Friday, July 31, 2009

Reframing "School of One"

I haven't seen School of One, any of the software, etc., and I have no idea if it actually works at all, but I did talk to the people at Wireless Generation about it, and at least think I have a better idea of what they have in mind beyond a nouveau invididualized learning system.

Let's jump to an entirely different style of individualized instruction, the reading and writing workshop. Pulling down our copy of In the Middle, from p. 151:

Where do minilesson topics come from? Most often from my analysis of what students need to know next, based on what's happening in their writing and reading, and from my experience of the kinds of information needed by this age group. Here is another instance when records of individuals' writing and reading activity come in handy, in pointing me toward lessons that address what's happening, or not happening, within the group. I keep an index card tucked into a flap in my lesson plan book, for jotting down ideas for minilessons that occur to me as I read pieces of kids' writing or respond to their letters about their reading. For example, when all their poetry rhymes, when no one in the group has read any Robert Cormier, I'll make a not to myself to plan minilessons about capitals on first, last and important words in a title, about what else poems do besides rhyme, about The Chocolate War.

NYC disclaimer: I don't know anything about how reading and writing workshop was implemented in NYC and the particulars aren't particularly relevant to my larger point here...

In the School of One early middle grade math program, the default state is (as I understand it) working on online activities that allow the ongoing realtime aggregation of detailed data about achievement. This is particularly easy in math as long as you define the discipline as being more or less linear and procedural, as we traditionally do.

So overnight, rather than Nancie Atwell shuffling through her file cards and memory, the software running this thing can look at all the kids scores and characteristics and decide, say, there are 12 kids who could use a mini-lesson on dividing fractions. Perhaps one with manipulatives that best suits their learning styles, or perhaps if they're stuck on the topic just a different approach that might help. And over time the system might see which teachers in the group do which lessons best. So then the system schedules a mini-lesson (or maxi-lesson, or activity) for tomorrow with the appropriate teachers and students.

So... this is somewhat interesting. OTOH, expert systems in general have been a big letdown for forty years, and Edison has been working on it since 1992, with limited results at best. The burden of proof is most decidedly on School of One, particularly to show this makes sense within a whole school.

I do know from my limited middle school experience that being able to put the rest of the class on computers while your're working with a small group or individual student is a very good thing from a management point of view, and on that simple level alone this process may be appealing to teachers.

Providence Marches to the Rear

Las Vegas Sun:

Montoya said a key change at the school came five years ago when he restructured the campus on Eastern Avenue, north of Desert Inn Road, into smaller learning communities. Students at each grade level are divided into groups of about 150 and assigned the same team of teachers for English, math and social studies. (Other district high schools use a similar model.)

“The advantage is that all of the teachers know the kids, and it makes it easier to share information and ideas about what’s working and what’s not,” Montoya said. “It’s all about intervention, and making sure we meet every student’s needs.”

Don't try that here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Visiting Wireless Generation

At the beginning of the month I got an email from Andrea Reibel, Wireless Generation VP for Corporate Communications, inviting me to visit next time I was in NYC, so I arranged to stop by on the way to my parents' last week. I had a nice lunch with Andrea, a wide-ranging two hour conversation with some of their geeks covering SchoolTool, SIF, a nationwide educational data "utility," the Semantic Web, and other fun topics, and then talked with Andrea and WG president and COO Josh Ribel for about an hour.

It was a little confusing because of the many hats I wear and a rather vague initial invitation that I didn't bother to clarify. With Josh I seemed to be primarily wearing my quasi-journalist hat. The main thing I learned is how deeply Wireless Generation is entwined with the big NYC tech initiatives, ARIS and now School of One. This is good news, more or less, because I can't think of another company I'd trust to not completely screw these up. And I had been wondering if any of the ARIS work was going to become available as a commercial product/service elsewhere (probably), and again, WG is less likely to turn that into a rolling disaster.

Following the Tracks of our Ancestors

Riding the EBT from Tom Hoffman on Vimeo.

The video above shows Vivian (and family) riding the East Broad Top Railroad south toward Orbisonia, following the route taken by her great-grandmother and namesake while commuting from Saltillo, PA to Mount Union, PA to teach. Vivian's great-grandfather, Edwin Joseph Hoffman Sr., rode the line south to the mines of the Broad Top coal field, starting at the age of 12.

The working line stopped behind my father's house in Satillo the entire time he was growing up. He never stepped foot on it until he and my mother took Ann and I to ride it as a tourist restoration. That tells you something about rural mobility in the mid-20th century, in more ways than one. And my grandparents stories, even in the broadest brush, tell you a lot about the way I see the world.

Education Community License

While looking at Ivanhoe, I discovered the Educational Community License, an OSI-approved open source license designed to address common concerns of academic projects, specifically:

Notice of any changes or modifications to the Original Work, including the date the changes were made.

Any modifications of the Original Work must be distributed in such a manner as to avoid any confusion with the Original Work of the copyright holders...

The name and trademarks of copyright holder(s) may NOT be used in advertising or publicity pertaining to the Original or Derivative Works without specific, written prior permission.

Otherwise it is a pretty run of the mill permissive license.

There are lots of projects like Ivanhoe that demonstrate that while open source licensing of academic research is unlikely to lead to an amazing flowering of community contributions, there are essentially no examples of abuse or negative consequences from the open source licensing of software created by academic research.

If you've got any examples, I'm all ears.

And Providence Marches Obediently in the Opposite Direction


D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, seeking to stanch declining enrollment and the exodus of students to the District's fast-growing charter schools, announced Tuesday that 13 public schools will launch plans for specialized programs in science and technology, arts and languages.

Theme-based schools are a widely employed educational idea, and the District has several specialty high schools, including Duke Ellington School of the Arts, McKinley Technology High School and School Without Walls.

What makes Rhee's proposal different is that the "catalyst schools" will remain neighborhood schools open to all eligible students without an application or other admissions requirements. Eaton Elementary, for example, will remain the school for its Northwest D.C. neighborhood but will also develop a Chinese language and culture program.

Rhee said D.C. families should not have to look far from home to find innovative school options for their children.

"We believe that every neighborhood school across the District should offer incredibly compelling programs and initiatives within it," she said at Malcolm X Elementary School in Ward 8, where she joined Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to make the announcement. Malcolm X is one of the schools selected for a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) specialty. The school's plans include starting an elementary robotics program.

UTLA (via M.Klonsky):

LAUSD (Los Angeles) is now the home to the Belmont Zone of Choice, an innovative pilot school program developed from the ground up by UTLA and a grassroots coalition of teachers and community groups.

The landmark agreement creates a network of autonomous college-prep schools that downtown-area families can select based on students' interests. The schools will have wide autonomy in areas such as curriculum, staffing, budget, governance, professional development, and school calendars so they can best explore ground-breaking models to improve teaching and learning. The 500-student schools will be located at either existing LAUSD campuses or at schools under construction near downtown L.A.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were developed.

Gerald Bracey:

The President of the United States and his Secretary of Education are violating one of the most fundamental principles concerning test use: Tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were developed. If they are to be used for some other purpose, then careful attention must be paid to whether or not this purpose is appropriate. This position was developed jointly by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education in their document "The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing."

It seems self-evident to me that a single score on one test cannot be used to evaluate a student and a teacher.



Word from a usually reliable source is that some 15 states are getting extra help and support from the Gates Foundation in the form of consultant time and coordination in putting their RttT package together.

