Saturday, January 31, 2009

Capsuleers React to Slave Emancipation

News of EVE:

Ushra'Khan is a more militant Pro-Matari organisation, infamous for its long-standing racially-charged territorial feud in Providence versus CVA, which ended in defeat for the Matari factions. Despite this, the organisation is still active in its dedicated fight against the Amarr Empire to free all slaves. One of their diplomats, Kerth Gersen, explained its stance on the emancipation: "It is far from sufficient; As anyone with any familiarity with Ushra'Khan knows, we fight for the freedom of *all* slaves." Explained Gersen, "I'd like to emphasize that the economic impact is a distraction -- one can be assured that the Empress has had sufficient due diligence done to be prepared to take advantages of the economic impact.  The same is true of Amarrian politics: there will be power games in which this announcement plays a role of some scale. But in the end there remain millions of slaves still yearning for freedom. Those poor souls are not assuaged by this, for their own suffering continues. And as long as that is true, Ushra'Khan has work to do."

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Nuts and Bolts Realities of Testing

The recent run of posts on the "Math B" exam in New York on JD2718 (one starting point) give some good perspective on how this stuff often looks to a perceptive teacher on the ground. A lot of time either the curriculum you're given sucks, the tests suck, and/or they don't actually align to each other. Other times, you get a good test. Back in the day, I thought the New Standards Reference Exam was pretty good, but I think it was the SAT 9 the school department started giving out in the "off years" from state testing. Man, that was awful. They should have just handed out crossword puzzles.

Data-minded reformers who are half-way paying attention know this by now, and want to spend a lot of money on better tests, standards, and data systems for tracking the results, so that then they can layer performance pay, etc. on top of all that, and finally as a result, student achievement will go up. I don't see where the increased capacity to write and score better tests is going to come from though. This is an honest question. Why do we think we can write more and better tests? If the terms of the argument include "if we simply focus on something and spend more money on it, it will get better," then can't we focus on something more direct than tests? Why can we improve testing but not teacher preservice education, for example?

TFA: "Stewards of Our Students' Life Paths"

I find it very illuminating whenever internal TFA alumni mailings find their way onto the web, like this example over at Gotham Schools. I don't think I know anyone who has been in TFA. There is no shortage of elementary school or humanities teachers in any state I've lived in.

Anyhow, I don't need to pick this apart in detail, if you read the email you'll probably either say, "These people are really weird," or "I don't see anything wrong with that."

The most obvious omission to me is that in a time of budget cuts to schools, it does not seem that the "stewards of educational equity" are supposed to advocate against cuts to urban schools. That would be the wrong kind of activism and the wrong kind of equity.

How much of this is a generational thing? I think this movement is beginning to suffer from too much insularity, too much talking to itself, making arguments that don't make any sense to people outside the corps.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lessons for School Reformers

Ariana Huffington at Davos:

So far, the two questions that keep coming up in almost every speech, panel, and hallway conversation are "what went wrong?" and "how did we miss the signals?" The consensus conclusions: 1) Too much faith in the free market. 2) Too much faith in economic models. 3) Too little transparency. 4) No moral compass.

Let's not make the same mistake in education.

Braindump: High Tech High AND KIPP

Bill Gates used to highlight progressive schools in his talks about education -- High Tech High and Big Picture (e.g. The Met). Now he's slid to the right a bit, but in his new letter on giving he still highlights High Tech High and KIPP as successful charter school designs. Nonetheless, of the two, KIPP gets far more attention and press these days. Why?

That's a rhetorical question, but I'll throw a few thoughts out, including some random hold-overs from EduCon:

  • KIPP & "no excuses" advocates have no qualms about unambiguously promoting specific models, even if they don't know everything about them. Progressive educators, including myself, seem to be more circumspect, knowledgeable and experienced by nature. The more you deal with the intricacies of actual implementation, the less you want to say any given system is "the answer." I'd be a more forceful advocate for the Big Picture model if I'd just read a book about it rather than living close to seven of their schools. Which is not to say that I will not be very, very disappointed if Vivian can't attend the Big Picture elementary school two blocks from my house, but I understand the downsides of their model from more direct contact than you get from a book, so I know enough to be a little qualified in my advocacy. This might be a bad thing.
  • A good model that is designed to optimize test scores will tend to get higher test scores than a good model designed to optimize other things.
  • It is not a free market if what schools are created is based on what schools will receive corporate or philanthropic funding. Or it is some kind of market, but it is not a market based on the needs or desires of the real "consumers" here, students, parents, and local citizens. The number of people applying to attend a school like SLA or Beacon tends to not influence what kinds of schools are created in the future. High demand does not result in greater supply.
  • Can we have an EduCon at High Tech High?
  • Can't we somehow reboot the Coalition of Essential Schools instead of having to reimplement it, which seems to be the obvious next step?
  • I am much less bothered by KIPP schools on the ground than what seems to be their advocates' idealized KIPP's. My reading is that the "ideal" imagined KIPP in its fans heads is more Dickensian than the reality.
  • In terms of progressive experimentation, by design The Met > High Tech High > SLA > regular school.
  • SLA is not successful because of less bureaucracy, it is dependent on one bureaucracy protecting it from another.
  • Which is a more effective message "21st Century Skills," or "No excuses?" Or "Schools like KIPP," or "Schools like High Tech High?"
  • The most baffling statement in the EduCon Sunday morning panel, which I found to be entertaining, was when David Bromley from Big Picture seemed to be saying he didn't have an answer when someone visiting one of their schools asked "Is this replicable?" Isn't the obvious answer, "This school is itself a replication of other successful Big Picture schools, so, 'yes?'"
  • Having the right publicist makes an immeasurable difference. I was in a band that had a good one for about six months. It is like night and day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Long Snappers Do Cry

Gene Collier:

From the time the Steelers cut him a second time in June until Oct. 28, mover was probably the most stable position Retkofsky held. He considered taking a glorified janitorial gig for a chain of nursing homes, but that paid even less. He applied to police and fire academies, but nothing was happening.

It wasn't hopeless. Retkofsky had seen hopeless, and this wasn't it.

"My mom had a real bad drug problem, in and out of rehab," Jared said. "I had a best friend growing up in Wichita, and I stayed at his house a lot because of that. Then, my best friend's dad killed his mom and himself. He went to live with his uncle and aunt, and I started staying there, too.

"My mom didn't want that. She had a real bad relapse. I couldn't take it anymore. I was 12. They finally convinced her that they should take care of me."

