Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Pivotal Education "Innovation" of the Decade

I'm generally of the view that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to education, and a lot of standard discourse about "change" is really just pendulum-swinging. But I think there is at least one new thing from the past decade (in US public, primary and secondary education) which deserves special mention: schools completely and unabashedly optimized to increase the scores on two (or three or one) specific tests, especially new schools built from the ground up for that specific purpose.

This is a pivot, because there is a lot that leads up to that point (standards, tests, laws enforcing accountability, etc.) and lots of things that don't really get rolling until after you've got some of these schools.

When we designed a new high school in 2001, pre-NCLB, testing and accountability was already important -- after all, we were actually re-designing a school that had been closed for poor performance -- we never entertained the idea that the mission of the school was to raise test scores (or four year graduation stats). We were, to quote Ted Sizer, trying to teach kids to "use their minds well." And we figured if we did a good job at that their scores would be fine. We'd read about schools focusing on "bubble kids" and other now-familiar score optimizing strategies; this stuff just sounded cynical and quixotic. We were ill-prepared for the coming decade; something I'm not ashamed of.

Post-NCLB, there has been a whole generation of new schools that have been built in every facet to optimize test scores, by people who have no qualms whatsoever about that goal. Not surprisingly, these schools tend to get the highest test scores, relative to their peers.

The existence of these schools is important, because otherwise, your results are going to be fairly muddled. Some schools will do better, some will do worse, but you aren't going to get a clarion call for anything in particular that transcends the eternal debates in education (some schools of all types will do well, some poorly...).

But once your schools that are specifically optimized for high test scores, you're going to get some consistent winners -- the best optimizers -- and then you can turn the crank and start pushing for more schools on the score-optimizing model, based on their "objective" superiority.

By the way, most of these schools focus on "college" as a proxy for "high test scores," since you generally don't want to tell the parents and kids that the numbers are an end in themselves. So "college" works, since "high test scores" and "doing well in yet more school" are generally well aligned, and once we've got our new "college and career readiness standards" done, there will be no rhetorical gap there at all.

Anyhow, my point is that the existence of a significant number of these schools is the biggest "new" thing of the decade in US K-12 education.

Honorable Mention #1: Broad Academy

A brilliant move; it is like Microsoft training all of Apple's executives.

Honorable Mention #2: OLPC
By the end of this decade, every student in the country will be carrying some kind of electronic device, because of OLPC, there is at least one vision for a computer designed to meet the needs of students first and foremost (as opposed to businessmen, consumers, or publishers and record companies), even if that vision has still not been fully realized. If there was no OLPC, all we'd be able to do is say "not a Kindle, not an iPhone, not a $800 laptop" wave our arms around, and watch people's eyes glaze over as we describe our arcane geek fantasies.

Professional Adults

Jack Silbert:

I used to hold professional adults in greater esteem. Then I became a professional adult, and realized that we're just older versions of the same dopes from the schoolyard.

Arduino in Turtle Art


  • Arduino: At FOSS.IN, thanks to the efforts of the ever enthusiastic Kushal Das, I managed to get hold of an Arduino clone board (it is terribly difficult to get hold of one in Kolkata). I had heard of Arduino before and wanted to get one, and the session on it at by Russell Nelson finally served as the “kick” which made Kushal and me call up the local distributor and get a couple of boards for ourselves. I have been playing around with sensors support in Sugar for sometime (I helped make the Measure activity work on XO 1.5 hardware), and realized that this would be yet another interesting way to connect Sugar with the “real” world. So after a couple of weekends worth of work, I got Arduino support in Turtle Art.
    Turtle Art with Arduino
  • Sounds Like a Weird Kindergarten

    Cranston Herald:

    “The whole-school meeting lasts maybe six minutes,” said Chiappetta, who explained that the group often discusses their DREAM values, which stands for discipline, respect, enthusiasm, accountability and maturity. “By the time the scholars move upstairs, they are ready to learn and their baggage has been left at the door. It’s very cleansing.”

    The scholars have 30 to 40 minutes of homework per night and extra homework on the weekends.

    Although, as is often the case, when you read about what goes on in the school beyond the sloganeering and a few arbitrary rules, it seems more reasonable; e.g., I bet that "homework" is often finished before the kids actually go home, as part of the "extended day" activities.

    The interesting question is whether there are enough middle and upper class parents in Cumberland & Lincoln who are conservative enough to embrace the school's "no excuses" approach for their own kids, but liberal enough to send their kids to a school that's predominantly poor minority students. If there aren't, it will be tough in the long run to maintain their community's investment in the school.

    Saturday, December 26, 2009

    GregDek Saves Me the Trouble of Writing this Post

    Greg DeKoenigsberg:

    The OLPC organization is built to do hardware innovation. Of the many things they've attempted, it's the one thing at which they have clearly been wildly successful. They put the fear of God into Intel and forced the worldwide introduction of the Netbook, thus driving down the median price of personal computing all over the world -- whether you choose to give them credit for that achievement or not. Their decision to focus on hardware innovation as a core competency is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    Is the challenge of educating every child in the world bigger than OLPC can handle? Why, yes. Yes, it is.

    There's the problem of open educational resources, which is being attacked by organizations like OER Commons and Curriki and UNESCO, and possibly even by the United States federal government. Did you know that the Hewlett Foundation actually has a logic model for the development of open educational resources, which they now apply to every organization who comes to them for requests to fund education projects?

    There's the problem of open source software suitable for use by kids, which is being attacked by organizations like Sugar Labs and the KDE Education Project and GCompris and Squeak -- all of whom have successfully deployed software that is now being used by lots and lots of kids. None of these projects are perfect, but all are continually improving.

    Guess what? OLPC was *bad* at these things. That's why they have, quite sensibly, left those problems for other organizations to solve. OLPC is now, and has always been, a single piece of a very large puzzle. The shrill cries that "OLPC HAS FORGOTTEN TEH KIDZ!!!!" are at best, unhelpful, and at worst, ridiculous.


    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    Le Sigh


    PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The School Board voted this week to renew School Supt. Thomas M. Brady's contract for five years.

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Um... Define "Institutions of Power..."

    Ian Bogost (at, via Mark Guzdial):

    “Games are like folk music of the 1960s,” Bogost said. “They grew up with it. They identify with it. And it isn’t something really co-opted by institutions of power.”

    You know, I'm inherently sympathetic to whole "games in education" question, but unfortunately, the primary exponents of this activity come across as cynical, disingenuous hucksters.

    Slow Week Whedon Blogging

    I don't quite agree with Kevin Carey that the cancellation of Dollhouse makes Joss Whedon a greater tragic figure in the annals of popular culture. Doing another series with Fox after they wrecked Firefly was completely inexplicable, except out of friendship with Eliza Dushku and relief that he'd gotten a plausible new idea for a show, and I don't buy Matt Yglesias's argument that it was all about money. I find it highly unlikely running a series on Fox that you know is not going to be supported and will be canceled in two years at the outside is more profitable than a deal for a cable series that will actually be successful over a longer period of time, albeit at a smaller scale.

    To me, Dollhouse is just a further expression of the catastrophe that was the cancellation of Firefly. Even someone like Joss Whedon doesn't have an infinite number of great show ideas. Gene Roddenberry didn't have a great idea to follow up Star Trek, for example. Even David Milch drops stinkers like John from Cinncinnati. The reason Whedon so doggedly stuck with Buffy and Firefly, to the point of doing movie and TV versions of both, is that he knows ideas that good only come around a few times in a lifetime.

    OTOH, maybe he knew Dollhouse was a good, but not epochally great concept, so why not use it on Fox? It is no great loss.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    Merry Christmas from Against All Authorities

    The station in GE-8JV was looking a little more festive than usual tonight.

    The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer

    Noam Scheiber:

    The business schools had their own incentives to channel students into high-paying fields like finance, thanks to the rising importance of school rankings, which heavily weighted starting salaries.

    This, eventually, created a glut of overcompensated financiers who have led the drive to apply equally bogus and thoughtless rankings upon primary and secondary schools, which themselves trigger further sequences of unintended consequences nobody can predict control, or even discern.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    Interesting... Also Inevitable

    Norm Scott:

    One interesting thing was the number of young teachers, some from TFA and the TF programs who stood up for their schools. It wasn't just the older teachers who are outraged. These are the very people the ed deformers were counting on to be their shock troops. I was with some of the reporters on the way home and we ran into one of the teachers, a 3rd year TFA who remained after her commitment to stay at her school. Her school in the first year also closed. She said she wanted to stay in the NYC system and now that is doubtful. BloomKlein first went after the older teachers and now are eating their own young.

