Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What's Good For the Geese is Good for the Gander

Kimberly Moritz hits the nail on the frickin' head:

If we think it’s good practice to form charter schools who can operate free from the regulations governing public schools, then why do we support the regulations governing public schools?

As a 17 year veteran of public schools, working hard to make a difference every day, I can’t be trusted to make good decisions without regulations, but I could be as a charter school applicant?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Obesity, Physical Education and NCLB

Dan Meyer insists:

To state that NCLB is a leading cause of child obesity is "sensational."

The full passage in question and in context, from an article in the California Educator, reads as follows (the part he quotes in italics):

In addition, more than half of California school districts reviewed are giving students less physical education than the law requires, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education blames NCLB for increased obesity among youth.

Even recess is being left behind because of pressure to raise test scores in many schools, according to the federal Department of Education. In some communities, new schools are being built without play areas.

Dan asks:

Does anybody outside the echo chamber believe any of these? I can’t decide which assertion is more absurd, or if the issue is even one of absurdity. Perhaps these are just suppositions run horribly amock... I’ve never seen even anecdotal evidence that physical education has been threatened since NCLB (nor does California Educator bother to supply any).

Dan didn't see any evidence because he did not look. This CNN article is easy to find:

A national study by the Center on Public Education published earlier this year on the implementation of the No Child Left Behind law found that 71 percent of the districts surveyed had elementary schools that cut back on instructional time for a subject to make room for more reading and math -- the primary focus of the law.

But is there any evidence of a connection between PE time and obesity? The answer is yes.

So if you ask a gym teacher about the effect of NCLB, it is perfectly reasonable to cite increasing obesity and decreasing health and PE hours. I mean, what else would they say?

The suppositions run amok are coming from Dan, who is all too ready to discount large swathes of his fellow teachers as idiots, without considering their point of view, or the evidence, at all.

Surfing the Waves of Reform

Bud (this Bud?) asks:

I'm a fifth year teacher often frustrated by reform efforts that don't go anywhere, both in my school and elsewhere. When do we stop caring and become cogs in the system? Or simply leave for other pastures? I can't articulate this question as well as I'd like to, but it seems like you're a teacher that's kept his head and heart focused on making a positive difference. How'd you do it?

How do I?

I should point out that my career as a classroom teacher was short and when my position as technology coordinator was eliminated at Feinstein, it wasn't too hard to walk out the door. I'm not really a talented teacher; I'm too far down the Asperger's scale, I think. So I don't deserve credit for having the answer to a long career in progressive education. My wife, however, does, and my parents both had full teaching careers, as well as many of my friends. So I have some perspective on this.

One thing that is important is to understand that this is not going to be a decisive campaign leading to total victory. Educational reform is a never-ending war of attrition. You take your gains where you find them and fall back into a defensive crouch when you need to. When I was in a crib, the small town junior high my father taught at went through a textbook redesign to the then new middle school model. By "textbook" I mean, great leadership from the principal, teacher buy-in and participation in every step of the process, ample funding from the state and federal government for a state of the art building tailored precisely to their design, full funding for in-depth professional development, etc. Then, iirc, on the first day of the new school the principal ran away with his secretary, and the next decade was spent drifting rudderless mostly back to a fairly standard school, albeit with pockets of innovative practice that are still considered cutting edge today. So the process of waxing and waning reform feels burned into my DNA.

So, you have to accept that this is what you've signed up for. You have to know what you stand for, what you're trying to do, why you do it, and you have to be able to assess each wave of reform critically, to know what to embrace unconditionally, when to hold your nose and leverage the good parts of something and minimize the bad parts, and when to just duck.

You have to be politically smart, picking the right opportunities to carve out a niche and know how to defend it. There is a reason Chris is talking about setting up an endowment for SLA. He's getting plenty of support from the district now, but how long will the current district regime last? A bunch of the people who helped him start the school have already been laid off.

In the end, you need some cynicism to protect you from the whims of politics. You just have to find the right balance.

