Friday, May 29, 2009

What I Wrote Yesterday

Not so much blogging, trying to plow through one of these pages a day.

Also, a lot going on with SchoolTool I need to blog about. Perhaps once Julia's sleep pattern settles down...

Pay Attention To: HTML 5

About a decade ago, what most people think of as "Web 2.0" was jump started by several factors, including on the technical side a stable and ubiquitous free server stack and improved browser standards conformance. There was also a push around the turn of the century to quickly roll over into a next generation of standards (e.g., RDF, SVG, XSLT) and push much more pervasive implementation of XML (e.g., your Netflix queue is marked up as its own XML dialect instead of HTML and styled by CSS) but these technologies and approaches, while they've survived, haven't thrived or driven recent innovation. Instead, the past decade has been about wringing more functionality out of the existing web standards, and cramming the problematic parts (e.g., video) into Flash.

The next generation of HTML, HTML 5, is now ripening, and opening up opportunities for big leaps forward in functionality. Importantly, IE's market share is down around 66%. This is hopefully in the range where if they'll pay a price if they lag significantly in adoption of HTML 5 features. Even if people are still using IE, a lot more are at least aware that there are high quality, free browsers for every platform, so switching browsers is a growing threat.

Anyhow, the point is, if you're getting bored with the web as we know it today, it is about to take a healthy leap forward, so pay attention to HTML 5.

Friday, May 22, 2009

...and on the Seventh Day, they ate Bob and Timmy's

GQ's 25 Best Pizzas You'll Ever Eat (US version):

5. Bob & Timmy’s
Spinach-and-mushroom pizza

There’s no Bob or Timmy at Bob & Timmy’s. Last I heard, they’d sold to Rick and Jose, and I don’t think those two were there on the quiet weekday afternoon when I arrived with a guest. Our companions were a lonely waitress and a guy drinking at the bar. Bob & Timmy’s is a small tavern with beer bric-a-brac, captain’s chairs, reproduction Tiffany lamps, and a TV that remained on even though nobody was watching. Maybe in another era it was a bar for whalers, but there were no whalers around, either. I tried peering into the kitchen at the huge indoor charcoal grill, curious about grilled pizza, but the cook rushed to the door and chased me away. I’m pretty confident he was the cook, because I didn’t see anybody else back there. The menu is vast, but I stuck to simple variations, and every one was expertly prepared. The pies came in standard grilled-pizza format, irregularly round but cut into squares. The crust appeared too skinny to be interesting, but it seemed about the best flatbread I’d ever eaten. The vegetable toppings were remarkably fresh, and it occurred to me that freshness is something we rarely think about when contemplating what pizza we admire. The pie I loved most had three cheeses, the dominant one being feta, which adds tang and saltiness. Now I understand what every Greek must already know: Feta, spinach, and mushrooms are an astonishingly compatible combination.

Our dinner routine for a while has been me cooking six days a week and Bob and Timmy's for a day off.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Maternity Leave

1 to 1 in a Nutshell

Mark Warschauer:

Laptops make a good school better, but they don't make a bad school good.

They make a good school better by facilitating more and higher quality writing, allowing the practice and development of 21st century learning skills, encouraging high student motivation and engagement, and assisting effective integration of technology in teaching and learning. (They don't make a bad school good, because if teachers and students are invested in wasting time rather than learning, an Internet-connected computer provides ample opportunities for doing so!)

Also, good stuff about the positive reception given to Linux-based netbooks.

Progressive Education's Feeble Casio

The nomination of Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana to be Deputy Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education smells to me like a clear victory for those of us who support what I guess you could call inclusive, democratic, public school reform. As opposed to privately-driven, autocratic, exclusive school reform. For example, compare this vision (sorry, no permalink) to TFA:

Last week, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said that we, meaning all of us in education, need to think about new ways to recruit and keep good teachers. I agree. And we at PUSD have thought of new ways. We put out a news release that pointed out that PUSD is having recruiting success by sticking close to home.

Today, almost 20 percent (about 300) of our certificated teachers and administrators are PUSD alumni. We try to encourage graduating seniors who intend to go into education to come back home to teach. Why? Because there's an immediate comfort level when they return to a community they know, and maybe even to a school they attended, and there's also an immediate sense of loyalty. I think it also says something very positive about PUSD that so many graduates come back to us to teach. I guess sometimes you can come home - and in our case it's students who benefit.

Can we have a little bloggy love for Ms. Melendez, our new K-12 Blogger in Chief?

