Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Disruptive Innovation != The Inevitable March of Progress

I have been following my friends' tweets from NECC -- it is pretty much the only thing I use Twitter for -- which led me to Scott McLeod's talk on Educational Leadership in an Era of Disruptive Innovation, although I watched the K-12 Online conference version, which is apparently similar.

I'm not very impressed with Scott's presentation. Here's what I think he's doing:

  • Conflating "disruptive innovation" with progress in general.
  • Overstating the extent to which disruptive innovation destroys incumbent companies and organizations.
  • Presenting centuries long differences in educational philosophy as a singular line of progress from traditional to innovative.
  • Concluding that because progress is inevitable and destructive, and the things he likes are progress, you'd better get on board the train.

Conflating "disruptive innovation" with progress in general.

Listening to Scott's talk, it isn't clear what kind of technological innovation is not "disruptive." He asserts, for example, that the progression of LP -> cassette -> CD -> mp3 is a series of disruptive innovations. The cassette was somewhat disruptive, in that it opened up a new low-end market segment, but it certainly didn't displace the LP, and the CD wasn't disruptive to the market, it was a textbook sustaining innovation of the industry built around the LP. The CD was an improved LP which boosted that economic model (major labels, record stores, radio, etc.) for almost twenty years. The disruptive innovation was mp3 -- a low-quality, low-cost, margin-destroying innovation that wrecked the existing market.

But in Scott's examples, it all just seems like the march of progress: something new is invented, and it isn't very good at first, and then it gets better, and "disrupts" the market and takes over. That's pretty much it in his telling, but that's pretty banal. In Christensen's books, "disruptive" innovations are of a certain type. One excellent contemporary example is netbooks. Just a few years ago, nobody wanted to make a laptop under about $900, because they didn't think there was a market for a laptop with obviously "worse" performance than the then standard $900+ models, and they didn't want to ruin their profit margins. They wanted to make $400 a pop off $900 laptops, not $50 each on $200 netbooks. So finally, Asus, formerly just a motherboard and component vendor said "screw it" and put out a cheap netbook and it took off like a shot. It disrupted the market and forced everyone else to put out cheap netbooks or let Asus eat their lunch. But it is not "better" technology. It is not innovation in the traditional sense. That's the whole idea. That's why they started writing these damn books in the first place. It is innovation that is not "innovative."

Overstating the extent to which disruptive innovation destroys incumbent companies and organizations.

Scott's longest example is the disruption of wired telephony by wireless. Hm... let's see, if I want to get a cell phone who am I likely to call... Verizon? Sprint? Deutch Telekom? AT&FrackingT? Disruptive innovation doesn't necessarily knock out the incumbent players. Linux disrupts Windows, but Microsoft is still doing fine. MySQL disrupts Oracle and Oracle bought MySQL (and Sun). And Christensen cites numerous examples of companies that respond to disruptive innovation by moving successfully upmarket, ceding the low-end and competing on quality. If market disruption was an inevitable force of nature, Apple wouldn't have made it out of the 1980's, and we'd all drive Hyundais by now.

Presenting centuries long differences in educational philosophy as a singular line of progress from traditional to innovative.

It is convenient to present education as a factory model monolith, because it allows you to present individualized, student-focused, or just progressive education as "innovative" but it isn't historically accurate, any more than it would be accurate to present, say, socialism as a new innovation. The US isn't very socialist right now, and while folding in some more socialism would be a good idea, it wouldn't be a new, innovative, "disruptive" idea. It would be a change in philosophy, from one well-established, competing approach toward another well-established, competing approach. Same with standardized, traditional education (writ large) vs. individual, progressive approaches (in general). Argue on the merits, not novelty.

Concluding that because progress is inevitable and destructive, and the things he likes are progress, you'd better get on board the train.

I'm critical of this kind of approach not because I think Scott and I have very different ideas of what good schools look like. I just think he's making a very sloppy argument, and I'd like my side to do better. At the K-12 level, I don't think that most things that are being presented as "disruptive" are actually so (post-secondary is a completely different ballgame). I see no reason to think that, say, online learning is not a sustaining innovation for current institutions, and to the extent it is disruptive, I don't think it will inevitably destroy our current system. It may simply drive it upmarket (online strip-mall holding pens for the plebes, good schools for the 'burbs, etc).

Important Changes I Don't Understand

Greater City: Providence:

Though it is vitally important to the city, we haven’t been doing a very good job (or any job really) of following the Libraries story here at GC:PVD. Frankly, I’m utterly confused by the whole thing and every time I try to understand it my brain explodes a little. A private board with public funding, that the government seemingly can’t control, running the system into the ground… I think it is one of those only in Rhode Island things that hurts my head, like navigating by where things used to be.