    The ever-tightening gyre of "reform."

    From the Start I Can See the End

    New Haven Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries at Public School Insights:

    What is fairly distinctive about our agreement is that in the context of those turnarounds, work rules in particular and to some extent compensation essentially become a function not of the overall contract, but instead of what we call an “election to work” agreement. So the person who's managing the turnaround school, or the people who are leading that school, would say, “In this turned-around school, this is how we expect to operate. This is how long our school day will be. This is how programming will happen during the day. This is how we’ll do professional development.” That sort of thing. An individual teacher's decision to go work in that environment constitutes his or her agreement to those conditions. Essentially what we came together with the union around is the idea that we wanted to be able to create situations where you could really have a “whatever it takes” mentality and you could build a team that has bought into that approach, even if the work rules were different than they are in the standard New Haven public school system.

    We did this in Providence for over a decade, and by the time it was ended by fiat -- actually, it wasn't even ended by fiat, because the change was never announced, never a memo, never a hearing, not an article in the paper, never a response from the school board about what the new policy actually was -- nobody even seemed to remember that this policy ever existed in the first place. No matter how committed the parties are in making this kind of agreement, the timescale of schooling (long!), combined with rapid turnover of administration, a constant manufactured crisis mentality (there's a problem, but it's chronic!), and the history of the American labor relations (as opposed to, say, European) makes long term success unlikely.

    On the other hand, this is probably the only way forward, so... well, this is why I wouldn't consider working for an urban school district anymore.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    (Don't Talk About the) Left-Right Convergence

    Ed Kilgore's got a good analysis of an important split between Democrats, especially in regard to education:

    But the other potential fault line is ideological, and is sometimes hard to discern because it extends across a variety of issues. To put it simply, and perhaps over-simply, on a variety of fronts (most notably financial restructuring and health care reform, but arguably on climate change as well), the Obama administration has chosen the strategy of deploying regulated and subsidized private sector entities to achieve progressive policy results. This approach was a hallmark of the so-called Clintonian, "New Democrat" movement, and the broader international movement sometimes referred to as "the Third Way," which often defended the use of private means for public ends...

    To be clear, this is not the same as the conservative "privatization" strategy, which simply devolves public responsibilities to private entities without much in the way of regulation. In education policy, to cite one example, New Democrats (and the Obama administration) have championed charter public schools, which are highly regulated but privately operated schools that receive public funds in exchange for successful performance of publicly-defined tasks. Conservatives have typically called for private-school vouchers, which simply shift public funds to private schools more or less unconditionally, on the theory that they know best how to educate children.

    Although the situation in education is even more tangled insofar as it is driven by business-model philanthropy more than actual businesses, in part because schools, unlike say, prisons or mercenary outfits, aren't really profitable to run (except via indirect methods, like real estate scams).

    Also, when you consider that, say, Key L.A. Unified staff positions are funded privately, it reinforces Matt Yglesias's argument that in practice there is less of a difference than there appears:

    At the end of the day, no matter what people think they think, nobody remotely sensible actually holds a pure strain of either of these views. Robust disagreement exists about whether public education should be provided exclusively through government-managed public schools or also through government-funded and government-regulated privately-managed charter schools, but nobody thinks it’s objectionable for public schools to buy desks from private desk-makers.

    Nonetheless, Kilgore's point is an important one.

    I'm also interested in the meta-commentary to Kilgore's post, which is similar to some of the responses I got for my little schematic of US school reform directions:

    UPDATE: In discussing this post with several friends, I recognize I should be very clear about my motives here. I am not trying to promote an ideological fight within the Democratic Party or the progressive coalition, and don't want to exaggerate ideological differences, either. But ideology, however muddled, is part of what makes most politically active people tick. And if we don't talk about it--and about differences in strategic thinking as well, which will be the subject of future discussions here--then all we are left with to explain our differences on this issue or that is questions of character. And anyone paying attention must recognize there's far too much of that going on. "Progressive pragmatists"--the camp with which I most often personally identify, as it happens--often treat "the Left" condescendingly as immature and impractical people who don't understand how things get done. Meanwhile, people on "the Left" often treat "pragmatists" as either politically gutless or personally corrupt. This is what happens when you don't take seriously other people's ideological and strategic underpinnings; whatever you gain in ignoring or minimizing differences in perspective or point of view is lost in mutual respect. Sure, the character attacks on both sides are sometimes accurate, but nobody should assume that in any particular case without further examination of each others' ideological and strategic views. That examination is what we are trying to promote here.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    No Sticks Left to Throw


    Rhode Island is not (on the list of probable first round Race to the Top applicants), probably indicating that State Supe Deborah Gist is working to do it right (with regard to detailing her aggressive reform agenda in a few hundred pages of prose).

    I heard on WRNI this morning that she may propose a funding formula for state education aid next month (we're the only state without one, iirc), so perhaps she wants to get that in first as well. That will be interesting because it is not something she can just issue an edict about and wait for the congratulatory op-eds to pour in.

    I have no insight (whatsoever!) into what the Rhode Island teachers' unions are thinking about RttT, but imho, they have some incentive to play hard to get. The application needs their agreement, but the state and local governments are already attacking with everything they've got across a broad front. I don't think administration has anything in reserve. What's the governor going to do, threaten to order districts to reopen their teacher contracts and give everyone a 3% pay cut? Oh wait:

    But Carcieri’s plan to cut about $40 million between now and June from the state’s 38 school districts, 13 charter schools and 3 state-run schools is more than a budget reduction — it’s a message to Rhode Island’s 14,600 public school teachers. Put simply, Carcieri wants teachers to take the same 3-percent pay cut that state workers accepted earlier this year, and he wants their pension plans reduced...

    Carcieri said he wants teachers to make the same sacrifice state workers are making. He wants every district to reopen teacher contracts and get the unions to agree to salary reductions...

    I'm not sure "Oh noes, we might get some bad PR," is really going to scare the unions at this point. They're fighting for their life now.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Not that Consortium, the Other One

    Politics K-12:

    New Hampshire wanted to know if its existing New England consortium on common standards counts as much in earning points toward a grant as the larger Common Core effort.

    If the answer is "yes," (and I don't think it will be), does that mean RI can take out that crap about "Establish World-Class Standards and Assessments" out of our draft strategic plan and focus on continuing to implement the very well regarded regional standards we just wrote?

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    I've Heard the Same Thing from a Reporter in Providence

    Michael Miner:

    I heard the atmosphere at CPS is pervaded by trepidation: a lot of old faces have vanished, while new, young, and inexperienced faces popped up in positions of command. "I've had people I've talked to for years whose voice will literally shake when I get hold of them, and they'll say, 'I can't say anything,'" says another Chicago reporter who frequently covers the schools. "They're laying off hundreds of people, especially at the central office, and job security is really high on people's list. As much as they might not agree with what Huberman's doing, they don't want to be out there trying to find a job."

    via M.Klonsky.

    "Progressive" and "Traditional" Ed

    The Core Knowledge website:

    Ravitch discusses other progressive movements, too, like the social studies movement and the “life-adjustment” movement. The parade of bad ideas she documents would be very depressing if she did not also draw attention to a handful of brave souls who championed traditional education in the face of the progressive onslaught...

    Left Back is a thoroughly researched and eminently reasonable book. It is likely to be of interest to most readers of this newsletter, but it will be of particular interest to Core Knowledge teachers and principals interested in learning more about the academic tradition and the progressive reforms that have endangered this tradition. Teachers, principals, parents, and others who read this book will emerge confirmed in their conviction that Core Knowledge is good for kids and good for America.

    Why I Put Core Knowledge in the Bottom Left

    E.D. Hirsch, from the Core Knowledge website:

    Apologists for the current state of public schools continue to blame the persistent achievement gap between ethnic and racial groups on social conditions or on shortcomings in the innate abilities of some groups. But the proof that such social and psychological determinism is false is the fact that the achievement gap between social and racial groups has been greatly reduced in France and other democracies. If social or IQ determinism were true, then the educational success of those nations would be impossible. It is no accident that progressivism never took hold in nations which have greatly narrowed the test-score gap between groups. By criticizing progressivism, I don't of course criticize its emphasis on humane, lively, and imaginative teaching. That has been a hallmark of good education in all times and places. I mean only to criticize its all-too-successful attack on traditional academic subject matter as being boring, useless, and even soul-deadening.