See also Mighty Wurlitzer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Broad Brand


Minnehan said teachers are concerned about Lyles because she was trained by the Broad Foundation’s Superintendents Academy, which trains educators and businesspeople to lead urban school districts. “We don’t want anybody here from the Broad Foundation, because we had a guy from the Broad Foundation a couple of years ago who bankrupted the district,” she said. “If the board turns around and hands her a job, there’s going to be a firestorm here.”

Branding cuts both ways...

Also, who am I supposed to think of when I read something like this:

The leadership in many urban districts does not accept the connection between a quality preschool opportunity and stronger literacy.

You mean, like, the generals, lawyers, etc. who run urban school districts now? Turnaround artists and MBA's? School boards? People with doctorates from ed schools? Really, I cannot conjure who I'm supposed to think of as "urban school district leadership" in 2009. If urban school districts are still badly led, whose fault is it now?

Change I CAN Believe In

As Sherman Dorn points out:

Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, the newly-announced assistant secretary of education nominee.... has maintained a blog while running the Pomona school district.

Not only does she have a blog, she's an amazingly warm and wonderful blogger. Just go there, scroll to the bottom and read your way up. You'll probably shed a few tears on the way, perhaps some from relief that such a caring teacher will be looking out for public primary and secondary schools in the US. I don't actually know what the Assistant Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education does or how much power she has, but I feel like the atmosphere has gotten tangibly less oppressive today.

Technical note: if you're wondering how you end up with such an ugly and ill-designed (no permalinks, etc.) blog -- use SchoolCenter.

I'll Take It

If the only way we can get a comprehensive range of neighborhood-based social services in South Providence is by loudly and repeatedly announcing "This is an example of how schools alone can eliminate the achievement gap!" I'll take it.

Put another way, if EEP embraces the Harlem Children's Zone strategy, it is a strategic victory for the Broader Bolder Approach, but perhaps it would be prudent to not rub their face in it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Excellent Feedback on the Virginia CanDo Pilot

Considering we're talking about administrative software here, these results are outstanding:

Responses to the second CanDo Pilot survey were very positive. More than 90% of respondents want to use CanDo next year to track their competencies, and 93% of respondents would recommend CanDo for implementation statewide.

User participation in this second feedback survey exceeded 50%. Of the total number of teachers (79) in the pilot at this time, 52% (41) responded. This also reflects responses from 23 of 26 schools in the pilot.

Segregation, Again

Glad people (e.g., Dana Goldstein) seem to be noticing and pointing out that we've quietly reverted to a "separate but equal" strategy.

Mike Petrelli's Crisis of Faith


I’ve been mulling about it ever since, wondering if she’s right that we reformers have exaggerated the unions’ negative role. To help me think through this question, I reached out to some friends, including Bryan Hassel, Jay Greene, Andy Rotherham, Greg Forster, Marty West, and Jamie Gass, who each provided thoughtful responses. And I’ve concluded that no, Diane isn’t right. My sense of equilibrium is returning. Here’s why.

I'll just address this point:

Second, when it comes to union influence on the ground, at the district level, it’s not at all clear that the “strong states” versus “weak states” distinction makes any sense. As the National Council on Teacher Quality has shown, teachers associations in “right to work” states regularly get provisions into state law that their “strong union” peers get through local collective bargaining. It’s true that principals are handcuffed in Massachusetts when it comes to issues like “last hired, first fired,” tenure protections, and (the absence of) differential pay. But principals in virtually all “weak union” states are similarly handcuffed, because teachers have succeeded in getting laws passed that have the same effect. As Jay Greene told me, the unions’ goal “is to ensure as little policy variation across states as they can on their core issues.” Or as Greg Forster says poetically:

The dysfunctional policies of the unions have been so deeply ingrained in the education system that even where unions are nominally “weak” you still find flat salary schedules, unbreakable tenure, etc.—the whole union agenda. So when we compare “strong union” states with “weak union” states, it’s not really a fair comparison.

As Petrelli says, one explanation of why these practices are relatively uniform across the country is the influence of unions in areas in which unions aren't influential. Of course, by this reasoning, the once powerful United Auto Workers would have been able to get states in the South to pass more laws influencing the wages and working conditions in non-union automotive plants, or for that matter just gotten different labor laws passed. Not to mention universal health care.

