Monday, August 31, 2009

How Criterion-Based Hiring Worked for Us

Under the new criterion-based hiring system imposed on the Providence school district by the RI Commissioner of Education, earlier this summer my wife applied to be Social Studies Teacher Leader at the high school where she has taught for a decade. She had recommendations from the principal and another experienced teacher in the department. She is head of the School Improvement Team. She is a former Teacher of the Year at the school.

She has developed standards based social studies curriculum for the state of Connecticut and has had a key role in designing and implementing standards-based, multi-disciplinary, project-based curriculum at her current school, using exhibitions and digital portfolios for performance assessment. She has worked with the RI Department of Education on countless committees and initiatives, including a participating in a SALT school inspection team and contributing to the development of state's performance-based graduation requirements.

She has extensive experience training teachers, both from in-house professional development and a long relationship with the Brown University teacher education program, where she served both as a Mentor Teacher during the intensive summer component of their teacher education program, and as a cooperating teacher for student teachers in her classroom.

And she has a MAT and BA in Social History from highly ranked universities.

She was the only applicant for the job.

A few weeks later we received a letter stating that she did not get the job, "no candidate possessed the knowledge and skills suitable for the position," and it would be re-opened.

It is particularly worth reiterating that she had a written recommendation from the principal of the school, who, under the district's implementation of the Criterion-Based Hiring and Staffing Plan, has less authority to select staff for his own school than he did under the previous contract.

She subsequently re-applied for the job and was re-interviewed for the job, which was ultimately given to a junior member of the department faculty. It is unclear what the actual criteria were for this "criterion-based hiring."

OK Providence, we get the message. This is what you call "ensuring educator excellence."

I Wonder Why They Came To Providence

Julia Steiny:

Officially, Peters is the executive director of the Essential Schools, a group from small, progressive schools from across the nation who gathered in town recently for a conference.

It is neither here nor there, but would it hurt to mention the reason the Coalition of Essential Schools met in Providence was because it was founded here 25 years ago?

This Is Not a Line From a Near-Term Sci-Fi Dystopia

Lisa Jervis:

I was in Detroit recently, and there are no big grocery stores in the entire city of Detroit. But there are also 600 community gardens in Detroit right now.

Favela chic!

Not Just Globalization

Doug Henwood:

Once upon a time, working for an airline or driving a truck was a pretty good way to make a living without an advanced degree: union jobs with high pay and decent benefits. A major reason for that is that both industries were federally regulated, with competition kept to a minimum. Starting in the early 1970s, an odd coalition of right-wingers, mainstream economists, liberals, and consumer advocates (including Ralph Nader) began agitating for the deregulation of these industries. All agreed that competition would bring down prices and improve service...

On the eve of dereg, hourly wages in transportation and warehousing were about 38% above average, where it had been for years. As soon as regulations were lifted, however, the averages began a long slide that continues to today. That wage premium has now disappeared completely. The pattern in trucking since the data begins in 1990 is pretty similar, going from a 32% premium in 1990 to a 4% discount today. And working conditions have gotten inexpressibly worse—longer hours, fewer benefits, less security. Perhaps there’s a perverse egalitarianism here, the dethronement of a labor aristocracy. Is that the soul of the Democratic party?

This hits home directly for me because many of my former students work at TF Greene airport -- the ones who work for the TSA are the ones I see -- and those are good jobs, but not as good as they should be.

Good for Me, But Not For Thee


Fenty's children had previously attended a private Montessori school that runs through third grade. When classes began Monday, the mayor fulfilled a longtime pledge to place his sons in the public school system once they reached fourth grade.

Was that a "no excuses" Montessori school? 'Cause I hear those "no excuses" schools are pretty good.


A recent amendment to the D.C. Municipal Regulations also authorizes Rhee to grant a "discretionary transfer" if she determines that it would be "in the best interests of the student, and that the transfer would promote the overall interests of the school system." The amendment, which went into effect May 29, was part of a series of rule changes tweaking the out-of-boundary application process.

I'm so happy mayoral control has taken the politics out of education. Everything is so objective and scientific now.