    Let me remind you of the founding idea of democratic education as it was envisaged after the great democratic revolutions in Europe and America first by thinkers like Jefferson, then by Horace Mann and W.E.B. Du Bois. They wanted the focus of the schools to be on strong content in history, science, mathematics, and the arts. Those subjects were to form the common content which everyone learned. Commonality of content was the essence of the so-called "common school." The idea was that schooling should enable every person to stand on his or her own two feet, equal to every other person of similar talent and virtue, rather than, as in the past, having one's role in life determined by the status, wealth, or education of one's parents. This democratic ideal was shared by all the great founders of democratic education everywhere in the world. The common school was to be a place where children of all races and conditions would be offered the same opportunity to amplify their talents. How far short of this ideal our schools have fallen in the 20th century is highlighted by the degree to which other democracies have lived up so much better than we have to this egalitarian ideal.

    They have achieved this by two basic policies that are directly opposed to the principles of progressive education — first, they have determined that the emphasis of schooling should fall on the academic curriculum, not on slogans about growth, critical thinking, and individually tailored study plans — and second, that all children should share a core of common intellectual capital. The most acute thinkers about democratic education, including Jefferson, Horace Mann, and Du Bois, believed that it is not intelligence that increases knowledge but knowledge that increases intelligence. Du Bois, who was himself the product of the New England common school, would have scorned the sentimental absurdity that each child must have his or her own special curriculum suited to his or her special personality. (emphasis added)

    See discussion...

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    A Vision of 2012... circa 1993

    Scott McLeod:

    Judy O’Connell asked if the video below is the future of magazines. Yes, absolutely. Maybe not by 2010 or 2012 but sooner than we think. And for newspapers and books too. And, to a lesser extent, maybe we’ll even start seeing more interactivity and/or multimedia embedded within scholarly research, government or policy center reports, and other manuscripts.

    If ‘news’ is becoming more of a commodity every day, perhaps it’s this sort of added value from which publishers will make their money. I know I’d pay for something like this from my favorite periodicals.

    Really? The future of magazines is digital magazines with video? This is what people thought the future would be like before the World Wide Web was invented. Maybe SI could mail this out on a CD-ROM every week.

    In particular, it is amusing that Scott is arguing here that the disruptive innovation -- the web -- is at the 11th hour going to lose out to a sustaining innovation for traditional print media -- fancy proprietary tablet book readers.

    What Does This Make Me?

    Linda Perlstein:

    Miner writes that the head flack at Chicago schools “spoke of the value of having ‘everybody on the same page.’” Ack. I could rant pretty thoroughly about how creepy and unproductive it is to want everyone in a massive organization to be on the same page—and foray into my loathing of how “being a team player,” which principals say all the time, has come to mean “not questioning anything”—but perhaps today is the day I should start trying to blog shorter.

    I’ll just say two things:

    1. The “same page” climate means that only the crankiest, most out-there gadflies have the guts to question or criticize, which is not as productive as an honest dialogue among everyone.

    A Good Enough Schematic of US School Reform

    This is pretty much the universe as I see it. The upper left needs a better name or representative organization. I considered "no excuses" but I don't think that's quite it.

    One thing about this graph is that each quadrant tends to be ambivalent toward the ones they share a border with and save their attacks for the ones diagonally across from them. Also the top tends to ignore or try to avoid fights with the bottom.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Am I Imagining it, or is this a Condescending and Dismissive Tone?

    Common Core State Standards Initiative: Summary of Public Feedback:

    Respondents conceptually embrace the idea of “fewer, clearer, higher” standards. However, most also suggest the standards be expanded in one or more areas. Respondents suggested dozens of topics that could also be added or expanded, but rarely is it suggested that a topic be eliminated or minimized. Among the topics suggested to be added to the standards are 1) civic readiness; 2) applied learning; 3) awareness of author strategies; 4) collaboration; 5) oral and written language development specific to disciplines; 6) the way that gender, race, class, and culture shape our textual interpretations; 7) ability to navigate in a digital world; 8) differences in formal and information rules among forms of genres; 9) topics and research questions; 10) flexible writing processes; 11) reading for pleasure; 12) viewing skills; and 13) vocabulary development.

    There is a predictable relationship between a respondent’s expertise and his or her suggestions. Writing teachers want more specificity about the process, types, and purposes of writing woven into the Common Core State Standards; librarians tend to be more sensitive to the opportunities and demands created by the online environment; and reading teachers offer much more detailed and specific standards related to teaching reading.

    Overall, the document reads like it was written by the people who worked on the math standards. One gets the impression that having to deal with those other standards is just an annoying distraction from the real work on mathematics. I mean, they constantly refer to the "English Language Arts" standards. There are no proposed common standards for English Language Arts. They do not exist! There are "reading, writing, and speaking and listening" standards, which are, in some undefined but apparently necessary way, different.

    Wednesday, December 09, 2009

    Teacher Distribution and District Size

    Kati Haycock:

    We’re beginning, though, I think, to see some efforts to change that. One of the most interesting is in Hamilton County, Tennessee, where, using real data, they’ve identified some of their strongest teachers.

    They’ve provided them incentives to come in groups to their lowest- performing schools, and they’ve also paid the teachers in those schools who are strong performers more, as well. And results in the schools are up, as a result.

    Guilford County, North Carolina, is another system that has taken this issue on and made some real progress. Houston Independent School District is doing some interesting work around teacher distribution and performance, as well. And I think some of these cities will help lead the way as we figure out what’s the right combination of strategies. How much of this is about really important – is about school leadership? Because we know that having good leaders in schools is one of the strongest magnets we can have for strong teachers. But how much of this is impeded by contract provisions that we need to change?

    It is not a coincidence that she cites three southern districts, two county based and one 310 square mile urban one. Providence is 18.5 square miles. There are only a handful of schools in the green areas above. Redistributing teachers within the city is not a solution to our problems.

    There is no reason the Race to the Top criteria couldn't have "incentivized" realignment of districts into larger, particularly mixed-income, units. Of course, that would have been a hundred times more controversial than anything that actual made the proposal, which is why is isn't in there, despite the fact that it is almost certainly a precondition to one of their main strategies having a chance of working.

    Riding the Range with Robert Pondiscio

    I'm not that surprised that conservatives in the West like to use romantic representations of cowboys in their character education, just as you wouldn't be shocked if a liberal New Englander lingered over, say, the Bread and Roses Strike in a similar context. But lets be clear, this "Code of the West" has little, if anything, to do with genuine social history, so when Robert Pondiscio raises the subject on the Core Knowledge blog, it gives you an opportunity to see where his priorities lie. Apparently not so much with historical accuracy.

    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    Concerning Hope High School

    To the Board of Regents and Commissioner Gist,

    I am writing in support of the students, teachers and other members of the Hope High School community who spoke at the December 3rd meeting of the Board of Regents. Their concerns speak directly to the credibility and integrity of the Board's ongoing and future reform initiatives.

    In a letter to his fellow Regents just short of one year ago, Angus Davis praised the nomination of Arne Duncan as Barack Obama's Secretary of Education, citing his record of successful turnarounds as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools:

    "In a hearing this summer before Congress, he testified, 'We are one of the few districts in the country that literally shut down underperforming schools and replaced the entire school staff. The turnaround strategy has resulted in doubled or tripled student performance in many of these schools, he testified: 'Same children, same families, same socio-economic challenges, same neighborhood, same school building... Different teachers, new leadership and a new educational approach, and the results are dramatic.'"

    If this is true and praiseworthy in Chicago (and perhaps it is not (1)), the test score gains at Hope High School have been equally dramatic, or moreso.

    The teachers at Hope High School cannot simply be written off as representatives of the "status quo," or people who don't "put children first." They are the vanguard of reform who answered the state's call in 2005, and they have been successful.

    In turn, their professional futures at the intersection of local, state and federal reform initiatives look roughly like this: the systematic dismantling of their meticulously crafted program by district administration, test scores likely declining back to the mean just as each teacher is personally evaluated and perhaps compensated based on those scores.