Or another more straightforward explanation is that there has been a broad consensus that some regulation over hiring, firing and payment of public employees is necessary to restrain corruption, nepotism and political interference in the educational process. Just imagine what urban school systems would be like if they had been run for the past 100 years with no unions and no restraint on hiring, firing and pay scales. Let's put it this way, it would have opened up a whole set of interesting plot lines for The Sopranos. "How will Principal "Walnuts" Gualtieri control A.J.'s defiant behavior without incurring Tony's wrath?" Etc.

Maybe we're beyond all that now, because our local governments are clean, because we do data-driven decision making, and most of all, because we've all agreed that it is ok for a principal or someone running a non-profit that manages a handful of small schools to give themselves (or appoint a board to give them) a salary of $250,000 or more. Regardless, it doesn't change the history.

Monday, May 18, 2009

True About Data-Driven Education Reformers, Too

The Times of London:

Starting in 1952, two generations of economists worked to show that people are like molecules, whose behaviour can be predicted in ways that are stable over time. Science then infected everything, from how much capital banks need to protect themselves against insolvency, to the risk in credit-default swaps. But there was a flaw: the City’s faux physicists never go back far enough in their analysis, because the data on the Bloomberg terminal cover a tiny period of history. “Real scientists tend to be much more sceptical about their data and their models,” says William Janeway, an MD of the private-equity firm Warburg Pincus and a Cambridge University lecturer. “They had all of the maths, but none of the instincts of good scientists.” There is also the 4x4 effect: if you give people a safer car (read, a safer world through financial innovation), they tend to drive faster.

Especially true in education politics since the AIG connection is not exactly subtle.

Mobile Wikis

When Tim and I gave our talk at ETech 2005 about the way his school was using teacher-laptop hosted wikis, I don't think we really stuck it because we had too much other stuff we wanted to talk about other than mobile wikis. But... mobile wikis!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Interview with Me

About the SchoolTool release.

Dan would have had an Orgasm and then Cried Himself to Sleep

The special treat in Studio AMD's presentation this week at Providence Geeks was the demo of their in-house presentation software.

Let's say you're planning a mega-skyscraper in Dubai, or perhaps a redesign of Seoul's waterfront. You pay a top-tier star architect to design the buildings, they hand off the plans to Studio AMD, who for, say, $150,000 turn those plans into some gorgeous illustrations and animations. Then your $500,000,000 plan hinges on how well you present those images in your pitch. You might decide that it is worth using something a little more polished than PowerPoint. That's where Studio AMD's in-house presentation tool, which they call simply "ebook" comes in.

There is not a heck of a lot to say about it, because it doesn't have a lot of features, it just looks supremely smooth, clear and refined, particularly in its integration of scrollable images and video. It is written in Flash; early versions used an attractive book metaphor rather than a slideshow; it seems designed to work equally well as a group presentation tool or like a portfolio to be viewed directly on a computer or kiosk. It apparently allows some editing by clients, but definitely has a "we're going to strictly limit how much you can screw this up" ethos.

It also struck me as the closest thing I've seen to what Dan wants for creating visually compelling math challenges. Of course, normally, civilians can't even see it -- it isn't on the web -- let alone use it. That extra bit of presentation polish isn't exactly something you want to share with the people coming before and after you in front of the sheik. They said it took about 10 months to write. This is the kind of thing somebody ought to be able to squeeze out of that $50,000,000 MacArthur is sinking into Digital Media and Learning.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

True for School Data Systems, Too


As we become more and more dependent on software for evidentiary and other legal applications, we need to be able to carefully examine that software for accuracy, reliability, etc. Every government contract for breath alcohol detectors needs to include the requirement for public source code. "You can't look at our code because we don't want you to" simply isn't good enough.

The "Using Our Product" Gap

Can I just mention that I find it jarring that the second "gap" in ETS's generally strong Parsing the Achievement Gap report is the gap in AP class enrollment? Of course, AP is an ETS product.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Random Connections

Douglas Rushkoff today:

Freakonomics, the runaway best seller and its follow- up New York Times Magazine column, applied this model of "rational utility-maximization" to human behaviors ranging from drug dealing to cheating among sumo wrestlers. Economics explained everything with real numbers, and the findings were bankable. Even better, the intellectual class had a new way of justifying its belief that people really do act the way they're supposed to in one of John Nash's game scenarios.

Freakonomics Blog last week:

It is with great pride that I report that my good friend Roland Fryer was honored by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.



