Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Getting Back on the XO Tip

I put my XO's on the shelf a while ago to wait out the endless stream of small fixes and regressions (and discussions of constructivism and constructionism) that necessarily followed the initial release. I've subsequently been waiting for the "hey, you've got to try the new Sugar and/or Fedora on XO release, it's much better" buzz, which, unfortunately hasn't really emerged yet. Also, my keyboard and/or mousepad stopped working on the occasions I pulled the XO off the shelf. And the decision to remove all the activities from your XO when you update to more recent builds of Sugar without providing a straightforward method of re-installing them provided one with ample incentive to neglect one's XO.

I figured, though, that I ought to try to get my XO running for Open Minds. After some unpleasant struggle, including a still broken mousepad, I just did a clean install to the latest test image, which is considerably different than the latest stable version, and close to what will presumably go out in the next G1G1. I don't want to hype it too much. You still can't, for example, print, but it unquestionably feels like a step in the right direction. Also, my mousepad started working again (and the keyboard is fine for the moment, too).

Not surprisingly, quite a few other people, including some Sugar developers, brought their XO's to the conference, and Walter Bender gave a talk. All this helped my motivation enough to start poking around the Browse code to see if I could scratch my biggest XO itch.

I had a few chances to chat with Walter at the conference, but I was very happy to find that he and I were taking the same route home (it was cheaper for him to drive down and fly from Providence), including a three hour layover in Chicago. So I had plenty of time to gently pick his brain about everything I could think of, and then sit in the airport and try to write "VIVIAN" in scalable letters using Turtle Art, which Walter has been hacking on lately. If you don't do these things yourself periodically, you forget how rigorous even simple tasks can become. It was funny sitting in Midway with the former head of the MIT Media Lab trying to remember what trigonometry does and if it would be necessary to draw a properly scalable "V."

It was also a reminder that having a virtual "mathland" on hand makes it much easier to do things like teach multiplication as scaling rather than repeated addition which otherwise seems almost impossible in practice.

The overall takeaway from the trip is that I'm feeling confident that both the XO and Sugar should be able to "keep the ball rolling" for the indefinite future, in particular creating more space for Sugar to continue its improvement. There are still some thorny technical hurdles, including a re-write of the Journal and the difficulty of running a Jabber server, but the whole venture isn't going to disintegrate before there is a chance to overcome them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Still Open, But Perhaps Narrower?

I would call the second K12 Open Minds conference a limited success. It went well enough to have another next year, but it did shrink compared to last year (like a lot of conferences, apparently, due to the economy), didn't find the kind of sponsorship we'd been hoping for, and we generally didn't solve our organizational problems. I say "we" because I was on the organizing committee and frankly, I didn't do much, so I take my share of the blame.

I think the conference has a bit of an identity crisis. Mike Huffman's vision is of an international, multidisciplinary conference -- kind of like an international EduCon with a focus on open source, openness in general. Given that EduCon is as old as Open Minds but already noticeably stronger, less may be more here, even though balancing the "ed" and "tech" in ed-tech is always an admirable goal. At least unless one can get good sponsors, but the breadth of focus on Open Mind's part makes a harder sell for sponsorship.

In practice, K12 Open Minds this year did have a fairly narrow focus: the real strength of the conference as I see it is learning about large scale Linux deployments. There wasn't much on open content, or really even open source philosophy writ large, and the educational content is pretty common stuff at conferences (if not actual classrooms).

Given a choice, I'd probably make K12 Open Minds into the premiere international conference for learning about large scale, low-cost educational computing. Which is not to say it is the only thing I care about, but I think it would make the most viable and effective conference. It is the conference that would be most likely to gain effective sponsors, draw people from around the world, and teach them things they wouldn't learn sitting at home.

There's just nothing quite like, for example, as I experienced last week, having a few folks fly up from the Brazilian state of ParanĂ¡ to tell you face to face how they successfully administer 44,000 widely distributed desktops with 12 admins and a tiny budget. Go ahead and try Googling for info about it, though. I don't find anything (in English). There is no reason we couldn't put together a much simpler program of a solid day and a half of mind blowing tales of massive open source successes, and there is no reason to think we can't find some vendors to pay for it.

Alternately, or in addition, we could just move to more of an unconference for K12 open source advocates, which would achieve much of the benefit of the current conference at less cost and hassle.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts, which I don't think are representative of the rest of the organizers.

FOSS and K12 Education Awards

The impressively named National Center for Open Source and Education handed out the first FOSS and K12 Education Awards at K12 Open Minds last week. The very worthy winners:

Some well deserved recognition for the folks who have been toiling away in the trenches for years.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free Sarah Palin!

Apologies for Another Paul Tough Post

And yes, the answer is a little deeper knowledge of school reform is helpful, so you can skip the rest if you want...

The reason I keep coming back to Paul Tough is that I think he's doing good reporting about current school reform initiatives, but his analysis is thin. His post today on the difficulties the first classes to move from Achievement First middle schools are having in the new Achievement First high school is interesting. It also is a demonstration of why he has too much faith in the power of the "conveyor belt" strategy, that is, the idea that if we can just get kids in a coordinated sequence of high-quality schooling from early childhood on, we can close the achievement gap.

Now, obviously, this is a desirable goal in itself. Nobody is going to argue for, say, low-quality middle school. But the question is, in effect, whether the effects are additive or multiplicative.

The thing is, if you're curious about the effects of K-8 or K-12 "conveyor belts," there are plenty of existing examples. Off the top of my head, here in Providence we have Times2 Academy, a K-12 charter, a couple blocks from my house we've got CVS Highlander, a K-8 charter designed in part to feed into The Met high schools, which are run by the state. We've got Paul Cuffee School, a K-8 charter expanding into high school. A couple years ago we came within a hair's breadth of setting up a formal feeder relationship in the between (what would have become) the neighborhood K-8 site-based elementary school and the neighborhood site-based high school.

The whole idea is pretty common. One of our last superintendent's big ideas (which didn't happen) was to convert the whole district to K-8. Most of the private schools in town are K-12.

Good schools at all levels, with good coordination and communication between them, is a good idea, but if it was the idea, we'd know it already. What happens if you start the process with prenatal care is another, more interesting and less explored question.

If Only the Government Had Some Mechanism to Raise Money to Pay for a Bailout...

My morning shower thoughts on the bailout negotiations: We're getting too hung up on trying to punish the involved parties and make our money back from this like it is some kind of investment. Either one is convoluted and risky. Why don't we just give them this bailout on the condition that it is paid for by tax increases on the financial industry, real estate industry, and the wealthy in general? I'm thinking restoration and increase of the estate tax, micro-tax on all financial and securities transactions, increase on income tax to the top brackets (and creating some even higher tippity-top brackets), etc. Most of this stuff is in Obama's plan in a milder form anyhow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Recession and School Reform

It will be harder to squeeze out money for school budgets, to be sure, but let's think about how this is going to play out vis a vis current school reform initiatives. As unemployment goes up and in particular jobs disappear in financial services, does the logic behind Teach for America continue to make sense? I mean, is TFA still something you do for two years before going to work at Lehman Brothers? Perhaps staying in teaching is a better idea now. Perhaps it will be easier to just permanently fill those teaching jobs with qualified candidates who have deigned to take some professional training first.

A bad economy really endangers the grand bargain for teachers to give up their work rules and job security for higher pay. People forget that in many cases, like Providence, those work rules were introduced when teachers were getting lousy pay to start with, inflation was high, and the city was flat broke. The only thing the city had to offer was work rules and job security, and if they hadn't relented on those, well, I'm not sure who would have bothered to try to teach in Hope High School circa 1978. By the time Bush is out of office, all the money may be gone.