    The next step will be closure of the school for management by an outside agency, as the collapse of Hope's reform following a return to district administration will be seen as proof that turning around district schools does not work. The teachers will have no right to another job in the district and a professional portfolio featuring declining scores in a disheartened, failing school, and a local administration which has already shown a willingness to use the mis-named "criterion-based" hiring policies to punish dissent.

    This will be their reward for successfully confronting one of the state's most intractable school reform challenges.

    As Tony Bryk and Barbara Schneider wrote in their book, Trust in Schools (p. 139-140):

    ...external actors have taken on important roles in schools' social networks, and the development of relational trust across these new role sets also becomes important....

    A mutual dependence for success now exists across this expanded social network of internal and external actors. Since power relations typically will be structured with asymmetry favoring district and state agents, it becomes incumbent on these external agents to acknowledge the vulnerability sensed by school-based actors. Any actions taken by external agents to reduce this vulnerability should go a long way toward building trust across this expanded social network. (2)

    Put another way, an activist Board of Regents and Commissioner need to demonstrate that you will have the back of those who work directly on your behalf on the front lines.

    If the Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education do not have the will, capacity and stamina to defend your own freshly won gains in Rhode Island school reform, then perhaps you should reconsider the scope of your ambition for the future. I hope you will act decisively in this matter.

    Tom Hoffman
    Providence, RI


    (2) Chall, Leo, Bryk, Anthony, & Schneider, Barbara. (2002). Trust in schools. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation Publications.

    Integrated, Progressive Charters

    Mike Petrilli:

    Yet even in the face of these challenges, at least a handful of fantastic, integrated charter schools have gotten off the ground. Consider Capital City Charter School in Washington--the first public school the Obamas visited as President and First Lady--which serves equal numbers of white, black, and Hispanic children and roughly equal proportions of poor and middle class kids--and which has gotten strong results over its ten-year history. There’s the famous High Tech High (HTH), founded with an explicit mission to serve a diverse group of students in the San Diego area. And there’s the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST)--the best school in Denver, which is just about perfectly integrated along racial and class lines. Such schools should offer inspiration to the school reform, pro-charter crowd, as well as civil rights types--indeed, to just about everyone except neo-separatists who would prefer that, say, African-American youngsters learn from African-American teachers in Afro-centric schools.

    Of those three, I know High Tech High is a very progressive design, and from browsing its website, Capital City is also a Coalition of Essential Schools school and generally progressive. DSST looks more traditional, but it is difficult to say just from the website, especially in a high school focusing on science. It is hard to create a genuinely rigorous science program that does not include a healthy dose of inquiry.

    So no, at least two of those schools are not inspirational to everyone, they shouldn't be inspirational to people who don't like progressive education. Like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

    This is one reason the RI mayoral academies are such a curious construct. The intent seems to be to create integrated, city/suburb, "no excuses" schools. As far as I can tell, there is no precedent for that. It might work, but if it does they'll probably end up quite different from their original urban/segregated inspirations.

    The Etymology of Decimate

    RIC’s Dean of Education, Roger G. Eldridge, Jr. in the ProJo:

    Eldridge opposes raising the (required Praxis) scores (to 179), saying the change could have a dramatic impact on the size of teacher training programs next year, particularly at RIC, which trains about 375 new teachers a year.

    “I was always in favor of raising them, but not as high as 179,” Eldridge said. “I can live with 175. That’s fine.” ...

    “We are hoping the scores will go up,” he said. “So I am not as worried as I was about losing a huge number of students. We may lose 10 to 15 percent.”

    Increasing scores to 179 in a single year “would have decimated us,” he said.

    While "decimate" may turn up on your Praxis exam, it doesn't appear that you're expected to know the original meaning of the term. Lucky for Dr. Eldridge.

    More substantively, I don't have a strong opinion about raising the Praxis cut score for new teachers, but I am concerned that our Commissioner seems more concerned with the PR value of "from worst to first" to a research-based analysis of what the optimal cut score might be.

    Friday, December 04, 2009

    Tim Quirk's Hilarious Warner Bros. Royalty Statement

    Tim Quirk:

    I got something in the mail last week I’d been wanting for years: a Too Much Joy royalty statement from Warner Brothers that finally included our digital earnings. Though our catalog has been out of print physically since the late-1990s, the three albums we released on Giant/WB have been available digitally for about five years. Yet the royalty statements I received every six months kept insisting we had zero income, and our unrecouped balance ($395,277.18!)* stubbornly remained the same.

    Now, I don’t ever expect that unrecouped balance to turn into a positive number, but since the band had been seeing thousands of dollars in digital royalties each year from IODA for the four indie albums we control ourselves, I figured five years’ worth of digital income from our far more popular major label albums would at least make a small dent in the figure. Our IODA royalties during that time had totaled about $12,000 – not a princely sum, but enough to suggest that the total haul over the same period from our major label material should be at least that much, if not two to five times more. Even with the band receiving only a percentage of the major label take, getting our unrecouped balance below $375,000 seemed reasonable, and knocking it closer to -$350,000 wasn’t out of the question.

    So I was naively excited when I opened the envelope. And my answer was right there on the first page. In five years, our three albums earned us a grand total of…


    via Mac.

    Hope High Finds its Bollocks

    Kudos to the Hope High School community:

    LINCOLN — In an unprecedented move, more than 50 teachers, students and alumni implored state education leaders to save Hope High School, once one of the state’s worst high schools, from being dismantled piece by piece.

    Providence School Supt. Tom Brady is imposing a six-period day on all of the city’s high schools because, in a district where students move from school to school, a uniform curriculum means that all students will be on the same page whether they attend Hope or Central High School.

    But Hope’s teachers say that replacing the school’s “block” schedule of four 90-minute periods a day with six 48-minute classes will effectively undermine five years of hard-won reforms, changes that have earned the school national recognition as well as praise from Governor Carcieri.

    “We will no longer have weekly advisory periods, weekly [schoolwide] planning time and our every-other-day team planning will be eliminated completely,” said Marianne Davidson, a faculty member, at Thursday’s board of regents’ meeting.

    Student advisories, considered a critical tool for building trusting relationships between students and adults, would be slashed from nearly 90 minutes a week to 30 minutes, maybe less.

    I'll be drafting a letter of support this weekend.

    In the meantime, I'm also glad this came up now because the Regents need to be reminded that if they start acting like the school board for the whole state, the whole state will start treating them like their school board.

    Thursday, December 03, 2009

    True in Educational Technology Too!

    Mark Bernstein:

    Our tech press is both corrupt and silly, forever chasing the expected narrative without understanding, or even trying to understand, the underlying technology. The costs to everyone are frightening.

    Read Growing Pains: Scaling Up the Nation’s Best Charter Schools

    Hugs and kisses to Dean Millot (and Alexander Russo, and frickin' Scholastic for that matter) for publishing Tom Toch's original draft of his Ed Sector report, Growing Pains: Scaling Up the Nation’s Best Charter Schools. It is simply the clearest and most informative explanation of how the vaunted Charter Management Organization industry works. If you want to understand what's really going on at KIPP, etc., read this. Not that it is some kind of expose or damning indictment.

    It rings true to me because I know what goes into running a small urban high school, and I had opportunities to talk to leaders of some of the more prominent progressive CMO's in the first half of the decade.

    I could quote huge chunks of this, but you should just read the whole thing. My favorite paragraph:

    And the leading charter networks have made a strong case for increased funding for disadvantaged students. Many of the education commentators who lavish praise on KIPP and other high-performing charter networks also argue that there is sufficient money for traditional public schools to educate students effectively, if only the money were spent more efficiently. Charter management organizations, much freer than traditional public schools to use their resources as they like, have put that proposition to the test and proven it doesn’t apply in many parts of the country. To get strong results they have had to spend more money than they expected, and more money than has been available to them in many parts of the country—above and beyond the cost of their buildings and their lower state and local funding. Under the education models of the highest-achieving charter networks, it takes more to do more.

    If you really want a summary, Claus's is good.

    Coming Attractions in Education -- Replication!


    Two of the (four schools slated to be closed in NYC), Frederick Douglass Academy III and KAPPA II, are in school networks that sprang up in order to replicate already existent successful schools. Schools in the KAPPA network — there are seven of them — are modeled after the KIPP charter schools. Frederick Douglass Academy III, which according to the proposal would lose its middle school grades and keep its high school, is designed to replicate the original Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem.