Eric and Kelly Dennis, the people Retkofsky now calls his mom and dad (he never knew his biological father), got him into a better school, where he played football and learned to snap. He wound up at Texas Christian University.

Even among specialists, who are very close on every football team, Warren didn't know all this until fairly recently.

"I thought I'd been through some adversity because I was a walk-on at North Carolina," Warren smiled. "But what Jared has battled through is a great story. Most snappers have a way of being able to focus so you don't stress out; we have a way of forgetting the last play."

Retkofsky's had to forget plenty, but the day he likely never will was that Tuesday after Warren's injury, when all four potential replacements had completed their snapping auditions. Doug Whaley, the club's pro personnel coordinator, came into the locker room and said to Jared, "C'mon; let's go upstairs and sign some papers."

"It's a long hallway to the stairs," Retkofsky said as the sun baked the grass stage of the Super Bowl, "and I thought, 'Ya know, I might just collapse on those stairs and bawl.' I am so blessed, so thankful. It's just surreal to be here."

And then he cried a little.

"I'm sorry," he said.

His mom and dad will be there Sunday.

Long-snapping (For my European friends, the long snapper's sole job is to come out about a dozen times a game and throw the ball backwards between his legs either seven or 15 meters so that it can be safely kicked. If your snap is off by a few feet, it could cost your team the game. Also, as soon as you start to move, the defenders can plow into you. Then you go sit down for ten of fifteen minutes before doing it again.) has to be the most absurd job in the wide world of sports.

What is Alternative Certification?

As a high school person, I don't understand what "alternative certification" means, really. I mean, is this different than the "alternative certification" we already have? Like, when we were starting Feinstein, I literally met a guy (Hi, Dominic) in the checkout line at Barnes and Noble and, based on the geeky book he was purchasing, ended up recruiting him to teach math at the school. He wasn't certified. He got emergency certification, started teaching immediately, took night classes, and as far as I know, he's still teaching (certified) in a well-regarded Providence charter school. And that's not an unusual anecdote at all, particularly for math.

In an MAT program, you'll probably have some kind of intensive summer session, than a full year or at least a semester of student teaching, which may end up meaning teaching full time. In an alternative certification program, you have some kind of intensive summer program, and then start teaching, with some ongoing mentorship. There isn't much difference, is there, except you're eased into things a bit more, and you're paying instead of being paid in a traditional program?

There's that, and a good contemporary "alternative certification" is prestigious, whereas a traditional program is not.

Am I missing something here?

Ads Following Me

One thing it is easy to forget is that ten years ago most people thought advertising on the web would work completely differently than it has. The idea was that as you'd browse the web, you'd end up being tracked by cookies which would allow agencies like DoubleClick to build up a profile of your personal interests and serve up a stream of ads tailored to you, wherever you went. At the time I was doing a lot of cycling (it was that long ago) so I kept waiting to see incongruous ads for ultra-light racing wheels showing up on completely un-cycling related sites as my cue that this system was starting to work. It never happened.

What we got was a relatively simple system, dominated by Google, based around the idea that at least Google knew what each web site was about, and thus advertisers could easily buy space on relevant websites. I presume that this won because it was simpler, cheaper and more clearly aimed at the perspective of the advertiser.

So I've been interested to note that, for me, news sites like Huffington Post or LA Times have been blanketed with EVE Online ads for the past several months. Are other people seeing this, or just me? At first I thought it was a waste of their ad dollar, since I'm already paying to play the game, but on the other hand, spending a few pennies to remind current players that they want to keep playing is probably at least as efficient than just throwing ads at random people.

Anyhow, are other people seeing lots of flash ads for EVE Online, or is it just me?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Faster, pregnant lady, kill kill!

Heather Havrilesky:

Because while Obama may have selected an experienced and savvy collection of specialists to lead this nation out of its hard times, no one on Earth has the ability to tackle big, unwieldy problems quite like a woman in the home stretch of pregnancy. In addition to manufacturing a brand-new human being, a feat of nearly supernatural proportions in and of itself, pregnant women also have an uncanny knack for grabbing the most daunting task by the throat, wrestling it to the floor and smashing its face into the carpet until it yells "Mother!"

Supt. Brady got a taste of this yesterday when Jennifer managed to buttonhole him coming out of KC's office. I love my wife.


For the first time in a long time, Ushra'Khan holds sovereignty over a solar system in EVE, GLMH-K in Catch, to be specific. This should stir up a nice bees nest...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ushra'Khan Defeats Otherworld Empire Productions in Alliance Tourney Round 1

Matari FTW!

This Weekend's Other Conference

I just got an email about another conference on "progressive education in the 21st century" this weekend, held 80 miles from Philadelphia at the Voyager Community School (their blog is hardcore). I've never understood the relationship (or lack thereof) between the, um, "School 2.0" scene and the "alternative education" scene. We need to pull these threads together a little tighter in the future.

Need to See the Sunday Morning EduCon Panel Video...

So unfortunately my carefully laid EduCon plans fell apart, and I ended up only seeing the opening panel on Friday night on "What is the purpose of school?" Considering that everything that it is possible to say on the subject has been said a thousand times, it was a genuinely entertaining panel. I tried to take a nap for the first half hour, but I ended up having to pay attention. Nice venue, lively moderator, interesting and varied panelists, engaged audience, good questions. Very well done.

What I really wanted to see was the Sunday morning panel:

It was streamed, but I don't see a link to an archived video. Hopefully one will appear once everyone in Philly gets some sleep.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

SLA Bathroom Review


I haven't smelled that smell since I rode the low-quality train in Romania.

Concerning the Cloud

Jason Scott:

There was a time when we gave the Cloud (before it was a Cloud) a big pass because technology was kind of neat and watching it all actually function is cool. I mean, if someone gives you an amazing Moon Laser and the Moon Laser lets you put words on the side of the moon, the fact that the Moon Laser’s effects wear off after a day or so isn’t that big a deal, and really, whatever you probably put on the side of the Moon with your Moon Laser is probably pretty shallow stuff along the lines of “WOW THIS IS COOL” and “FUCK MARS”. (Again, to belabor, a historian or anthropologist might be into what people, given their Moon Laser, chose to write, but that’s not your problem). Similarly so, with those early BBS writings, or the first web forums, or the first photo album sites, or the sites from 1993 and 1994. Interesting, neat, but your “work” among these halting baby steps isn’t causing you despair if it goes away. (And you’re pleasantly surprised when it shows up again, sometimes.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Congratulations, George!

That's my uncle!

Governor Edward G. Rendell today named George E. Cornelius, the immediate past president and chief executive officer of Arkema Inc., as secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development....