We talk about the generational divide between young and old teachers in attitudes about job security and tenure. Let's not forget that the young teachers probably can't remember a severe recession. Older teachers can.

Also, let's not forget that we've got a better shot at substantive labor law reform than we've had in a generation. The AFT and NEA may be to sclerotic to organize new charter schools, but someone else may be able to step in. Perhaps Wendy Kopp could start her own union. We'll all need to adapt.

Panic, Therefore Panic!

Fred Clark:

When in the course of human events a purportedly democratic official demands that the people give him $700,000,000,000 -- no strings attached, by weeks end, or else -- then the duly elected representatives of the people have one and only one responsible response: Say "No."

When You Know No History, Everything is Innovative

Paul Tough:

The Locke project is in many ways a risky undertaking. It's hard to turn around miseducated ninth graders. And Locke is unlike other charters, in that families don't have to fill out a special application to attend. If they live in the neighborhood, Locke is their high school. As the L.A. Times pointed out recently,

it's one thing to make progress with students who voluntarily sign up for a rigorous academic environment and whose parents actively support the endeavor. Green Dot's experience with Locke's many doubt-filled teens will provide a more realistic measure of what charter schools can do for poor and minority students who typically have lower test scores and higher dropout rates. And if it succeeds, Green Dot will have created a blueprint for public schools.

I certainly hope Green Dot succeeds, for the good of its students and community, but also because it will be a step forward in a long, well-trod path of urban school reform. Trying to fix urban high schools is difficult. I don't really think it is risky, because one can walk away pretty easily without blame and most people will agree that your biggest error was taking on an impossible task. Nonetheless, it is a task that thousands of teachers and principals have engaged in for decades -- centuries even -- with little fanfare. And if Green Dot is successful, it will be because they're following through on established principles that are very, very familiar to everyone in working in urban education over the past couple decades.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Clear and Concrete Example of How Open Source Development Works

Walter Bender:

There has been a discussion on the OLPC-sur list about the need for a square root function in Turtle Art. Below, I have documented the process I used for adding this functionality with the hope that others may feel comfortable in emulating me in regard to making changes and enhancements to Sugar and Sugar Activities and sharing those enhancements with the community.

Microsoft's Cultural Problem


Microsoft’s cultural problem is that they seem utterly dissatisfied with the perception that they are a company that makes boatloads of money selling (a) boring but profitable business software and (b) the lowest common denominator PC operating system, even though that’s exactly what they do.

Stager Claus

I have to thank Gary Stager for scoring a Wii (and) Fit for me. So those of you who come here exclusively for mean-spirited Stager-directed snark, you may have to look elsewhere (for a while). Seriously though, Gary may be crazy, but he's good crazy.

Meanwhile, the Wii Fit seems perfect for addressing some longstanding flexibility and asymmetry issues that have been creeping up due to my work at home lifestyle. It has performed flawlessly thus far.

Thanks Gary!

Time Out for Ed-Tech Advocates

This post by Bill Ferriter is a good example of why most of the people involved with ed-tech in this country just need to go sit in a quiet corner for a few years. Not as a punishment of course -- just to clear their heads.

As an English teacher, it would be nice if, when I gave them a writing assignment, every student had equal and ample access to the tool our society uses for writing, both at home and in my classroom. When I want them to edit their work, I'd like them to have equal access to contemporary editing tools, to be able to share their work and their classmate's work without having to make five paper copies of each student's work before each class. And it would be nice to give them equal access to modern publishing methods, since they are uniquely cheap and accessible. And I'd like to be able to assign them any short story or novel written before 1923 and have all my students download the text at no cost onto a device designed with reading longer texts in mind.

It is really not that complicated. It doesn't need to be complicated, and when ed-tech advocates getting flustered over presidential candidates mentioning PowerPoint and that perhaps spending money on technology would be a good idea, it just seems like we're never going to be able simply explain and demand that we need inexpensive, robust computers that work, and then we can get down to serious innovation.

Note: As a (former) English teacher I also acknowledge some rather tortured syntax in the above rant, even by my standards. You get what you pay for.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Like the Way this Yglesias Kid Thinks


...while we may not have any idea how to organize a regulatory scheme to keep well-credentialed con artists from making hundreds of millions of dollars by screwing things up so badly that taxpayers need to spend tens of billions cleaning up the mess, we most certainly do know how to put higher taxes on extremely high-income people and spend the money on social services for the broad mass of people.

AIG & Broad: No Excuses!

Last time I was visiting with Chris, he brought up that progressive school reform has been losing the PR battle lately. Not that it is ever really ascendant in PR, but I think we're both particularly appalled by the fact that somehow one week in July the thoughtful, ambitious, innovative reformers we'd been following our whole careers were successfully re-labeled in the press as representatives of the status quo.

My best idea at the time seemed pretty weak -- hoping that an Obama victory will trigger a such a broad based backlash against the policies of the Bush administration that everything that happened the past seven will be tainted and fundamentally re-considered. Those of you who are not children or dilettantes know that "accountability," charter schools and many other reforms are, in fact, much older.

However, the conventional wisdom is unwinding with alarming speed. Market uber alles is in shambles. The nationalization of large chunks of our financial sector shatters the privatizer's notion that everything government employees do is wrong and everything businessmen do is right. Their authority is in tatters -- a 30 year run is ending. Most deliciously, philanthropist Eli Broad's AIG would have collapsed if the US government hadn't stepped in an essentially taken an 80% stake in the company (whether that was sane, prudent or legal, I don't know). So while Broad's foundation is leveraging his wealth to shift American school systems to a more business-like footing, his business is collapsing into the arms of the public sector.

Perhaps it is unfair to Mr. Broad to pin the AIG collapse on him. To which I say (gleefully), No Excuses! We've accepted the status quo long enough! Any change would be better than what led AIG to this point! This complacent acceptance of free market cant must end -- think of the children, whose futures are being mortgaged to bail out our financiers!


  • Despite the urgency of the need and the righteousness of the cause, public education the American financial system today remains mired in a status quo that not only ill serves most poor children, but shows little prospect of meaningful improvement.
  • We must have an honest and forthright conversation about the root causes of this national failure. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That is the trap we must avoid or risk losing another generation of our children('s money).
  • The sad reality is that these systems are not broken. Rather, they are doing what we have designed them to do over time. The systems were not designed with the goal of student learning enhancing the public good first and foremost, so they are ill-equipped to accomplish what is demanded of them today.
  • Changing the system so that it better meets the needs of students the American people will require not only a shift in our collective thinking, but also a shift in power. As the civil rights movement itself makes clear, such transformations inevitably generate resistance and political conflict. We must no longer shirk from that struggle. The stakes are simply too high.

Well put.

Perhaps our newly nationalized financial sector will consider applying the AYP system of evaluation to their enterprises. It is pretty simple, really. If every sub-unit of the corporation is profitable, you're fine. If not, declare the corporation a failure and start firing executives. Actually, I've been told for years that this is what it is like in the private sector anyhow, so it shouldn't be much of a change.

Accountability and Authority

Welcome back Dean Millot:

At the least, NCLB accountability implies a new allocation of decision authority between schools and districts – along with the relevant capacity, and entirely new capacities. Details matter, but the general direction of change is apparent. Schools need the authority and resources to determine and meet the educational needs of individual students. The central office needs to support schools in their non-educational functions.

NCLB's almost inevitable centralization of authority at the district level combined with a focus on accountability at the school level is what makes NCLB feel like a trap at the school level. Teachers get more pressure and less control at exactly the same time, and as the pressure increases, teacher autonomy does down further, the pace of seemingly arbitrary changes in policy accelerates, etc.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

KIPP: Does That Word Mean What You Think It Means?