Old Bethpage Tourney on TV

Nice little piece on the Old Bethpage Village 19th Century Base Ball Festival, starts at 2:00:

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Good Enough:" a Good Enough Definition of "Disruptive Innovation"

If you're curious about the subject of "disruptive innovation," as Clayton Christensen defines it, or just thrown around the term on occasion, I recommend The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine," by Robert Capps in the new Wired. "Good enough" means a bit more and a bit less than "disruptive innovation," but this article should get you closer to Christensen's intent than 95% of the things I've read by people other than Christensen. It is a "good enough" definition.

In short, if you can map your internal definition of "disruptive innovation" to the definition of "good enough" this article should impress upon you, you'll probably be better off.

"Good enough," as a term, does a better job for one reason: it is more specific and less cool sounding. Given the discourse of contemporary business literature, "disruptive innovation" might as well be "kick-ass innovation" or "awesome innovation." Everyone who reads about it is sucked into trying to figure out how what they like or do is "disruptive." "Good enough" encourages a more restrained analysis.

For example, K-12 education. Who's up for a new wave of "good enough" elementary schools? No? Looking for a "good enough" high school for your daughter? Didn't think so.

On the other hand, we're in desperate need of "good enough" educational technology, particularly on the hardware and infrastructural side, that is cheap and "good enough." If only we laptops that were "good enough," and affordable for every child, that would be innovative.

Bored Old People


Yesterday a friend and I were discussing the case for subsidizing friendship precisely to help people avoid the problem of loneliness. In many developed societies, after all, this form of deprivation is arguably about as severe a problem as any deprivation of material goods. For the elderly, however, the answer may be that they need to learn to use the internet. I also have the idiosyncratic view that the answer to a lot of questions you hear about the future of certain kinds of journalistic activities is going to be “bored old people will do it for free once they all have broadband.” Who will write up the city council meeting? Bored old people! It beats shoplifting.

Geriatric computing is going to quickly become fascinating... and profitable!

Maker Faire RI

It's coming:

September 6, 4 - 11pm: Kickoff Party with the Makers at the Rocktucket Block Party, 175 Main Street, Pawtucket, RI 02860.

September 12, 1 - 5pm: Iron Chef at The Steel Yard, 27 Sims Avenue, Providence, RI 02909. Teams of artists and fabricators compete in a head-to-head sculpture competition, plus barbeque and the Iron Chef sculpture auction. This event is a fundraiser being held by the Steel Yard. An entry fee is payable at the door.
(Rain date: Saturday September 19th, 1 - 5pm)

September 14-17: D.I.Y Workshops at Slater Mill, Pawtucket. Four days of hands-on, how-to workshops, finishing with a celebration September 17th at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, RI. Two pairs of workshops per evening will be conducted from 5:30pm until 9:30pm. Each workshop will run approximately an hour and a half and cover a range of topics and technologies, from early technologies such as weaving, to modern technologies like microcontrollers. Part of the Pawtucket Arts Festival.

September 18, 7pm-11pm: Maker Meet-Up at Rhode Island's only net-zero energy commercial building, the Wolcott Eco Office, 28 Wolcott Street, Providence, RI 02909.

September 19, 11am-10pm: Maker Faire RI at WaterFire, the plaza at the intersection of Westminster St and Weybosset St, in front of the Turks Head building, downtown Providence, RI 02903. Makers, inventors and artists will showcase their creations, plus art, crafts, food and entertainment. The Waterfire portion of the event runs from sunset (6:10pm) until 12:30am.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It Isn't Just a School IT Problem, It is an IT Problem

Farhad Manjoo:

The secretary of state didn't know why Firefox was blocked; an aide stepped in to explain that the free program was too expensive—"it has to be administered, the patches have to be loaded." Isn't that how it always is? You ask your IT manager to let you use something that seems pretty safe and run-of-the-mill, and you're given an outlandish stock answer about administrative costs and unseen dangers lurking on the Web. Like TSA guards at the airport, workplace IT wardens are rarely amenable to rational argument. That's because, in theory, their mission seems reasonable. Computers, like airplanes, can be dangerous things—they can breed viruses and other malware, they can consume enormous resources meant for other tasks, and they're portals to great expanses of procrastination. So why not lock down workplace computers?

You can save your braincells on trying to work out the connection to educational history and philosophy. Schools are just acting like every other enterprise. Which doesn't mean it isn't a problem...