"As a life-long Pennsylvanian who has worked and been involved in businesses across the state, and who cares deeply about the future of this great commonwealth and its people, I am excited about the opportunity to help strengthen the state's competitiveness and facilitate the generation of 21st century jobs," said Cornelius. "Pennsylvania is well positioned to succeed in the hyper-competitive global marketplace, but it must be proactive if it is to be successful in preserving and attracting well-paying jobs."

As DCED secretary, Cornelius will continue to implement the key components of Governor Rendell's economic stimulus package, which has leveraged nearly $3 billion in state resources to attract $8.6 billion in additional investments -- far more than the state's original projection of $5 billion. Combined, these resources are supporting 2,800 job-producing projects throughout the commonwealth.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Education, We're Still Stuck With One of These

Patrick Sean Farley:

This Neo-Conservative Superstorm, as I'll call it, had three major sources of energy feeding it:
a) a panicked population in need of a Protective Patriarch,
b) a Republican party crowded with brazen and reckless ideologues,
and most significantly:
c) A network of Conservative Think Tanks with deep pockets and a fearsomely coordinated army of media pundits.

Hopefully it is just a delayed reaction.

Thomas Geoghegan: Which Side Are You On?

Tom Geoghegan is running for Rahm Emanuel's old seat in congress, so that finally spurred me to buy his book, Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back, which originally came out in 1991. I wonder how I managed to not read this book until now, but I have to remind myself that when it came out, I didn't even have ready access to a Borders, let alone Amazon. Presumably there was a copy of this floating around the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh... but anyway...

It is a much easier and breezier read than you'd think considering its subject, and it very much resonates with my experiences with the labor movement in the '90's. Not surprisingly, Hendrick Hertzberg is much more articulate on the subject than me:

The National Book Critics Circle listed it as one of the five best nonfiction books of the year. That was putting it mildly. “Which Side Are You On?” is one of the finest nonfiction books by a contemporary author I’ve ever read. It’s incredibly informative, frequently moving, loaded with fresh insights, and often laugh-out-loud funny. A delightful book about the labor movement: it sounds like an oxymoron, but in Geoghegan’s case it’s an accomplishment.
If you're interested in American labor and have somehow also not read this, you won't regret picking it up (give his campaign some money, too!). Here are a few choice quotes:

But everything the new Democrats or neoliberals have to say or teach, it seems to me, you can pick up in a magazine. But what the old Democrats have to say, or teach... well, the only way you can learn it is to walk block by city block and carry a smoking torch. (p. 283)

I can see why our leaders in top office would want to get rid of unions. In the United States, most of our managers don't know how to manage, except to say, "You're fired." To manage as European business does, to get consensus, to get a staff to accept, then to embrace a goal or mission--to manage like this in America is rare. So when we bring our CEOs from private business into government and they come up against a union for the first time, they don't know what to do. They panic. All they know how to say is: "You don't do it my way? You're fired!" (p. 345)

Both those quotes are relevant to the current debates about school reform, of course.

Guido's History of Python

Python BDFL Guido van Rossum has started a blog specifically to tell the history of the Python programming language. If you're interested in open source processes, I highly recommend it. Feel free to skim whatever is too technical for you; what's left is still likely to be valuable. For example, today he posted a timeline of Python's development. Python started as an internal company project in 1989. No matter how quickly it seems like technology changes, successful projects have multi-decade timelines.

Deep Thought

Joe Biden is probably a pretty good guy to watch a parade with.

Arguing from Outliers and Re-Segregation


So what are Klein and Sharpton saying here? Their argument is essentially: 1) Some schools with high concentrations of minority and poor students are getting exceptional results, 2) If some schools with high concentrations of minority and poor students are getting good results, poverty must not affect academic achievement - at least not in ways that can't be overcome by good schools, and 3) If some schools can get exceptional results in spite of the challenges their students face, all schools should be able to.

I won’t belabor how flawed this logic is - because at the end of the day, it is just crazy talk. We don’t expect the other 99.9% of swimmers to be able to do what Michael Phelps can, and a swim coach that set out to reach that goal for his swimmers would be sorely disappointed. And we don’t infer that disabilities like Phelps’ ADHD can be overcome by all because one man did so. Few would disagree with the previous two sentences. But it seems that when we step into the education policy arena, we too often check our brains at the door.

I keep thinking that if Klein and Sharpton's argument is correct, there's nothing standing in the way of officially re-segregating schools. All you'd need to do is show that some segregated schools were exceptional, and then there would be no basis for desegregation. I can all too easily imagine Amy Wilkins asking the teachers in segregated schools "Why were you in that high-needs classroom?" and explaining that if we could just get better teachers into the black schools, everything would be ok. In a "no excuses" world, is segregation an excuse for low achievement? If, theoretically, we could get the best teachers to work in black schools and then they'd be better than white schools, does that mean segregation is ok? What about if we recruit a bunch of spunky Ivy League kids to teach?

On one level, it is deeply unfair of me to say this -- these people aren't really for re-segregation! At the same time, we have largely re-segregated our schools, and continue to do so at a growing pace, and our neo-reformers are pretty ok with that, so is it really an unfair comparison?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Don't Let This Happen in Education


This isn't about economists being economists, it's about them being public intellectuals. And most have handed that job over to conservative hacks.

More like this, please: Horace on the Hill: Educating our Lawmakers.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Jason Scott:

A terrible thing happened recently. You might have missed it.

AOL Hometown, which itself was actually a combination of a bunch of previously acquired websites, shut down. It shut down on October 31 of this year. If you try to go to a site that used to be hosted there, you are forwarded to a weblog entry by “The AOL Hometown Team”, that says this, in total:

Hometown Has Been Shutdown
Posted on Nov 6th 2008 1:30PM by Kelly Wilson
Dear AOL Hometown user,
We’re sorry to inform you that as of Oct. 31, 2008, AOL® Hometown was shut down permanently. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Sincerely, The AOL Hometown Team

And that, my friends, is it.

There was a weblog posting on this same site, informally, on August 4th, letting people know AOL Hometown was being shut down, and maybe you should make an effort to get it. Officially, though, notification was sent out (how? In what way?) on September 30th, giving people essentially 4 weeks to figure out how to get their data off the servers, find a new place to send the data, get that arranged, and then do the transfer.