    On one hand, you have to give them some measure of credit for at least following though on the rhetoric about being quicker to close unsuccessful charter schools. OTOH, I tend to think this will be harder on the generic "charter school" brand than they may appreciate. Nobody wants to take a chance on sending their kid to a school that will closed. If charters come to be seen as ephemeral, it will be a big problem for them. People are justifiably risk-averse with their children.

    RI's Draft Strategic Plan

    I'm going to try to avoid obsessing over the Rhode Island Department of Education's new draft Strategic Plan, in part because it is so wholly Race to the Top boiler plate. I swear they tore this thing right off a fax from McKinsey.

    Apparently business consultants have a really bizarre concept of "strategy." To me strategy is all about the focused allocation of scarce resources. This thing is like a list of wishes. And this plan makes no reference to the ongoing context of school reform in Rhode Island -- nothing about SALT for example, which is a fine foundation for many of the goals described.

    I must linger for a moment over this part:

    Priority Name: Develop User Friendly Data Systems

    Priority Goal: Create a data-driven culture for education decision-making.

    Objective 4: Redesign the school and district accountability processes to extend beyond NECAP results to include valid and reliable data against key indicators so that the appropriate supports, interventions, enhancements, and improvements can be targeted effectively to improve student achievement.

    Objective Measures:

    By 2012, Rhode Island will have implemented a performance management system based on student growth and teacher effectiveness to measure performance of schools and teachers.

    By 2015, Rhode Island will be able to demonstrate a 10% increase in student achievement directly tied to a system of supports and intervention.

    Strategy 4.1 Develop accountability process that accurately measures the effectiveness of school and district programs, supports, and interventions.

    • Develop systems requirements for collecting data related to student-level supports, including evaluations and individualized supports Develop metrics for growth model, gap analysis, and teacher effectiveness.
    • Develop query-driven reports that apply performance metrics to disaggregated data in order to improve student achievement.

    Strategy 4.2 Develop standards and processes for how these metrics are to be used to improve student achievement.

    • Develop methodology for including growth metrics and teacher effectiveness into a system of state performance measures, and possibly into AYP.
    • Develop performance measures for systems requirements of the BEP.
    • Create set of diagnostic metrics to match capacity and systems measures to specific interventions and initiatives that will ensure acceleration of student achievement.

    This is weird and absurd in a number of ways, but I'm drawn to this "objective measure:"

    By 2015, Rhode Island will be able to demonstrate a 10% increase in student achievement directly tied to a system of supports and intervention.

    I'd love to see even a science fiction fantasy timeline about how that is supposed to work (or even mean, what is a "10% increase in student achievement," esp. when you're going "beyond NECAP?"). You get your baseline data in 2013, measure effective new local interventions in 2014, scale them statewide and measure the results in 2015?

    No Excuses!


    College-educated black men, especially, have struggled relative to their white counterparts in this downturn, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for black male college graduates 25 and older in 2009 has been nearly twice that of white male college graduates — 8.4 percent compared with 4.4 percent.

    In the future, perhaps the Walton and Fisher families can help unemployed KIPP-sters find jobs at WalMart and The Gap.

    Coming Attractions in Education -- Harvard study: Computers don't save hospitals money


    A Harvard Medical School study that looked at some of the nation's "most wired" hospital facilities found that computerization of those facilities hasn't saved them any money or improved administrative efficiency.

    The recently released study evaluated data on 4,000 hospitals in the U.S over a four-year period and found that the immense cost of installing and running hospital IT systems is greater than any expected cost savings. And much of the software being written for use in clinics is aimed at administrators, not doctors, nurses and lab workers...

    Himmelstein said that only a handful of hospitals and clinics realized even modest savings and increased efficiency -- and those hospitals custom-built their systems after computer system architects conducted months of research.

    Has there been a similar study for schools?

    Of course, I'd like to think good open source administrative platforms will eventually lower the cost of building effective, customized solutions for schools.

    However, I am decidedly pessimistic that a rapid injection of RttT stimulus money into the current educational data systems market will produce the desired results.

    Also, note that computerization here is decidedly a "sustaining innovation," not a "disruptive" one.

    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    "What's that Relic?"

    We were driving through Pawtucket on Sunday on a classified mission, and I saw this big old building. I said "What's that thing?" Jennifer said "That's Tolman (high school, est. 1926 population 1,400)." I suddenly felt like I was living in the future. My first, unconscious reaction to the sight of a prototypical urban comprehensive high school was "What the hell is that relic?" Someday, I'm told, everyone will have that response.

    Tuesday, December 01, 2009

    Putting OLPC in Perspective

    However short OLPC might have fallen, particularly in comparison to their early vision, the collapse of the Crunchpad before it entered production provides some perspective. That they got XO's in production at all, and that they're still in production years later, was and is highly unlikely and quite an accomplishment.

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Apparently Someone Read the Damn Things


    (NY Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl) Tisch said... New York should adopt standards that are tougher than the national bar. “We will reserve the right to increase the rigor of the standards and be at the top of the heap and not at the bottom of the heap,” she said.

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Ushra'Khan: Fighting Virtual Slavery with Internet Spaceships for Five Years

    Ugleb, on the occasion of our fifth anniversary, last Wednesday:

    We are the Ushra'Khan, we come for our people.

    For five years now that has been the cornerstone for all that our movement has done. It is is our purpose, our motivation. It is our compulsion, our definition. Despite all that has transpired in this half-decade of strife, we remain the Ushra'Khan. And all that we have done, we have done for them.

    We are a movement founded with one goal; to break the chains of slavery that bind our kin. No matter the world of your birth, it is your right to live free. No matter the passage of time nor the light years that divide us, we shall see you freed. That was our promise then, and it remains our promise even today. You shall be free...

    The work ahead of us remains vast, it is the undertaking of a lifetime, not mere years, but together we move forward. Today we remember where we have come from, where we have been. And as the sun rises tomorrow we look forward to where we shall go, together in unity.

    With our fists raised high in salute to the rising sun and in defiance to the darkness we march to battle. This war has waged five years now for us, it has not stopped for a single day.

    We are the Ushra'Khan, we come for our people.

    We go on.

    I've been Ushra'Khan for a bit less than two years; my only alliance in Eve. Eve alliances are weird institutions. As of today we've got 1082 members in sixteen corporations; that makes us the 26th biggest in Eve by membership -- we're also officially the oldest. Exactly how many people are behind those avatars, I don't know. I know I contribute three characters; I'd guess it is really 300 - 500 real people. Could be 150 or so active players total. I don't know, but Eve developers have speculated that alliances cap out around Dunbar's number in real players despite their count in game.

    Anyhow... I could ramble on about this for a while, but let me say this: Ushra'Khan is extremely well led, both as freedom fighters and an online community. Our diplomats do an outstanding job. Our council is serious enough to make internet spaceships interesting and for Ushra'Khan to stand for something, but never too serious. The average age of our members is probably thirty, with a fairly even spread from 15 to 45. I certainly don't play a lot (nor am I very good) by MMO standards in general, but I can get exactly what I want from my experience without anyone ever suggesting that I need to make my gaming life a higher priority than my real life. We enforce high standards for our pilots, without becoming pedantic, and as such draw high quality, often highly experienced recruits.

    What makes this unique though, is how impersonal Eve is. Space is big. And empty. And we're primarily a hit and run guerrilla force. So a lot of time I'm just flying around on my own. Joining up in a fleet with our premiere pilots, who I otherwise just follow on the forums and killboard, is a special event. If I find myself in a fleet with, say, Karn Mithralia (2205 kills v. 203 losses), his Aussie accent coming over Teamspeak from halfway around the world, well, that's extra exciting, in a way that is unique to a sandbox massively multi-player online game.

    It is a lot of fun.

    The Chromium OS Aha

    I fired up Chromium OS from a USB key on my laptop yesterday. Works pretty well for kicks, except no wireless on my ThinkPad. The big Aha moment is when the initial login screen wants your Google ID rather than a local one, and then automatically logs you into your GMail and Google Calendar in the first two browser tabs. It feels like you're logging into your office LAN, except your office is now the internet. And it doesn't belong to your office, and not quite to you either.

    It reminds me a little of the first time I used Office 95. Each part of it was reasonably well executed, but what was exciting was that Word, Excel, etc. were clearly meant to work together. At the time, that was a big deal. Chrome OS has that feel too... like the pieces are pulling together. And it does give you a little Microsoft-y chill... Google is selling you Google Calendar exactly the same way Microsoft sells Outlook (and Apple sells iCal). Of course, most of the above are "free," (as in beer) so it is a peculiar type of sale.

