Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bringing in the Connecticut Mob

Elisabeth Harrison:

Governor-Elect Gina Raimondo announced her plan Tuesday to nominate Stefan Pryor for Rhode Island’s newly created Secretary of Commerce post.

The outgoing Education Commissioner in Connecticut, Pryor chose not to seek a second term, a move political observers saw as evidence he had become a liability for Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, who faced a close battle for re-election.

If anyone had the slightest doubt about the depth of Raimondo's connections to the Connecticut school reform keiretsu, it should be now dispelled. This is wingnut welfare for Democats.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


As far as I can tell, and I've looked, nobody in ed reform is working from a set of formal, rigorous definitions of "curriculum," "standards," "outcomes," or "competencies" sufficient to distinguish between these things consistently. As in "X is an outcome but NOT a competency/standard/outcome/curriculum because it meets criteria A, B and C and fails to meet criteria D."

I'm not even saying there are competing models. There don't seem to be any models at all.

I don't see any reason to think outcomes-based, standards-based, and competency-based systems have not been a 25 year continuous project with slight re-branding.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Problem With Close Reading Is How Few Texts Merit It

David Coleman's essay, Cultivating Wonder? (via, via), features an example centered around a short piece by Martha Graham from what was apparently the original This I Believe Edgar R. Murrow radio series in the 1950s. It begins:

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing, or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated, precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which come shape of achievement, the sense of one’s being, the satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

Coleman's wonder cultivating questions is:

How does the idea of practice unfold in Martha Graham’s “An Athlete of God”?

The first paragraph, and the text as a whole, sounds pretty good the first couple times through, especially if you approach it as the work of a Great American Genius. But really, it is kind of a mess. It is a short, popular text, penned to be read aloud once, written by someone not known for writing such things.

Graham's piece never resolves the basic question of whether "practice" is something undertaken by only an elite through specific actions, by everyone just by living, or some combination of those. If we learn by practice do we not learn by not practicing? If we practice nothing do we learn nothing? Can we not learn by something we experience once?

The more you dig into the text, the less it makes sense and hangs together. It does not address that when she says "dance" she really only means a very specific kind of dance, probably. She says dance holds an "ageless magic for the world," but that's highly contingent on context. She ends by praising the smile of the acrobat, but the acrobat smiles because it is his job. He is not an artist, he is an entertainer. To closely read this text you have to conclude Martha Graham knows or cares little about the world outside of dance.

It wasn't meant to be re-read and doesn't stand up to it.

Coleman seems uncertain as well about Graham's meaning and ultimately states, "The mystery of what Graham means can be illuminated only by further reading," which could be translated as "finding a better text on the subject." But then again, what is the subject? Why would one read this in the first place? Where would it fit into the curriculum other than as a moral exemplar of hard work and grit?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Does Smarter Balanced Think 15% of 5th Graders are "College and Career Ready" in English?

I'm working on a longer piece trying to decipher what Common Core and Smarter Balanced are saying about growth in ELA/Literacy after 8th grade.

Specifically, Smarter Balanced (one of the two big Common Core testing consortia) recently released their achievement level recommendations for grades 3-11. This is particularly noteworthy because the achievement levels are on a continuous vertical scale. That is, all grades are scored on the same scale. As I understand it, these scores should be comparable across grades. That is, if a 4th grader gets a 2560 and an 11th grader gets a 2560, they are at the same level as far as Smarter Balanced and their interpretation of the Common Core are concerned.

Here's what it looks like for ELA/Literacy:

Notice how the expected/required growth levels off after 8th grade, when there is a two year gap in testing (apparently?). Essentially the same amount of growth is expected in grades 9, 10, and 11 as in 8th, and considerably less than the elementary grades.

And notice how the cut score for a "4" in 5th grade is virtually the same as a passing "3" in 11th grade. Smarter Balanced thinks 15% of 5th graders will achieve this level.

Thus, consulting their estimated percentage of students at each achievement level graphs, we see that Smarter Balanced thinks that 15% of 5th graders will be college ready in ELA/Literacy, and 41% of 11th graders will be. The 5th grade rate of actual college readiness as 10 year olds, not just being on track for it eventually, is over a third of the 11th grade total.

I noticed a while ago that the 8th grade standards were extremely close to the "college and career readiness" anchor standards, and wondered how it would play out over time. Turns out they're sticking to that idea.

At the end of the day, these "rigorous" standards think you're pretty much set with your learning in ELA/Literacy if you're meeting the 8th grade standard. You've got a little to learn about reading, writing and literature the next four years, but not much.

I... just don't get it. The harm is that "rigor" is being pushed down to the lowest grade levels, but for not much benefit in high school. Am I missing something here?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why is Common Core More Precise About College Readiness in Kindergarten than 11th Grade?

Smarter Balanced:

...a score at or above "Level 3" in 11th grade is meant to suggest conditional readiness for entry-level, transferable, credit-bearing college courses.

I've looked at some of the supporting materials, and I think the 11th grade test is considered at the level of college readiness. It is "conditional" insofar as you might literally backslide so much in the 12th grade year as to be not ready at graduation time after initially passing the test in 11th grade. But if you don't pass in 11th grade, you'd take the 11th grade test in 12th grade to try so show your college readiness. I think! It is clear as mud.

Just the fact that it is ambiguous at all is bizarre. I mean, I'm sure in the logic of American post-NCLB accountability there is a good reason, but in the larger world it is just... crazy. If it is an end of school test it isn't reasonable to present it as an 11th grade assessment. It just isn't. If you want to give the end of 12th grade test to 11th graders fine. Or if it is really an 11th grade test, you should be able to clearly specify how it is different from the final college readiness standards, right?

This is particularly disorienting coming back from spending some time with the K and grade 1 math standards. There it is totally different. You need to learn to count to 100 in K because you need to be able to add within 100 in 1st grade, and it takes some time to learn the numbers in English so you aren't tripping up trying to add threety-four to fivety-seven (or at least that's the argument, as I understand it).

The wacky way this plays out in practice though is that we act as if we know in great detail what a student has to learn when in early elementary school to be on track for college, but once we get to high school, especially in English, it is basically shrugs and hand waving. You would think it would get more specific later.

I suspect the explanation for this is an overload of early literacy experts on the various panels.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It is Sociology, not Physics

Fred Clark:

We should note that this Internet “entropy” isn’t random. The downward spiral always leads to the same place: racist, misogynist and homophobic slurs. That’s not really entropy — it’s a concerted attempt to impose order.

About a decade ago, I was briefly considered an expert (as much as anyone was) on social media. I gave some talks at influential conferences (not that I was influential), talked on BBC America radio once. That kind of thing.

I definitely leaned toward systems that would make it easy for people to create decentralized peer to peer conversations within trusted groups, and discourage open-ended commenting. For example, when Gary Hart became the first well-known politician to start blogging, I remember immediately leaving a comment (ironically) arguing that he shouldn't have open comments, that no good would come of it, and he should use trackbacks to other blogs, which is the way geeks thought (hoped) things were going in 2003.

Needless to say, when Twitter took off, it was a major move in the opposite direction. I guess my reaction was, "Apparently I don't know anything about what people want from social media, but there is no way this ends well," and I pretty much stopped talking about the subject.

I'm starting to feel like I was right all along.