Friday, January 16, 2009

We Are So Not Ready To Spend $1,000,000,000 On Ed-Tech

Obama's stimulus plan includes a billion for ed-tech. A quick survey of prominent US K-12 ed tech blogs reveals no real reaction. Frankly, I'm not even sure how big a drop in the bucket this is. I guess I blew through $300,000 on one small school nine years ago with absolutely no problem and wishing I had a lot more. Multiply that times 3,300 and that's pretty much your billion.

I'm sure some people have what is now the standard crazy response of many ed-tech advocates: roughly, "Spending more money on computers won't solve our problems, we need curriculum reform." This is kind of like a business saying in 1995 "We don't need computers, we just need better market research." Clearly, you need both. And hopefully we'll get a lot out of the additional "$100 million...included to improve instruction in science, math and engineering." That could provide quite a lot of free curricula.

In tech investment, you need the right technology, and unfortunately, the last eight relatively fallow years in ed-tech investment and research and development have left us relatively unprepared to spend this money wisely. If this is all spent on products you see at the NECC vendor floor, it isn't going to add up to much. A lot of smartboards and clickers. We've had precious little strategic investment in alternatives.

From the open source point of view, stimulus can cut two ways. This looks like money to buy stuff now, and since you don't buy open source software at all, people may just overlook open source options. Even so, having many more computers in kids hands to take advantage of open source software down the road is still good if people are willing to be more open minded about what goes on them. The real win, however, is if a small chunk of the stimulus can go toward writing freely licensed software. It fits the paradigm of "stimulus" since a lot of useful software can be written in two years with government funding and then released to the community and commercial sector for ongoing use and support.

Anyhow, we'll see how this goes. A billion dollars coming into the industry isn't a bad thing, but we're not as ready for it as I'd like to be.

Later... just for context, EETT funding for 2008 was $267,493,792.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Using Revision Control for Educational Content

I've been exchanging comments and emails with Dan about authoring, um, educational content or whatever you want to call it. Multimedia math curriculum specifically.

One of my hobby horses is using revision control, so it is time to give an example of what I'm talking about. Wiki history is a simple kind of revision control. Anything that lets you roll back a sequence of saved changes is (as far as the layperson is concerned) a kind of revision control. Specifically, I'm interested in distributed revision control systems, which allow you to maintain multiple, parallel versions of a document and exchange specific changes between the two.

Anyway, we'd better get to an example.

These systems are designed to be used with human-readable text files, like software source code. So perhaps the biggest problem with this whole idea is finding more or less human-readable (where, say, HTML is considered human-readable) formats for doing the kind of authoring we have in mind. I thought Dan's Keynote files this might work reasonably well as an example because they're mostly defined in an XML file. Unfortunately, the first one I looked at had an 82,000 line XML file to define a 42 page presentation. This does not count as human readable.

So, for the purpose of illustration, we'll use one of Nick Hershman's .tex files. Dan is now thinking "No, no, no, no, no, I don't want TeX." I'm just using this as an example, OK?

In the interest of actually finishing this post, I'm just going to cut to the chase. I downloaded the .tex file and the single image used in Nick's rates and ratios lesson, and put them under version control using Bazaar and Launchpad. Yes, this is the Mark Shuttleworth vision of version control. There are others.

So after a little magic, we have this: the lesson under revision control on Launchpad. I can make changes on my local machine and push them up to the Launchpad repository, retaining the revision history.

If you want to try making some changes, you need to install bazaar locally, and make a "branch" of the lesson (bzr branch lp:~tom-hoffman/+junk/proportions). Then you can make whatever changes you want on your local copy and publish the changes to your own public branch on Launchpad (or to a regular web host). There are several ways you can send me your changes that I may choose to merge into my branch; if you like you can also pull future changes from my branch to keep yours up to date.

One drawback is that binary files like images are opaque. Revision control works but you can't see what's going on as easily, and I think it is not very efficient if you're frequently editing the images.

Anyhow, that's your simple introduction. I'm sure it could be better, but not without spending way more time than I've got... there's lots more on the Bazaar site. This is a good example, too.

So You Want To Be A Scientist

Science Teacher:

If we want to develop a science "class", we will need to identify the children who show early aptitude and interest, and then help them develop the discipline needed to carry on professional research. Elitist? Perhaps. Not sure I'd want my kids selected for that track--professional science looks like a lonely existence to me, no matter how the sexay the NSTA wants to dress it.

"Scientist" doesn't strike me as a very desirable job these days. If you're not at the pinnacle of academia, it is a lot of grunt work. Or potentially making a lot of money doing grunt work for Pfizer or something. On a macro scale, we collectively need to know a lot more about science. In the micro scale, I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it as a career.

I Guess It Is Official


"Look, I have a very privileged life, right?" Mr. Shuttleworth said. "I am a billionaire, bachelor, ex-cosmonaut. Life couldn’t easily be that much better."

"Billionaire" is much easier to say than "several hundred millionaire."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm Not Even Sure What We're Arguing About

Marc Fisher:

There's a knock on the door, and a parent whose child is causing trouble at Truesdell Educational Center warily opens up. Six Truesdell employees, loaded with pizza for dinner and plans to change the child's direction, trundle into the apartment -- the boy's teacher, two social workers, a psychologist, a behavior specialist, and the principal, Brearn Wright.

This is supposed to be a profile of a school in DC implementing reform, Rhee-style. From my experience, that's a heck of a lot of support staff for a school of roughly 350 students, if they literally all work full time at that school. "Truesdell employees" may not be used very strictly here.

So... you don't just need high-quality teachers? You need teachers plus support staff? I mean, I don't understand how all this is supposed to work. If you don't have adequate support staff is that a valid excuse? Or do you not really need support staff? The rhetoric is just getting all mixed up. Is the "no excuses" stuff not meant to be taken literally? Are we supposed to be in on the joke? Is it ok to do anything inside the school to support students, but not ok to advocate for any non-school programs?

Also, one last pass at the KIPP op-ed. How weird is it to advocate for this:

Obama could establish a paradigm-shifting goal -- ensuring that within 10 years every child in America will be on track to earning a college degree or completing a meaningful career training program.

Without mentioning any of the many proposals floating around right now to make college more affordable?

Really, it seems like these folks just can't bring themselves to advocate for any public policy outside of schools.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Laying Down Covering Fire

Sherman Dorn:

Joel Klein and Al Sharpton wrote an open letter to Barack Obama and Arne Duncan that appeared this morning in the Wall Street Journal. And I have just a few questions about this:

  • How can the sitting chancellor and a long-time civil-rights activist claim to be railing against "the entrenched education establishment" when you could reasonably conclude that they are The Establishment?
  • Why do they think that placing a column in the WSJ establishes their anti-establishment street cred? That newspaper isn't exactly an underground pamphlet.
  • Isn't Klein the type of guy who already has Arne Duncan's cell number? They're fellow urban superintendents, they've talked at meetings, and you assume he could call Duncan up at any time, and probably get Obama's number as well. So why do they need this open letter--do they feel this deep psychological need to pose as Village Voice rebels with a cause?