Frederick Ivor-Campbell (1935-2009)

Kyle DeCicco-Carey passes on the sad news that Frederick Ivor-Campbell was killed in a car accident on Friday. Fred was not only one of the first and foremost scholars of 19th century base ball and a respected leader in that community, he was a resident of Bristol, Rhode Island, and thus an important friend, advisor and supporter of the Providence Grays. I had the pleasure of meeting Fred at the Grays' annual July 4th games in Bristol. Between at bats I'd point out my newest obscure uniform details, and he'd pull some pieces of original Grays ephemera out of his binder to wow us. He will be missed.

Fred's wife Alma was seriously injured as well in the accident but is expected to recover.

Update: ProJo article on Fred.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Letter to the Commissioner

Ms. Gist,

Welcome to Rhode Island.

I followed your tweet this morning to the ProJo story about the changes at Central Falls High School. I was happy to hear things are looking up in Central Falls, but was also chagrined by the reminder that in Providence's high schools, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction.

As Providence Chief Academic Officer Sharon Contreras told the ProJo in February [1] the days of allowing schools to pursue their unique brand of education are over." The work done in small high schools opened in Providence over the past decade is being quickly and unceremoniusly ended in the name of uniformity and strictly standardized curriculum.

For example:

CF: "Students will be able choose this year from among four themed academies: global studies, science and health, arts, communication and teaching, and business and hospitality... In the Hospitality Academy, students will be able to take classes in Web design and event planning, while those in the Arts Academy will work alongside dancers, artists and other performers."

Prov: Students have chosen in recent years to attend themed schools, such as the Providence Academy of International Studies or Cooley Health & Science Technology, but the capacity of these schools to require, or provide at all, coursework in line with those themes is threatened. I have heard, for example, that Cooley's biochemistry courses, built over the years through hard work and hard-won grants, will be discontinued in the interest of district curriculum alignment.

CF: "Gallo, working closely with the faculty, established a lower “house” to ease the often bumpy transition for ninth and tenth graders."

Prov: Feinstein High School since 2001 has used two "houses" with promotion between the two based on very comprehensive standards-based portfolio assessment. The "gateway" process is the cornerstone of the schools culture. It has been discontinued this year by the district in favor of traditional credits and grade levels.

CF: "The ninth and tenth grades are broken down into three teams of no more than a 100 students each."

Prov: Feinstein High School also divides ninth and tenth graders into three teams, which loop with the same team of teachers while in the lower house to build strong ties among students and teachers. Teaming has been ended at FHS by the district.

CF: "Ninth and tenth graders will be offered a traditional curriculum that includes the core subjects — math, English, social studies and so on. In the upper grades, students will have the opportunity to take courses that explore a subject in depth, like global warming.

This spring, the high school will hold a conference that focuses on a global issue, in this case, malaria. Students will present the results of their research, which will be included in their portfolio and ultimately count toward their graduation requirement. The other academies will develop curricula that take the same sort of interdisciplinary approach to math and the sciences, language and history."

Prov: Again, this closely parallels the system at Feinstein. Interdisciplinary learning, emphasis in research in depth in the upper grades, portfolio assessment. This has all been ended by the district in the coming school year.

CF: "Central Falls is moving away from a centralized schedule. The school administration will schedule lunch, physical education and common planning time but is up to the faculty to build their own schedules. Teachers can decide that today they need to devote two hours for social studies, and tomorrow, they need to spend that time on math."

Prov: The district has imposed a standard six period schedule on all the high schools, including small schools successfully using four period blocks and other customized or flexible schedules to suit their particular programs.

CF: "The academies are the result of hundreds of hours of planning by teachers and administrators."

Prov: Providence's small high schools were also the result of thousands of hours of planning over the past decade. That work is quickly being disregarded, disrespected, and disappeared.

This is, of course, not your fault, and already a done deal. But it is important recent history you should understand as you go forward. Trust in schools is a key resource for improvement, and in many of Providence's high schools, it is a resource which has all but disappeared.

Tom Hoffman
125 Adelaide Ave.
Providence, RI


No Proprietary Academic Standards

Kudos to Chuck Harris and Joyce Valenza (and partial credit to Doug Johnson) for raising the issue of copyright and licensing of academic standards, in this case, the AASL's Standards for the 21st Century Learner.

Look, proprietary standards are bad for education, educators, and kids. They slow the adoption of standards, encourage the propagation of overlapping, redundant, competing sets of standards (e.g., ISTE, AASL, P21 wtf is the difference?), lead to the proliferation of second rate knock-offs, inhibit the integration of standards into software tools and linked data, block efforts to rationalize the mess of standards schools confront, drive administrators to change standards for no educational reason, etc.

The core standards, maybe just a text file, should get a permissive Creative Commons license. However you license the rest of the supplementary materials is less of a problem (i.e., regular copyright is less harmful). If your organization can't afford to create freely licensed standards, do the rest of the universe a favor and just skip it entirely. If someone presents you with a set of proprietary standards, badger them about the licensing and laugh in their face. It is ridiculous notion and never should have been accepted in civilized society in the first place.

Its a Trap

Alan Wexelblat:

It is true that Amazon pulled some e-books off Kindles after customers had paid for them. The problem is that those books were 'stolen goods' to which Amazon never had sale rights in the first place. The fact that those pirated e-books were Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm makes me think this was a deliberate hack set up to embarrass Amazon. And it seems to be working, as the company first took the action silently, then has failed to manage the publicity around the incident, starting with the initial New York Times piece.

Mind you, if it's a set-up, I fully endorse the hack. But it does smell like a trap to me.

Talking Integration

Dana Goldstein:

For example, yesterday the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, at Harvard Law School, released a short paper noting that research on charter schools has found, on aggregate, that they are no better and no worse than traditional public schools. Of course, a handful of elite charters have extraordinary success teaching poor kids, and are national models. But the majority of charter schools are mediocre and racially and socioeconomically segregated. Research shows such isolation is bad for kids, bad for society, and bad for getting good teachers in front of struggling kids. If we're going to expand the charter sector, the Institute suggests, why not also commit to integrating some charter schools?

Incentives to create charter schools that enroll students from several racially and economically distinct school districts – say, one city and several suburbs – could result in better schools that, as research suggests, are better equipped to reduce inequalities. Why not take what we have learned from the well-functioning charter schools and attempt to replicate that in desegregated settings?

Existing regional cross-enrollment programs between cities and suburbs are popular and have long waiting lists. Hartford, St. Louis, and Milwaukee offer good examples. And yet, Bill Gates never talks about integration.

Remember Those Color Coded SRA Cards?

Joel Klein:

“The model we are using throughout the United States in kindergarten-to-12th-grade education is fundamentally the same as it was 100 years ago,” Mr. Klein said.

Now, he added, “we’re looking in a way that I don’t think anyone has looked at — at the way children learn, pacing them at their own pace, all of it tied to the mastery of content and skill and achievement.”

I grew up in a small town in Central Pennsyltucky with 20% unemployment in the 70's, and we had all sorts of individualized programmed instruction. We had boxes of SRA cards in elementary school, I remember some kind of Star Wars branded package that let you work up yourself up to Jedi Knight status (although we didn't stick with it that long... I guess it was the precursor to everyone's fantasies about WoW-themed learning environments), the advanced 11th grade chemistry class was built around self-paced units, and of course, we all had Little Professors and Datamen.

No doubt the new stuff is much smarter, but please, this is not something that nobody has looked at. Or did everyone else just get a much more retrograde education than me? Doesn't Joel Klein know Lauren Resnick?