It's That Bad


Apologies to Diane Ravitch for complaining about her equating current ed policies with those of Bush and the neocons. She was just a little premature in her pronouncements, that's all. Even Bush, with the demon Cheney whispering in his right ear, couldn't conceive of such misuse and abuse of Title I funds, intended to support the education of poor kids.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said today that he plans to demand radical steps—such as firing most of a school’s staff or its conversion to a charter school—as the price of admission in directing $3.5 billion in new school improvement aid to the nation’s 5,000 worst-performing schools. (EDWEEK)

I got a phone call a couple days ago from an excellent teacher working on a technically "low-performing" high school, who was having a spasm of guilt about interviewing for a job at a new (and thus inherently not "low-performing," at least not yet) school. What made her feel better (somewhat perversely) was pointing that this time next year everyone would be scrambling to get out of her current school, as it would probably be closed in the next two years and seniority would no longer provide a decent position elsewhere in the district if that happened.

That's where we're headed. If you've got a family and a mortgage, you don't have the luxury of indulging your desire to help bring up a low-performing school. If it is closed or re-organized, which is likely, you could be completely screwed. You could lose your health insurance and your pension. At best your life and career will be turned upside down, and you're likely looking at a repeating cycle, since none of these measures show consistent results anyhow. On the other hand, if you can wedge your way into a high-performing school, in the city or more likely the 'burbs, you're fine. That's the new system.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Changes at

From my perspective, Clay Burrell was often gratingly off-message, but apparently he's left's education blog, and so far it seems to be, not surprisingly, reverting to posts that actually reflect Obama/Duncan's lousy policy viewpoint. Ah well, unsubscription is always just a click away.


For instance, while the percentage of Americans who have confidence that Obama "will make the right decisions for the country" dropped 11 points since April, among liberals it dropped 12 points – from an admittedly high 90 percent to 78 percent this week. The percentage of liberals who believe Obama can make a significant change in the healthcare system has dropped 13 percent, more than the 11 percent overall.

The WaPo's Agiesta cautioned Sargent against making too much of those findings, arguing that the drop among independents was probably playing a bigger role in his overall decline. But she did admit, “This is the first sign that something is going wrong with his base.”

Comparing Reading/Multimedia Suitability Between the New Pixel Qi and Other Displays

Mary Lou Jepson:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Current Moment in Neoliberal Reform

Mark Schmitt:

A political coalition that doesn't need Joe the -- fake -- Plumber (John McCain's mascot of the white working class) can also afford to ignore the real Joes, Jos├ęs, and Josephines of the working middle class, the ones who earn $16 an hour, not $250,000 a year. It can afford to be unconcerned about the collapse of manufacturing jobs, casually reassuring us that more education is the answer to all economic woes. A party of professionals and young voters risks becoming a party that overlooks the core economic crisis--not the recession but the 40-year crisis--that is wiping out the American dream for millions of workers and communities that are never going to become meccas for foodies and Web designers.

Michael Lind:

Looking back, we can see that the history of American liberalism since the Depression falls into two periods: the New Deal up until the 1970s, when industrial labor provided the muscle of the reform coalition, and the neoliberal period, when unions have been eclipsed in the alliance by the black civil rights movement and other social movements: consumerism, environmentalism, feminism and gay rights. Necessary and important as they are, there are two problems with these liberal social movements as the base of a progressive party.

First, unlike unions, they are not membership organizations funded by dues from their members. They are mostly AstroTurf movements that depend on their funding and strategic direction on a handful of progressive foundations, and their leaders are appointed by donors and board members, not elected by followers. The work they do is valuable, but they cannot be substitutes for genuinely popular organizations.

Second, the members of most of these nonprofit movements are drawn disproportionately from the white college-educated professional class; their self-assignment to one or another single-issue movement does not disguise the fact that they tend to belong to the same social elite. Like the progressivism of the 1900s, but unlike the labor movement and agrarian populism, the progressivism of the 2000s is a movement of haves motivated by pity for the have-littles and have-nots, rather than a movement of have-littles and have-nots motivated by self-interest. And because they are, or believe themselves to be, motivated by philanthropy, the progressive haves are less interested in the economic struggles of the have-littles of the broad working class than in rescuing a far smaller number of have-nots from dire poverty. And even those elite progressives who are concerned about the working class are motivated by noblesse oblige: "We're from Washington, and we're here to help!"

