a dentist’s worst nightmare) but it has a firm place on the heart of a nation that, well, loves just about anything that is very, very, very sweet.

You might also wonder where the name comes from – is this in any way linked to the French macaron? The answer is…I don’t know. But here in Britain, coconut macaroons are quite common, so I think it is the addition of the coconut that gives rise to the name. Just a hunch.

I don't think most Americans have "sugar junkies" as part of their stereotype of Scots, but man, do these people love their sugar. Of course, Americans do too, no doubt in part because we are in part Scots. Scots are worse... really! I mean, the opening ceremonies of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games featured an interlude of dancing marshmallow teacakes, not because of corporate sponsorship or anything, just because Scots love the things (they're awesome, really), and when they think "Ooh, what do we love about Scotland that we'd like to tell the world about?" Their minds wander back to sweets sooner rather than later.

Those macaroons... you might as well have a solid block of sugar the size of a deck of cards. You could cut the sweetness a bit by taking a bite of fudge. Yet, that's probably only a bit more than the calories in a 32 oz. Coke.

What's really nuts about this is while you have no trouble finding an adult Scot who could stand to lose 20 pounds, on the whole, Scots are clearly less fat than Americans. That is, anecdotally and statistically.

It is intriguing because you cannae attribute it to Scots making better choices or having any more discipline personally. Many Scots load up on fried food and sweets just as much as Americans do, but somehow we seem to end up even fatter.

Salon has 10 Reasons America is Morbidly Obese, which is a good start. The lack of high fructose corn syrup is also notable -- and tastier! It is hard not to feel like we've decide to dispose of the surplus byproducts of our agri-industy by just dumping it into our own diet, regardless of the cost.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Also True About Education Reform


One of the many maddening things about the discourse surrounding our recent glorious wars is that all of its supporters were much more interested in punching hippies than making sure that anything actually went well. Hippies would be all like "we're lighting money on fire and killing lots of people and nothing good as happening" and instead of observing that, yes, things in Afghanistan and Iraq are actually fucked up and bullshit, the response would be "nuh-uh hippies you just love terrorists and Saddam and in six months everything will be wonderful."

Guess What's Opening About 15 Minutes After I Fly Outta Here?

Maybe They Should Put Persuasive Writing Back in the Curriculum, Too

Stephanie Simon:

“We’re so good at all our statistics and data and rational arguments … [but] emotion is what gets people feeling passionate,” Oldham said. “It may not be the most comfortable place for the business community … [but] we need to get better at doing it.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So... Who's Getting the Axe?

Mayor Taveras's Office:

The competitive grant, made under Carnegie's Opportunity by Design Challenge, will support schools modeled after its 10 Design Principles for student success. The schools will be located in existing Providence Public School District buildings, which are still to be determined, and will replace seats at existing schools. The new schools will be open to all PPSD students through the school choice process, and will serve a student population representative of the District as a whole.

This was easier when we needed to add seats to meet growing enrollment. So who might be closed because of this?

Mount Pleasant, Hope and Central are too big to turn into two small schools. On the other hand the Juanita Sanchez Complex was designed to house two small schools, as was Alvarez, at least at one point in the design process. They're both newish, not that deeply entrenched institutions as well.

Are they going to phase the new schools in year by year, or all 4 years at once? If there is one thing we've learned about starting new schools, it is that doing it one year at a time helps a lot. A lengthy phase-in/phase-out is expensive and difficult, however.

Particularly if you're doing it all at once, you either have to keep the existing student body in the building -- in which case you're not really starting a new school, but doing a turnaround/transformation/whatever -- or do a massive reshuffle of students in the district, which would be so disruptive it is difficult to imagine it happening.

I Don't Think David Coleman is Happy With How the Common Core Came Out

Stephanie Simon:

Coleman didn’t want to spend a lot of time defending the development of the standards, which he said the idea of which had been around for many years, since long before the Obama administration. But he did note that they were developed collaboratively. “I read through hundreds of pages of state feedback month after month. The notion that states were not involved is sadly not the state of my life during those years,” he said.