Monday, January 29, 2007

There's No Reform Movement Like Your First Reform Movement

One of the reasons Jennifer and I stayed in Providence after I got my MAT at Brown was because of the round of reforms that new superintendent Diana Lam was starting (and no, her subsequent move to New York did not go well...). I took the initiative and joined the redesign team for Feinstein High School, a low-performing small high school, the only person who wasn't already connected to the school to do so, and reaped a bevy of interesting opportunities as a result. I was kind of surprised that more people in the city, which historically has more than its share of driven, innovative high school teachers, didn't join in this opportunity to redesign a progressive school, but the prevailing attitude was "this too shall pass."

And you know what, that sentiment was correct. Ms. Lam is now two superintendents past, and a couple weeks ago, in yet another struggle over whether our site-based school could control its own curriculum design, the new person in charge of high schools said to our principal, "you should have worked this out five years ago." We did, of course. It is just that the entire management of the district has turned over, and we're someone else's loose end they'd rather not be bothered with.

I bring up this back story to illustrate one reason why it is relevant that Dan Meyer's anti-anti-NCLB critique comes from a young teacher, despite his protestation. It is easy to imagine when you enter the profession, that the wave of reform that is taking place at the moment is a bracing slap in the face to a slumbering and complacent profession. But after a few years, you see everything you've signed up for dry up and blow away, or at least fall out of favor, and a new reform wave sweep in.

Now, I'm not as weary as I sound in writing this. Almost all of these movements have at least kernels of goodness within them, and some lead to lasting improvements, although usually only local in scale. But after you've done this a while you certainly stop feeling like Dan when he says, "I’m just so grateful to have any assessment that I can’t endorse an alternative to NCLB when no specific alternative has been formulated," or at least that's the case if you're in Rhode Island. We already have a specific alternative that we still use above and beyond NCLB, which includes a rigorous site visit, ongoing comprehensive surveys of students, faculty, and parents, school improvement plans and testing. Before that the Providence School Department and the union spent years working on another previous set of standards. Feinstein is criticized in its new SALT report for not aligning the curriculum sufficiently with the new curriculm standards, but the reason we haven't is because we spent so much time aligning with the previous set of "New Standards," it gets exhausting to start over for no apparent reason. So excuse me for not thanking the stars for just any evaluation of student progress, no matter how crappy.

Beyond that, his assertion that nobody has proposed specific alternatives to NCLB reminds me way too much of Bush's hollow complaint that nobody is offering their own plans for Iraq. Of course they have; he's just ignored them. There are lots of specific proposals for fine tuning NCLB. I'm afraid NCLB has poisoned the well for federal-scale reform, and the best outcome would be to leave things up to the states. I certainly trust my little state to handle things better than the Feds.

In wrapping up this ramble, I'm not down with the back-slapping commentary:

It’s great to read a passionate discussion on the web that doesn’t degenerate, that keeps its eyes on the prize.

Dan didn't start this discussion out on civil or particularly thoughtful terms ("My union’s monthly propoganda rag, California Educator, is often painful to read, full of conspiracy theorizing, transparent political rabble-rousing, and hoary teaching clich├ęs about “making a difference,” but its September 2006 issue was almost unreadable. Quotes from an article entitled NCLB Gets An F ranged from sensational to sniveling."), and he deserves no credit for not degenerating further.

Goodbye Microsoft!

If you're on Windows, check this out:

Or perhaps just look at the screenshots.

Basically, it is an installer that installs Debian onto your Windows partition (not destroying Windows in the process). Probably not all that different than the venerable Phat Linux, but executed with an admirable minimalist flair.

Update: URL corrected. Sorry for the error!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dissent Is Not Whining

I think Dan Meyer's anti-anti-NCLB post reflects his experience as a young suburban(? "outside Santa Cruz?") high school math teacher. While there is ample debate over how to define the discipline of mathematics, how it should be taught and assessed, etc., the idea that one's Geometry students (for example) might be required to take a Geometry test written by the state at the end of the course is not that shocking. A teacher who had the basic raw materials: students with a reasonable amount of background knowledge, appropriate instructional materials, a curriculum aligned with the test, etc., but objected to being held accountable for his students' performance could look like a "whiner" in this case. My observation has been that math teachers are the least likely to complain about NCLB. It just fits the way their discipline is generally taught.

On the other hand, there are few NCLB tests that English teachers feel adequately sum up what a student should know and be able to do in the discipline of English. And teachers of other subjects are both unhappy with the de-emphasis of their disciplines and fearful of changes that would be caused by being included in its testing regimen.