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Find this Tweet to be Disturbing on About Six Different Levels and Meta-Levels

RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist:

Deasy rocks my world.

However, dear reader, it is in no way worth an hour of your time to experience in how many facets the linked presentation fails to rock.

The Cloudy Bubble (or the Bubbly Cloud)

Dave Winer:

I'm worried about the web.

We pour so much passion into dynamic web apps hosted by companies we know very little about. We do it without retaining a copy of our data. We have no idea how much it costs them to keep hosting what we create, so even if they're public companies, it's very hard to form an opinion of how likely they are to continue hosting our work.

A few weeks ago an entrepreneur said to my face that he was the one who made the money and I was the one who worked for free. My chin dropped. I knew most if not all of them secretly believed this, but I had never heard one say it out loud.

I know others who told me their business model was to patent my work.

Shaking my head. This can't work.

This system is terrible. It's a bubble, like the real estate bubble. It's going to burst, and when it does, it will take a lot of our history with it.

But not this blog post if I have any say about it. It's stored as a static file on a Windows XP server running Apache. It could just as easily be stored on a Linux machine running anything. Or even an iPod or iPhone. Text files are the ultimate in stability. The same text file you could read on a mainframe 40 years ago could be read on a netbook today.

Sweating the Small Stuff Less

WaPo on changes in DC schools' policies:

The old code permitted suspension for such an array of offenses that the punishment lost any real meaning, officials said. Principals were allowed to send students home for dress code violations, which is not permitted under the new rules.

That's the right and necessary approach for a public school, even Michelle Rhee seems to know it, but, by my reading, not the approach taken by the "no excuses" charters. So... what's the school reform lesson? I don't know.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Problem with WoW/Schools Metaphors

The problem with people making comparisons and analogies between World of Warcraft and schools is that they tend to be overly impressed with WoW. WoW is, essentially, a theme park. An immensely popular and well-executed theme park where you can kill the things that jump out at you in the fun house (or are just milling around) and the prizes you win are weapons and armor. You can call it this:

Literally. The expansion, called Cataclysm, actually destroys and re-creates the entire multi-continent virtual world that WoW players have come to know over the past few years.

But really, it is more like refurbishing the spent rides and tatty haunted house on the Midway. The World of Warcraft is static, repetitive and, to use an education term, prescriptive. Of course, millions of people love it, and that's fine, but a little perspective would be nice when people try to marshal it for their education rhetoric.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Funny Story...

Jeremy Chiappetta (principal, Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley, aka the mayoral academy):

Ready to crash after a second amazing week with teachers...highlight included working with more than 20 scholars on STEP

Funny story... six or seven years ago Charles N. Fortes Elementary School, a site-based Providence Public School, was working with the STEP team from University of Chicago, having very promising results from testing it alongside their existing literacy program, and hoping to switch.

I was sort of along for the tech support ride, and my expertise on early literacy was tiny compared to the people I was talking to, but very smart teachers at Fortes were telling me things like "Using the old assessment I could tell something was wrong with this student, but I couldn't put my finger on it, and I didn't couldn't figure out what to do to move her forward. Then I gave her the STEP assessment and BINGO, I knew what was wrong and how to fix it." Seemed like the way this stuff is supposed to actually work.

Then NCLB got rolling full steam, Fortes overnight went from being considered a model urban elementary one encouraged to experiment and flush with grants to an officially failing one that had to be brought into line. Then Reading First's corrupt "research-based" requirements required them to buy another program (or turn down lots of funding, not really possible). And that was that (at least the school is making AYP now, for what that's worth).

So... good - the mayoral academy should have a good reading program. I'm not sure what lesson this teaches me about school reform though. I can have a my choice of literacy program if I'm willing to give up my pension? And suggesting today in Providence that your school adopt a unique curriculum, particularly in the context of the still-extant contract provisions on site-based management, will get you laughed out of the room.

By the way, I'm really not sure if we're supposed to consider the current regime in Providence as "reformers" or even "reformy." Or are they self-consciously reactionary? I mean, they are reactionary. Do neo-reformers consider them part of their team? Or a sub-sect? Is there a schism that isn't really talked about? Truly, I don't even know.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Awesomium and Dust 514

Lots of exciting EVE news lately. New mini-expansion today, the announcement of Dust 514 (see video below). I'm excited about "Moondoggie," the upcoming new and improved in game web browser.