Well tomorrow is the day that the Providence Community Library takes over the 9 branches of the Providence Public Library (not including the main Library on Washington Street downtown (that is a whole other brain exploding situation)). To mark the occassion, the PCL is having a celebration tomorrow at all branch locations (including the newly re-opened Washington Park branch).

Massively Multiplayer Online Games? Not That Much Fun

Hardcore Casual:

Tourist jokes aside (not that the tourist problem is a joke, mind you), I’ve come to this brilliant conclusion: MMOs are just not that fun for most people.

I like EVE, but WoW notwithstanding, this is a niche hobby.


If you're like me, you may find yourself wondering "If I've got a smoker and some pink salt, should I go ahead and try to make Pastrami myself? Is it worth the bother? Can I have a 'cookout' with pastrami smoked the day before? And will eight pounds of brisket feed two baseball teams?"

The answers turn out to be "Yes, yes, yes, and nearly."

And this is pretty much the perfect cole slaw to accompany it.

I Miss Pittsburgh

John Doran & Len:

Len & Daphne:

Photos by Sallyann on Facebook, from the Cystic Fibrosis Punk Rock Benefit.

Also, I took a look at the flow of news on my Facebook page for the first time. It is unbearably, unreadably weird.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On the RI Charter Funding Brouhaha

I feel like I should make some comment on the recent brouhaha over funding an expansion of RI charters. In short, the general assembly was going to leave out funding for two new approved charters, including one new "mayoral academy" which will have the honor of offering less than prevailing wages and no pensions to teachers, among a few other distinctions. You actually might have heard about this, since Arne Duncan got dragged into the dispute and the national charter lobby wound up its Mighty Wurlitzer. In the end, the new schools were funded.

To me, the most noteworthy thing about the whole affair is that two programs affecting a total of 140 students next year, that is, about one thousandth of the students in RI, managed to trigger threats from the EdSec. I have no real understandings of the layers of intrigue that take place in our crazy State House, and how that interacts with our national congressional delegation, and for the sake of my sanity, have no desire to start digging into it. The whole sequence of events did feel to me like the assembly just "yanking the chain" of the charter advocates. Holding out just to see how loudly they'd scream.

I do have to wonder how long it will be before the US Congress gets sick of this routine from Duncan, however. If I were Whitehouse, Reed, Kennedy or Langevin, regardless of what I thought about charter schools in general, I wouldn't be too excited about the EdSec vaguely threatening to withhold "billions," as Angus Davis would put it, of dollars in funding to a loyally Democratic state based on whether or not our screwed-up General Assembly pays to open a non-union kindergarten next year.

On the other hand, it seems like all you have to do to be enrolled in the "pro-reform state" column is open a non-union kindergarten or two, so your state might want to try that to hedge your bets. Best to stage as much of a screaming fight about it beforehand though, for maximum publicity effect.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Contacts, Reporting, and a Lack Thereof

I reported yesterday that a tentative agreement had been reached between the City of Providence and its teachers' union. Oddly, this news still does not appear on the ProJo or WRNI web sites, or in a Google News search. Perhaps neither the city or union wants to put out a press release or make a formal announcement prior to the union's vote tomorrow, but this is hardly a secret -- the proposed changes to the contract were sent out to 2000 teachers yesterday. Do none of the reporters in this city know any teachers at all?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Do You Know What WiMAX Is, Miguel?

So I'm taking advantage of a quiet evening in the house and in Catch to move some ships up from Utopia, which has become lousy with pirates since we moved to a more forward base, and anyhow, this is kind of boring (unless or until it becomes terrifying) so I cruise over to mguhlin.org for the first time in a while, and of course his current post is on the subject of our last argument, and he's even more wrong than before.

In this case, he (and his source) misinterpret the significance of Nokia apparently discontinuing the Nokia 810 WiMAX version, because nobody uses WiMAX. But WiMAX is just a wireless technology, a competitor to wifi. You can still get regular Nokia 810's with wifi, which is what any school would have wanted in the first place. Jeez!

KIPP and Sudbury Schools Find Common Ground

Whether you're sweating the small stuff of just hanging out, experts agree, elementary math class is largely irrelevant.

Bruce Smith:

It's legendary in the Sudbury literature: the five-month math class. As Sudbury Valley co-founder Daniel Greenberg reports in the above article, it took twenty weeks—a mere twenty contact hours—for a group of twelve kids ages 9 to 12 to cover all six years of elementary-school math. A miracle? Hardly.