So in Dan's experience as a math teacher, his practice is less affected by NCLB than it would be in other subjects, and he can be more sangine about its implications. Still, it is hard to reconcile his obvious pleasure in creating his own lessons and techniques with his dismissal of other teachers' unhappiness about their own loss of autonomy:

You guys complain that NCLB forces you to drill-and-kill your students, that it sucks the life out of learning, that you’ve had to abandon your best lessons, and that it stifles your creativity.

Does Dan think this can't happen to him, that his 500+ Keynote slides can't be swept away by the stroke of an administrative pen? The fact is, it probably won't happen to him, because again, high school teachers are relatively insulated from this phenomenon, compared to elementary teachers. But if it did happen, it wouldn't be because his methods had failed, but because of the scores of the school or district as a whole. His methods might have been succeeding, but they'd be swept away like those of his whiny, lazy, slacker colleagues.

Also, regarding The Wire, I haven't seen the fourth season yet, but I don't think Dan appreciates the extent to which the dehumanizing effect of simplistic quantitative analysis ("gotta get that clearance rate up!") is a persistent theme throughout that series. There is no way they'd be anything but anti-NCLB.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Getting Beyond "Wikipedia: GOOD!" and "Wikipedia: BAD!"

Mark Bernstein has some excellent insights on Wikipedia's strengths and weaknesses, spurred by a controversy over the biographies of science fiction authors. Mark writes:

Where is wikipedia best? The most effective articles share some common properties:

  • Of potential interest to a wide audience
  • Of vital interest to very few
  • Impersonal

Following the links back through the conversation about sci fi bios is rewarding. This observation by Jed Hartman is extremely useful in understanding Wikipedia's process:

...I gradually came to understand that Wikipedia is intended to be a very specific sort of document: it’s intended to be a compilation and summary and organization of material that publishers have already vetted. (There are other criteria too, but that’s a major one.) In some cases that approach seems highly counterintuitive if you think Wikipedia’s goal should be to be true or accurate in some objective sense (“Why can’t I say X in that article? I personally know that X is true, and I’m an expert!”), but those aren’t its goals. If you have a belief, even a very strong belief, but nobody has ever published that belief in a venue that Wikipedia considers reliable, then that belief probably doesn’t belong in Wikipedia. If you have a personal experience about the history of sf, but nobody’s ever written it up in one of those Wikipedia-trusted venues, then it still probably doesn’t belong in Wikipedia.

And coincidentally, in reference to Mark's football questions from earlier this week, I discovered that Wikipedia's entry on Tampa 2 is very good.

Viv Pix



In motion:


More here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Google Bombing Update

I'd noticed prior to MLK Day that martinlutherking dot org was back up at the top of the Google results for "Martin Luther King." Then I read (somewhere) that Wikipedia had added "nofollow" attributes to all their links, which would eliminate the one incoming link from Wikipedia to the site, which I surmised might knock down its pagerank a bit. Then I read today that Google had tweaked their algorithm to lessen the impact of Google Bombing.

For whatever reason, for today at least, the net effect seems to be that martinlutherking dot org is back down to number five.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vivian Geller Hoffman

Just a quick note to alert you that Vivian Geller Hoffman was born on January 24, 2007 at 4:14 AM at Women and Infants' Hospital in Providence. She weighed seven pounds three ounces. Mother and child are doing very well. Photos and more to follow once the dust settles.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

Technorati Blah Blah...

Technorati Profile.

Oh Sheila, Ye Have Little Faith

Sheila Lennon says, "We Needed Deion Branch:"

On the Patriots, two words: Deion Branch. Unlike Reche Caldwell, he'd have caught those critical passes. Bob Kraft lost yesterday's game when he traded Branch to Seattle rather than pay him what he was worth as the reliable go-to guy, the critical receiving end of Brady's magic.

Branch and Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck never got on the same wavelength.

Cornerback Asante Samuel is Kraft's next test. The intercepting playmaker ends the season as a free agent.

The net loss of Caldwell's two drops was probably less than 10 yards. That's not the problem. The Pats defense gave up 455 total yards and 38 points on seven long scoring drives. That's the problem. Since the Pats don't throw money at wide receivers with bad attitudes, they'll have money to address that problem next year.