EVE is sufficiently complex that any serious player uses a whole host of utilities outside the game to keep track of training schedules, ship fittings and inventory, and your industrial supply chain, and fluctuations in the market, and more. A lot of these things are web apps, and unfortunately, the in-game web browser is essentially unusuable, so you need to jump out of the game environment to access any web utilities. CCP is developing a new browser using Awesomium, which uses WebKit code from Chrome to paint web pages as 3d textures.

So we'll soon have a modern browser within the EVE UI, running in a separate process, which should allow fairly complex web apps to run on multi-core machines without affecting game performance significantly. The one cool thing about the existing in-game browser is that you can create special sites that (if designated as trusted by the user) receive data from the game, such as your current position. Since the browser barely worked anyhow, this was rarely used to do interesting things. I'm looking forward to that changing soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pittsburgh Could Care Less About Philadelphia


Pittsburgh has done some interesting ed reform efforts, but always struggles with the view it is a "second city" to Philadelphia.

One of the most annoying things about all these education wonk analyses is how they presume to understand how everyone around the country thinks based on God Knows What.

It is neither here nor there, but nobody in Pittsburgh gives a shit about Philadelphia one way or another. It is a long, long, long, long way away. A longer drive than to DC, Cincinnati, or Detroit. Since the Pirates have gone in the toilet, as long as the Pens are beating the Flyers, the two cities don't have or require much interaction.

Can Corporations Lock Up GPL Software?

On Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 10:36 AM, Joel VerDuin wrote:


Thanks for your comment about GPL licensing and Moodle. Please understand my next question comes out of ignorance and confusion not a desire to be argumentative.

How does the GPL licensing model work in the context of a products like Red Hat or SUSE Linux? I'm not really savvy in the details behind GPL, but it looks to me like products that once were licensed under the GPL (and maybe still are), but have moved more towards a corporate end user license agreement.

Is there any degree of accuracy to my conception that products under GPL license can transition into something else, or am I really misunderstanding the issue?

To say that most of us who hold technology director positions are underinformed about GPL would probably be an accurate statement.

Thanks in advance - I follow your blog svc blog regularly as I am interested in what you have to say around school reform.

Hi Joel,

I'll start with the most technical point and work down (probably a bad idea).

Relicensing: If I control the copyright (or a share thereof) on every line of code on a body of GPL software (or version thereof) I can *also* issue that version of the software under a different license, including a commercial license. Since Red Hat, SuSe and other Linux distributions don't control the copyright of most of the GPL'ed software they distribute, they can't change the licenses.

OTOH, for example, SchoolTool has agreements from all contributors to our repository to give a share of the copyright to the Shuttleworth Foundation, so the foundation does have the ability to sell commercial licenses *in addition to* the GPL'ed version. In my (pragmatic) opinion whether or not this would be a good idea depends on just how much money the Foundation would get for it, and what they'd do with it.

For example, if in return for giving Pearson the right to sell a commercial version of SchoolTool in the US (while the free version would still be available), we made enough money to fund development of the free version for five years, or provided hardware, software and support to 10,000 schools in the developing world, I'd probably be ok with that. However, we can't (and wouldn't want to) change the license of existing releases.

The most *the copyright holder* of a piece of software release can do is stop working on the free version, release a proprietary version, and do all subsequent work only on that version. They can't take away the existing free version, and they can't prevent other people from picking up its development and distribution under the GPL.

As another example, the copyright for the Linux kernel is held by thousands of individuals and corporations who have contributed parts, while nobody really paid attention to creating a unified copyright holder, so for all practical purposes, relicensing the kernel is impossible (unless you could figure out who all the copyright holders are and get their explicit permission) (arguably, due to the wording of the GPL you might be able change to a later version of the GPL without that permission, I'm not really sure).

I'll also note that I've run into people who argue that all licenses can be retroactively changed and that pretty much everything everyone else says is naive handwaving. This is, to me, like listening to someone argue that the federal government has no constitutional right to levy income taxes. I can't conclusively judge if it is right or wrong, but it doesn't have anything to do with how the real world I can see with my eyes actually works. It is an argument that requires virtually every IP lawyer from IBM on down to be wrong, which is hardly likely.