Providence's Decisive Error: Letting Fran Gallo Go

We could have transitioned into a period of stability with a forward thinking superintendent with a deep understanding of the local context and successful tenures as deputy and acting superintendent in Providence. Instead we got Donnie Evans, and now Brady, and I'm afraid we'll have to go outside for another candidate when he leaves, because the remaining leadership capacity downtown is meagre.

This could be Providence. This should be Providence. Good for Central Falls. Sad for us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Read the Fine Print

GothamSchools on NYC's online math pilot:

The School of One actually has a lower student-teacher ratio than typical middle school classrooms, with 10 students to every one adult. The summer pilot includes 80 rising seventh-graders from Manhattan’s MS 131 and, on the supervisory side, four teachers, four assistant teachers, and two high school interns, according to Will Havemann, a schools spokesman.

I'm sure we'll see more and more effective implementations of online, blending, etc. learning, I just don't think it will lead to substantial cost-savings with the high-needs urban populations that I'm interested in.

Trojan Horse Yourself: XO not Kindle

It probably goes without saying that I'm not completely satisfied with the "left-wing" (wtf?) DLC's "A Kindle in Every Backpack" proposal.

Two predictions by me:

  • Before Obama leaves office, he'll launch a major proposal to put a digital device in every student's hands in the US.
  • This will be the only (type of) device distributed to all students in the US for the next 15 years.

That is, if everyone gets an ebook reader that is only an ebook reader, all kids won't get computers (or graphing calculators or clickers or iPhones) for another generation. It will be a pivotal moment.

I remain a proponent of what OLPC used to call the Trojan Horse Strategy -- sell the government on ebooks, with everything else computing can do as an optional bonus. This is important to limit the cost, scope and expectations of the projects. To make this happen, the long-term cost to local districts must be $0 per student.

If we're giving every kid a "laptop," people will start worrying about whether they can do video editing on it, etc and all of a sudden it costs $600. And if it is a "laptop project" it will be expected to provide a significant return on investment in the form of test scores, and the evidence for that is, well, not conclusive enough to convince those who aren't inclined to believe it.

So call it a money-saving ebook reader that's practically worth it just to cut down on greenhouse emissions and scoliosis. Just, oh by the way, make it also suitable for running simulations, learning programming, running probes, doing whatever clickers do, calculating, watching some video, and expandable via USB.

You'd think this would be obvious, but it is hard to tell.

The big challenge is support costs, which will tend to drive schools toward more closed, appliance-like solutions. To me, the (disruptive!) solution would be to create devices around removable flash drives. Here's the troubleshooting scenario:

  1. Kid's ebook stops working.
  2. Teacher grabs replacement USB key with standard image out of the middle drawer of her desk.
  3. Kid and teacher swap USB keys, the student's goes in the tech support bin on the corner of the teacher's desk.
  4. Computer still doesn't work.
  5. Kid pops out the battery and his personal key with his files.
  6. Teacher grabs extra ebook from a filing cabinet.
  7. Kid pops the battery and his files into the replacement ebook.
  8. Not-working ebook goes into the tech support bin.
  9. Janitor sends contents of the tech support bin(s) to the district at the end of the day.

If the school, a teacher, or the kids want to run non-standard software, they can just make their own drive image.

Anyhow, this is the fight after the next one. After the first round of Duncan's education reform has crapped out and something new is needed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Short Rib Pastrami



Need Moar XO Navel Gazing


What should have happened: OLPC should have worked to get system-level changes into the upstream Linux kernel / X / other projects, and Sugar should have been a desktop environment sitting on top.

What actually happened: OLPC forked its own distro and called the whole thing "Sugar", pushed a ton of XO-specific changes in this distro, and wasted a lot of engineering cycles fighting to maintain a fork. This mistake was a crucial and painful mistake -- one that we have fought to remedy in the context of Fedora 10 and Fedora 11. Two release cycles of nothing but pushing XO-specific code upstream, everywhere we find it.

Summer Reading

Earlier this summer I read Charles M. Payne's So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools on John Thompson's recommendation. I suppose most people would find it as depressing as the title suggests, but I found it a joy to read, because it tells the truth about the past 25 years of urban school reform, starting with the essential fact that we've been focused on it for 25 years (at least). It is amazing how easily we forget that.

Overall, the "big idea" of Payne's book is "Your big idea is insufficient." Thus, for example:

...I am not in principle against the idea of freeing certain schools from bureaucratic oversight under certain conditions, but I don't see any Big Magic in autonomy itself as opposed to the way it is implemented. To the extent that we keep implementing reforms with the idea that there is some one program that is going to make all the difference; to the extent that we keep implementing reform without adequate support or without a spirit of persistence, a determination that we are going to give the work a fair chance to take root; to the extent that we keep implementing good ideas in a spirit of contempt for the practitioners who have to make them work; to the extent that we keep implementing reforms without any capacity for mid-course corrections, without any understanding of the relevant historical context; to that extent we can expect to get implementations that miss the point. How we do this may be as important as what we do, arguably more so. One of the foundational studies of the current discussion of urban school districts (Snipes, Doolittle, and Herilhy 2002) found that successful districts and unsuccessful districts say they are doing the same things; the difference appears to be in the way that they do what they do. (p. 190)

The foundations of the book are rock solid: the author's first hand work with the Comer School Development Program and the research of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, the gold standard of data on urban school reform.

Payne appreciates that to understand urban schools, you have to hold in your head a lot of superficially contradictory ideas; e.g., high standards are essential, and students will rise to them, except when they don't, which is more often than not. But when do they? There is no simple answer, just a complex interplay of factors. Payne manages to lay out the landscape without succumbing to the urge to simplify, rationalize or resolve it. I imagine some people will find it infuriating. I found it to be true.

If you've not worked in American urban public schools, this is the one book you should read to start to grasp the milieu.

I just finished Hope and Despair in the American City: Why there are no bad schools in Raleigh by Gerald Grant on a tip from Diane Ravitch.

Grant is the author of The World We Created at Hamilton High, an essential memoir/study of the impact and (hopeful) aftermath of desegregation and societal upheaval on one Syracuse, NY school. Jennifer had read Hamilton High in Richard Schoenwald's legendary Society and the Arts class at CMU, and I'd read it off her bookshelf at some point. She just referred to it as "the only book about education I could ever stand to read," and I regard it as essential to understanding urban high schools pre-Nation at Risk.

Grant does have a "big idea" here: there may be no easy fix for inner city schools segregated by race and class, but the problem gets a heck of a lot more tractable if you desegregate your schools. The core of Hope and Despair is a study of the Wake County Public Schools, which have a policy of capping the poverty rate in each school at 40%, using magnet schools and rather aggressive reassignment policies to maintain that balance.

We can't do that in the northeast, because the boundaries of our school districts isolate urban areas and moving students across the city line is still considered a political third rail. A rail that the Educational Equity Project, for all their bluster, wouldn't dare to touch with a thousand foot pole. For that matter, the Broader, Bolder Approach people don't bring it up on their website either. And to be sure, it is not a complete solution. But it is a big step, and it has been done. It scales! Wake County has almost seven times more students than KIPP (137,706 vs. 20,000) and just about 10,000 more than the entire state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (148,474).

When we dig further into the South's decreasing achievement gap vs. the North, their desegregation is going to be a big part of the story if we're honest. When you read something like this:

There is some of that in the book. Chapter 7 notes Weast's decision to divide the county into an affluent Green Zone and a low-income Red Zone and move more resources into the latter.

We can't do that in the Northeast because of the way we've historically defined our school districts.

A lot of people are getting excited about the prospect of creating tiny, outstanding apartheid schools in our cities. And it might even be possible! On a small scale at least. But really, is that the direction we want to go?