The new report on the Bay Area KIPP schools is well worth a scan. San Francisco Schools blog provides an analysis of the more critical aspects of the report. I don't have a big problem with KIPP. Clearly it serves some kids well, and I agree with most of their approach. I have more of a problem with KIPP as a rhetorical cudgel, and, in particular, when you read this report it illustrates that KIPP should not be used as an example for EEP-style reform.

For example, there is nothing in the report about how teachers are motivated by the threat of firing. There is nothing about the key role played by KIPP's excellent merit pay system -- as far as I can tell they don't use it. Teachers at KIPP have broad discretion over their practice, moreso than many "regular" school teachers today, within the state standards.

In particular, KIPP provides a good model for thinking through the seemingly common sense assertion that we must "get our best teachers paired up with the students who most need them." Hard to disagree with that, but how does that work, really? If a KIPP school succeeds because it has the best teachers who buy into the design and philosophy, but the neediest students tend to either not go to KIPP or not make it through the program, then what? Shift the KIPP teachers to wherever the neediest students actually are, and make them use a different approach? Find some even better teachers? Bring in some suburban teachers?

This is not an abstract question! My wife is one of the best teachers in the Providence Public Schools. She works at a school which now probably attracts on a somewhat higher achieving students than the average high school, because she and the rest of the staff of the school have made it a good school that good students want to attend rather than being someplace middle school guidance counselors would direct troubled kids who they thought would need extra support (as it was 10 years ago). Following the principle of best teachers for neediest students, it would be time to transfer Jennifer and half of the rest of her school's staff to the worst schools in the city to repeat the process.

Believe me, if the district could do that we'd be out of Providence so fast we'd leave a sonic boom behind us. I've already been in Providence long enough to see what happens when you shuffle your best principals around in attempts to match the best with the worst. It is a shell game. One school goes up and the other goes down. Adding individual teachers to the process does not equal systemic reform.

Anyhow... I think I like KIPP more than I like many of the people who wave its flag.

Just What I Needed: Another Way to Annoy People

I finally made it to a Make and Break at AS220. Soldered together a little touch-sensitive noise generator. Works pretty well.

State of US K-12 Open Source Software

In preparation for the FOSS summit at the K-12 Open Minds Conference next week, I threw up a State of US K-12 Open Source page with a few brainstormy thoughts. For example:

Open source software funding of and adoption by US K-12 education lags behind virtually every conceivable peer:

  • US schools lag behind other countries.
  • Large open source vendors do not target K-12 education.
  • Is it fair to say adoption lags behind universities, business and other government entities? Hard to say. Probably mixed.
  • Educational vendors lag behind industry trends in implementing open source strategies, particularly for infrastructure.
  • Philanthropic funding for K-12 open source lags behind funding for open source in post-secondary education.
  • Academic research in US K-12 ed-tech lags behind other types of academic research in use of open source licensing.
  • Philanthropic funding of open source software in the US lags behind philanthropic funding of other types of "open" projects.

Feel free to contribute.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Conflicting Principles: Urgency and Patience

One thread in educational policy debate in general and Whatever It Takes are "conflicting principles." For example:

(The staff at Harlem Children's Zone) tried to follow Geoffrey Canada's two somewhat conflicting principles. The first one held that uninvolved parents couldn't be used as an excuse for a child's failure: the organization needed to have strategies in place to lift every kid to success, no matter how disengaged or unhelpful the child's parents might be. The second principle held that even if a child's involvement wasn't indispensable, it was still invaluable: the more a child's parents participated in his education, the easier it would be to get him on grade level and keep him there.

Another pair of conflicting principles which run through the decisions made by the actors in the book are urgency and patience. The justified sense that students should not have to suffer through an inadequate, unequal education for one day longer, and the reality that education reform, not to mention social progress in general, is a marathon, not a sprint.

Geoffrey Canada seems pretty good at managing that conflict. I find this quote to be rather damning, however:

Canada brought with him a complex proposal that had is group and Klein's Department of Education working hand in hand to administer a few schools in Harlem. "Great idea," Klein said, "But it will never work." It would take forever to get parents, principals to agree to that kind of power-sharing system, Klein explained; by the time they had the details worked out, he would probably be out of office and back in the public sector.

What happened to:

Commit to making every decision about whom we employ, how money is spent, and where resources are deployed with a single-minded focus: what will best serve our students, regardless of how it affects other interests;

There is some justification for basing this policy decision on Joe Klein's life plan, because we all know damn well that the next person to get his job is probably going to arrive with a sense of urgency and a mandate to undo the complacent and misguided initiatives of the Klein administration, just as every savior/turnaround artist does. The wheel of life turns.

In theory, going charter avoids this problem (and, to be fair, it may be a better strategy on its merits), but it brings its own problems. Here's the scene after year one of the Promise Academy middle school:

Stanley Druckenmiller was feeling the pressure, too. As well as committing a fair-sized chunk of his personal fortune, Druckenmiller had raised millions of dollars for the Harlem Children's Zone from financiers and CEOs, his friends and colleagues and competitors and golf partners, and although nobody was yet asking for a refund, Druckenmiller knew that they all expected results, and that they were all disappointed by the 2005 test scores. "If we don't show serious improvement by the end of next year, and success by ninth grade, then I think things could become very challenging," Druckenmiller told me that summer. "If a few years go by and we're not producing what we said we could produce, then the donors have every right to ask questions and, frankly, maybe to divert their funds elsewhere."

SPOILER ALERT: Before the year three test results came back for year three, they nearly gave up on the school, but instead scrapped their plans to expand to high school, leaving their graduating 8th graders to find new schools on short notice, and did not take in a new sixth grade class the following year. This turned out to be completely unnecessary, as the third year test scores were very good.

It seems the school will recover from the gaffe, and that's a good thing -- it seems like a good school! But I'm left wondering about what these statements mean:

Empower parents by giving them a meaningful voice in where their children are educated including public charter schools;

...when parents had little (Tough mentions none) say about the decisions in their children's school. And:

Create accountability for educational success at every level -- at the system and school level, for teachers and principals, and for central office administrators;

Who is the board of millionaire and billionaire philanthropists accountable to? And:

Changing the system so that it better meets the needs of students will require not only a shift in our collective thinking, but also a shift in power.

...to whom is the power shifting?

Philanthropy is great, but it can be fickle. Is this the best basis for funding public education? If only there was some other mechanism... hm...


Can I just say that something seems badly out of balance when the same character is pulling the strings in the book I'm reading about school reform and the news of the impending sale of my football team.

In the ownership society do a couple dozen people get to own everything?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Energy = Oil

Also, this:

Palin’s full speech contained yet another energy lie, one that is very revealing:

To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of the world’s energy supplies….

Not even close. Yes, if you live in a world where the only energy source is oil, then the Persian Gulf countries do produce 20% of the total world supply... But we don’t live in a world where the only energy supply for the world is oil — well, maybe Palin and the McCain campaign does, but the rest of us don’t. In the world the rest of us live in, oil is maybe 20% of total world energy usage.

The Party That Wrecked America


I urge readers of this blog to identify the Republican Party by its new brand-name: the party that wrecked America. At least, then, we can reinstate one cardinal value into the juddering structure of what we claim to believe: that actions have consequences, that you can't just swindle and loot a society and walk away with the swag.

This is what I find most mysterious about Obama's rhetoric -- that he says things like "we cannot handle four more years of this failed philosophy" rather than "we cannot handle four more years of failed Republican rule."