KIPP Academy Lynn:

2.7: Average grade level improvement of fifth-grade students in math and reading after just one year at KIPP Academy Lynn.

I'll start taking people seriously about "disruptive innovation" in K-12 when I start hearing about elementary schools that don't assess in math until fifth grade.

Ensuring the Future of the Comics Industry

It's Teacher Contract Day in America

Like NYC, Providence apparently has a new contract agreement between the city and union leadership (pending a rank and file vote). It doesn't seem very different than the current contract, a little more money, a little bigger co-pay, etc. Given that the RI education commissioner can apparently override parts of the contract now by fiat, I wouldn't expect much reform to come through the formal contract negotiation process.

The good news is you can now start the timer on Brady getting out of here. He'll have a signed contract, new middle school and a new core curriculum ostensibly implemented next fall. He should try get a new job before next year's test scores come out. The only problem with getting rid of him is that overall capacity on Westminster Street is lower than ever.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Two Years of Hard Lessons For US Schools' Agent of Change, circa 2011

I would put my money on Arne Duncan's lessons in 2011 being exactly the same as Michelle Rhee's this year in the WaPo:

  1. Fame Can Backfire
  2. Money Doesn't Always Talk
  3. Politics Matters
  4. Beware Unintended Consequences

Children of the Business Model

NY Times:

The culture is also more competitive. These days, teenagers seem more interested in getting into Harvard than in flunking out of Pencey Prep. Young people, with their compulsive text-messaging and hyperactive pop culture metabolism, are more enchanted by wide-eyed, quidditch-playing Harry Potter of Hogwarts than by the smirking manager of Pencey’s fencing team (who was lame enough to lose the team’s equipment on the subway, after all). Today’s pop culture heroes, it seems, are the nerds who conquer the world — like Harry — not the beautiful losers who reject it.

It is hard to put your finger on how much of the gap between the current crop of young school reformers and their predecessors is due to the change described above, but it feels like a lot to me. I mean, I've even got a copy of Beautiful Losers. Ultimately, a world where all 12 year olds are told that the most important thing in their lives is to get a bachelor's degree in exactly nine years is not the one I want to live in.

The Primacy of Text

Tim Bray:

Thus, the fact that plain ol’ blogging and shiny new Twitter are still pretty well at the center of the value proposition of the serious part of the Net. Blogging has mostly seen off podcasting, and Twitter sailed smoothly away from its richer multimedia-enriched competitors.

What matters is getting the right words, undiluted, in front of the right people. That’s what the Internet is for. Everything else is (at best) the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In an Alternate Universe, I'm Very Excited

NY Times:

In a move that could put the College Board in a good position to influence the national debate on standards and testing, the board has announced a project that it says could redefine what high school students need to know.

The program, called "Pacesetter," would use the latest consensus by educators on what secondary students should know in English, mathematics, science, world history and foreign languages to develop a curriculum and test for high school students, said Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, who announced plans for the program on Wednesday. The College Board also administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test to college-bound high school students.

The program would be similar to the board's Advanced Placement Program, which, for a fee, offers high school teachers college-level curriculums in a variety of subjects. Students who do well on a test given at the end of the course can receive advanced placement or credit when they enter college.

The Bush Administration has called for national tests and standards for public school students, and Federal education officials were in the audience for Mr. Stewart's announcement. Some business leaders have been lobbying for some kind of national standard tests that high school students would have to pass to indicate their readiness to enter the workforce.

Mr. Stewart said the Pacesetter project reflected the College Board's commitment to raising the "learning and achievement of all students."

"Any system of curriculum and examinations must be based on the expectation that all children can learn," Mr. Stewart said. "This is especially true at a time in our nation's history when cultural, racial and ethnic diversity has never been greater.'

Mr. Stewart said the Pacesetter project would reflect the consensus of educators on "what all students should know in certain subjects before they graduate from secondary school."

"Pacesetter will allow participating schools and districts to raise the expectations of all students, to confront the seemingly disparate issues of equity and standards, and to prepare students for productive lives after high school -- on the job or in college," Mr. Stewart said at the news conference.

Working to develop the curriculums for project is a group of high school and college teachers and curriculum experts in partnership with such national education organizations as the American Council of Learned Societies, Mathematical Association of America, and the National Council of Teachers of English.

That's from 1992, and oddly enough, I'm a big fan of the resulting Pacesetter English 12th grade curriculum. And, The College Board is one of the three organizations working on our new national English standards (I don't know anything about Pacesetter Math). And they were publishing research about it at least as late as 2001 and running the tests at least as recently as 2005. On the whole, though, it seems to have been swamped by a resurgence of AP, a competitor within the same company. And at this point I would be surprised if the Pacesetter work was even consulted by the people at The College Board working on new national standards. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't even know it exists.