Grant's argument is relatively simple, but in this case, not overly so. He does keep it straightforward, historical and empirical, yielding a much tighter, less ideological and more persuasive book than, say, Jonathan Kozol's The Shame of the Nation. Grant focuses on and illuminates a simple truth we'd rather avoid.

Virtual Zombie School

Zombie School? Heh, that's nothing. Just wait until you can play a game where look through your phone's display to "shoot" the people sitting in your classroom for points. Hm... if you could "tag" people that other people have to shoot... Then sit in the cafeteria surreptitiously scanning for high value targets... Ah... I'm freaking myself out just thinking about the possibilities, which must mean this is in our future.

Barely Meeting Graduation Standards == Barely Qualified to Graduate

Arne Duncan speaking at the National Press Club in May:

What is most troubling to me on the standards issue is that far too many states, including the state that I come from, Illinois — I think we are fundamentally lying to children. Let me explain what I mean.

When children are told they are “meeting a state standard,” the logical assumption for that child or for that parent is to think they are on-track to be successful. But because these standards have been dummied down and lowered so much in so many places, when a child is “meeting the state standard” they are in fact barely able to graduate from high school. And they are absolutely inadequately prepared to go to a competitive university, let alone graduate.

Wait. What did he say?

There are always going to be kids who are "meeting the state standard" who are barely able to graduate from high school, right? In fact, it is the kids who are barely able to graduate for whom standards are most relevant. Isn't the whole idea that there will be kids who are below standard, and the state says unto them "You must achieve this standard," and once they "barely" do that, then they can "barely" graduate?

And how are we going to get everyone into a "competitive" university? Won't the requirements of a "competitive" university inherently rise to be out of reach of the majority of students? Isn't that what makes it "competitive?"

Yeah, I know I'm being kind of nit-picky here, but these aren't peripheral issues and this wasn't an off-the-cuff remark by Duncan. The kids who are right at the knife-edge of graduating or not are incredibly vulnerable. Anecdote: a few years into her teaching career my wife failed a student in her senior social studies class who blew off the last quarter, which made him ineligible to graduate. He would have shipped off to boot camp the day after graduation. Instead he got arrested the day after he didn't graduate, which presumably screwed up his military plans and fundamentally altered the course of his life. His fault, to be sure, but it is the kind of thing that makes me leery of playing political games with graduation requirements.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Periodically Lecture the SchoolTool Developers About How We Cannot Rely On Doing This

Inside Higher Ed (via Stephen):

"I'm not sure (Blackboard) support has gotten to the point where it needs to get," he said, noting that nearly every time he calls for help he receives the same response. He proceeded to describe that response in detail -- the agent asks what system and service he is running, asks for root level access to his database, and then sends him an e-mail later telling him that the problem cannot be fixed and the case is closed. Most everyone in the audience applauded in agreement.

Aside from being unprofessional and hackish, isn't giving out the root password to a school's database illegal?

That's Me Under "The Merge Timeline: 1996," Holding the Saw

Our Noise: the Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small.

Excess Capacity, Should We Choose to Tap It


Quite frankly, I don't believe that we have the will or capacity to get this right on a large scale. I'm just not convinced, and nobody is trying to convince me, outside of Duncan throwing $350,000,000 at the problem, but I don't believe we have excess test creation capacity sitting on the sidelines holding out for more money. I think we're already doing the best we can, it is inadequate. We're just going to end up paying more money for the same crap.

OK, that's not quite right. There is a lot of untapped capacity. For example researchers like David Hestenes, Robert Scholes, Mark Guzdial or Daniel Koretz, not to mention teachers like jd2718. The problem is we've been moving away from including serious, cautious researchers and teachers in the process of drafting tests and standards, and we show no sign of changing course. The conventional wisdom is that NCTE, NCTM, National Council for History Standards, NSF, etc. blew their chance in the 20th century and now it is up to ETS, ACT, Achieve, etc. to do this stuff for us. I would be shocked to see a change in direction anytime soon.

The Definitive Response to Disrupting Class

Via Bill Kerr, the Andy Zucker at the wonderful but low-profile Concord Consortium provides the definitive response to Disrupting Class from someone who actually read the book, knows something about the current state of online instruction and can recall the history of technology in education beyond the previous six months.


One often-cited claim in the book is that “by 2019, about 50 percent of high school courses will be delivered online” (p. 98). Some readers interpret this to mean online courses as they are offered now—but that would in effect require half of all high school teachers to teach only via the Internet. Other readers believe the authors are referring to true computer-based (that is, software-based) courses. Only the latter—which currently don’t exist—will have the “technological and economic advantages” that the authors claim are so important.

Consider the economic advantages. The largest online high school in the country is the Florida Virtual School (FLVS). Like other online high schools, FLVS hires teachers who are trained to provide online courses. The state gives FLVS 11% more money per course enrollment than a face-to face school to pay for instruction and administration. The money is transferred from the brick-and-mortar school’s allotment to FLVS. Disrupting Class ought to explain that it is not instruction that costs less in online high schools. Instead, online schools do not need to pay for building construction, meals, transportation, libraries, theaters, art rooms, science labs, and many other features of brick-and-mortar schools. Are the authors recommending we give up those features in order to gain an “economic advantage”?

In other words, Christensen and his colleagues wish into existence high-quality, low-cost, software-based courses. Perhaps these will exist some day, perhaps not. The authors do not say clearly, as they should, that when they project that 50% of high school courses will be delivered online they are mainly discussing technologies that do not exist. They imagine advantages of computer-based learning, but provide almost no examples and offer little hard evidence that computer-based learning is or will be better than traditional instruction. The book suggests these emerging software-based courses will be customized in response to students’ “learning styles,” but the latter is a concept without a widely accepted definition or evidence of effectiveness.

The last paragraph is from the full PDF version. You should read it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Augmented Reality -- Available Now, w/o Goggles

I had been thinking that augmented reality was a ways off, requiring funny goggles, crazy retinal projectors, holograms, or whatever. Then I saw that all you really need is an iPhone with a video camera in the back. e.g.:

Augmented reality is The Next Big Thing, in the sense that twenty years from now we'll look back and say, "Do you remember when we didn't have that?" Experiencing its development in real time, it is a lot more fragmentary, a lot of separate technologies that are suddenly coalescing into a new gestalt.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Google "chicago reconstituted high schools"

Catalyst, 2009:

Whether (turnarounds née reconstitution) works in high schools is anyone’s guess. “Doing this in high schools is much more complicated,” Fraynd says. “There is not a lot of research. We are pioneers.”

Catalyst, 1998:

A year ago, reconstitution was the hot remedy for turning around low-performing schools. Chicago was at the head of the pack, reconstituting seven high schools last summer.


Chrome, Windows on ARM...

Mulling over last week's not-very-momentous pre-announcement of Google's Chrome OS, it seems like the biggest question is whether Windows will run on the ARM processor, which will start appearing in the next generation of netbooks. If not, and Chrome works pretty well on ARM netbooks, this makes some sense.

But in general, in 2009 people don't have to wonder whether or not a cheap computer (potentially with very long battery life) that only runs web apps is something that they'd like to use. If you need Photoshop or Word, you should already be aware of that fact. If you're spending all of your time in the browser already, you know that.

Stick to What You Do Best


I wouldn’t shed a tear if the Washington Post Company were to choose to shutter it’s money-losing newspaper and focus on its core competency in the field of standardized test preparation.