Alaska: Battery of the Nation

The McCain campaign's mistake, hopefully the decisive one, was to launch a new set of attack ads at the same time they were cutting loose with a separate torrent of mostly insubstantial, but easily disproven, lies. Case in point:

Sarah Palin, during her interview with Charlie Gibson said that Akaska producers “nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy.”

That was a lie. And people in the press pointed out that it was a lie. So Palin changed her line. And she told a rally in Colorado yesterday that “My job has been to oversee nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of oil and gas.” But this is also a lie!

What freaks me out a little about this particular whopper is that it suggests that Governor Palin fundamentally mis-understands the relationship between Alaska and the lower 48. If we really got 20% of our energy (or even oil and gas) from Alaska, the relationship between Alaska and the rest of us would be like the relationship between an electrical outlet and a lamp. The rest of the US would be an example of the kind of prosperity that can be achieved in a relatively barren and deprived land thanks to the tapping of the limitless bounty of Alaska.

What would happen if someone with an Alaska-centric view of the world suddenly ascended to the presidency is anyone's guess.


If you've got a copy of Roller Coaster Tycoon and a student (or other person) interested in creating a video and/or web page that a lot of people will look at, creating an updated version of this would seem to be a guaranteed hit. I mean, it leaves you hanging at the precipice in April 2007. Gotta ride that dip!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Deep Thought

It is hard to have a run on the bank if nobody has any savings.

That's Not Grain You Can Believe In, My Friends


I once did a draft speech for Chuck Schumer about ethanol that included a line about crucifying mankind upon a cross of corn but that got vetoed as over-the-top. But I say it’s about time for some anti-corn populism from some politician from outside the corn belt.

Still Lying, but Less Gleefully

Remember the Republican Primaries?

The Republican presidential primaries were hilarious because they obviously did not have a candidate that could hold together their coalition of cultural conservatives and big business. McCain was the best they could do, but there was still a substantial protest vote for Huckabee (and Paul). For example, they got 22% and 7% in Rhode Island, respectively, after McCain had effectively locked up the race. In the end, what Sarah Palin did was give the religious right an excuse to come home. I don't think much further hair-splitting about how and why is going to hold up much six months from now.

The corollary here is that there is a long term question about whether or not Palin will be supported by Republican business interests in the long run. She seems like a more assertive populist than they'd feel comfortable with. I can't see a businessman feeling like their investments were safer with Palin than Obama or Clinton, but maybe I'm wrong.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Does Spore Teach Evolution or Intelligent Design?

A little of both.

What is at Stake

Andrew Sullivan:

What this means is that they will lie and refuse to be accountable for the lies. In fact, because the lies are working, they will keep lying. All that matters to McCain is winning. By whatever means. By whatever lies. It's pure Rove. Which is why, if it works against a candidate like Obama, we will not have honest or rational discourse in American politics for a generation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God." Are we fighting a holy war?

PALIN: You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote.

GIBSON: Exact words.

It is annoying when you're sufficiently obsessed by this whole mess to recall as soon as you hear this that she actually said "Pray that our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God," which means an entirely different thing. It would be nice if the press could substantively question her without completely fucking it up.


I've been mulling over Paul Tough's post today about "The Divide" between the Education Equity Project and the Broader, Bolder Approach. Tough (like most people) presents them as "two new advocacy groups that more or less represent the two sides of this debate" between "two competing approaches to public education today." He says "there doesn't seem to be much common ground." Tough then presents a "compromise" that comes across as a commonsensical mix of what he's set up as opposite poles.

The thing is that modeling these two groups as poles is wrong. One is narrow in its approach, the other more broad. There is a subtle tipoff to this in the naming of one of them. It is as if there were two groups advocating changes to drug policy: one said "enforcement;" the other said "enforcement and treatment." What would be a compromise between the two?

Also, EEP, or their website at least, doesn't say "this kind of school reform only," it just says "this kind of school reform."


To those in the Broader camp: Let's admit that our public schools could be serving poor kids much, much better than they are today, and that in order to do that, they need a radical overhaul right away. Let's agree that the best charter schools, like KIPP and Achievement First and Green Dot, have found a whole new way of educating disadvantaged children, and that it works. So, why not embrace looser contracts like the one proposed in D.C. and the one adopted in Denver. Help persuade teachers to give up some job security in exchange for more pay. Help the school systems get rid of poor-performing teachers—not just a few of them, but a big swath, the whole bottom tier. And to replace them, let's create alternative certification programs and encourage unconventional career paths that will attract the kind of committed young overachievers who actually want to teach in the most challenging classrooms but can't stand the thought of slogging their way through a couple of years of education school.

Tough, like the EEP rhetoric, assumes the stance of someone who has just come to realize that there is an imperative to reform education. And, fair enough, Tough is a journalist, he just stumbled into the field a few years ago, like Joel Klein, Al Sharpton and some, but not all of the signatories of the EEP principles. But you know, I learned about school reform from my parents, who were fighting these fights from before I could walk, as does my wife, as did her parents, as did both my grandmothers, although presumably the reform process is more straightforward when you're just one girl in front of a one room schoolhouse in Neelyton, PA. Ten years ago I picked up The Shopping Mall High School and Horace's Compromise, both published in 1984, and headed down my own path. The reason Bolder, Broader signatories like Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier would never think to write, as the EEP does:

We can't wait another forty years to get this done.

Is that they haven't been waiting. Why did Joel Klein wait?

Here's something I've realized I haven't mentioned here. I've been through the whole "fire the poor performing teachers" thing. Seven years ago, did the school reconstitution thing Even had the oddly charismatic, smart, hard-driving Asian-American female superintendent brought in from out of town to drive the process. The whole staff of the school I helped re-design had to re-apply for their jobs. Here's the thing: it helps, but it doesn't help that much. It is not the decisive point. My experience says it is not enough and the research says it is not enough, it is too narrow.

Tough should look at how labor issues are handled in the schools that Broader, Bolder signatories like Deborah Meier and Ted Sizer have started and helped design. The results might surprise him.

And let's agree that even if "KIPP and Achievement First and Green Dot," have been successful and innovative, they have not "found a whole new way of educating disadvantaged children." That's just not a phrase anyone with deep or broad experience in education would ever use (sincerely).

Finally (whew), why not education school? Is it because all education schools suck? If so, ok, but is fixing one of the impossible things like changing the way we fund education? If not, really? Bright, driven young people don't want to bother with professional training so... ok? Does that go for doctors and lawyers too? Or librarians and nurses? CPA's?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Embrace It

Fantastic 19th Century Harvard Base Ball Photos

Harvard's connection to Providence's base ball history goes back to June 27, 1863, when they became the Brown club's first intercollegiate opponent. So I'm particularly excited about the 19th century photos that the Harvard University Library has put online and happy that Kyle DeCicco-Carey tracked them down and brought them to my attention. It is an excellent set of team photos and includes the best and earliest photo of a game in progress (Harvard-Yale 1885) that I've seen, including one that appears to capture a pickoff move to second base.

What's astonishing though is the resolution of the photos. These presumably were taken by a highly skilled photographer using a full size plate negative. The scans are of equally high quality, so vintage base ball geeks like myself can zoom into see the texture of socks, construction of belts, the funky leather visor on a 1898 catcher's mask, the ratio of bowlers to boaters in the crowd, and innumerable other details. It is not so much like looking at the original prints as like looking at them with a microscope. Awesome!

I Agree, But...