Peter Greene:

The burdens of poweriness

Williams wants to know how Coleman came to take all this on. She lists his achievements and colleges and that he's a Rhodes Scholar, to which he interjects "yes, I am" and she asks did he just wake up thinking "we need to get all the states to use the same standards." (So, in this narrative, the phone does not ring with someone calling him to ask him to come help with this standards thing that the states are already doing.)

Coleman, instead of answering that, meditates on power.

As people grow in supposed importance and power in the world, he says, they get self-destructive in how they use their time. "People think if they're important they don't have time to write their own speeches or spend extended time alone." Says Coleman, "Any good I have done has come out" of balancing time to allow him to be alone, thinking.

He went into business designing tests, but that wasn't satisfactory because the standards underpinning the tests were crappy. So he spent time alone, thinking. "One idea that I've been cultivating" was the idea of students doing fewer things, but really well.

Anyway, that's how he works. "It's almost embarrassing to admit how much time I need to spend alone... as part of trying to o anything good." And now I am imagining what Coleman's Fortress of Solitude looks like.

So Coleman is not just busy being a Great Man-- he is actually better at it than lots of other great men.

And that co-operation and collaboration thing? That's for ordinary mortals. Coleman just hatches great ideas out of his own head.

Setting the record straight

That's what Williams tries desperately to get Coleman to do. She steers from his process into the semi-question "So that's where the idea of the standards came from?"

Coleman tosses in "listening" as a technique (though he never says to whom) and then, again, tells us first the standard of greatness that he is going to surpass. There's something annoying about "the sanctity of the entrepreneur" he says. "The world was dark and then I came and there was light," is what those sanctimonious types say. But what Coleman understands that they do not is that entrepreneurship is about telling the truth. This is to introduce himself obliquely as David Coleman, Super-Truth-Teller.

Committees, he observes, suck. At the end, you put everybody's stuff in, and you get a big mess. The standards movement was failing because it was death by committee resulting in a huge vague swamp of standards. We are left to close the circle on that implication.

What is left unsaid (or unquoted (I didn't try to sit through the whole interview) is that the Common Core still read very much like a disjointed committee document. Actually more disjointed and inconsistent than other standards. The reading standards are almost certainly the most redundant body of standards ever conceived. The front matter doesn't describe the enumerated standards as written. There's no consistent style throughout on basic organizational features.

Here's my current theory: Coleman, for whatever reason, was handed the keys to the car and did the first pass on designing the standards based on his own brilliance and came up with something that at least had some conceptual consistency. Then as more people were brought into the process, different teams filled out different sections, outsiders offered feedback, Coleman did a lousy job of managing that process. He hated that part, and frankly doesn't really have much interest in the minutia of standards design (pro tip: it is all minutia). In the end, due to haste and the scale of the project, his great work ended up being more of a design by committee hash than much of what it replaced.

And he knows it.

McKinsey Calculates Common Core Dropout Rates

McKinsey and Company:

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Moment That Has Passed

Jeff Bryant:

As I wrote on the blog site OpenLeft back in 2010, the Netroots Nation event seemed “generally in denial about issues of race and class that are at the heart of” problems in public schools. Instead, all the conversation was about “reform.” And teachers’ unions fought for attention on the agenda by addressing the worsening conditions for the nation’s public school teachers as a “labor issue.”

“Lots of lip service was paid to ‘saving teachers’ jobs,’” I recalled. But “not much of anything on the agenda addressed the destructive education policies of the Obama administration.”

News that Michelle Rhee, the public school chancellor in Washington, D.C. that year, had fired another 241 teachers was completely overlooked in any of the panels and speeches. Instead, as I reported, “As the news broke, an attendee I was having coffee with was absolutely gleeful. ‘There are too many bad teachers,’ she explained to me while coolly scrolling through the headlines on her Blackberry, ‘And they’re never made accountable for anything.’” Those around nodded in agreement.

Certainly no one of any prominence at the meeting pointed out the blatant unfairness of the Obama administration’s push to evaluate teachers on the basis of students’ scores on standardized tests. And during the conference’s education caucus, when National Education Association vice president Lilly Eskelsen warned of the rapidly expanding charter school industry that was spreading corporate influence and privatization of public schools, attendees defended “wonderful charter schools.”