Fine-Grained Assessment of Conceptual Understanding

Mark Guzdial:

A famous story in physics education is about how concepts are more complex and have more facets than we realize. David Hestenes has developed some sophisticated and multi-faceted assessments for concepts like “force” — a whole test, just addressing “force.” Eric Mazur at Harvard scoffed at these assessments (as he said at a AAAS meeting I went to a couple of years ago, and quoted in a paper by Dreifus in 2007). His Harvard students would blow these assessments away! Gutsy man that he is, he actually tried them in his classes. His students did no better than the averages that Hestenes was publishing. Mazur was aghast and became a outspoken proponent of better forms of teaching and assessment.

Building up these kinds of assessments takes huge effort but is critically important to measure what learning is really going on. For the most part in Computing Education, we have not done this yet. Grades are a gross measure of learning, and to progress the field, we need fine-grained measures.

As far as I can tell, at the secondary level we just don't have these kind of fine-grained measures for any subject, particularly focusing on conceptual understanding. Lots of good stuff in the original paper. If you convince me you've got a good test first (and admittedly, wtf do I know about Physics), I'm a lot more interested in your data. Also, low-stakes is essential here. Drill kids on these questions, and the value of the assessment goes out the window.

Quite frankly, I don't believe that we have the will or capacity to get this right on a large scale. I'm just not convinced, and nobody is trying to convince me, outside of Duncan throwing $350,000,000 at the problem, but I don't believe we have excess test creation capacity sitting on the sidelines holding out for more money. I think we're already doing the best we can, it is inadequate. We're just going to end up paying more money for the same crap.

This can be fixed, but on a 10-20 year timeline, not as stimulus.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What the Administration Should Be Saying

According to Matt Yglesias:

Congress gave us less stimulus than we asked for last time around so we don’t see any point in making a futile effort to go back to the well; if it looks like Congress is prepared to act then we can start talking about what appropriate action would look like. Until then we’re working with the tools that we have, tools that we think are making the situation much better than it otherwise would be, but recovery will take time.

Seems simple enough.

Small-Scale Scaling

Jeremy Chiappetta (yes, I'm enjoying the RI ed twitters via Angus), principal of our forthcoming Democracy Prep "mayoral academy":

building excellent schls training tonight, tomorrow

Building Excellent Schools. Hadn't heard of this one before. These folks do have a peculiar relationship with academia. College for 100% of kids but privately-funded (they are conspicuously mum about their funding) proprietary training for themselves. We shall see what the long term effect of such an insular and inwardly looking movement is.

Also, it is always good to remind yourself concretely of the way these folks handle scale. The Building Excellent Schools flagship seems to be the BES Fellowship, which this year includes six people, at least two of whom are in my estimation are overqualified for this kind of program. Or overqualified in the sense that "If you really believe that a person with this background cannot create a single small charter school from the ground up building one year at a time without a $80,000 fellowship and your special training program, we're all screwed."

The mentality is better a few, tiny, meticulously built excellent schools than a lot more good schools and a few disappointing ones. Assuming they follow the form of similar schools, three, four, five, nine years down the road the schools this year's class of fellows start will graduate about as many kids (480-ish) as a single largish sized urban high school, or a bit more than twice my small-town high school class. In therms of scale, all this essentially generates six neighborhood schools a year.

Apparently RI Commisioner of Education is Not a Full Time Job

Deborah Gist...

is really impressed (relieved actually) with the quality and friendliness of my doctoral program cohort. We made it through day one!

That would explain the Dewey. I guess a Commissioner who reads Dewey for fun was too much to hope for.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mako on Floss and Grants


A couple weeks ago, I gave a talk to all of the folks who received grants from the Knight Foundation as part of the Knight News Challenge. I gave a pretty basic "this is what free software and source are all about" with an emphasis on history, licenses, and community management. Knight asked me to give the talk because they require their grantees to release any software produced as part of the grant under a free/libre open source software (FLOSS) license but many of the grantees don't know much about FLOSS. Knight makes FLOSS a requirement because, as a charity committed to the promotion of the public good, they feel that they can better live up their own mission by ensuring that grant-funded code is released freely. The positive impact is already being seen. For example, as part of the requirement, we recently saw the release of the code behind Adrian Holovaty's wonderful EveryBlock.

Then last week, I heard from my friend Jean-Baptiste Soufron about two calls for grants (announcement is in French) by the French Government that will finance projects around Web 2.0 and serious gaming to the tune of 20 and 30 million Euros. One of the requirements of the grants: projects must be released as free software and built using open standards. I know that, in the past, the Open Society Initiative has gone out of its way to fund FLOSS projects as well.

It's exciting news but it also had me scratching my head. Why are funders dedicated to the public good --- groups like foundations and governments --- ever not making FLOSS a requirement of grants that involve software development?

One good way to ensure that grant-givers live up to their own obligations to improve the public good is to make sure that the products of their grants are, themselves, public goods. FLOSS is an easy way to make this happen. As in Knight's case, requiring FLOSS can also make it easier for funders to support work by for-profit companies while making it clear that the grant is not just free money to help enrich a commercial entity. Even if a company is doing the work, the product will remain under the control of its users as long its free.

That's how you do it.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Unity Reborn

News of Eve:

Even as Aggression is evacuating assets from Immensea, Ushra'khan appears to have immediately begun a push into the I-NGI8 pocket.

Kerth Gersen of Ushra'Khan tells us that the I-NGI8 station was taken to accomplish both educational and strategic purposes as new pilots were included on the assault to "teach" them about station conquest. Although they have seized the I-NGI8 station, Ushra'Khan may not decide to hold space in the region. Kerth explains: "if a station [turns out] to be a military asset, then I'll not simply throw it away... neither would I take on a ridiculous cost for no strategic benefit."

"100 percent disadvantaged and minority students" Might Be Easier

Valley Breeze:

While Cumberland's mayor was the driving force behind the school, middle-class Cumberland families were the most disappointed Tuesday evening.

Of the 58 from Cumberland who applied, 36 were left on the waiting list.

This school, that will serve Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cumberland and Lincoln, offered 19 seats for each community. Of those, about 52 percent, or 10 each, were reserved for lower income children in order to reflect the demographic of the overall community.

As it happened, just eight families applied from Lincoln and all were admitted. That town's remaining 11 seats were split among the other three communities through a system that gave Cumberland a total of 22 seats. Pawtucket and Central Falls got 23 seats each.

Central Falls had 24 apply, so just one was wait-listed. Pawtucket had 41 apply, so 18 didn't make it.

A tiny school divided between four very different towns (e.g., 3% child poverty in Cumberland, 41% in Central Falls, in 2000), managed by an external organization dependent on funding from an ambivalent state legislature. They'll probably able to pull it off through the medium term, but it'll be an adventure, and it certainly isn't a pattern I'd want to replicate. Essentially, the long-term path of Democracy Prep depends on how well it can be insulated from the demands of local democracy. The political constituency for the school in each town will be tiny and divided, with way more people bitter over losing the lottery than winning it.