Like Paul Tough, I thought the speech was noteworthy for using the power of rhetoric to elevate the conversation a bit above a zero-sum conflict between teachers and would-be structural reformers. To me, that’s both politically necessary and also actually necessary in practice — we need to change the way schools operate in this country, but you’re not going to recruit the volume of good teachers the country needs by making changes that, in the aggregate, turn teaching into a less attractive career. (...)

The speech was good, I think, at trying to shift the conversation back to the historical norm where progressives are on the side of bold improvements in the education system and conservatives are left, as they are in other areas of social policy, arguing that we should settle for doing less with less. The progressive coalition got kind of wrong-footed by the Bush administration’s education initiatives and has expended an extraordinary amount of energy over the past few years quibbling over exactly how much of the increase in inequality can be attributed to our failure to expand the proportion of college graduates in the country. It’s much better to be having the conversation about how to move the country forward in education terms...

I agree, but I would say we didn't get so much wrong-footed as assaulted by an ascendant Republican Party that pursued an unabashed strategy of seeking to destroy the power bases of the remaining opposition, with enormously wealthy, unaccountable foundations plunging into the resulting power vacuum to further shift conversation and policy onto unfavorable terms for democratic governance of public education.

Here's one thing that's becoming clear to me. If you haven't been paying attention to education reform policy for more than seven years, you really have no perspective. In particular, accountability and standards-based reforms were well underway prior to NCLB. In some cases these reforms were derailed by a shift to more draconian, more corrupt, more rigged, less sensitive NCLB equivalents. In other cases the transition was at least smoother. But those of us who were studying and implementing school reform pre-NCLB remember that it can be done without the exclusive use of slash and burn tactics. Not that everything was smiles and hugs then either, but a lot of people would breathe a big sigh of relief if we could just crawl out of the hedgehog and get back to working on making schools better. I think Obama could accomplish that.


I hadn't noticed Scott's posts (1, 2) last year proposing government funded "online multimedia textbooks," partly because narrowly defined, "online multimedia textbooks" are not actually something I'm interested in. But I am interested in promoting the idea of government funded curricula, and perhaps that is more or less the same thing.

Scott doesn't mention licensing, however, which by now we should recognize is a crucial facet of this kind of work. Scott says "free," but the overall context of his proposal suggests "free" as in cost of access, rather than "freely studied, applied, copied and/or modified." It is a crucial distinction. I don't actually have that much faith in the federal government's ability to contract out for great curricula that would work for schools across the country. I do, however, think that they will be able to get sufficiently close to create a good vision and a scaffold for further open source development by local, state, regional, federal government, foundations, universities, corporations, international collaborators and the prototypical enthusiast in his basement, if the licensing and development infrastructure are sufficient.

You'd Think More People Would Be Excited About This

Barack Obama:

Technology Investment Fund:

Barack Obama and Joe Biden will build on existing federal education technology programs and create a $500 million matching fund to ensure technology is fully integrated throughout schools. This fund will:

  • Integrate technology throughout the classroom so innovative learning technologies such as simulations, interactive games, and intelligent tutors can assist in improving the quality of learning and instruction.
  • Develop better student assessments that allow teachers and parents to identify and focus on individual needs and talents throughout the school year. Technology can help get information about student. performance to teachers and parents in real time, and support ongoing efforts to improve student performance in an area of weakness and support student success in areas where the student shows particular interest or aptitude. Barack Obama will encourage states to use technology to provide regular reports to parents on student performance.
  • Create new technology-based curriculum with leaders in the technology industry so schools can create courses around developing high-demand technology skills and working on authentic projects, as is done at High Tech High School or the New Tech High Schools.
  • Use technology to allow teachers to work collaboratively with their peers across the country to share best practices and support teachers to provide more individualized assistance to students so that teachers are no longer the primary source of facts and information, but instead the coaches on how to best analyze and apply information.

We don't really talk much directly about how traumatic, on the grassroots level at least, the ending of Clinton-era ed-tech funding was. I think a lot of people's feeling on federal funding is "Fool me once... won't be fooled again." There is a weird malaise.

Although, to be fair, isn't everyone already voting for Obama anyhow?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


If your boss tells you how you have to do your job, what is the fair way to evaluate your performance? By evaluating whether you have done what he told you to do the way he told you to do it, or by looking at the outcomes?

If you did what you were told, and it didn't work, whose fault is that?

Job Description


And Castellanos isn't some campaign flunky, he's a guy that CNN pays to tell you things that aren't true.

The Phrase that Pays

NY Post (bootleg edition), the key phrase highlighted:

The United Federation of Teachers, which had long resisted privately operated charter schools, eventually opened two of its own. As its own boss, the union gave the teachers the same seniority rights and tenure they got from the city.

But instructors at Green Dot New York are giving up both in exchange for salaries 10 percent above what the city pays and more say in how to run the school.

I'm reading a lot about paying and firing teachers like professionals, but what's often going unsaid is at the same time the trendlines run strongly against teachers being treated like professionals in their practice. In short, it is a lousy deal to be held accountable for student achievement if you have no rights to determine what you teach, how you teach it, what the disciplinary policies are in your school, what the schedule looks like, what resources are allocated to your classroom, etc., etc., etc. What is a professional teacher supposed to do when he is mandated to begin using a curriculum which he believes will result in lower scores for his kids and lower pay for himself? What is he supposed to do after the first year he loses his bonus because of it?

Monday, September 08, 2008



But, while Palin was governor, did she slash special education funding from the state's budget? That was the latest charge that was flying around the Internet soon after her speech, and a reader has posted the same criticism of Palin on this blog. I've seen the same critique from posters on several Web sites now, all of whom seem to suggest that while Palin courts the disability community on the one hand, she's cutting the budget for needed services on the other.

From what I can tell, however, these charges against Palin are false, driven by a misreading of the budget documents for the state.

The "proof," as has been presented, is the part of the fiscal 2007 budget for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, which includes funding for the Alaska School for the Deaf, students who are patients at the Alaska Psychiatric Hospital, and the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy, a statewide, boot-camp-style program. The budget that year was $8,265,300.

But the next year, fiscal 2008, the budget is shown as $3,156,000, leading to the accusation that Palin cut the department's budget.

The difference in funding, however, is because the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy moved to a budget line item of its own. In the fiscal 2009 budget, you can see that the academy alone has a budget of $6,082,100. When you add that to the $3,156,000 that is being spent on all the other projects, it adds up to $9,238,100--an approximately 12 percent INCREASE in spending on all those particular programs, put together, since fiscal 2007.

So... not.

OTOH, this is nice:

Hiring and Firing Teachers

I have worked with and been taught by my share of lousy teachers, ranging from the apathetic and one-dimensional to the borderline sociopaths. I would have liked to see many of these people summarily fired, and some of them should have been. Others might have been a bit less apathetic if there was more of a chance of losing their job. At the same time, much of their dysfunction is as much due to decades of lousy management as from character flaws, and new hires would likely travel the same path given an unchanged environment.

There are, I imagine, places where contracts can and should be revised (through collective bargaining) to make it easier to get rid of truly bad teachers. It is a mistake, however, to think that this is a fundamental reform that will improve student achievement on a large scale. If making it easier to fire bad teachers would make a decisive difference, wouldn't there already be a clear pattern of higher achievement (by comparable students, in otherwise similar schools) in places where teachers have less protection? Like, say, the South?

The more practical reason I think rules about firing is a red herring is that in my personal experience, politics tends to be a bigger impediment to firing problematic teachers than union rules. In particular, the horrible, sociopathic teachers often have only gotten their job in the first place because they're connected somehow. Despite the fact that I'm writing from Providence, I don't necessarily mean "connected" in the Sopranos sense, it might be the Booster Club.