In some alternative universe, however, my favorite high school English curriculum is completing its decade long rise to the commanding heights as the federally mandated capstone for all 12th graders. Unfortunately, I think that's also the universe where Captain Picard as Locutus leads the Borg to the complete destruction of Earth and the Federation of Planets, so in the long term, it doesn't work out so well.

Can You Imagine How Upset People Would Be If the Poor Didn't Have Access to High Quality Health Care?

MaryEllen McGuire:

Imagine for a moment that you are driving your child to the hospital. She has a high fever and is suffering from severe abdominal pain. It's unclear what's wrong but she is in definite need of medical attention.

Now imagine that the only doctor on call is a recently graduated medical student. It's her first day on the job and there is no experienced physician or surgeon available for consultation. Are you satisfied with this level of care for your child? I wouldn't be. I'd want to benefit from the knowledge of a more experienced physician. Wouldn't you?

Unfortunately, a similar scenario is playing out in America's urban classrooms with shocking regularity. Teachers with the least experience are educating the most disadvantaged students in the highest poverty, most challenging schools. Low-income kids are being "triaged" not by experienced teachers, but by those with fewer than three years of teaching to go on.

If you're poor, uninsured, an immigrant, perhaps a member of a minority group, you're going to be happy to (have a car and) have any doctor look at your kid.

Its not like American society is equitable everywhere except education.

Rob a Virtual Bank, Save Your Real House?

NY Times:

Uh-oh! Another big bank is the subject of a depositor run amid charges its chairman has run off with customers’ money. Thankfully, this scandal is taking place in Eve Online, a space-age virtual reality created by CCP, a games developer and Iceland’s coolest company. But these troubles in the ether may offer some valuable lessons for earthly banking and regulation.

Eve is one of the more successful multiplayer online games. Some 300,000 people — as it happens, nearly equal to the population of Iceland — pay $15 a month to navigate characters that pilot intergalactic spaceships, manufacture and trade goods, mine resources and enter into big alliances, or bloody battles, with one another...

Enter Ebank, this virtual universe’s online bank. Because players often do not have the interstellar credits — abbreviated to ISK, also the official abbreviation of the Icelandic kroner — they need to expand their fleets, an enterprising player created a bank that would accept deposits and lend to players who would pledge assets, like their spacecraft, as collateral.

The bank was a success. According to its Web site (yes, it has one), Ebank accumulated about 8.9 trillion ISK in deposits in 13,000 accounts belonging to 6,000 users. That was far more than it was able to lend out — there were around 1 trillion ISK of loans.

Somewhere along the way Ebank’s top executive, who went by the online handle Ricdic, apparently got greedy. According to CCP, he made off with deposits, which he then sold for real cash to gamers on a sort of black-market exchange separate from Eve.

CCP kicked Ricdic out of the game. And Ebank has temporarily shut down while its board of directors (yes, it had one of those too) tries to sort out the mess. Depositors, meanwhile, appear to have pulled 5.5 trillion ISK of deposits.

Given the lawlessness of Eve, this was entirely inevitable. Reportedly, this amounts to about $5,000 in real money, which the thief claims to have used to prevent losing his real-world house:

Basically it was a bunch of morons bagging me out, showing just how much respect or how much people cared. So as a result I was in the mindset that most people don't give a damn about ones achievements in a spaceship game so why bother? Our financial situation occurred resulting in my having to decide whether we lose our new home (40,000 AUD deposit lost) or I lose whatever dignity I have left in a video game.

Ideology and Rhetoric on Teacher Workload

Teachers at many high-performing charter schools work long hours -- specifically they're "on the clock" more hours than most other teachers. But all engaged new teachers work long hours, if they're trying, especially if they're in a small, new school.

This passage leaped out at me from Inside Urban Charter Schools, on the Academy of the Pacific Rim:

Teachers in the middle school typically focus on one subject for one grade level--for example, eighth-grade science. With three classes of students in the middle school grades, most of their teachers teach three periods a day and tutor for an additional period. This leaves them with two periods for academic planning, fulfilling advisory duties, meeting with learning specialists, and grading and tracking student work.

So at this school, teachers are required to be there 7:30 to 5:00, but only teach regular classes for three hours in that time. That frames things a little differently, doesn't it? How common this kind of schedule is I don't know -- the actual number of time spent teaching class doesn't come up as often as other measures of school day.