Klein and Sharpton are setting up a straw-man opponent. In my masters class in the fall, one of my students argued that accountability is well-entrenched as part of the public-school policy script. Whether you want to use Tyack and Cuban's "grammar of schooling" or Mary Metz's "real school" language, I think there's a case to be made that anyone who claims that accountability is "new" is in denial and as punishment should have to watch three or four consecutive playings of an inane 1980s adolescent-rebellion film.

So someone who is less establishment than Joel Klein would be... anyone? Anyone?

This is the kind of message opponents of anti-Klein/Bush style reform should hammer on relentlessly. Overall, the failures of the past eight years have justifiably been stuck on the Republicans. Education is one of the few areas where they and their allies might dodge the taint. Don't let them. One key to their rhetorical strategy is pretending that they are still outsiders, standards-based accountability hasn't been the coin of the realm for fifteen years, etc.

Friday, January 09, 2009

When Will Andy Rotherham Stop Propping Up the Failed Status Quo and Embrace Reform?


...Rotherham says,

There are also real technical and logistical challenges the movement must overcome. Outside of intensive writing assignments, measuring many of these skills in a large scale or standardized way is difficult. As my colleague Elena Silva described in a recent analysis it is possible to design assessments that test both content and skills like critical thinking or problem solving. But unless these measurements are carefully designed, students can fake knowledge on many exercises intended to measure skills, again shortchanging content. In any case, most states are ill-equipped to implement such assessments today and too many teachers are not prepared to use them or teach this way today.

In other words, we should not teach what we can not easily measure. To argue that we should not teach higher level thinking because our tests are inadequate and teachers lack preparation is advocacy for the status quo - a declining spiral of testable mediocrity and irrelevance.

Well put.

Your Homework Assignment

Imagine you're teaching a graduate-level course in education policy; or even an undergraduate one. You assign as a homework assignment a brief five point plan for federal level education reform.

You open up a paper and two points of the five are "Obama could establish a paradigm-shifting goal -- ensuring that within 10 years every child in America will be on track to earning a college degree or completing a meaningful career training program," and "Obama could sound a clarion call about the crucial role that teachers play in the nation's economic and social well-being; he could raise awareness, alter public perceptions, and motivate countless people to become and remain teachers," what are you thinking about how you're going to grade this assignment?

I'm thinking "Jeez, two of five points are just struggling to take up space." I'm also writing "So the federal government is going to overturn every teacher and principal contract in the country? What's the legal basis for this?" next to "If we are going to hold all public schools accountable for their results -- and we should -- we need to grant (the power to ability to hire, fire and reward principals and teachers based on their students' progress and achievement) to all public schools."

I'm just sayin'.

Then again, this is the Washington Post editorial page, and their standards aren't very high, and they're owned by a company that would make a lot of money off a new national standards and testing regime, so the quality of the argument here isn't that surprising.

Weird KIPP Op-Ed

I find the new op-ed by KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin to be weird. They start out by reminding of how small KIPP still is in real terms after fourteen years, most of the time heavily backed by the wealthiest philanthropies in America: "66 public charter schools serving 17,000 children." That's not much more than half the size of the Providence School Department. That's comparable to the parochial school system in Manhattan. If they scale up by a third every year of Obama's first term, they may hit around one thousandth of US school enrollment. Now, creating a single good school is an accomplishment, let alone 66, but we need to keep this in perspective if we're going to shift to a national policy scale.

Anyhow, here's point one:

Obama could establish a paradigm-shifting goal -- ensuring that within 10 years every child in America will be on track to earning a college degree or completing a meaningful career training program.
I have a few reactions to this:

  • um... then what is the paradigmatic goal of our education system currently? Isn't this like starting an op-ed on defense policy by stating "We need to set a paradigm-shifting goal: the US military will defend the United States and its interests around the world."
  • This is much less than what our ambitions should be as Americans. We do not seek to simply prepare children for more school, we must first prepare them to be citizens.
  • There is some pretty good research indicating that setting college as a goal rather than a career leads to bad decisions about post-secondary education and unfortunate outcomes after you get to college.
  • See also Meier/Murray.

Moving on:

Second, perhaps the single greatest lever for raising expectations and achievement for all children in America would be the creation of national learning standards and assessments. With KIPP schools operating in 19 states, we have seen how the maze of state standards and tests keeps great teachers from sharing ideas, inhibits innovation, and prevents meaningful comparison of student, teacher and school performance.

Well, yes, I can see how this could be inconvenient if I was running a school system the size of a small city across 19 states, but do we need to be shaping national education policy to suit this use case?

Beyond that, I haven't pored over the various state standards at this point, but it seems to me that there are two possibilities: they are substantially similar, or they are substantially different. If they are similar, this is a trivial problem. Sit some folks down and make a database mapping them to each other and propose a unified consensus document. There is plenty of money floating around to do it, if it is possible. But if they aren't very different anyhow, why does this make such a big difference?

If all these state standards are substantially different, how do you propose we reconcile them? Which ones do we use? My suspicion is that my child's education would not be improved by making Rhode Island's standards more like Florida's, or Utah's, or Alaska's, or Alabama's or Kansas's, and I suspect people in those states feel the same way. So, good luck with that.

Certainly their point one suggests that math standards should be designed to prepare students for more math classes, English standards for more English classes, etc. Right there, I don't see how I reconcile that with my vision for public education.

Also, the one thing I have to give props to the 21st Century Skills folks is that if nothing else they have pulled off a successful defensive maneuver. While one side has been fighting for national standards, on another front the 21st Century People have made sure that if there are national standards, they will include lots of stuff that most national standards people hate. It is pretty funny, actually.

Skipping over "Obama could help build enthusiasm and respect for all who enter the teaching profession" (bold!), we have two final points which aren't so much interesting in themselves as how they interact with each other and an earlier point:

At KIPP, we have the ability to hire, fire and reward principals and teachers based on their students' progress and achievement. If we are going to hold all public schools accountable for their results -- and we should -- we need to grant this same power to all public schools. (...)

Finally, we urge Obama to follow through on his campaign pledge to double federal funding for public charter schools with proven results.