I think it’s pretty obvious that the trends over the past 5-10 years are pointing in the direction of constant filibustering leading to the total paralysis of the American government.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bringing Discipline and Behavior to the Fore

Diane Ravitch:

Second, it is worth exploring why so many public schools in the big cities have been unable to establish a clear, fair, and functional discipline and behavior policy. Is it because of long-forgotten court orders? Have public schools become so wrapped up in procedural rights and processes that they can't provide an orderly environment for learning? Deborah, you recall as I do the claims made in the 1960s and 1970s that it was "white imperialism" to impose middle-class values on poor and minority children. Now there is a growing movement to do exactly that. My own view is that schools are by definition middle-class. If they are good schools, they teach the knowledge, skills, and behavior that one needs to function well in work, in higher education, and in life. So, there is a common-sense element to the "no excuses" mantra.

If we're going to engage with what's really going on in "no excuses" school reform, we must have this conversation. In my experience the vast majority of teachers, parents and administrators in urban middle schools would like to have consistent and fairly strict discipline and don't shy away from external motivation. They're not a bunch of hippies, but they clearly feel constrained in various ways. But I can't say exactly what the problems are, why charters apparently aren't bound by them, and what reasonable changes might be made to bring some of these benefits to neighborhood schools (which isn't to say that strict is the only way to run a school).

KIPP v. Promise Academy

OK, maybe I'm underplaying the difference between the Promise Academy and KIPP.

James Forman Jr.:

During Promise Academy’s darkest days, Canada’s board kept pressing him to turn the school over to an outside group—the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP. Canada did not relish the prospect. According to Tough, Canada saw KIPP as operating a “dueling model.” KIPP, Canada thought, did not seek out the most troubled students. Moreover, its goal was to take those kids who could survive its strict program and lift them out of a troubled community, whereas Canada saw the school as part of the larger community and wanted to transform them both.

The Forman piece as a whole is highly recommended.

My Reading of the Dobbie/Fryer Study of HCZ & Schools

OK, I just read through Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Close the Achievement Gap? Evidence from a Bold Social Experiment in Harlem. By my reading, the key point is that based soley on high-stakes English and math tests, the only interventions in the Harlem Childrens' Zone that have a substantial effect are the schools. What makes this study different than similar ones is that they can compare the scores of kids from inside the zone and outside, and find that there is not a significant difference.

I'm not enough of a statistician to say whether or not the amount of growth shown at the Promise Academy schools is significantly greater than that at older schools which Promise Academy explicitly emulates. If it is true, we're left with a mystery. What are they doing differently? Fryer claims to show it is not because of the other measures in the Zone.

If you buy this study, it is an argument against replicating the Children's Zone.

It All Depends on How You Define "Schools Alone"

Dobbie and Fryer:

The schools provide free medical, dental and mental-health services (students are screened upon entry and receive regular check-ups), student incentives for achievement (money, trips to France, e.g.), high-quality, nutritious, cafeteria meals, support for parents in the form of food baskets, meals, bus fare, and so forth, and less tangible benefits such as the support of a committed staff. The schools also make a concerted effort to change the culture of achievement, surrounding students with the importance of hard work in achieving success. These types of school policies are consistent with those that argue high-quality schools are enough to close the achievement gap.

I think of this is the "drip irrigation" method of providing social services. Wouldn't want them to spread uncontrolled to the general population, would you?

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Taste of Aris

I'm always anxious to hear about how well the social software aspects of ARIS are working:

The second part of our training just left me flabbergasted. They showed us how within the ARIS system we could — wait for it — communicate with other educators through the internet! I'm talking MySpace, Facebook and Twitter kind of stuff. Private subscriptions, public ones. We could throw some questions out there to see if anyone responds and share our thoughts with other educators.

They didn't mention that Big Brother could be very interested in all that sharing and communicating. Who on earth would believe that anything we do in ARIS would really be private.

Spending $80 million on a blogging system that exists everywhere for free is inane.

Let me withdraw that. It's not inane, because I forgot ARIS is not actually designed to facilitate communication. It's designed first to monitor teachers, and then to pretend it wants to facilitate the sharing of ideas. Puh-lease! When was the last time the DoE ever showed any interest in creative thinking at the teacher level. They've been too busy with one-size-fits-all methodology and teaching to the test for more than a decade.

ARIS is neither helpful or amusing.

It is costly, not particularly innovative, deceptive and invasive. The DoE could service us much better by providing a working computer and printer in every classroom, and sending over a supply of paper and extra ink cartridges. They should design a system so teachers don't have take attendance two or three times a day, generate and disseminate copies of any relevant IEPs to every teacher required by law to get them, and most of all, guarantee we're not being monitored when we communicate and share ideas with teachers down the hall.