The most interesting thing about this to me is what it illuminates about the ideology of the discourse on these charters. The long hours and difficulty of the work are emphasized in descriptions, and may in some cases even be consciously or unconsciously maximized in practice, to focus on a perceived distinction between "regular" public schools and charters, between union teachers and non-union.

One can imagine in a different ideological context, pitching a schedule like Pacific Rim's as an advantage compared to traditional schools: one prep! three classes a day! tutor your own students! low total student load! excellent support staff! Hard work yes, but a great collaborative environment and you can focus on the kids in front of you instead of bureaucracy!

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Modest Proposal

Require charter schools to set a level of full enrollment per grade level and maintain it. We hear a lot about the number of kids who can't get into charters, but less about the fact that many charters do not replace withdrawn students past the initial year of the school. It's understandable, because it makes their job a lot easier. It also provides no disincentive to letting kids leave the school. If withdrawing students had to be replaced, it would both maximize access to charters, and encourage schools to meet the needs of the students they've got, rather than risk picking a maladjusted seventh grader out of the hat.

If charter schools can't pull this off, it doesn't say much for their model's capacity to expand beyond boutique status. You can't have a city full of schools that span seven or eight (or 13) years with different starting and ending points and which refuse to accept transfers.

Inside Urban Charter Schools

Over the weekend plowed through Inside Urban Charter Schools: Promising Practices and Strategies in Five High-Performing Schools. If you happen to already have a background in school reform (and perhaps if you don't), the qualitative and quantitative analyses in the cases studies of five high performing Massachusetts charters is vastly more informative and satisfying than accounts by journalists. It is a very even-handed analysis. I'll try to spawn several short posts from this, but here are two points from the introduction which jumped out at me.

On page 1 we learn that:

In 2006-07, MATCH Charter School notched its the (sic) fourth consecutive school year in which every graduating senior received an acceptance letter to a four-year college.

And, "MATCH reported a dropout rate of just under 2 percent," along with impressive percentages of students meeting the minimum cut scores on the MCAS. And, "60 percent of MATCH students who enroll as ninth graders graduate from the school in four years." Throughout the rest of the book, what happened to the other 40% who don't graduate in four years is not analyzed in any detail. When all the major measurements of a school's success are expressed in percentages of students who do "x," having 20, 30, 40? percent of the students who entered the school being kept "off the books" is not a trivial detail. It is amazing that after eight years under a regime called "No Child Left Behind" the school models gaining the most attention and momentum unabashedly leave behind large chunks of their incoming students.

This quote from The Oliver Wyman Group is central to the book's analysis:

The organization's performance rests upon the alignment of each of the components--the work, people, structure, and culture--with all of the others. The tighter the fit--or put another way, the greater the congruence--the higher the performance. (italics added)

But you have to remember that there are many schools for whom the mandated measures of performance are not congruent with the mission of the organization. Schools that start every hour with a timed, silent "do now" assignment are more closely aligned with the performance on a silent, timed exam, than schools whose culture emphasizes presentation and exhibition of projects.


Watched Conspiracy last week, which depicts the Wannsee Conference, where the Nazis planned the Holocaust. Like many geeks, I've read more than my share of books about the Third Reich, and this film nails the internal politics of Hitler's Germany. You can understand more about the Nazis from watching this movie than you would by reading a short stack of books. It is that good.

Also, you'll pick up good tips on running an effective meeting.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Should Houston Follow Oakland? (Or Make the Road By Walking?)


The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has avoided becoming just another urban system in perpetual crisis. Its leaders have encouraged racial and political moderation and incremental reforms. The district pioneered magnet programs, and continues to offer families a host of specialized, high-quality choices, particularly at the high-school level. Its students outperform school districts which have opted for radical reform in most categories of the recently published National Assessment of Educational Progress comparisons.

Now some members of HISD's nine-member elected school board want to change course and adopt drastic measures. They want Houston to follow in the footsteps of school districts like Philadelphia, Washington D. C., New Orleans and New York City by choosing a new superintendent in the mold of Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein [chancellors of D.C. and New York City schools, respectively].


The candidates were discouragingly inadequate, both in number and in scope of experience. Despite months of lead time that this position would need to be filled; the district had only been able to scrounge up three people for us to interview, two had been held for a few weeks and one was slipped in at the very last minute that very same day. These three are the only ones who had supposedly passed downtown's screening test and who would be willing to work at a 2000-student, comprehensive high school, a school which holds nearly 16% of OUSD’s high school student body.

Of these three candidates, only one had substantial high school administrative experience. One had a few years of administrative experience at a 260-student charter middle school. The other was just slightly more experienced than that, and was the only one who had ever worked in OUSD.