Let me just give you an example. Say you're a principal at a small urban school that generally has a good reputation, and does a good job sending a sizable chunk of its minority students to the state university system, where they are succeeding as first generation college students. But, you aren't making AYP, mostly because your drop-out rate is too high, because your program is designed to emphasize achievement of standards rather than seat-time, and too many of your students take five years to graduate (but they do stick with it for an extra year and meet the same standards everyone else does).

Let's also say you've inherited a horrible, sociopathic math teacher. Not so horrible that he's bad-touching students, but not teaching them and generally fouling up any of the larger initiatives of the school community that he comes in contact with. Clearly, this person should be fired. But he's a mean, sociopathic sonofabitch with connections, so you're looking not only at a union process, which you'd probably win, because you've got the documentation, but a political process involving central administration and the school board, the odds in which break down roughly as so:

  • 15% chance you lose your job, because you're on the hot seat over AYP and he's connected;
  • 30% chance of a draw, he returns, which is really a big loss for you;
  • 40% chance you get rid of him (ultimately, getting him fired isn't your problem) but upgrade to a benignly ineffective teacher, because there are no good math teachers available;
  • 15% chance you get rid of him and actually get a competent math teacher.

Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic, but is my perception of the situation more pessimistic than the principal's? Now, I'm not saying that this proves that not trying to fire the teacher is the right thing to do. What I am saying is that changing the union rules, and to a large extent the district policies, is not going to be decisive in making it easier to fire this guy, or make the odds look better to the principal.

Even under current rules in urban systems, some principals manage to step in and clean house. It isn't necessarily because they're working under a contract exemption; they've just got more juice. They're the ones that are more connected or the bigger sonofabitches.

This is a pretty bleak picture I've painted. I'm not saying "don't fire bad teachers," I'm saying "don't expect miracles." One reason charter schools, reconstitution and other startups are popular is that they give you an opportunity to wipe the slate clean of some of these politics and start over. Problem is, there is no evidence that those processes in themselves lead to higher student achievement.

In my experience (if not quantitative research) the sweet spot is site-based hiring. Principals have to have control over who works in their schools, ideally with veto power over transfers or bumping. Of course, this leaves you vulnerable to lousy principals, but there is nothing to be done about that. Trying to come up with a school system that works without competent principals is like trying to organize a navy without good captains. It just won't work. There is political pressure to hire people, but in my experience it is less brutal than pressure not to fire the wrong people.

I also think well-run teacher residency programs, where first year teachers work closely with and are monitored by mentors would do a lot to make it easier to get rid of bad new hires before they get entrenched.

Finally, the desire of new superintendents to conduct a purge of dead wood when they enter a system is understandable. From their point of view, it is a one time event for the city. From the city's point of view, every three years (give or take) they've got a new superintendent coming in to clean house. It is like explaining how rules work to a second grader. "If we let you do it, we'd have to let everyone do it." It sounds appealing as a one time thing, but as a gauntlet to be run, say, six times in a 20 year teaching career? I think I'd find a nice job in the 'burbs first.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

My Black Postcards Cameo

I am apparently old enough now to start showing up in other people's memoirs, albeit in this case as one of the "kids." From Black Postcards, by Dean Wareham (pp. 62-63):

We (Galaxie 500) did better at the Sonic Temple in Pittsburgh, where we had at least eleven in the audience, maybe fifteen. Pittsburgh--City of Bridges--is a beautiful city, not what I was expecting at all. After a seven-hour drive in the rain, we drove through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which delivers you right to a spectacular view of the Fort Pitt Bridge and the city across the river. They have three rivers there--the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela. They must have fifteen or twenty bridges, too, all different colors.

The Sonic Temple was located on the top floor of the old Masonic temple, which had fallen on hard times. Some kids from Carnegie Mellon had been putting on rock shows there. Unfortunately they didn't have a liquor license, and that discourages people from attending rock shows.

The small crowd lay down on the carpeted floor while we played for them. It felt intimate, despite the large and mostly empty room. We spent the night on another floor--this time in the apartment fo the kids who had booked the show. They had their own fanzine--Cubist Pop Manifesto--and interviewed us that night while we drank Iron City beer in tall cans. It was odd playing to an audience of eleven, and then being interviewed as if anyone cared what we had to say about anything. Such is the world of indie rock.

That was one of the most memorable nights of that period of my life, actually. It was also the first club performance of my first band, Hat, with Brian Welcker and Frank Boscoe -- also the team behind Cubist Pop Manifesto. Frank and I, in particular, could barely play at all, but since Brian was one of the guys who created The Sonic Temple, we took the indulgence of giving ourselves the opening slot on a weeknight before one of our favorite bands. I was incredibly, paralyzingly nervous. The only song I remember was one I created called "How to Play the Ukulele," which was derived from the text and chords in the first lesson in a book by the same name. It was conceptual.

Anyhow, here's my description from Cubist Pop Manifesto issue 7 (May 1989) of the evening's conversation:

Laughter was a big part of this interview, like Damon's interjection of mock cynicism "It (the record industry) is a dirty business, get out when you can," followed by Dean's "You're making us seem cynical, we're not. We're young. We're fresh. We're like the flowers. We're like the meadows..." Naomi chimed in "Skinned knees, pistachio ice cream." There were lots of playfully rude comments followed by giggles and Naomi's cautious "Oh, please don't print that..." and Frank's pious reassurances.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Community Organizing, Four Different Takes

Christopher Hayes of The Nation:

But this kind of hits me where I live, since my dad is a community organizer, so lemme spell this out: the difference between a community organizer and a politician is that a community organizer can't tell anyone what to do. They have to listen. So they can't order books banned from a library to indulge their own religious sensibilities. They can't fire someone because they didn't follow orders to fire an estranged family member. They can't ram through a $15 million dollar sports complex that leaves their local town groaning underneath the debt. Unlike politicians, they don't have any power other than the power of people who want to see something changed.

Decades ago, before the ADA and a raft of other legislation, schools had essentially no requirements to provide decent education for special needs children. Then a movement of parents, engaging in - gasp - community organizing changed that. And they continue to fight day in and day out for educational equity for children like Sarah Palin's.

Too bad Sarah Palin just spit in their faces.


Joe Klein of Time:

So here is what Giuliani and Palin didn't know: Obama was working for a group of churches that were concerned about their parishioners, many of whom had been laid off when the steel mills closed on the south side of Chicago. They hired Obama to help those stunned people recover and get the services they needed--job training, help with housing and so forth--from the local government. It was, dare I say it, the Lord's work--the sort of mission Jesus preached (as opposed to the war in Iraq, which Palin described as a "task from God.")

This is what Palin and Giuliani were mocking. They were making fun of a young man's decision "to serve a cause greater than himself," in the words of John McCain. They were, therefore, mocking one of their candidate's favorite messages. Obama served the poor for three years, then went to law school. To describe this service--the first thing he did out of college, the sort of service every college-educated American should perform, in some form or other--as anything other than noble is cheap and tawdry and cynical in the extreme.

Roland Martin on CNN:

A Few More Quips

Steve Benen:

Watching the speeches, and the contortions Republicans have to go through to avoid mentioning the current president (and ostensible head of their party), it's like getting stuck in a "Twilight Zone" episode. The multi-millionaire former mayor of New York railed against "cosmopolitans." The multi-millionaire, Harvard-trained, former governor of Massachusetts railed against "eastern elites." Just 48 hours after the party's nominee insisted the convention would be less partisan, we're bombarded with the most ugly and nasty partisanship of any party gathering in years.

Jesse Taylor

Haha, “community organizer”. Barack Obama sold mixtapes out of the back of his Cadillac, that shifty bitch.