This reminds hom much I stressed trust and the advantages to a peer-to-peer architecture in my ETech 2003 talk, "We're All in this Together, Kid: Social Software in School Reform." I should dig up my slides. Also it reminds me to order a copy of Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement (The Rose Series in Sociology).

Watching the Regent, vol. 1

A while ago I noted Passing Notes, a neo-education reform blog whose assertions tend to run far in advance of the facts, but I could never seem to successfully register and comment on the blog, and I figured I had bigger fish to fry and focused my ire elsewhere.

I finally realized that its primary author is, in fact a big fish, a member of good standing in the new education establishment, you might say: Angus Davis of the Rhode Island Board of Regents for primary and secondary education.

So... let the fact-checking commence!

In a post from last weekend he writes:

...the nearest KIPP school is in Lynn, MA, where more kids are on grade level in reading and math than schools in Marblehead (could you imagine a school in Central Falls where the students outperform the kids in East Greenwich?!?).

OK, let's see, he references a Boston Globe article from last year (bad sign) that says:

Now, KIPP students' scores surpass those of Lynn district schools and state MCAS averages, and its 2007 English and math scores bested Swampscott and Marblehead, respectively.

Ah... so only the math scores are higher than Marblehead. And anytime someone's comparing their English scores to one district and their math scores to another, there's some cherry picking going on.

So let's go to the state website. Since Davis uses the present tense, I'm going to look at the 2008 data, which is also the only data which includes 8th graders at KIPP. Links: Marblehead, KIPP, Lynn district. I made graphs! But I got a C in statistics, so they just show percentage of students proficient or above on the MCAS. Note that this is not longitudinal data -- it shows the scores in each grade for this year, not what the 8th grade cohort scored in previous years.

Let's start with Language Arts:

This is the prototype sales pitch for KIPP -- impressive improvement in Language Arts achievement, but short of Davis's claim. Also, note that Lynn shows comparable growth every year except seventh grade, where things apparently go pear-shaped.


First off, yes, KIPP seventh grade math tops Marblehead thanks to a dip in its scores -- before swapping places. So Davis's claim has a kernel of truth, but it is certainly not true that "more kids are on grade level in reading and math than schools in Marblehead."

Beyond that, this is a weird graph. It has KIPP virtually closing the achievement gap in 5th grade and ending up with a widening gap in 8th. I added a separate (green) line for just the scores of low-income KIPPsters, which accentuates the downward trend (overall removing the low income scores from Marblehead and non-low income scores from KIPP tends to move them apart a consistent point or two). Again, Lynn looks pretty good in 6th and 8th grade, not so much in 5th and 7th. If you can close the elementary math achievement gap in math in a single year, it calls a lot of the framing of these issues into question (look a second grader in the eye and tell them if they’re on track to get into a good college or not, etc.).

Finally, as a cautionary point about data-driven schools and the achievement gap, here's the scores for the Science and Technology test, given in 5th and 8th grade only:

What is measured gets taught and otherwise...

It is a shame that the rhetoric runs ahead of the facts, and advocates feel it is necessary to make unsubstantiated claims about what I'm sure are genuinely good schools in many ways. And, as Aaron Pallas's analysis of Roland Fryer's claims about the Harlem Children's Zone illustrate, this is not an isolated incident. It is what happens when you write the marketing copy first and wait for numbers that fit. You stretch and pull until you find something "close enough."

As Mike Klonsky put it today:

I'm sure that a small school with a good group of teachers and lots of resources can produce a jump in test scores. But let's cool it on the miracle talk please.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Brooks and Fryer Poop On Canada, KIPP

It takes some chutzpah to write an op-ed stating that the success of a school created as part of a comprehensive effort to "to address all the problems that poor families were facing" demonstrates that such a comprehensive effort is unnecessary. That's what David Brooks did today, prompted by an email by the young but "meticulous Harvard economist" Roland Fryer.

In particular, Fryer's self-described epiphany, "The attached study has changed my life as a scientist," is not credible. The statistics from the study, which is not linked, show significant progress by middle school students at The Promise Academy Middle School, but on the surface at least, little different than what other high achieving middle schools in New York score on common assessments. Frankly, KIPP, Democracy Prep and some of the other charters bump up against the statistical upper limits of the assessments used by the city and state. It would be difficult mathematically to score significantly higher.