If you've got a system where everyone--charter or district school--is teaching to the same standards, and perhaps the same curriculum, and everyone has the same control over staffing, why do we need charter schools? Can't all schools be like charter schools then? Or are there other differences? If so, can we give those privileges and resources to other public schools as well, or are they reserved for schools run by private organizations?

Cory Doctorow on Writing in the Age of Distraction

Relevant, of course, to teachers, of fiction writing at least. Also, not necessarily the ed-tech conventional wisdom, particularly:

  • Don't research

    Researching isn't writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don't. Don't give in and look up the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the population of Rhode Island, or the distance to the Sun. That way lies distraction — an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day's idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type "TK" where your fact should go, as in "The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite." "TK" appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is "Atkins") so a quick search through your document for "TK" will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognize it if you miss it and bring it to your attention.

  • Kill your word-processor

    Word, Google Office and OpenOffice all come with a bewildering array of typesetting and automation settings that you can play with forever. Forget it. All that stuff is distraction, and the last thing you want is your tool second-guessing you, "correcting" your spelling, criticizing your sentence structure, and so on. The programmers who wrote your word processor type all day long, every day, and they have the power to buy or acquire any tool they can imagine for entering text into a computer. They don't write their software with Word. They use a text-editor, like vi, Emacs, TextPad, BBEdit, Gedit, or any of a host of editors. These are some of the most venerable, reliable, powerful tools in the history of software (since they're at the core of all other software) and they have almost no distracting features — but they do have powerful search-and-replace functions. Best of all, the humble .txt file can be read by practically every application on your computer, can be pasted directly into an email, and can't transmit a virus.

  • Realtime communications tools are deadly

    The biggest impediment to concentration is your computer's ecosystem of interruption technologies: IM, email alerts, RSS alerts, Skype rings, etc. Anything that requires you to wait for a response, even subconsciously, occupies your attention. Anything that leaps up on your screen to announce something new, occupies your attention. The more you can train your friends and family to use email, message boards, and similar technologies that allow you to save up your conversation for planned sessions instead of demanding your attention right now helps you carve out your 20 minutes. By all means, schedule a chat — voice, text, or video — when it's needed, but leaving your IM running is like sitting down to work after hanging a giant "DISTRACT ME" sign over your desk, one that shines brightly enough to be seen by the entire world.

Note also that Sugar is pretty good for this kind of thing, with a simple full screen word processor and, at least in early builds, no interruption/notification system.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

State Intervention Officially Destigmatized in Providence

So I went to the Superintendent's forum on the new Nathan Bishop Middle School tonight. Basically, I had to stick a little knife into the only chink in the School Department's otherwise seamless drive for conformity across the district. All schools are expected to fall in line with the upcoming curriculum guidelines, regardless of past precedent or agreements.

The one flaw in this plan is that the previous Superintendent had been convinced by some newly organized East Siders (read white, affluent) to re-open the closed middle school in their neighborhood on special terms.

So I came with some pointed questions. If this is to be some kind of innovative model school will have a formal waiver from the district curriculum and pacing guide? Response: hand-waving.

I also asked about whether the school would be "site-based" under the district contract. This is a well-established, successful, if not widely-used, contract provision in Providence that provides a formal structure for school-specific contract variances. Brady's response was that they thought it was too unwieldy and bureaucratic and, as he had described earlier in the meeting, the plan is to have the state do some kind of "your district is in intervention" mojo and grant some kind of special status to the school that lets them hire whomever they want. I followed up pretty aggressively on this. "Do you expect this status to go on indefinitely?" Frankly it would be pretty absurd for the one (presumably) high performing middle school in the city to be the only one in ongoing state intervention (that's my analysis, not Brady's, which was more hand-waving).

Then this guy sitting near me interjects with some very ill-timed, condescending and unfortunately worded reassurance put to me as if I was a concerned neighborhood parent (which I'm not) rather than a frustrated interloper from a neighborhood which is decidedly not getting a special new school. The sub-text was "Well, you see, they can't actually say they'll give us special treatment in public, but they will, because we are, you know, white, affluent and well organized. Trust them."

This, of course, pushed me over the edge a bit, and I pulled off my disguise and went on a short rant of my own about how I too had once engaged with a new superintendent in designing an exciting new model school, which was now being "dismantled" by the Brady administration, so I had some reason to be suspicious.

Mr. Brady was not entirely pleased with being broadsided this way, but it was pretty much at the end, and immediately afterwords he came over, introduced himself, shook my hand and told me to set up an appointment.

So the first takeaway here is that my charm is irresistible.

Beyond that is the apparent de-stigmification of state intervention status in Providence. This was always a mystery to me. Rhode Island is not that much bigger than Providence, and the state Department of Ed has provided much more sound, stable, and forward-thinking leadership than the city ever has. So "shape up or the state will take you over" always sounded more like a reward than a threat to me. I would have run into the open arms of the state at any point. Everything we did at Feinstein was completely in sync with state initiatives. "Can the state take us over? Please?" It is the city that doesn't understand us. Of course the state has limited capacity to intervene with individual schools, which makes takeover an even more extra-special privilege. Apparently the City of Providence itself has also realized this is more a reward than a punishment, and they're taking advantage of it to create their special new school in an affluent neighborhood. Not sure how that plays out in the long run.

SchoolTool 2009 Plan

The recent news about OLPC has reminded me that I haven't posted the 2009 development plan for SchoolTool. I'm happy to say Mark is willing and able to continue funding the project, which is a big relief as we're just starting to get some real momentum...

Quick 2008 Recap

SchoolTool core -- We successfully released a beta for SchoolTool 1.0 on schedule in October, our primary goal for the year. It includes the core components of a student information system, plus calendaring. This has had the desired effect; we've seen a significant increase in queries, feedback and bug reports from around the world in recent weeks.

CanDo -- CanDo finally merged completely with the improved SchoolTool web interface. 2007's developer internships paid off with a strong core of student developers, led by Filip Sufitchi. An 8000 user, multi-school production CanDo server was successfully deployed in the fall and is seeing significant use and generating enthusiastic feedback from teachers and administrators. The year was capped off by an RFP by the state of Virginia for a $40,000, eight district CanDo pilot.

SLA Intervention System -- Principal Chris Lehmann and the staff at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia worked with Alan Elkner to create and deploy a student intervention tracking system which has worked well for them and attracted immediate interest in a larger pilot by district administration.

2009 Goals

  1. Release SchoolTool 1.0 in April as a basic, functional student information system, and support schools and teachers independently deploying and using it through the rest of the year, including a 1.1 release in October.