In the meantime, the comment section gives you a nice introduction to inter-town, race and class politics in RI:

I am glad to SEE progress on the education front. I am however disappointed in the continual setback for the hardworking middle class in our state and country as a whole. If you are white and live paycheck to paycheck and fulfill your responsibilities you are already at a disadvantage. I just wish my daughter had an EQUAL chance to take part in this great educational effort. Maybe some day.
I wonder how many "illegal" aliens were the lucky few to have their names pulled?
I agree Scott - We are middle class, just above the level that was set to be considered in the "disadvantaged" pool. We got there the other nigh thinking we had a shot at 19 spots, when in reality, we had little shot at all, since 10 spots were already set aside for those in the disadvantaged pool, and then the rest of the applicants were added to those who didn't get chosen from the 10. We're wait-listed, and not holding our breath.
Thanks Mayor McKee for sucking more local and state tax dollars out for a school system that most of us who live in Cumberland will never have a chance of getting into. If you put as much time into bettering our own school system then maybe it would not be so bad. And by the way how does Mr. Michael Magee, who I am sure is being paid good money, qualify for being disadvantaged? Must have been that lucky ball!!
Why does this new school not serve Woonsocket, instead of another charter school serving Pawtucket and Central Falls? I would love the opportunity to put my daughter in a school where the focus is on results but the only 2 elementary charter schools are in Pawtucket and Providence. They save a select few spots for children from other communites across the state. Mayor Menard needs to get on board!

What's New In Google OS?

Well, when I'm using the Chrome browser on Ubuntu, as I do these days, I've got this stack:

  1. Linux kernel
  2. X Windows
  3. GNOME Desktop
  4. Whatever they call the default GNOME window manager now
  5. Chrome Browser

The Google Chrome OS, will be like this:

  1. Linux kernel
  2. "a new windowing system"
  3. Chrome Browser

Whether or not there would be significant performance increases to be had replacing X Windows is an interesting question. I'm going to bet that they keep X. They'll definitely ditch the overhead of a full desktop environment (e.g., GNOME or KDE), and as it stands now, Chrome is practically its own window manager. It should be fast, secure, and a nice clean implementation for netbooks, but overall, this doesn't sound very ambitious. You're taking out a few middle layers most people don't give much thought to.

It does strike me as a more plausible plan than moving Android to netbooks, however. Word processing and spreadsheets are still cornerstones of laptop or desktop computing -- what kind of word processor are you going to use on Android? You're not going to write a native Android/Java app are you? No, you're just going to use Google Docs. So what is Android getting you on a netbook? A bunch of cool little apps that make a lot more sense when you're pulling a little phone out of your pocket, not unfolding a small laptop.

RUSSO: Too Much USDE Micromanaging

Alexander Russo:

If there is a second stimulus -- odds are there won't be but let's pretend otherwise -- what should it include by way of education funding? Other more reformy types will disagree but my vote would not be for adding to the innovation and incentive funds. There's too much of that distraction already, without any real chance of being big enough money to make a difference. (And way too much USDE micromanaging in the works already.)

Instead, I'd go for more stabilization money to prevent classroom layoffs. Something to help make sure that pensions and benefits don't get destroyed. Some sort of summer school or extended year subsidy to try and make up for all the summer school that's being cut. Boring stuff, I know. I'd love to do more, but I feel like everyone's been putting the cart before the horse these last few months. Trying to do too much with too little. Looking a little bit too far ahead and not looking at the immediate economic problems.

That sounds about right, particularly the "micromanaging" and "cart before the horse" parts.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Role of a School Student Information System in School Improvement

Putting Middle Grades Students on the Graduation Path

Teachers and administrators can get started with just the data currently available in their schools.
Although, ultimately state and district data systems will enable early warning and intervention systems to realize their full power, all of the key data needed to begin is already available in schools. Grades, daily attendance, and behavior referrals and consequences are recorded routinely and regularly in schools. Thus, it is not necessary to wait for the district or the state to build early warning data systems. Teams of teachers sharing common sets of students can share the key early warning data among themselves, and principles, deans and counselors can organize, model, and support the use of these school-based data.

One does get the feeling that the federal government is going to spend hundreds of millions on data systems which will be primarily useful to bureaucrats.

New SchoolTool Release: 2009.4.17

Justas Sadzevičius and Alan Elkner did the bulk of the work below, with Alan focusing on the gradebook, and Douglas Cerna's volunteer contributions as noted. If you install SchoolTool, you'll get the current version, and if you've already got it installed, sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade or just wait for Ubuntu's standard system update to kick in. SchoolTool 2009.4.17 ==================== New features ------------ * New section adding view. - Multiple-term (linked) sections can now be created. - "New Section" button replaced with a link in action menu in course view. - Sections now can also be added from term's "sections" view. - See * You can specify the relationship between a person and a contact from a standard set (parent, guardian, step-parent, etc). See * There is a new gradebook view for grading a single student. Please follow ">" next to a student's name in the gradebook. * Report sheet activities can have comments as their scores now, to allow comments on report cards. See * Administrators can define custom score systems (grading scales) used in the gradebook and report sheets. * Removed ability to delete calendar events that come from (section) timetables. See Douglas Cerna: * Added missing attributes to the course adding form and the csv import. See and Tweaks and fixes ---------------- * Active year is no longer highlighted in red. See * Fixed contact deletion crash. See * Section and course descriptions are displayed properly now. See * Fixed a typo in default ethnicity demographics field. See * Graceful handling of incomplete set up in gradebook report card pdfs. See * Gradebook: "Update" button renamed to "Save". See * Fixed average gradebook score calculation when dealing with invalid scores. See * Fixed glitches (events not displayed or displayed in wrong day) in weekly calendar views. See and Thanks go to Daniel Höger for the report and part of the fix. * Cleaned up pre-release ui bugs in "Add a new score system" view. See, and Fixes by Douglas Cerna: * Fixed keyboard navigation in gradebook. See * Improved gradebook XLS export - added First Name, Last Name, ID fields. See * Tweaked text in gradebook column set up page. See Unicode fixes ------------- Fixes by Douglas Cerna: * Contacts views. See * Gradebook activities. See * Course CSV import. See

How You Recognize a "Disruptive Innovation"

People (e.g. Graham Wegner) say things like this:

Netbooks - some say that they are under powered, under sized pieces of stop gap junk and others see them as the opportunity for affordability and the chance to shake off the bloatware that many users never use fully.

Monday, July 06, 2009

My Reply to "Freecomonics in Education"

There's a bit of a thread going at Tom Vander Ark's "Freecomonics in Education" post, but in case my latest comments don't make it onto the blog, here they are (slightly edited for clarity):


No, the alternative is that foundations, government and other actors (like Wireless Generation did) pay people to create, improve and distribute free content, which is then distributed widely over the internet through a variety of channels. There is little subsequent cost.

There are plenty of people willing to host, vet, package and distribute freely licensed content and software. There is an entire industry of Linux distributions that do all that with software (e.g., Red Hat, Ubuntu, Suse, etc). There could (and will!) be a similar industry in education eventually, but the NROC strategy blocks that kind of development. It blocks it! And when that part of the industry does start up, Hippocampus will be excluded by its own design.

Also, Hippocampus/NROC's license does not fit Hewlett’s own definition of an open educational resource:

OER are teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Doyle, is not run for the greater good. Sun bought a commercial office suite and made it open source to bootstrap some competition against Microsoft more effectively than they could have done with a commercial alternative. They're too small a player in that space otherwise.

Most of the work done on is corporate (by several major corporations) or (non-US) government funded for strategic reasons.

But here's the thing, to the user, this is all irrelevant. Because adheres to the standards for free and open source licensing, there is no catch even when the motives are not strictly altruistic. That's why licensing is so important.

Hewlett's attitude about OER seems similar to Gates' approach to, say, malaria prevention. Important, but not relevant in the US -- well, not US K-12. That's fine, I'm not going to diss them for it because they don't really pretend to be involved in OER in US K-12. It isn't like they're going to NECC and getting everyone psyched up about something they're not doing. They're just not doing it, like many, many other people. They are so not doing it that they haven't even managed to explain to a colleague like Tom Vander Ark what an OER is or what the basic outlines of the work in this area taking place around the world look like.