It is also important to note that if you follow Brooks' advice and read Paul Tough's Whatever it Takes to understand the culture of the school what you find is a school struggling mightily to pump up test scores by turning itself into a KIPP knockoff without actually giving up and letting KIPP run the school. The book ends with the current principal narrowly avoiding being fired.

So what are possible interpretations of Fryer's statements to Brooks?

  • The results are actually much better at Promise Academy than other charters, using similar methods, which would even more strongly suggest that additional social services do make a big difference, beyond what "schools alone" can do.
  • Promise Academy is actually doing something different and more successful than other charters (other than being in the Children's Zone) but neither Tough, Brooks, nor Fryer mentions what that might be.
  • The Promise Academy isn't doing anything unique but they're getting extra-ordinarily high scores even by charter school standards, with a suspiciously small sample size (about 80 kids per grade) over no more than the last year or two.
  • Fryer isn't aware of the other well known high performing schools in New York.
  • Fryer doesn't believe the reported achievements of other high performing schools in New York.
  • Fryer, while "meticulous" is very excitable and has a poor memory.
  • Fryer is intentionally misleading a very willing Brooks.

For a broader (and bolder?) analysis, read Doug Noon.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Back to Reconstitution

I can relate to Steve Barr more than the usual TFA/MBA drones, but the bottom line after reading the New Yorker piece on him and Green Dot (and Duncan's enthusiasm for them) is that you're still ultimately talking about reconstitution, with which we've got a lot of experience (e.g. Reconstitution Trend Cools (1998)) and meh results. We've reconstituted two high schools in Providence over the past 10 years, including one I helped reconstitute, and now our Broad-trained superintendent under more assertive mayoral control is... undoing everything done in those schools as fast as he can. Back in the day, articles were written with the exact tone of the New Yorker piece on Locke (it's clean now!), test scores went up, but not enough, the next administration is not interested in the last person's project, etc.

Perhaps it will be different if you make the schools charters instead of district schools, to protect them from subsequent meddling by the next (and next and next) reformer with a charge to shake up the system. Perhaps not. Probably not. Who knows? What does the evidence say? We didn't start this process yesterday. Here's one thing I do know, this isn't going to be Duncan's grand slam (or three pointer at the buzzer or whatever). At best a bloop single.

I also came across this pithy passage from the late Fred Hess:

Our design was removing the sanctioning capacity of the central office in order to encourage innovation by teachers and principals. The encouraging thing was that after the reforms were enacted, as many as a third of the schools in the city took up that challenge and really did make significant improvement.

After a couple of years it became clear that, well yes, a third were doing it, but only a third were doing it. That's when we began to realize the other two problems we had.

There was another group of schools where the teachers were certainly willing to improve but didn't know how to improve, so that led us to the question of teacher capacity. Then we saw that beyond that second group of schools was a third where the adults simply didn't have the will to change.

Now we've got a hard core of the poorest performing schools and a set of schools that are offsetting each other -- schools that make dramatic improvement over time and then begin to lose the improvement. I looked at a set of schools the other day that had made significant improvement in a five-year period and then over the next five years had deteriorated.

It remains to be seen whether new high-flying schools will be able to sustain their performance over five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. That's the timescale of education. It takes 13 years to get a kid through K-12.

Better Work On Those Facets of Understanding

WaPo via Fred Clark:

"[President Barack Obama] says he wants to appoint judges who show empathy, but what does that mean?" said Wendy Long, chief counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network. "Who do you have empathy for?"

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Who is the Slacker Who Got Them Into this Mess?


The effect has been a sonic boom to a school system, the nation's third largest, that is mired in urban woes—and, in some cases, a sense of complacency. "It's been a huge change in the culture," said Robert Runcie, the chief administrative officer. "His management style is data driven. He wants results. It doesn't matter if you work 300 hours a week. If it doesn't make a difference for the students, it's not working. He's really shaking things up."

Yes, good thing Chicago brought someone results-oriented after eight years under that complacent hippie Arne Duncan.

I'm beginning to think the simplest explanation for some of the education journalism and commentary I've been reading is a space-time rift causing alternate realities to bleed through.

Feeling the National Standards Momentum


Ed Kilgore has a very interesting post on a new trend sweeping conservative politics in Dixie—“sovereignty resolutions” that appear to assert states’ rights to unilaterally invalidate federal action, a doctrine last seen in the hands of John C. Calhoun, the great antebellum theorist of white supremacy.