The district rep confessed to us that OUSD is in a crisis because it can’t get people to apply as principals for its schools. The district can’t attract people to apply for other types of administrative positions either, according to a teacher-now-working-in-a management-position friend. Apparently, they are quite passive headhunters.

When an already weak school district has been heavily destabilized for six straight years by the manipulations and mismanagement conducted by a sequence of Broad-trained, disruptive-force minded state administrators, what would be the appeal to working in that district, especially when the pay is less than in neighboring places?

Sadly for Providence, the best map for where we're headed is The Perimeter Primate.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Science Standards


For physical science, I want the children to grasp that they do not grasp gravity, that there's a mysterious force throughout the universe pulling everything together, against another primal force that apparently sent everything flying apart. You know when they get it. They look like the floor just dissolved.

For biology, I want the children to grasp the essence of life, as far as we know it. Life is a crazy quilt of organisms glomming energy from the sun, all living things on Earth descended from other living things, and the environment shapes who we are. Humans were not inevitable. We are all going to die.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stay Classy, Scratch

Just got a distraught IM from a high school student I know who is trying to complete a senior project using Scratch and a homebrew Scratch Board. The only problem is that at some point in the past few days they pulled all the technical specs and schematics for the Scratch board off their site (check the dead links on the FAQ), and he hadn't saved copies.

Of course, he did learn an important life lesson. Don't trust the Scratch development team.

Alternative Certification and Cost Savings

I'd like to remind the universe that the only person or institution that consistently saves money under alternative teacher certification is the teacher themselves. It does not save the public any money; it is not cost-saving public policy.

That is all.

Social Work & School Reform

Reading Beth Fertig's excellent piece on Turning Around Failing Schools from Within:

GREICIUS: The critical issue is being able to separate out which ones really are the highest-need kids, which ones really need mental health services, which ones need support from a social service organization, which ones’ parents need housing, which ones need help from an immigration lawyer.

Turnaround for Children started working with PS 85 last fall. Its coaches created an intervention team and taught the school how to sort out which students needed what kind of help, and how to link them with services from local providers. The school was also required to hire a full-time social worker.

Made me flash back to this DC story:

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.

So much of the story in this current wave of school reform, to the extent it is successful, is really about student behavior and discipline, but we're mostly dancing around it. And it isn't just "Can't you be stricter?!" You need social workers, you need a strategy, training and support. Schools too often have none of the above.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Chrome on Linux

I'm finding the development channel build of Google Chrome on Linux to be reasonably useful, with the exception of Flash, the absence of which is good for my productivity anyhow. Of course, I'm kind of an ultra-minimalist browser user. I just need tabs. It is working well enough to get off that embarrassing proprietary shell that previous versions of Chrome required to run...

Inside Urban Charter Schools: Order Placed

Katherine Merseth:

In our recent qualitative study, Inside Urban Charter Schools, we examined several high-performing schools on the well-regarded Massachusetts State Assessment System (MCAS). When looking inside many of the classrooms in these schools, we found a remarkably low level of cognitive demand being placed on students. The instructional emphasis frequently was on procedure, not on conceptual understanding. Students were not being asked to think for themselves, nor were they being asked to conjecture, evaluate, or assess. Why? Because the tests that hold these charter schools accountable do not measure higher-order thinking.

The quality of the high stakes state tests typically used in the quantitative studies presents an unnecessarily low ceiling on what we ask kids to know and be able to do. It also presents an inflated idea of “success.” It is time to spend some of the stimulus money on developing better measures of student knowledge in all of our schools and supporting more nuanced qualitative, as well as quantitative, studies of the practices of these "successful" schools.

Republicans: Keep Tweeting!

Peter Suderman:

Here’s why Twitter is a dangerous medium for Republicans in their current state: Right now, the GOP has a dearth of both leadership and ideas. It spent the last decade (at least) refining its ability to deliver talking points and focus-grouped soundbites, learning how to win elections (for a time), but basically ignoring what are arguably the two most important features of politics: policy and governing — leaving us with a GOP effective at neither management nor innovation. The more-or-less centralized message machine became the only tool in the party’s playbook, but eventually it became clear that that machine, refined as it was, had nothing to talk about.

These days, with the party floundering, it needs to focus a lot less on selling ideas and a lot more on the ideas themselves. The party has developed a sales force — and given it nothing to sell.

In Line for Bacon


There’s not much of a constituency for real change and few states that could actually make good use of the funds; my current short list:

·FL: enough residual Bush leadership

· RI: Mayoral Academies are a breakthrough for new schools

·LA: Pastorek is the best and most aggressive state leader we have (interesting that he’s an outsider…)

·CO: strong leadership in Denver and from Lt. Gov

Huh. That was easy. We could use a new influx of money since we've pretty much dissassembled everything Gates under TVA paid for a decade ago. Let's try again!