The Limits of Wi-Fi

I'd just like to point out that in no way was Wi-Fi designed to handle things like convention halls with hundreds or thousands of people trying to connect at the same time. Maybe people get to to work under these situations occasionally, but overall, the problem is not so much that conference organizers don't know how to do (or that people want) Wi-Fi, but that almost everyone's expectations of Wi-Fi are simply too high.

Perhaps knowing this will lower your blood pressure in the future.

Sugar in the Greater Free Software Community

I'm very pleased with the direction Walter is taking this, it is exactly the right move:

This was the first time that GUADEC and Akademy were combined their summits into one congress. It was clear there is much more in common between the two major GNU/Linux desktop communities than there are differences. While I largely talked about Sugar and the interdependency between FLOSS and learning, I also used my keynote as an opportunity to draw attention to the need for: better SVG support; a unified approach to collaboration on the desktop; a better and unified datastore architecture; and an amplification of our collective efforts in internationalization. I tried to make the distinction between simplifying complex things and using simple tools to reach to complexity and suggested that the current trends of the desktop accomplish neither goal. The latter, “learning-centric” approach should be our goal, since we take pleasure in complex things. I didn’t have time to dwell on “the cloud”, but Richard Stallman (rms) touch on the topic of Internet services in his talk. He saw them as a threat to freedom since the end user essentially cedes total control to the service provider. My issue is more narrow: we tend to be users, not creators of services. Yet there are many services that can amplify our ability to be expressive and engage in a critical dialog about that expression, so they have a role.

As usual, I used Sugar (and Turtle Art) to give my presentation. While most people had heard of Sugar, it seemed that few had actually seen it in action. The overall reaction was positive and we will undoubted get some new contributors as a result of this renewed exposure to the desktop community. (We already have a volunteer to work on the touch-screen interface.)

My keynote was sandwiched between Robert Lefkowitz (r0ml) and rms, who have markedly different positions re Free Software. I was sitting between the two of them at a post-talk press conference, which was—for me—entertaining. In regard to Sugar, rms acknowledged the point that learning can play an important role in appreciating, hence sustaining freedom—it was nice to make that connection. One concern r0ml raised was that there are powerful intermediaries between the developer and the user that are the real power brokers. I argued that Sugar on a Stick was an example of disintermediation in the context of schools—the IT department need not be involved at all.

A related point that r0ml made is that most people cannot program, so Free Software is a limited use to them. In response, rms said that they are still free to use it an redistribute it and even hire someone to make modifications. I went further, saying that they are free to learn to program and that the next generation will learn to program, since computation is our most powerful tool of expression. We owe it to them to help them achieve literacy.

If you want to talk about "disruptive innovations," a computer system for learning that doesn't require an IT staff, that's disruptive.

Happy 1000th, Lithuania!



In 1009 Lithuania’s name (Lituae) was first mentioned in the chronicles of ancient German town Kvedlinburg in reference to the death of missionary St. Bruno.

Lithuania on July 6 is marking its millennial Statehood Day. This small nation, sandwiched between great Germanic and Slavic giants managed to survive against all odds in the world. It experienced its glory days for few centuries with it medieval empire which stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Some historian argue that if there was not such an empire there would not have been Belarusian and Ukrainian nations today.

It was carved up, occupied and slaughtered for few centuries to revive again and again. It is a story of a small and great nation which held on to this piece of land next to the Baltic Sea and managed to survive. This is why it is amazing. Lithuania, together with its Baltic sisters managed to survive. Despite of all difficulties at the moment we will rise like phoenix out of ashes. Crisis are coming and going, but such nations are here to stay and prosper.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Gag Me with a Freeconomics

Vander Ark:

So, who pays for all of this free stuff? Education has the benefit of substantial philanthropic support—both non-profit and for-profit organizations have and will benefit from foundation grants. But the innovations likely to achieve scale and impact will have a business model behind them. In this regard, Wireless Generation is showing the way; they launched, an open primary reading curriculum supported by fee-based assessment and training.

Here's an alternate vision: philanthropy and government grantmaking shifts it conceptual frame from funding non-profit and for-profit organizations to create proprietary information, to funding the growth and maintenance of an information commons. Why can't I access the planning, training, learning materials developed by KIPP, Big Picture Company, New Teacher Project, TFA, Green Dot, Harlem Success, etc? They're all non-profits, as far as I know none of them are dependent on licensing their IP to fund their operations, and they all get or have gotten a substantial amount of philanthropic and/or government funding. What if sharing their work had been a condition of their funding all along? What if leaders in philanthropy and government chose to switch to this path?

Institutions the size of our major grantmaking foundations, states, and the federal government can and should (and will, eventually) pay people to write freely licensed content for schools.

We don't need people taking a platform approach in the "Hey, I've got a website where you can park your textbooks or lesson plans or learning objects." It's nice to have, but that's not the problem. It isn't hard or expensive to host files.

You don't create sustainability around "free" and "open" resources by significantly limiting their use to eek out a few nickles to keep your webservers running. This is the Internet! You let people make copies, download the source, study it, reuse it, redistruibute it, and build their own businesses around the resources. That's what makes an information commons robust and sustained.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

As Oligopolists...

Dana Goldstein talks some sense:

As oligopolists, it makes total sense for the College Board and ACT to be eyeing, together, expansion into the immense K-12 assessment market. But given these testing companies' track records, it is worth asking if this is a wise idea. A number of studies have found SAT scores are far less effective than high school grades in predicting how well students will perform in college, and professors say standardized-test prep does little to teach students the research and critical thinking skills they will need at the college level. Because of these shortcomings, an increasing number of colleges--led by the giant University of California system--have made standardized test scores optional for admission.

There is no reason to assume that the overdue move toward federal standards must lead to national standardized tests administered by the college-admissions giants. In Finland, whose schools are ranked best in the world, there are detailed national curriculum guidelines but no mandated testing regime to go along with them. If past American efforts are any guideline, what we're likely to come up with is the exact opposite: vague standards and high-stakes tests. For example, 35 states participate in the Achieve-led American Diploma Project, in which states agreed to roughly align their education standards. Under that system, high school students are required to write a six- to 10-page research paper. In Finland, though, the national curriculum calls for research papers to be part of every subject course, from the life sciences to history and philosophy.

A major disadvantage of the states and testing giants leading the push toward national standards is that without Washington's involvement, the issue is less likely to register on the mainstream media's radar. But the public ought to be paying close attention. It would be a shame if national education reform further cemented a system in which passing standardized tests is the goal of learning. That would discourage creative teaching and push affluent families looking for more flexibility into the private system. And that simply isn't in the public's common interest.

To me, the subtext of our current debate is this: of which things we've consistently done wrong in the past, do you think we can suddenly, and quickly, get right? I suppose that's what "reform" is always about. But perhaps it is unusual for the Left and the Right to decide that they both want to reform the same thing at the same time, so more than normal it is simply a question of what does your ideology lead you to believe can and should be fixed? Our lousy... standards? tests? teachers? schools of education? contracts? inequality? school boards? technology? etc...

Friday, July 03, 2009

Only in EVE


I was relaxing in one of the bars in Curse Watchtower station (F4), when I heard laughter and loud exclamations from a group of U’K pilots just entering. I recognised them all, but the source of the amusement appeared to be BHaddow, and a story he was telling by the looks of it. I waited till they got a drink, then waved them over and asked them what was so amusing.