    For schools that have already decided they're ok with using Google services for public business, Chrome OS devices will be a no brainer. Using the whole stack will really start to draw down the old TCO, in every dimension. I'm ambivalent about becoming too Google-dependent.

    Friday, November 27, 2009



    Good news. Starting on this week, longtime education industry insider Marc Dean Millot (pictured) is going to be posting a weekly piece on the education industry on this site. I've been a fan of Millot's for a long time, though we come from different ends of the political spectrum and don't always come to the same conclusions.

    Excellent news.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    This is the Kind of Rhetoric you get with an Unlimited Budget and No Scruples

    Harold E. Ford Jr., Louis V. Gerstner Jr., And Eli Broad:

    (on Race to the top)... the administration must continue to hang tough on two critical issues: performance standards and competition. (emphasis added)

    To many educators, one of the key issues going forward to negotiating "NCLB II" is whether or not there will be a role for performance standards and performance assessment in addition to standardized tests. This is pretty standard terminology, for example or this. In general, these guys are against what most educators are talking about when they say "performance standards."

    So, if you've got a thousand well-educated monkeys in a dozen think tanks working on your op ed, you have time to think of things like "Let's start calling this thing we like by the name of something else we don't like, and since we've got a bigger megaphone, the next time our opponents start talking about what they want, everyone will instead think about what we want."

    That's totally what's happening here.

    Sounds Like a Plan


    To the best of my understanding, nothing is stopping Rahm Emannuel from sauntering onto the floor of the Senate, murdering Republicans from states with Democratic governors in cold blood, having them replaced by new Democrats, and then getting a pardon from Barack Obama.

    One Last Kiss from Dana Goldstein on Desegregation

    While Dana Goldstein has sadly left the education beat full time, she still manages to work school desegregation in:

    Critics contend the administration has ignored more difficult, yet proven school reforms, such as efforts to integrate schools, thus guaranteeing that fewer classrooms are overwhelmed by the challenges of poverty and racial isolation. Research by Cornell labor economist C. Kirabo Jackson found that when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina ended a 30-year busing program and resegregated, the highest-performing teachers fled schools that became predominantly black and poor. Yet integration is seen as a pie-in-the-sky, old-school lefty goal by the venture-philanthropy crowd and has registered not at all on the Obama/Duncan agenda. It's not "innovative."

    Claus has a more comprehensive review of Goldstein's piece.

    SST Alumni Blogging

    Chris Collins highlights the Maker/hardcore crossover:

    further SST lore

    SST Records has its roots in a small business called Solid State Tuners, owned and operated by Greg Ginn, which in the 1970s built equipment for amateur radio buffs. Black Flag/SST fan Jonathan Haynes, himself a radio operator and builder, had the savvy to snap these two shots of one tuner he encountered, the T-1.

    Other SST alumni(ish) blogs:

    I need some Slovenly blogging!

    Upsurge in Blogger Comment Spam

    I had essentially no comment spam for years here on Blogger. Now I'm getting an increasing torrent. I'd like to think it is because of the growing influence of the blog, but I suspect it is just because nobody at Google is paying attention.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    ChromeOS and Breaking the "Managed PC" Model in Schools

    Jon Stokes on ChromeOS:

    The custom firmware integrates some of the functions of a boot loader, so it's a bit more robust than a traditional BIOS. During the seven-second boot time, the firmware loads a series of kernel modules, all of which are signed; if the signature check fails at any point in boot-up, the machine will prompt the user for a reboot, after which a clean version of the OS is downloaded and the entire device is essentially re-imaged...

    In my comments above on how ChromeOS works, I described user data as "locally cached"—with ChromeOS, all user data lives in the cloud. A ChromeOS device presumes that the canonical version of your data is the cloud version, so it caches this data locally for faster access, and when a user modifies it, the changes are invisibly written back out to the network. What this means in practical terms is that, while ChromeOS has a filesystem of some sort, you'll never see it. I, for one, couldn't be more thrilled...

    Google will obviously target Intel-based netbooks at launch, but Pichai confirmed that the company will also target ARM. This was predictable, because ARM will probably make a better hardware platform for Chrome OS than Atom, especially when Cortex A9 hits the scene. The battery life will be better and, most importantly, the cost will be lower. I think it's possible that we'll see an ARM-based Chrome OS portable for $200 sometime next year. A combination of a $200 price point and all-day battery life may well put the device over the "it looks like a netbook but does less.. heck, I'll buy it anyway" threshold described above.

    The first paragraph above might be the most important for schools. I've become convinced that growth in computer adoption in US schools is bottlenecked on support for each computer as an individual soup of applications and data sitting on a hard drive inside a computer that must be managed as an individual device -- as a managed PC. There was a window where thin clients were potentially a large-scale solution to this problem but as far as I can tell they've been swamped by multimedia on one hand and netbooks on the other.

    But the answer is not just "Hey, store everything in the cloud." There has to also be changes in the design of the client to make it more robust, fool-proof, and, essentially, capable of being re-flashed to a default working state in minutes, as a ChromeOS apparently will do automatically. If nothing else, ChromeOS should challenge the hegemony of the "managed PC," its fundamental insecurity locked down by layers of Active Directory, anti-virus, technical servants, etc. To the end user, the result may be similar -- a fairly limited device -- but instead of a complexly crippled full PC OS, you'll have a simple, clean one.

    I would just add the capability of running different OS images off USB keys to allow non-web apps to be run off their own stripped down (but non-Chrome) OS images (OK class, pop in your Sugar stick and reboot...).


    Long time readers may recall my annoyance with the 2008 MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition. I've got other fish to fry right now, but I should note that their funding of ITC based participatory learning for indigenous children in Chiapas, Mexico seems like exactly the kind of thing they should be doing.

    Mayoral Control: What if he Loses?

    Adam Bink:

    This is the first public polling I've seen on the race. Clarus Research Group (which is actually run by a former George Washington University professor of mine) has a poll out showing Mayor Adrian Fenty, who is up for re-election in 2010, at 43%/49% approval/disapproval and 34%/53% re-elect/someone else numbers. It also shows him losing 41%-37% to the DC Council chairman, Vincent Gray, but leading in a four-way race with Gray and two other DC Councilmembers.

    It seems like the only thing holding Bloomberg and Fenty in office is lack of spirited opposition. One could speculate that this lack of opposition is also a major factor in support for "mayoral control" as a reform strategy. Nobody seems worried about what might happen if these guys lose someday.

    A Good Rule of Thumb


    As a veteran local school council member, I have learned that when someone complains that "you never talk about children," they're usually trying to shut you up because you're getting too close to the truth, and when someone asserts that they are only doing something "for the children," there are usually other agendas at work.

    Random Intellectual Property & Teachers Thoughts

    If you want to literally write a book that you will both use in your own class and sell, you should frame the task to say "I'm writing a book to sell, and I will also use it in my class!" rather than "I would now like to sell this book which I wrote as part of my job." I'm not saying this is airtight legal advice, but it couldn't hurt.

    I really don't think lesson plans strictly defined -- the plan for how to combine different external content, activities, etc. -- are strongly copyrightable. Ideas are not copyrightable.

    Specific content you create, images, photos, PowerPoints, online lessons, expressly for use in your classroom, I don't see how it isn't the property of your employer.

    I'm not really making an argument in favor of the "work for hire" approach -- I'm just describing the current law as I understand it.

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    The Moral Rights of the Author

    Just for reference, in regard to who owns lesson plans, some countries recognize the "moral rights of the author." Wikipedia:

    Moral rights are rights of creators of copyrighted works generally recognized in civil law jurisdictions and, to a lesser extent, in some common law jurisdictions. They include the right of attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously, and the right to the integrity of the work. The preserving of the integrity of the work bars the work from alteration, distortion, or mutilation. Anything else that may detract from the artist's relationship with the work even after it leaves the artist's possession or ownership may bring these moral rights into play. Moral rights are distinct from any economic rights tied to copyrights. Even if an artist has assigned his or her rights to a work to a third party, he or she still maintains the moral rights to the work.

    The US, essentially, does not.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Regarding Selling Lesson Plans

    If you write a lesson plan as part of your work, that is for your job, unless there is some other agreement with your employer, it is the property of the employer. It is work for hire. Period. It doesn't matter if you do it on your own time, on your own computer, at home, unprompted, on your own initiative, any more than a memo that a sales manager writes at home belongs to him or her, or an account manager that goes above and beyond on a sales PowerPoint owns it.