In this year we only need a relatively small group of users, perhaps a dozen schools. Many more might overwhelm our support capacity. Schools and systems looking toward substantial 2010 deployments will already be looking in 2009, so we will be building those relationships as well.

  1. Package and release CanDo so that it can easily be used outside of its Virginia base. Help with support as necessary to make their pilot and likely larger statewide fall deployments a success.
  2. Do fit and finish on the SLA Intervention System, package it, support pilot deployments in Philadelphia and promote it elsewhere.
  3. Raise an additional EUR 50-100,000 in outside funding. The CanDo RFP gives us a good foundation for further fundraising around CanDo. Having that project based essentially in Washington at the beginning of a new administration committed to economic stimulus, innovation and technology in schools shouldn't hurt. SchoolTool core is interesting to any enterprise that is dependent on collecting data for schools; supporting a free SIS that they can distribute to schools and receive cleaner data would be a smart investment. POV has expressed interest in pursuing EU funding. There are numerous angles to explore.
  4. Raising money implies an organization to receive money, which we currently lack. Having a US-based entity that could accept money from US schools and pay developers outside the country would be helpful. I don't think it makes sense to do this via the Shuttleworth Foundation. I could create a US-based SchoolTool Foundation as a non-profit. My initial research indicates that joining the Software Freedom Conservancy may be the best bet, as it gives us a means to receive and disburse money as tax-exempt donations without the administrative overhead of starting and running a non-profit corporation. Canonical may have a role to play eventually as well. Regardless, this will require further discussion and research


We benefited from a stable development team this year. Ignas Mikalaj┼źnas has really taken ownership of the code and done great work this year. You generally can't hire a BDFL, but Ignas and I are forming a pretty good two-headed approximation of one. Alan Elkner has given us the consistent US developer presence we lacked, working closely with our partners in Philadelphia and Virginia. When Alan split off periodically to work on the CanDo payroll, we picked up Justas Sadzevicius at POV, who has quickly picked up the SchoolTool codebase and efficiently dispatches bugs and adds features for us.

This team and their pay rate and bonus schedule will remain the same this year. We expect Alan to work about one quarter time on CanDo's budget. We aren't budgeted to support CanDo internships this year. That amount could easily be eaten up by exchange rate swings in Alan's salary.

Primary Developer Responsibilities

Ignas > SchoolTool core releases, packaging. Alan > Intervention System, CanDo liaison.

Other Expenses

Travel: I've reduced the allowance slightly because we won't be sprinting at PyCon and EuroPython this year, which will save the expense of longer hotel stays and conference fees. We will sprint at the Arlington Career Academy in early February and probably again there during the summer.

Servers and Sys Admin: Brian Sutherland will continue to serve as sys admin for the near future, but we are increasingly able to shift the complicated bits to Launchpad. We also stopped hosting a demo instance of SchoolTool. It is a better use of time to make it easy for people to apt-get their own instance. So overall, we will spend less on this line.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

CanDo & SchoolTool Go To Washington

CanDo and SchoolTool have been selected to participate next Tuesday in the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee's (ICAC) 12th Annual Kickoff Technology Policy Exhibition at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC:

This event serves as a great opportunity for policymakers, industry executives and public interest advocates to come together and to network with their peers. The goal of this annual tech exhibition is to bring cutting-edge technology demonstrations to Capitol Hill that illustrate the power and flexibility of the Internet as medium for communications, commerce, and democracy.

The only problem is I totally poached the idea to apply for this from a Sugar mailing list, and they apparently didn't make the cut too. :-(

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Software Bottleneck

It is worth reading Ray Kurzweil's predictions for 2009 from 1999's The Age of Spritual Machines. Not surprisingly, some things are right, some things are wrong. What's the pattern, though?

In technical terms, over-estimating our capacity to write software that keeps up with the exploding capabilities of hardware. We've barely advanced at all in our collective capacity to write software, and we've regressed in some ways (PHP, web programming in general...). Also, we've made precious little progress on the kind of interoperability standards that undergird a lot of the magic Kurzweil predicted. The Semantic Web vision was launching around the same time to provide the base for this kind of vision (intelligent software agents, etc), and the collective response from the people who would have to implement code meeting its specifications was "I prefer not to." It would be fun to go back in time and tell Kurzweil that no major new operating system would be successfully launched after 2001, or that a hot topic in 2009 would be re-writing standard desktop applications in Javascript. Or that this kind of obituary would be all to common:

Once thought to be the savior of IT, SOA instead turned into a great failed experiment—at least for most organizations. SOA was supposed to reduce costs and increase agility on a massive scale. Except in rare situations, SOA has failed to deliver its promised benefits. After investing millions, IT systems are no better than before. In many organizations, things are worse: costs are higher, projects take longer, and systems are more fragile than ever.

Luckily, there is a broad consensus including everyone from Alan November to expert on everything Mike Petrilli on the uselessness of teaching programming. Petrilli's research is particularly authoritative:

And what did I learn from spending time with little kids? Among many other things (such as, don’t pick your toddler son’s nose if you don’t want him to pick yours), I noticed how tech-savvy they are. Not a second after I unveiled my iPhone (did I mention I have an iPhone? I’m on Facebook too!) did our 9- and 7-year-old friends attack it with knowledge and skills befitting a systems engineer. “Download Spore! Download LineRider! Can I play? Can I play?” It took me weeks before I even figured out I could download applications onto my phone. How did they know all of this?

Now, this is surely a banal observation, but hello, 21st Century Skills people, do we really think we have to teach our schoolkids how to use technology? My wife and I reminisced with friends about the computer courses we had to take back in the day. Remember typing “if/then” statements into Apple 2E’s? How much good did that do us? If I had it to do over again, I would have much rather read some piece of classic literature instead.

When the Windows XP box uploading dying Mike Petrelli's consciousness to The Singularity blue screens, he'll wish he'd made a different argument.

Obama and the Borg

You know, until I read this comment thread, I had forgotten that the exact reason Obama's 2004 Senate opponent had to withdraw was because he tried to get Seven of Nine to have sex with him in public. He was, up to that point, considered a fairly formidable opponent.