BHaddow took a long swig from his drink, and grinned. He then told me a tale which was quite amazing.

[... snip amazing tale ...]

So, due to Sylph’s inattention, BHaddow’s sneakiness, an -A- Rapier and a bit of luck, three Bombers and a Rapier caused 5 billion isk in damage and almost made off with a carrier. The insurance from the carrier was 337m ISK, which was split between the participating pilots.

I shook my head in amazement when I heard this story, and had to shake him by the hand. For the rest of the night, his drinks were on me and everyone else in U’K who heard the story.

5 billion ISK = almost $300 in real money. Hilarious. Only in EVE does the insurance payment for a stolen ship go to the thief. This is all part of the ongoing payback for Sylph's betrayal of Ushra'Khan in the second battle of Unity Station two years ago.

When You're Serving Less Than 10

Short-Rib Pastrami.

A regular kettle grill and some wood chips should suffice for smoking. You just need the pink salt.

I need to start some sauerkraut...


The basic reality of the matter is that we already live in a society where the voters are almost completely ignorant of everything they need to know to be functioning members of a democratic public. People can’t name the elected officials who represent them, and in general seem to have very little interest in politics. The good news, I think, is that thanks to the internet you can at least look this stuff up. If you’re curious, you can use Google and figure out who represents you in the State Senate and find out a thing or two about what he’s up to. Dutifully receiving your daily gigantic bundle of newsprint and then ignoring the stories about state government might make the guy who writes the stories about state government feel better, but it doesn’t actually provide you with information.

Meanwhile, I'm just starting to dig into Some tips: search for a company name to get all the federal purchase orders for the company from the past decade or so. Search by place name to get related federal grants, contracts, etc. Or search for a type of item like "screwdriver" or "toilet seat." Unfortunately, you can't link to the results yet (no unique URL). Also this graph is a good argument for more spending on data systems in the Department of Education, simply in comparison to the amount spent in other cabinet level departments.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Inside of Tom Vander Ark's Head is a Weird Place

Vander Ark:

David Brooks is, at least for me, the great explainer of our times. Fareed Zakaria helps me understand the world. Brooks helps me understand America.

Wow. Really? That would explain a lot I guess. But Brooks, really? You've been a leading figure in national school reform, particularly urban school reform, for a decade, and you look to an expert on the tastes of yuppies and suburbanites to explain America? OK, dude. Weird.


Do the right thing locally. All education is local--at least in America. Perhaps the most important thing each of us can do is to support aggressive gap-closing school improvement efforts in our own neighborhood. Support a charter school or a mentoring program. Get involved in a school board race.

Who is this addressed at exactly? Apparently bobo me, since I actually live in a mixed(mostly low)-income urban neighborhood, but I doubt a very high percentage of HuffPost readers fit that profile. Even so, the charter school in my neighborhood is doing fine, but it isn't really my neighborhood's charter school, and any time spent helping out there is likely to be offset by the bitter taste of my daughters' eventual loss in the great kindergarten lottery. And with Providence's system of mayoral control over the schools, and imported autocratic superintendent and rubber-stamp board, there isn't much to be done for our neighborhood's small public high schools, created with help from Vander Ark's Gates money, now slipping away...

Those Jerks At the Vegan Restaurant Wouldn't Serve Me a Simple Egg Cream!

Posts like this one, elucidating the inconveniences of the GPL, are like listening to someone gripe about not being able to get eggs at a vegan restaurant, and/or helpfully pointing out that limiting yourself to vegan ingredients is not the best way to make money running a restaurant.

The GPL is a radical political statement, and as radical political statements go, a damned successful one. If you didn't figure that out immediately, you need to work on your reading comprehension. If you want to eat eggs, go eat eggs, griping at the hippies shouldn't impress anyone.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ask Not What Standards Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do for Standards

Mark Guzdial:

I was critiqued at the meeting for not doing enough work in computing education, or maybe, not doing the right work. One of the state officials asked us how computer science classes in high school correlate to national standards in technology education, since such standards exist. What technology skills would one develop in taking a computer science course? I responded with information about ACM’s Education Policy Committee and said that they were looking at those kinds of questions. She asked why I wasn’t doing that. I pointed out that I have other things that I’m doing, that also need to be done. She got really annoyed that I didn’t see this question as critically important, and I overheard her telling others that they have to “make me” develop these matches to technology standards. (What does that mean?) I do understand that establishing a match to standards is very important, and I understand that there are many policy issues that are critically important for the advancement of computing education. It’s also important to figure out how to teaching computing better and to understand what’s going on when someone learns computing. Not everybody has to do everything.

I can so totally picture that scene.

The Native Web Video Stalemate

Ian Hickson:

Apple refuses to implement Ogg Theora in Quicktime by default (as used by Safari), citing lack of hardware support and an uncertain patent landscape.

Google has implemented H.264 and Ogg Theora in Chrome, but cannot provide the H.264 codec license to third-party distributors of Chromium, and have indicated a belief that Ogg Theora's quality-per-bit is not yet suitable for the volume handled by YouTube.

Opera refuses to implement H.264, citing the obscene cost of the relevant patent licenses.

Mozilla refuses to implement H.264, as they would not be able to obtain a license that covers their downstream distributors.

Microsoft has not commented on their intent to support <video> at all.

What this is about is making it as easy to embed a video in a web page as it is to add a still image.

Alan Kay on Real Science

Alan Kay on the IAEP list:

It's possible that the Physics Activity could get students interested in Physics, but the deepest and most important parts of real science cannot be learned from a book or a computer or from just doing mathematics no matter how wonderful.

The notion that they can has been a major misconception for thousands of years, and is shockingly widespread in the US educational system. This is because all representation systems we use, including the ones inside our heads, are ultimately hermetic, and thus in the end are only about themselves.

Science is a kind of negotiation between our representation systems and "what's out there?". And the negotiation is always there. As Richard Feynmann liked to say "Science means you don't have to trust the experts".

This is why books, computers, math, etc., don't work. Because natural languages and math have negation, we can write just anything in a book. Because math depends on premises taken as given (called definitions in modern math) we can make a perfect logical system that has nothing to do with "what's out there?" (and many people have over the ages).

Because we can make detailed maps of places which have never existed (e.g. Middle Earth) and can make perfect deductions from them (Gondor is North of Far Harad, and the Shire is North of Gondor, therefore the Shire is North of Far Harad, etc.) we have no way at all of knowing whether this map represents any thing "out there" or not unless we actually exhaustively look for it.

Telling children to learn what is in a book or computer model is absolutely no different from telling them to learn this catechism or that one. They have to be grounded in learning to deal with the actual world in ways that get around what's wrong with our perceptual systems and the minds attached to them.

Because scientific knowledge is now large, it is not possible to learn all of science from doing personal experiments. The major point here is that the "outlook" (simple name for "epistemological stance") of science has to be internalized before one can understand just how to garner scientific knowledge from writings rather from the real world.

Scientists (not just science teachers) have trouble with this, because our brains/minds are set up to believe not to understand or doubt. For example, in spite of the fact that the Victorian Brits considered Maxwell their best scientist (he was) they could not find it possible to get into Maxwell's Equations, in large part because they were non-Newtonian, and Newton had been made into a god that exemplified the "master race" that all such cultures love to think they are. And they were not going to go against their god. As a result, it was left to several prominent Germans, including Heinrich Hertz, to experiment with the ideas in the equations and to invent and build the first radio transmitter.

The fact that this happens doesn't make it excusable, but it does illustrate how hard real science is to really do -- and how difficult it is to teach and learn.