Ezra Klein:

...the speech was slave to the same priorities that governed her selection as vice president: It was aimed at wining the news cycle, not the campaign.

Oliver Willis:

...basically the GOP told the party the Reichstag was still burning...

Jesse Taylor again:

This is a speech to Michelle Malkin’s fucking comments section.

Sean at fivethirtyeight.com:

In the past several hours, Dems I’ve spoken with and who’ve flooded my inbox are energized. A woman friend and Democrat who had not worked for Obama’s campaign: “I am volunteering tomorrow.” An Obama organizer who was operating on fumes five months ago: “They are not getting away with this. 10 hours of call time tomorrow.” A shorter read of the mood: “Let’s get it on.” (...)

Fire up both bases equally, it’s not even close. Obama wins going away. In 2008, there are so many more Democrats, numerically.

Finally, Nate at fivethirtyeight.com:

I think some of you are underestimating the percentage of voters for whom Sarah Palin lacks the standing to make this critique of Barack Obama. To many voters, she is either entirely unknown, or is known as an US Weekly caricature of a woman who eats mooseburgers and has a pregnant daughter. To change someone's opinion, you have to do one of two things. Either, you have to be a trusted voice of authority, or you have to persuade them. Palin is not a trusted voice of authority -- she's much too new. But neither was this a persuasive speech. It was staccato, insistent, a little corny. It preached to the proverbial choir. It was also, as one of my commentors astutely noted, a speech written by a man and for a man, but delivered by a woman, which produces a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

In exceedingly plain English, I think there's a pretty big who the fuck does she think she is? factor. And not just among us Daily Kos reading, merlot-drinking liberals. I think Palin's speech will be instinctively unappealing to other whole demographics of voters, including particuarly working-class men (among whom there may be a misogyny factor) and professional post-menopausal women. As another of my commentors put it:
Not only does Palin's inexperience trump Obama's... her "otherness" also trumps his. Where she comes from, the way she talks, her bio, lifestyle, and all the moose and caribou stuff... it makes her seem more exotic than Obama, who after all lives in the middle of America and has a life that people can readily understand.

Palin may be just as American as anybody, but she still seems to come from Somewhere Else.

This would be fine... even interesting and appealing... if she weren't attacking. But we have a deep, instinctive aversion to people who are part of us (even if we don't really like them much) being attacked by people we perceive as outsiders. Our instinct is to stiffen up, to protect.
This point may be a little bit overstated, but the fact remains that Barack Obama is extremely well known and Palin is largely unknown, and when that is the case, your perception of the known commodity is more likely to influence your perception of the unknown commodity than the other way around. If there's a certain Italian restaurant that you've been going to for years, and some stranger stops you on the street and tells you that they don't know how to cook their pasta, you're going to think that the stranger is a kook -- not that the restaurant is poor.

And not only is Barack Obama exceptionally well known, but perceptions of him are exceptionally well entrenched. In today's Rasmussen numbers, 63 percent of voters had either a very favorable or a very unfavorable perception of Obama. This is an extremely high figure.

I Really Don't Like Having This Group of People In My Life

Joe Sudbay nails how I felt last night:

This convention has such a creepy, disturbing feel to it. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it just feels creepy. I really don't like having this group of people in my life - even if it's just on tv and in the news for now.

More substantially, I think Mark Schmitt is right:

...I did think that she was picked because she was the closest thing available, even if it required jumping her to the head of the class, to the next wave of the Republican Party -- the Sam's Club Republicans who could combine social conservatism with an appreciation for the real needs of vulnerable working families. There was a tiny bit of that -- the talk about the First Dude being a union member and the promise to be an advocate for families with special needs children. (This is my least favorite trait in modern conservatism -- the carving out of a sympathetic exception for the single family need or health problem that you have personal experience with. When a man did it -- Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon -- I called it "Miss America Conservatism," in the sense that each Republican has his or her little platform issue -- in Smith's case, mental health funding, because of his son's suicide -- that shows their soft side, and then they go back to the demeaning pageant of cutting taxes and slashing Medicaid. The lesson in having a child with special needs is not "we need more attention for kids with special needs," it should be, "life hands out lots of difficult circumstances and lots of families need different kinds of help, so we're all in it together.")

But at any rate, that was a minor note of the speech. The major note was one of fierce, sarcastic, unrelenting partisanship, amped up, as Josh Marshall notes, by following immediately in the wake of Rudy Giuliani's ugly attack, delivered with the passion of a man who for much of his mayoralty had been held to account solely by "community organizers."

And so Palin's was not the face of the future GOP. It was the face of the Republican Party that got so carried away with itself that it impeached Bill Clinton. It was the face of the self-righteous, nasty party of Tom DeLay, John Boehner, Bill Frist, and George Allen. It was the face of Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney, not the softer and superficially more accomodating tones of Ronald Reagan and, to be fair, the election-year George W. Bush.

This was exactly the face of the Republican Party that people have been voting against since at least 1998, when Democrats gained in congressional races amidst impeachment. It's certainly the face of the Republican Party that voters rejected in 2006, when they turned out Allen, Rick Santorum, DeLay, and others. And the fact of being a woman does not soften the partisan face; hard-partisan women like Linda Smith in Washington have had no more success outside of the reddest states than their male counterparts. (Which is why McCain had no pro-life Republican women with experience to select from.)

On top of the fact that Palin's retro approach has consistently failed, it also provides the perfect foil to Senator Obama's cross-partisan pitch. The challenge for Obama was to assimilate the Democratic nomination and a fundamentally progressive agenda with a cross-partisan, new politics tone and attitude. That required some cooperation from the Republicans -- he had to paint a picture in which they were partisans and he (and Biden, et al.) were able to get beyond that old partisanship. McCain, who had cornered the market on bipartisanship, made that move very, very difficult. So did Palin in her first presentation as a different kind of Republican last Friday and on Labor Day in Dayton. But the Palin we saw tonight is a perfect foil for Obama, allowing him to retain the cross-partisan, forward-looking vision, in contrast to the 90s-style, sarcastic partisanship exemplified in Governor Palin's speech.

Also, this:

Palin: "To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House."

Sarah Palin might have changed her mind on this one recently. However, a comment here notes that Palin actually slashed funding for schools for special needs kids by 62%. Budgets: FY 2007 (pre-Palin), 2008, 2009 (all pdfs).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Prattling on About Chrome

For some reason I was getting no sound on Flash video. I killed just the Flash process in the Chrome Task Manager. Now Flash sound is working. This makes me happy.

This Is Exactly What I've Been Thinking All Day


Chrome is to web apps what preemptive multitasking is to an operating system.

Or, putting it too strongly, the difference between Safari and Chrome is like Windows 3.1 and Windows 95.

Baby Steps...

You can now (for the moment, at least) get replacement parts, including keyboards and trackpads, for your XO. If this sort of thing keeps up, I may actually fire up mine again... (via OLPC News)

Now, if only Chrome worked on Linux already...

Ineeda Wii

I've decided that for my work at home dad lifestyle, a Wii Fit would be a good choice for off-season training. I know the things are hard to find, but I'm not in a huge rush, and what is driving me nuts is that I can't seem to just, you know, back-order one at retail and wait for it. I don't want a SMS telling me when to jump in the car and drive to Toy's 'R' Us and get in line. I just want to place an order and wait six weeks (or, of course, less). Any insights from my intelligent and well-informed readers?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Chrome First Impressions

What strikes me about Chrome is that it feels like a browser designed from the ground up in the post-"I keep a million tabs open all the time, some of which are more like applications than pages"-era (which is rather explicitly what it is, so perhaps that's what put the idea in my head...). Anyhow, very snappy switching between tabs, and the tabs on top UI has made me happily do something I've always hated, running the browser window maximized. Basically, doing this with Chrome puts the tabs right at the top of the screen, which, in accordance with Fitt's Law, makes them easier to hit.