In Lieu of an Overly Long and Unfinished Post About My Neighborhood


Once a neighborhood reaches a “slum equilibrium” it becomes very difficult to pull out of it. People don’t walk around so there are no “eyes on the street.” Stores find it hard to stay in business, so there are few jobs. The most together families tend to move away. A general atmosphere of disarray may, itself, contribute to increasing levels of criminality (per “broken windows” theory), and as the neighborhood becomes poorer and less desirable it loses political clout which makes all the problems worse. The good news, such as it is, for cities is that there’s reason to believe that the coming decline will see more in the way of the slumification of the exurbs than it will re-slumification of “transitional” neighborhoods in comeback cities. For example, when I was growing up there were unsafe areas in the East Village that I think have now clearly passed into a safe “non-slum” equilibrium with plenty of businesses open and eyes on the street, where if real estate prices fall there are plenty of non-poor people who’d be eager to take up the slack.

Things were getting worrisome over the summer when we had people pulling copper pipes out of five vacants around our house, and some of the neighborhood kids had decided they'd make good target practice for their new paintball guns. Since then, most of the houses have been bought and are in some stage of re-repair and habitation, so things haven't fallen apart yet. There are actually more kids playing football and skateboarding in the street than there were when we moved here.

In particular, what seems to have happened so far is not "the most together families" moving away, but the least together families losing their homes and the most together local immigrant families buying low.

We don't seem to have been hit yet by a new wave of absentee speculators/slumlords. It was just within the past couple years that a particular bad landlord who had bought up a bunch of houses on Adelaide presumably in the 70's finally gave them up, thus allowing a key chunk of the neighborhood to be improved. OTOH, some kind of real estate junket of white people was walking around the neighborhood yesterday. I don't know if that's good news or bad.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Couple Points I Haven't Been Able To Nail Myself

Nancy Flanagan:

Then there is the unattractive fact that, according to Dan Lortie in the new edition of his classic Schoolteacher,

 "Teaching has attracted many persons who have undergone the uncertainties and deprivations of lower- and working-class life. It has provided a significant step up the social class ladder for many Americans."

It would be unbecoming for academics, policy-creators and opinion leaders to say, hey—why would we listen to low-rent scholars who went to fourth-tier state universities and don’t aspire to anything more prestigious than teaching? So they don’t. Instead, they suggest that it makes sense to endorse the winners of a best-and-brightest competition to obtain a two-year starter job in education.

Tom Pamperin in WaPo:

The various disciplines each offer a different lens through which students can view the world. You learn something different from literature than you do from math or science, and you learn it in a different way. But the 21st-century skills movement seems bent on reducing a wealth of knowledge and diversity of perspectives to a simple, business-minded set of skills. This would be great, obviously, for the corporate world. But since literature, art, music -- much of what defines the human experience -- are not useful in the boardroom, they won't be given much space in our public schools.

The Future: A Lot Like The Present

Change Agency

The 21st Century doesn’t start tomorrow or a week from now. It started several years ago.

This is a narrow and vastly optimistic view of the present situation. Of course "centuries" are arbitrary constructs, but if you think the next 92 years are going to be much like the last 10 or 20 or 30 you're being very sanguine. It is going to be a few more years before we really have a sense of whether we should be preparing kids for The Long Emergency, The Singularity, both or neither. Could someone in 1908 know how to educate students for the rest of the 20th century? Yes, because there are timeless principles, but not in the sense of making policy based on predictions about the future.

Ultimately, the issue here is that "21st Century" whatever misframes the question, so you get stupid answers.

I Don't Understand This "Alternative Certification" Discussion

Keeling conceded there "has been some skepticism about whether new, alternatively certified teachers could measure up. These results suggest that they can, if they are carefully selected and rigorously trained."

The question is not "can carefully selected and rigorously trained" "alternative" teachers be successful, but "is your training actually effective?" Given that you're probably comparing it to low-quality certification training, that's a low bar.

Also, what about this?

Over those years, schools attracted particularly large numbers of teachers considered to be at the peak of their careers - with between five and 10 years' experience. "I think it's good news . . . that retention is up, because that means less rookie hiring, and we know less rookie hiring is good for kids," said Jonah Rockoff, an associate professor at Columbia Business School.

GothamSchools morning news roundup is bad for my productivity.

Unpacking Literacy

The simplest, most traditional definition of "literacy" is "being able to read and write." There are much more sophisticated conceptions, but if I say "the literacy rate of Grand Fenwick is 23%" you don't think "I'm surprised only 23% can storyboard, shoot and edit a short video." Or "Gee, I didn't realize the Grand Fenwickians couldn't solve problems in groups." You think "Only 23% can read and write?"

Similarly, the traditional minimal role of schools is to teach literacy, to read and write.

When we try to define new "literacies," what we're really saying is "this is something that I believe must be taught in school." That is, if I convince you something is a "literacy," I've convinced you that it must be taught.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Public Policy and Philanthropic Policy

One thing that is little confusing right now in education is sorting out discussions of public policy and philanthropic policy. I don't think that, for example, there is a serious public policy discussion about paying students for achievement on test scores. That is, local governments aren't going to cut other programs or raise taxes to start giving cash to poor kids for doing what they should ostensibly be doing anyhow. On the other hand, it is a lively topic in philanthropic policy. Philanthropy doesn't have to worry about whether or not it is politically possible to fund a measure. They only need it to be permitted.

For business-minded philanthropy, direct payments to kids for higher test scores makes a lot of sense. It is consistent with their general view of human nature and the philosophies of schools they like, such as KIPP. It recognizes the extent to which education can simply be a bottomless pit for their money. How many tens of million dollar projects literally have added up to nothing? Right now in Providence we've got Broad Foundation trained administrators busily undoing early 21st century work funded by the Gates Foundation. How many millions were spent training teachers who left their jobs to use curricula which were dropped (or never even adopted) in small schools that are being re-aggregated? If they can prove that paying kids X dollars raises scores Y points, and Y is greater than 0, that might be the least painful option for philanthropic spending they've come up with yet.

My point here is not that this is a good idea (although surely we've been saddled with worse), but just to highlight how confused the whole discourse is at this point. So much of the conversation is driven by the needs and interests of philanthropy that we're losing track of where private and public interests and obligations begin and end. The most dramatic example of this is in DC, where, without much apparent controversy or discussion, contract negotiations are taking place based not on money in the city coffers, not on democratically determined long-term priorities, but based on philanthropic initiatives. This is a very weird way to run a government.

Not Much


I’ve suggested here many times that I think the size of the audience for these conversations (loosely, very loosely defined as those having to do with how learning and schools change in the context of social Web tools) is still amazingly small.

If you ask me, one reason the size of the audience isn't bigger is the answer for primary and secondary schools is "not much." Which is more than "none," but less than "a lot," and less than I would have predicted five years ago.

In the meantime, can someone please give Will an ARIS demo?