On Watching Football

I've been making some effort the past few years to actually pay more attention to what's going on in a football game, especially since playing Madden for a few years, so I'm a tiny bit ahead of Mark Bernstein, who asks:

American Football is very popular in the US. It’s a very complicated game; every play involves 22 players, and almost every player has a crucial role in every play.

I know there's a lot I'm missing when I watch a game. For example:

How do you figure our where the linebackers are lining up? Should you figure out where the linebackers are?
This is both simpler and more complicated than it appears. Near the offensive line, the big defensive players are either linemen or linebackers. The linemen are the ones that put a hand on the ground. The linebackers might be right next to the linebackers or in between them if they are blitzing, or they may be 5 or more yards off the line of scrimmage if they're playing pass coverage. Also, blitzing safeties may be mixed up in there too. Anyhow, keeping track of the simple point that linebackers don't put their hands on the ground, is very helpful in understanding the defensive formation.
Is it worth trying to keep an eye on blocking schemes? When?
Well, once you understand football well enough to know when and how to do this, you're pretty much an expert. A large TV and TiVo also helps here.
Is it worth paying attention to backs in motion? When? Why?
A good way to read the defense is to watch who follows the players in motion. That tells you if the defense is in man to man coverage (as opposed to zone) and who is covering the player in question. If you see, say, Reggie Bush motion to the outside, and a linebacker follows him, that's significant because you know there is a coverage mismatch (Reggie Bush is faster than any linebacker).
Who plays a lot of Tampa-2? Why do they? How do you tell?
I'm not sure who plays Tampa-2 other than Tampa and Indianapolis. It is a fairly simple and conservative defense. You keep two safetys back, play a lot of pretty straightforward zone, rush with your 4 linemen and hit hard. You can tell because there are 4 down linemen, not a lot of blitzing, and whenever there is a 20 yard pass down the middle of the field, the announcers will say something about the "hole in the cover-2."
What are the distinctive philosophies of those organizations that have philosophies? For example, it seems to me that the Bears have been dedicated to the proposition that quarterbacks matter less than people think, and that they've followed this belief from Bobby Douglas to Rex Grossman....
Well, quarterbacks are still pretty much luck of the draw it seems, and it is hard to get a good one through free agency or trade, unless another team happens to have two good ones.
There must be Web sites that carefully dissect games, teams, and schemes. Where are they? (This, incidentally, is one place where hypermedia should easily outshine paper. If the site doesn't exist, it's a slam dunk winner for an intelligent coach who can write a bit.)
Football Outsiders seems to be filling this niche pretty well.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Did You Know?

Fundamentally, it was in the late 19th century that urban parents began to realize that the world their children would face as adults would be quite different than their own, that it would be unusual (and perhaps undesirable) to expect them to follow literally in their parents' footsteps.
Peter Stearns in Anxious Parents, page 2. That sounds about right.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Big Question: IPhone >> Widescreen iPod? >> Apple Tablet?

MacScoop thinks "yes." I just think the real market for a tablet may be too small to bother, but I'd love to see one, especially a sub $500 model that was explicitly not a laptop/desktop replacement, but a dedicated reading and communication device.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Well, ah, you see, my regular blog was hacked last week, presumably because I'd been using a manually installed version of WordPress that I didn't keep up to date. Or maybe my shell password was too weak. Or something. Since I was using an account I bummed off some friends, I can't expect snappy service from their sys admin in cleaning up my mess, but it looks like everything is probably still there, just temporarily owned by root. Or perhaps the past few years of writing are gone. Or not entirely gone but theoretically backed up as of three months ago. Or six months, more likely. I've always been pretty much indifferent to keeping track of things I've made. Heck, there are records that I've played on that I don't have copies of. I think. I can't really remember. Regardless, the birth of my first child is rapidly nearing, and spending more time on systems administration does not seem likely to move up my list of priorities, nor does extensive forensic expeditions to dig up all those posts trashing David Warlick. So I believe I'm going to move Tuttle SVC over here. Hopefully I can restore the old archives in their previous location. Ideally I'll find a method to render the blog as static pages and forget about it. I'll spruce up the minimal design here over time.