This Explains a Lot

Fred Clark:

Some unintentional candor, revealing the speaker's belief in an irreconcilable, binary opposition:

"I want to thank my fellow Republicans as we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats and say, America we are with you and we are going to care about these people in their time of need."

-- Sen. John McCain, Republican presidential candidate, on plans to downscale the Republican National Convention as Hurricane Gustav approaches the Gulf Coast.

A variation of this also appears on a splash page at McCain's Web site:

"We will act as Americans and not as Republicans because America needs us now."

Two different hats. One of them, McCain says, is appropriate for caring "about people in their time of need." The other, McCain says, must be removed in order to do what America needs.

Two separate hats. And, McCain insists, they can't be worn at the same time.

Actually, that explains a lot.

Living in the Eighties

This comment by TangoMan, in conjunction with its elevation by Eduwonkette, and the subsequent discussion, has led me to conclude that the entire educational policy community is slipping into some kind of postmodern collective fugue state:

Here's my hypothesis - teachers don't think like scientists. They're more idealists at heart. They envision a certain role for themselves and they gravitate to approaches that reinforce their idealism. (...)

Any solution has to start at ground zero, that is, the point where all teachers find common origin, education schools. These institutions must inculcate skepticism into the practitioners of teaching and those who make careers of research....More teachers need to adopt the practice of skepticism and chuck overboard the role of advocate for approaches that appeal to them and the role of progressive educator who is intent on implementing the cutting edge of new approaches (where more emphasis is given to the notion of progress than efficacy.) They need to learn to look at a new approach and find that their first instinct should be to tear it apart, rather than to embrace the approach and try to give it a chance....To put it simply, less embracing and more skepticism needs to be at the core of the education school experience.

That's a pretty indirect approach based on a whole stack of suppositions. What if we took a more direct approach, cut out the middle man, and just mandated that teachers use curricula based on scientifically-based research? What if we got really serious and the federal government allocated a billion dollars a year to the effort, to purchasing said curricula, training teachers to use it, etc. etc.? Doesn't that seem a lot more straightforward?

That is, of course, what we did, and, on the whole, the results have been underwhelming (at best). Research obviously plays an important role in improving education, but are there limits to the extent to which we can research our way out of this problem? I mean, does the research show that research-driven curriculum and instruction can be the primary driver of education reform?

Regardless, to continue talking about education as if the past 7, 15, or 20 years never happened is just mind-numbing. As Obama said, it is time for some people to start owning their failures. Not pretending the past seven years didn't happen would be a start.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Don't Be a Dupe, Will!

It has been a while since Will has written anything to drive me nuts... he needs to blog more! Anyhow, today he wrote:

The stupidity from both sides has been amazing (the “she has foreign policy experience because she’s right next door to Russia” remark on the right and the “it really wasn’t her baby” watch on the left)...

First off, the foreign policy bit is the Republican party line on Palin, repeated on teevee by party leaders.

On the other hand, as you've probably noticed, I read liberal blogs, and I hadn't heard the fake pregnancy story until the McCain campaign pinned it on "liberal blogs." I've spent far too much time this evening looking through the archives of prominent liberal blogs from the past two days or so, and I can't find any big names promoting this story, except Andrew Sullivan, who is not a liberal. The whole thing traces back to an anonymous diarist on Daily Kos, ArcXIX, who had posted one diary in three years prior to this weekend. Yes, the reaction on DailyKos was a bit like sharks to chum, but a good chunk of the discussion was about whether or not the diary should be summarily deleted as a "conspiracy theory" under the site's rules. A few other bloggers picked up on it, but none that I'd heard of.

Here's what really happened:

A senior McCain campaign official said the McCain camp was appalled that these rumors had not only been spread around liberal blog sites and partisan Democrats, but also were the subject of heightened interest from mainstream news media.

For example, The Anchorage Daily News. This was the Drudge workflow, except it didn't even require Drudge, random person posts diary entry on Kos, gets some on-site buzz, gets the attention of the press, who start asking questions, now the liberal bloggers are on a witch hunt. But it was the MSM who escalated the rumor, not bloggers.

Also, given the Republican's history of dirty tricks, there is no reason to think that they don't have people with DailyKos accounts ready to plant stories and act as online agents provocateur.

Will continues:

If you listen to C-SPAN in the mornings like I do, you can’t help but agree with Bill Maher when he says the country is getting stupider and stupider. If you watch FOX or MSNBC, listen to Rush or Hannity or Ed Schultz, read the red and blue blogs, you quickly find yourself in a huge virtual, asynchronous shouting match that regardless of your political leanings will make you both tired and frustrated and longing for the one page briefing memo with just the “facts” if there still are such beasts.

Here's what you do, Will -- read good blogs and skip the rest of that crap. That's your briefing. You don't have to read the red and blue shouting match, at least not forever. Here's the thing: time passes. Will and I have both been reading political blogs daily for, what, six, eight years? We've been reading some of these people nearly every day in that period. It should be pretty clear who has gotten things right and who hasn't. Isn't that what all this "personal learning network" crap is about?

Here's how you teach your children to evaluate any news on the television that is not on Comedy Central:


Vivian prefers to read Harper's during meals, which doesn't require constant interruptions for fact-checking, although some help with letter identification is sometimes necessary:

She's done this pretty much every day since May (when that was filmed).

Looking Forward to Trying Google Chrome on the XO

Google Chrome, the new browser Google's apparently developing, should be well suited to a memory constrained platform like the XO. Just about all these features should be directly relevant to XO users:

  • It's built on Webkit, the browser framework used to power Safari and the iPhone.
  • It's faster. Smarter implementation of Javascript rendering will make pages more responsive and let your browser do more than one thing at once.
  • Smarter memory management. A sophisticated approach to data storage across time and tabs will keep the browser in top shape.
  • Crash-free app browsing. Applications will be partitioned in the browser so if one crashes, it won't crash your whole browser.
  • Tabs on the top. Instead of tabs being displayed below your address bar, inside the browser - they'll ride on top of each browser window. We'll see what this is like for the user, we do wonder.
  • Quick navigation. Your most frequently visited pages will be available in a point and click navigation, like Opera's Quick Dial.
  • Gears integration. Google Gears will be integrated throughout the experience for offline use, local storage of information and all kinds of other magic that Gears-heads are working on.
  • Open source. The browser appears to be entirely open source, Google says it wants other companies to borrow from it just like it learned from them.

One thing this list doesn't mention is that you'll be able to use a process viewer to check out which tabs are using up the most memory and/or CPU and kill them individually. A power-user trick, to be sure, but the kind of thing I need to be able to actually use my XO around the house, which I'd certainly like to do. The reason this kind of feature is specifically relevant to an XO is not only does it not have much memory, it has no virtual memory or swap, so once you run out of space, things grind to a halt very quickly. It would be much easier to manage this situation by killing individual browser tabs than killing your whole browser session.

Clarifying a bit... in Google Chrome, because every tab = a separate process, closing a tab reclaims the memory used by that tab much more efficiently than doing the same thing in Firefox. In Firefox, after running a couple of days with a bunch of tabs, I just have to kill Firefox (kill the firefox process) and restart to get it back down to a reasonable memory footprint, despite the fact that I'm immediately re-opening all the same pages, with all the fragmentation and garbage cleared away, it takes up way less memory. I shouldn't have to do this on Google Chrome.