    If you think teachers should be exempt from this you are arguing that teachers should have privileges that other professionals do not. The fact that teaching is generally a tough, underpaid, unrecognized profession does not enter into that basic fact.

    The hazier question is actually "Are lesson plans copyrightable?" In case you forgot, I Am Not A Lawyer, and this one is tough to Google, since you tend to get lesson plans about copyright instead of information about copyrighting lesson plans. My guess is, however, that lesson plans should play out like recipes, copyright-wise:

    Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.

    Protection under the copyright law (title 17 of the U.S. Code, section 102) extends only to “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form (a copy). “Original” means merely that the author produced the work by his own intellectual effort, as distinguished from copying an existing work. Copyright protection may extend to a description, explanation, or illustration, assuming that the requirements of the copyright law are met...

    Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to names, titles, short phrases, ideas, systems, or methods.

    Along these lines, regarding lesson plans written for work, the teacher does not control the copyright of that particular expression of the ideas, ingredients, systems, etc. There is, however, no reason the original author, or anyone else, can't create another version of the same lesson and sell it online. For that matter, there is nothing stopping someone else from making another implementation of the lesson they buy online and doing whatever they want with it.

    This makes common sense, fits with the way things actually work in the real world now, allows teachers or schools to pursue a moderate but not monopoly rent on the content, and seems perfectly consistent with a plain reading of the law.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Its not Easy to Focus on the Winner

    Claus von Zastrow & Ashley Merriman:

    Merryman:...So I was suggesting in my column that if we focus on the success of kids, which is actually the normative behavior, perhaps we can use that to further improve where we are going. Everybody loves a winner, right?

    So focus on that success, even in the at-risk situations. Maybe that is sort of a way to improve without feeling sort of overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.

    Public School Insights: But given that there are certain cities like Detroit, Michigan, for example, where not even half the students graduate….

    Merryman: I live in LA, which is about at 30% and is considered one of the worst in the country.

    Public School Insights: Yes. So can we really focus on the successes of the only 30%--or perhaps even fewer than 30% because the question of what those kids are doing once they graduate also looms large? Is there a way of creating a really strong sense of urgency there, while asking how we spread success to the more than 70% who aren’t succeeding?

    The graduation rate in 2007 - 2008 in LA was 74.2%.

    Of course, you can find studies that make things look much more dire -- pegging LA's "on time" graduation rate around 45%, but those studies use a ridiculously simple methodology -- comparing 9th grade numbers four years ago to the number of graduates this year -- that misses all kinds of tranfers, etc. Let me put it this way -- if "No Excuses" charters calculated their "graduation" rate this way, they'd be around 60% too at most sites.

    Anyhow, I don't want to pick on Claus too much, as it is easy in conversation to flip numbers around. I did think it was pretty funny though.

    And not to say drop-outs aren't a problem, but the fact that we're not really clear whether it is a 30%, 45%, or 75% problem shows just how fucked we all are.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Providence, Catch and Ushra’Khan - a primer


    I realise that people reading this pilot journal may not fully appreciate who’s who around the regions that we, the Ushra’Khan, fight in. In order to ease understanding, I thought I’d do a write up of who’s who in the area. Ushra’Khan’s history, and that of CVA’s is a matter of public record and better people than I have written about them, so I won’t cover that here...

    All of the alliances in the ‘bad guy’ column are at best blue to each other, and at worst, neutral. As CVA enforce strict NRDS in Providence, this means they all get along.

    At any time, we face up to 9,500 pilots in the ProviBloc.

    Eve Online is a big game.

    The Precedented Scale of Race to the Top

    Tennessee -- eligible for $150 - $250 million from RttT:

    The city school board is expected to sign an agreement today with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will funnel more than $90 million to Memphis for a plan to change how teachers are hired, placed, evaluated and retained.

    Pennsylvania -- eligible for $200 - $400 million:

    In what officials said would be the largest grant ever made directly to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has offered the district $40 million for sweeping initiatives to maximize teacher effectiveness.

    Florida -- eligible for $350 to $700 million:

    TAMPA — The finish line is in sight for the Hillsborough County School District, which agreed Tuesday to accept a $100 million teacher effectiveness grant if the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers it.

    And remember...

    AUSTIN – For the $300 million spent on merit pay for teachers over the last three years, Texas was hoping for a big boost in student achievement.

    But it didn't happen with the now-defunct program, according to experts hired by the state.

    Second verse, same as the first...

    Killing Two Birds with Binding Arbitration

    Tom Sgouros:

    The binding arbitration rules in, for example, Connecticut are quite clear about what are the proper reasons an arbitrator can use to rule one way or the other in a dispute. It's possible to draw those rules to favor unions, and it's possible to draw them to favor management. We should adopt binding arbitration, and then argue about what are the proper grounds for a ruling, but that's a far smarter course than just throwing the whole idea out the window.

    So, right now we've got an overall impasse over teacher contracts in Rhode Island -- there is no process for resolving disputes (e.g., no strikes). The teachers' unions have finally started pushing for binding arbitration. Municipalities and the state are trying out unilaterally imposing new terms after contracts expire, or simply asserting that the state can order contractual changes based on NCLB and their interpretation of the new Basic Education Program. Burning contract law is a one-way trip though, which leaves no basis for compromise over mutual agreement going forward. The long-term implications may be grave.

    Also, all of the above is currently in the courts, so who knows who will win.

    But as Tom says, there is no reason the terms of arbitration can't be written out however we want. There is, in particular, no reason to think that compliance with the Basic Education Program would not and should not be considered as a basic principle of arbitration. There is no reason, thus, that binding arbitration cannot serve both consistent, steady school reform and preserve contract law as its basis going forward.

    By the way, Tom Geoghegan's See You in Court: How the Right Made America a Lawsuit Nation does a good job of explaining business's assault on not just unions and collective bargaining, but contract law in any form.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Teach Math!

    One of the highly annoying problems about all education babble is the extent to which there are a number of highly bifurcated divisions, and all too often we don't even mention which half we're talking about. Elementary or secondary? e.g., reading Core Knowledge people is really confusing for a high school person -- they don't even have a high school curriculum. Low income or high income schools? Totally different situation in the US. Math vs. everything else?

    These are tough times to be looking for work as a teacher.

    Unless, it seems, you're hoping to become a math teacher.

    That's the conclusion of a recent report, which finds that nationwide demand for teachers has fallen in all 60 fields examined over the past year. Only one subject area—math teaching—was found to be in "considerable demand,"

    As you might have noticed, I tend to be TFA and alternative certification skeptic, but that doesn't really extend to math. I've personally buttonholed likely looking geeks in bookstores while looking for math teachers. I'd support math teacher press gangs. Whatever it takes. Particularly in low-income high schools we desperately need passable math teachers. It is ridiculous. My former school has all kind of strengths but it will probably never consistently make AYP because of math, and it isn't really a mystery -- they can't find math teachers! It isn't a subtle problem.

    Larry Ferlazzo Listens Closely to Meet the Press

    Do Teachers REALLY Come From The Bottom Third Of Colleges? Or Is That Statistic A Bunch Of Baloney?

    I’ve heard this kind of statistic about teachers coming from the bottom third of something or other before (though never about the bottom third of classes — I don’t know where he got that bizarre statistic from), and just ignored it. But hearing it on Meet The Press, from the director of a private school, got “my dander up” and I decided to look into where those numbers came from and how valid and reliable they were. It was quite a ride on a Sunday afternoon…

    What Newt Gingrich Thinks Students Should Learn

    REP. GINGRICH: Well, Jefferson said that religion, morality and knowledge being important, we need schools. That’s the Northwest Ordinance. So I’d say the first thing you need to know is about yourself and your own values and your own concerns. The second thing you have to know is a good work ethic and a ability to be honest. And the third thing you have to know is how to learn whatever you’re going to need to be successful.

    Now, can he tell us how those qualities are assessed by the standardized tests used to evaluate schools now and would be used to determine the teacher merit-pay he supports?