Linking to this to Make Sure Dan Meyer Doesn't Miss It

John Siracusa:

Drawing what you actually see—that is, drawing the plastic bull that's in front of you rather than the simplified, idealized image of a bull that's in your head—is something that does not come naturally to most people, let alone children. At its root, my gift was not the ability to draw what I saw. Rather, it was the ability to look at what I had drawn thus far and understand what was wrong with it.

While other children were satisfied with their loosely connected conglomerations of orbs and sticks, I saw something that bore little resemblance to its subject. And so, in my own work, I attempted to make the necessary corrections. When that failed, as it inevitably did, I started over. Again and again and again, each time making minor improvements, but all the while still seeing all the many ways that I had failed to persuade my body produce the correct line or apply the appropriate coloring.

By my early teens, the truth of it was staring at me from the walls of my room, covered not with original artwork but with slavish reproductions of other works. Copying completed two-dimensional images played perfectly to my actual strengths. It was a trick. All that praise for my work and all those expectations for my future career in art were simply misattributions of my talent.

I was like Wolverine, whose superpower is not his nigh-indestructible skeleton or super-sharp claws, but rather his body's ability to heal, which made his surgical augmentation possible, and which allows those metal claws to repeatedly pierce his hands without causing permanent injury.


The drawbacks are obvious. Knowing what's wrong with something (or thinking that you do, which, for the purposes of this discussion, should be considered the same thing) does a fat lot of good if you lack the skills to correct it. And thinking that you know what's wrong with everything requires significant impulse control if you want to avoid pissing off everyone you meet.

But much worse than that, it means that everything you ever create appears to you as an accumulation of defeats. "Here's where I gave up trying to get that part right and moved on to the next part." Because at every turn, it's apparent to you exactly how poorly executed your work-in-progress is, and how far short it will inevitably fall when completed. But surrender you must, at each step of the process, because the alternative is to never complete anything—or to never start at all.

Showing Up to the Party Early

Game of Design:

Clearer and clearer every GDC, I see the next leap in game design - the next 5 years - as the exploration of aesthetic meaning. We are establishing a science, and the principles of that science. Game mechanics are almost a distraction. This isn’t a question of game balance or even game construction specifically. Meaning mathematics works on a different plane: social, story, emotion. Craftsmanship and the comparison of results (youtube, leaderboards, achievements). Fiction and setting and narrative. Little Big Planet levels, Starcraft television, Street Fighter tournaments, and Warthog Jumps. Concerts and Prius mileage. Through the 3 levels of designer-player communication (forced, implied, authored, or cutscenes, forensics, and expressive/creative). Experience. Flow, tension, difficulty. Sensation, discovery, and fellowship. Excitment, amusement, and bliss.

The post as a whole is a little overwrought, but gives me a springboard for a related question/observation. There has been a burst, or at least a micro-burst in interest in computer games and simulations in education over the past couple years, which has corresponded with a relatively creatively moribund period in game design. From my point of view we're just now building momentum for a new generation of aesthetically and intellectually engaging computer games, and we aren't there yet.

So... in terms of Laws of Punditry, should one gain or lose credibility by getting to the party early? Do you get points for promoting games while they still overwhelmingly primitive?

Put another way, what if you wrote glowingly of Saxo Grammaticus's Amleth two years before Shakespeare wrote Hamlet? Would that prove or disprove your aesthetic judgement?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Time For A New Socialist Exchange Program


I might add that one thing that tends to give a distorted picture of the situation is that the kind of Americans likely to travel to the Netherlands and other European countries are hardly socioeconomically representative. Shorto is writing from the perspective of a college educated professional, but the biggest contrast is probably found in the standard of living enjoyed by people in the bottom 25 percent of the wealth/income distribution.

Indeed. We need the economic equivalent of the Fresh Air Fund to show the American poor that There Is An Alternative. Heck, we could just send them to Canada. Definitely though when Jennifer and I were in Rotterdam we felt like kids from our neighborhood would fit in there easily and really enjoy it.

In theory you could do this virtually, but the whole "No, really, there are no poor people here," thing isn't going to make much sense. Nor, for that matter, are you going to get the candid remarks about the Roma being a bunch of drug dealers, perhaps actually meeting some gypsies or other immigrants, etc., which would be necessary to get a full picture.