OTOH, there's only one small mayoral academy planned right now. Perhaps we can just build it out of bales of dollar bills.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Belt

Behold the pinnacle of accuracy and authenticity in mid-1880's baseball uniform belt design, three years in the making:

The overall cut of the uniform is a little baggy, but otherwise, I'm quite happy with it.

Action shots from Hartford. Catching:

And, um, caught in a rundown after forgetting how many strikes there were:

I got the facial expression and arm flailing from studying 19th century scorecard lithographs. It is authentic to the period.

Photos by Dan Kiernan.

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

I'll put aside my quibbling with Angus Davis's numbers to give a hoot (and comment) for his slam on Supt. Brady. More infighting between command-and-control reformers and charter reformers, please!

Trust and School Reform

What Chris says, also, while Vander Ark name checks High Tech High, and when he was running Gates they gave HTH money, I just don't believe that if Vander Ark's proposals were enacted there would be more schools like High Tech High. I just don't. I just can't trust the guy, or his "Trust me, I'm an MBA in Energy Finance from the University of Denver, pay no attention to my lackluster record" attitude.

In particular, High Tech High's Graduate School of Education sounds a heck of a lot more interesting than what Vander Ark is serving.

48 of 48? 48 of 80?

Bob Herbert:

How has it worked out? Shanequa is in the first graduating class of the new high school. Of the 48 seniors, 48 will be going on to college.

Gaston College Preparatory:

Growing from a single group of 80 students in 2001, KIPP Gaston now has over 600 students in grades 5-12 and is one of the highest performing public schools in North Carolina.

How are the other 32 doing? Also, it would be helpful if editorials like this would mention what kind of colleges they're talking about. From what Herbert says they could be winnowing out the bottom 40% and getting the rest accepted into non-selective colleges. "Going on to college" doesn't tell you that much.

"Entirely Unknown" to You, Perhaps...

William Ouchi:

In the course of our work, we discovered an almost entirely unknown measure of school performance: Total Student Load, the number of classes times the number of students per class that each teacher has.

Coalition of Essential Schools, circa 25 years ago, in the most influential statement of principles in the history of American public education:

Efforts should be directed toward a goal that no teacher have direct responsibility for more than 80 students in the high school and middle school and no more than 20 in the elementary school.

I think these kinds of phrases are inserted in education editorials as an intentional middle finger to everyone who actually knows anything about schools. Really.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

How You're Going to Use That Learning Software Without Computers, I Don't Know

Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn say:

First, don't fund technology that simply shoves computers and other technologies into existing classrooms. We've spent well over $60 billion in the last two decades doing just that, and there is now overwhelming evidence that when we do it, the current unsatisfactory system co-opts the technology to sustain itself.

OK... no computers for classrooms because that hasn't worked; instead we should invest in bandwidth -- which we've also invested tens of billions in, in fact, much more consistently via the federal government than any other kind of technology investment. But hasn't that also been equally co-opted by existing classrooms?

We should invest in "learning software," another area in which we've spent tens of billions of dollars over the past three decades to little effect, with little demonstrated capacity for producing and distributing effective "learning software."

And we should embrace "disruptive training organizations that are providing comparable educators at lower cost, such as Teach for America" which costs their donors almost $27,000 ($110,000,000/4100) above the cost of the TFAer's top flight undergraduate education and the cost to districts of giving full pay to what are essentially first year student teachers.

Also, fixing that leaky ceiling in your classroom will just prop up the status quo, so don't get rid of those buckets.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Haunted Realm


...the place between "good enough" and "great" is a haunted realm of madness and despair, where every inch is won in blood.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Gedge Motors?

I just saw the new GM ad with the Wedding Present soundtrack. Rather disorienting.

This is not the commercial:

Virtual Inflation Up Slightly

EVE Online Quarterly Economic Newsletter, 1st Quarter 2009:

There is a significant increase in the (CPI) between January and February of Q1, 2009. The index rose from 60.3 in January to 61.9 in February, or by 2.7%. This is a significant increase, especially in light of the deflation that has been ongoing in EVE for the past two years now. The main reason for this increase in February was an increase in the price of Tech II ships and Tech II modules. This is directly related to the end of the POS starbase exploit, since the price of the high-end materials needed for Tech II production increased after the POS starbase exploit was fixed. However, Tech I ships increased as well. On average, the price for all Tech I ships increased by 0.38%, and with all Tech I ships weighing about 15% of the overall traded volume, the total impact on the CPI by Tech I ships is 0.06% points. This is also clear when looking at individual items. Of the top 10 items that impacted the CPI with regard to price increases, six are Tech II ships.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.