    Reform, Narrowly Defined

    Normal E. “Sandy” McCulloch Jr.:

    To reduce the problem to its most basic form, our quality of life depends on education and jobs, and I believe one leads inevitably to the other. Since the early 1970s, my passion has focused on education — both private and public. In 1992, when I turned over the reins of Microfibres Inc. to our son Jim, my wife Dotty and I established a charitable foundation primarily to focus on educational issues. Since that time, we have distributed funds to a wide variety of schools. Our hope has been that many of the innovations and best practices at these institutions would be adopted by the larger public primary and secondary school world...

    In the 17 years our foundation has focused on educational challenges, I have never seen the stars in such favorable alignment. I can almost hear that pony whinny.

    I'd take September of 2000 over the fall of 2009 any day. Riding a long period of relative peace and prosperity nationally, with a forward-looking, technically astute Vice President leading in the polls, with the first and most energetic, rather than the fourth, reform superintendent in Providence, bringing in RttT sized foundation grants and an influx of administrative talent (building on homegrown administrators, like Fran Gallo (now everyone's favorite as supe of Central Falls), a growing network of successful site-based schools in the district working out sensible and innovative compromises on work rules,hiring, and innovative practices, The Met taking off as a model for cutting-edge schools around the world, and we had a clutch of promising first-generation charter schools.

    We had an excellent state-wide technology training program for teachers, we had a reform-minded commissioner with an array of innovations in established under his leadership, from the SALT school surveys and school inspections, to the Rhode Island Writing Assessment (scored by local teachers, the advantages of which were discussed last Friday at the RttT assessment meeting).

    Some of the above we still have, some is being phased out or ignored, some is long gone. On the other hand, now we have a superintendent in Providence and a Commissioner at RIDE who are asserting their right to abrogate teacher contracts, and a new law that allows charters to be managed by companies outside RI, free from prevailing wage and pension requirements. So check two for "innovation" in 2009, but it is a very specific type of innovation.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    The Scale of Race to the Top (in the Smallest State)

    ED via Eduflack:

    More importantly, though, we now know how much money each state can potentially receive. Officials over at ED have divvied up our great 50 states (and DC and Puerto Rico) into five categories. The $4 billion in Race money will be divided based on the following designations:

    ... unimportant large states ...

    Category 5 — $20-$75 million:

    * Alaska

    * Delaware

    * District of Columbia...

    * Rhode Island

    Providence, September 6, 2000:

    PROVIDENCE, R.I. -The Providence School District, Coventry School District and The Big Picture Company will receive grants totaling $20 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the creation of smaller, personalized learning environments that help all students achieve. The three grants will be the first in a series of education grants announced by the Foundation this week.

    So in Providence in particular, we already have a pretty good idea of how much, or how little, can be accomplished with RttT kind of money. We opened a nice clutch of new high schools, which have as of this year now been stripped of any unique features of their original design. I don't think there is anything left at the district level from that period. And it is not just gone, it is forgotten.

    OTOH, Big Picture is chugging along. In some cases, there is a real ideological bias toward charters for various reasons, but Providence is a good illustration of why big foundations come to support charters on practical grounds as well -- you don't have to worry about KIPP being taken over by a series of itinerant superintendents who couldn't care less about the previous supe's pet projects you underwrote. Ten years from now, the only thing people may remember about RttT is the charter schools that are opened.

    What's Next for Common Core in English?

    My read on the newly announced work and feedback teams for Common Core English Language Arts standards is that this doesn't look like a group of people who will pay much attention the College- and Career-Readiness Standards. It is too broad a group for that. If you limited the scope of the preceding curriculum to the CCRS, these folks would revolt and demand additions to the CCRS, which would throw everything off schedule.

    Also, they're still calling them "English Language Arts" instead of "Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking." And I seem to recall that they were going to start at the lower grade levels rather than working backwards.

    So my prediction is that we'll get some kind of national graduation test based on CCRS, but a more conventional set of K-12 standards, which, frankly, would be an improvement in this case.

    My EduCon 2.2 Talk

    Zapping the Buzzwords: "Disruptive innovation," "the widget effect," and more:

    Conversation Description: We've got a new generation of educational bureaucrats speaking to each other in management and economics informed language that they understand, but outsiders, particularly teachers, may not. We'll start with a prepared look at a few key terms, and then open up the floor for discussion of suggested buzzwords from a list provided or from the imagination of the audience.

    Also, thank god Will has finally moved on to this:

    The Greening of Learning: Online Networks for Learning AND Saving the World

    There's no question that each of us has a role to play in overcoming the environmental challenges that face us. But while we are at a most perilous moment in our history as humans, we are also at a moment when more people are connecting and working for good than at any other time. Paul Hawken calls it "Blessed Unrest" and he suggests that our ability to use social networks online to connect globally and support local action will have a huge impact on what the future holds. Daniel Goleman talks about an "Ecological Intelligence" and the complex environmental information literacy that we'll all need to develop if we are to fully understand our impact and our ability to create positive change. Clay Shirky talks about the potential for "collective action" and the power that social tools have for forming passion based groups and movements. All of which begs the question, what are our roles as educators in preparing our kids (and ourselves) for a world where global, passion-based activism using social tools is commonplace. We'll have a conversation about using social tools for social good and what the implications are for our roles as teachers and, perhaps, activists.

    Looking forward to it.

    Notes on my RttT Comments

    The comments.

    1. I heartily endorse FairTest's broader critique, I just felt like in this context I should try to say something narrow and authoritative. A general comment would be largely ignored.
    2. I did almost all the specific research for the talk Thursday afternoon and evening.
    3. As you can hopefully tell, I'm very impressed with the way NIH runs its research. The step up in quality from education discourse is striking; it is like the NIH is run by real scientists or something.
    4. This was tough to boil down to five minutes; now I have something I feel like I can scale up to a sexy conference presentation very easily the next time Gov 2.0 rolls around.

    RttT Input Meeting Impressions

    So I went to the public meeting in Boston for feedback and expert commentary on the Race to the Top assessment program. This is the "$350 million to get people to shut up about the fact that our assessments aren't currently good enough to serve as the foundation for the other $4 billion we're putting into RttT" part of the program.

    Writing my comment was difficult, because you don't want to sound like a random obsessive compulsive crank, but obviously only an obsessive compulsive crank would show up at one of these things by his or her own free will. So I took a hyper-bureacratic and hyper-technical point of view, and actually ended up with something that I really like. It doesn't directly address my overall anger and dissatisfaction with the whole endeavor, but ultimately it served as some kind of emotionally satisfying, if oblique, performance art. To me, at least.

    Anyhow, when I got there I immediately ran into David Niguidula, and a few minutes later the two of us were having breakfast with Linda Darling-Hammond, with David and LDH chattering away about digital portfolios and performance assessment. So immediately my expectations for the utility of the trip were greatly exceeded.

    Subsequently, I sat through the long expert panel on Technology and Innovation in Assessment. It was a long miasma of boredom. Tom Vander Ark should have been forced to sit though it. I certainly didn't leave feeling like we're on the cusp of a revolution.

    One thing that was talked about quite a bit was the problem of "comparability." What if your online assessments consistently produce different scores than your paper ones. How do you know if it is a bug or a feature? I'm happy to allow this to be someone else's problem.

    Eva Baker from CRESST did talk about "ontologies" in assessment, which I anticipated after looking at some of her other presentations, so that helped me make my pitch in five minutes without getting hung up on trying to define the term.

    For the public input section, there were about 10 of us with reserved five minute slots: David, Larry Burger from Wireless Generation, someone from some other vendor, some guy from Connecticut who made an open source/Moodle/Elgg pitch, some grad student from the Education Department at Brown who made me think they must have added a new program in being an arrogant asshole, and the balance people advocating for specific kinds of accessibility and accomodations.

    Larry's talk was interesting; he talked about the need to accommodate more agile development strategies, finding the balance between openness and proprietary solutions, and the problems created by complex procurement laws. I managed to get my talk in exactly on time. Larry said "nicely done," and Dr. Baker was pleased that someone other than her was talking about ontologies for once, and didn't seem to mind that I'd tweaked CRESST a bit.

    I stuck around for LDH's afternoon presentation on international perspectives on high school assessment. Her line of argument strikes me as airtight and devastating, striking right at the heart of the whole "competitiveness" premise for reform. The school systems around the world that are outperforming us (supposedly) simply aren't anything like the one that "reformers" are advocating.

    When you read about the Department of Education "standing up to the establishment," understand that in practice this means "ignoring comprehensive, authoritative arguments from the established experts in the field."

    Also, the thread of open source conversation was largely "We know what it is, we know we want some, but how much?"