BTW, I've realized lately that not only did proximity to Juniata College and the Berger family bring a lot more (German) exchange students than would be typical in a small town, but that the kids had a strong left/pacifist/intentional-community tilt, even by European standards, which had a big influence on my perception of what is permissible and possible politically. It is just the kind of that that, when growing up, you don't realize how uncommon an experience it is.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Whenever I Hear the Word "Left-Educators" I Reach for My Revolver

This Oldish Harry Brighouse quote via Dina has been stuck in my mind like a burr:

One of the many things that has always puzzled me about so many American left-educators is that they oppose tracking and are utterly convinced that parental choice of schools will lead to inequality, but defend student choice of classes within schools to the hilt, whereas Shopping Mall High School shows that it has much the same effect as tracking, and is driven by exactly the same dynamic as choice of schools.

This comes in the context of a recommendation of The Shopping Mall High School. Now, here's the thing: I'm a liberal, and that book was pivotal in my thinking about high schools; it launched my journey in high school reform. The reputation comprehensive high school has never recovered.

The Shopping Mall High School and the closely related Horace's Compromise led to the creation of the Coalition of Essential Schools, which was the nexus of progressive school reform for much of the '90's. And the left-educators that were central to this movement, like Dennis Littky, Deborah Meier, and Bil Johnson, were not starting comprehensive high schools, they were starting small schools of choice, under a variety of public school configurations. Other leading left-educators like Mike Klonsky's Small Schools Workshop worked to help break up large high schools into smaller units, each of which necessarily offers fewer choices than a single large school. It is liberals like David Simon and John Thompson who call for high quality alternative programs for at-risk "corner kids." My colleagues at the Arlington Career Center -- liberals. Science Leadership Academy -- liberals.

The only public intellectual advocate of the large comprehensive high school I can think of is Diane Ravitch, whose contributions have been more agreeable lately, but is hardly a liberal. Meanwhile, there are plenty of conservatives also promoting small schools as well now. Not to say that comprehensive high schools have gone away -- they've lost the war of ideas, but that has little relationship to how kids are actually educated.

And let's remember that conservatives only like certain kinds of choice. It was liberals who fought to give kids in the city a chance to go to school in the suburbs, and vice-versa, and conservatives who ultimately defeated them.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Where Have These People Been?

I'll join the trend of posting my favorite paragraph from Deborah Meier's post this week:

I regularly meet “well-educated” people who claim that, were it not for NCLB, they wouldn’t have known that a test score gap existed. The claim, at best, is a brutal reminder of the existence of “two Americas.” Where have they been for the past 100 years?

This Is Not Going To Fly, pt. 2


It seems that music and chess are fabulous if they’re provided by a charter school (the Broad Foundation recently gave $2.5 million to two charter networks that tout “crucial developmental programs” like arts and chess), but are a problem when the fundraising is done by public school parents at mainstream DOE schools.

Spatial Intelligence and Computer Science

If you're weary of the level of the hackneyed "learning styles, yea or nay" blog debate, you may find Mark Guzdial's latest post interesting:

One of the really interesting findings I learned this week was that high spatial ability is a predictor for a major in mathematics and computer science at least in a study of mathematically precocious youth.  I believed that after only a little reflection.  The terms "mapping" and "models" are originally about spatial ideas. The whole idea of arrays and object references (two of the hardest early ideas) are spatial--we talk about "dimensionality" of arrays and matrices, and "directionality" of links.  Everything we do with data structures is a matter of "navigation" from a current position.  We as teachers rely on spatial language and students' ability to "picture" spatial references.

One of the big questions in SILC is how much of spatial ability is malleable and how can it be improved.  They cited a study by Sheryl Sorby who taught civil engineering at Michigan Tech. She gave her students a measure of spatial ability on the first day of class, then encouraged students who had low scores to take a one credit hour course to improve their spatial ability.  She found that students succeeded much better after taking that course.

Always Remember What Pays the Bills at the Post


In recent years, The Post Co. has received most of its revenue and earnings from its Kaplan Inc. education division and its Cable One cable division, and the same was true in the first quarter of this year, as the two units combined to generate 74 percent of company revenue. The newspaper division is now The Post's third-biggest revenue-generator, providing 15 percent of company revenue.

However, at Kaplan, a 9 percent increase in revenue and a 27 percent increase in enrollments in its higher education business in the first quarter were offset by the expense of a $21 million advertising campaign and an $16.9 million restructuring charges, the bulk of which came from closing Score, Kaplan's unsuccessful after-school, online-learning business. By the end of the second quarter of this year, The Post Co. anticipates converting 14 Score centers into Kaplan test-prep centers and closing the remaining 64. The computer centers have been undercut by the rise of personal computers in childrens's homes.

All of which translated to Kaplan reporting $11.1 million in first-quarter operating income, a 76 percent drop compared to the first quarter of 2008.