The Mittani:

On May 22nd, 2009, PFC Roy Mason of Fairfield, California took his own life. A decorated Iraq war veteran of two tours, Roy's unit was set to deploy to Afghanistan when Roy left his base at Fort Carson, drove to a scenic overlook in Santa Cruz, and shot himself during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. He left behind several notes, and called the police before his suicide and requested that they 'clean up the area' so that no children had to witness the scene. A memorial quickly grew in his honor.

Roy was an extremely well-known member of Goonfleet, known as 'RoyofCA'. He was a fixture in our teamspeak lobby for years - sometimes from Iraq over a shaky satellite connection, sometimes from his home. He had a habit of buying forum avatars of his cat, Dr. FatWhiskers, for people on goonfleet.com; at one point it seemed as if half of the posters had Dr. FatWhiskers under their name. There was no doubt that his experiences in war had left him with serious emotional problems; to many of us, this was no surprise at all, as he had openly discussed taking his own life before.

Since his untimely death, I have been repeatedly asked by EVE players to tell the story of RoyofCA: how one man - alone - undertook a campaign to bring down an entire alliance of the Swarm's enemies, and succeeded. To speak of RoyofCA is to chart the demise of RISE, an alliance which once held the best space in Feythabolis...

True for School Reform (e.g. reconstitution) Too

Scott Rosenberg:

Reading this made me sigh. In the contours of this latest iteration of the argument over charging for content, I’ve recognized an unfortunate pattern. Those who advocate the “charge ‘em” strategy cast themselves as hardheaded pragmatists and their opponents as wild-eyed Web idealists and anarchists.

Sadly, however, I submit that most of us in the “charging for content is a bad bet for newspapers” camp are coming at this from the perspective of bitter experience. We are grizzled veterans of this argument. We have Been There and Done That. We aren’t grave-dancing; we’re saying, “Maybe you don’t want to fall into that grave that almost swallowed us.”

You Don't Have to Wonder

In case you're wondering what our new national standards for math and English will look like, the best guess is the American Diploma Project Benchmarks. Either that or whatever comes out of Arne Duncan's ass.

I don't have time for a long analysis, but the approach they're taking is doomed to artlessness. If you start by defining the product/output of the system as either someone prepared for more education, or ready to be trained as an electrician or nurse, then art and literature are pretty much irrelevant, except for training people to produce the expected written academic analyses, and it isn't clear you should even require that, since not only does the electrician not need to do it, I'd argue that people need it less in college than you think (e.g., I studied English at three of the top universities in the world, and I can't recall needing "...knowledge of 18th and 19th century foundational works of American literature," I still lack that, and I don't seem to need it yet).

Monday, June 01, 2009

My Gov 2.0 Proposal

Conference: Gov 2.0

Title: Lessons from SchoolTool: Leveraging Local Innovation into Global Collaboration

Challengingly short description: For almost a decade, from Capetown to Arlington, Virginia, the SchoolTool project has explored the intersection of K-12 school administration, open source software development and philanthropy. We've had a few misses, but have hit upon some successful prototypes of local/global collaboration, including CanDo, an application developed by teachers and students at the Arlington Career Center.


Schools can and have innovated to meet their administrative data requirements. What they cannot do on their own is turn these innovations into national or global scale open source projects. They need help. Here's the formula that emerged from creating CanDo:

  • The core project must be initiated and funded by schools for their own needs. They must be capable of executing the project on their own.
  • The role of philanthropy or higher levels of government is to provide additional resources to support elevating the project from a local project to a full open source development effort.
  • The project must be built on a 100% open source software stack. Ideally a platform with a well-established and professional development community, accessible to the school's developers.
  • Developers must be trained in (if necessary) and held to standard open source development practices from the beginning of the project, including maintaining a public code repository and bug tracker.
  • Be as Agile as possible.
  • Extra funding must be available for development sprints and other opportunities to directly connect local developers with the broader development community, in part to ensure that the project is designed in line with the standards and practices of the community.
  • Packaging, release management, documentation, and code maintenance are all expensive. Schools can't do it on their own.
  • Ongoing management of open source development is too expensive for schools, and projects owned by businesses in the K-12 market have not fostered community involvement. You need a non-profit neutral maintainer with a separate funding stream.

In short, bootstrapping an open source project is not "free," but the potential leverage to national or global makes it a valuable investment for philanthropy or government.