Getting back to Red Hat, SuSe, and other Linux distros, they can't change the licenses of the software they distribute, but a few factors limit redistribution of their products. The key distinctions here are the difference between distributing and redistributing a binary version vs a source distribution, and the difference between redistributing individual works of free software vs. a packaged combination of free and unfree software.

It is completely within the terms of the GPL to not allow redistribution of binary versions of GPL software, so simply have to also provide access to the source, which can be redistributed (and used to create binaries which you can redistribute). Thus you have Red Hat Enterprise Linux. They don't allow you to redistribute the binaries -- the computer-readable versions of the software that actually run on your computer.

But you can download all the sources used to make the binaries, and you always will be able to do so under the terms of the GPL, and, in the case of CentOS, they take all those sources, rebuild all the binaries, and distribute essentially an identical distribution of their own, allowing redistribution of the binaries. I don't think Red Hat's approach is necessarily a bad thing, since it makes clear the distinction between the supported, "official" Red Hat distro and other versions. It is not out of the spirit or intent of the GPL.

The other factor that leads to limits on the distribution of Linux distros is the inclusion of commercial (or some patented) software as part of the overall installation -- we'll just think of this as "the DVD" to make it more concrete. If I give you a DVD that has 9,999 pieces of GPL software that I'm happy to allow you to redistribute in binary form, but one piece of software which is bound by patent or proprietary software licenses, you can't copy redistribute the DVD. That's why non-commercial Linux distributions don't include Flash or some media codecs, for example. A company can pay for license to put mp3 encoders and decoders on their DVD, but they can't (afford to...) pay for a license to let *you* redistribute it. And that's part of the reason they can charge you for it -- it is a value-add you can't get from the non-commercial distros.

Historically, distros have intentionally made key parts of the distribution proprietary, particularly the installer, to limit redistribution. This strategy has largely come to be seen as counterproductive (and by my reading against the spriit and intent of the GPL) and has fallen away.

In particular, it is worth noting that both Red Hat and SuSe supportnon-commercial, freely distributable, versions of their own distros(Fedora and OpenSuSe), and Ubuntu is essentially non-commercial in the sense that they don't limit redistribution at all on any of their versions. It is extremely unlikely that the above will change for the worse any time soon. This is the approach which has clearly won out in the marketplace over the past decade.

This Flawed Measure Proves My Point!

Tom Vander Ark on his former district's failure to make AYP:

Other than the fact that most people don’t care, is the problem with FWPS or NCLB? I think the answer is both. FWPS is a well run a traditional public school district. They have focused and competent leadership and a few schools of choice (in a state with no charters). But they’re running up against the limits of what can be accomplished in traditional schools. Our schools, especially secondary, are just not design to prepare all students for college. The ‘No Excuses’ cadre of new small charters with a long day/year and heroic effort have pushed the boundary back but are a challenge to scale. Equity and excellence at scale will take innovative tools and schools to approach NCLB goals.

And speaking of NCLB, the FWPS example shows a couple of the problems that must be addressed in reauthorization. A growth model would cut FWPS some slack and a model that differentiated remedy would focus attention on chronic failure.

In other words, the NCLB measures are too coarse to determine if the district is really failing, but it doesn't matter, because their eventual failure is an article of faith.

Well, "faith" isn't exactly the right word, because it doesn't take much faith to believe one can continually change the definition of success until failure becomes inevitable.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can Separate Be Equal?

Nice article by Richard Kahlenberg in The American Prospect:

Any effort to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty begins with education. Four decades of research has found that the single best thing one can do for a low-income student is give her a chance to attend a middle-class school. The landmark 1966 Coleman Report found that the most important predictor of academic achievement is the socioeconomic status of the family a child comes from, and the second most important predictor is the socioeconomic makeup of the school she attends. A low-income student given the chance to attend a middle-class school is likely to be surrounded by peers who are academically engaged and less likely to act out; a set of parents who volunteer in the classroom and know how to hold school officials accountable; and high-quality teachers who have high expectations.

That more advantaged school environment translates into dramatically different achievement levels. On the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) given to fourth-graders in math, for example, low-income students attending more affluent schools scored almost two years ahead of low-income students in high-poverty schools. Indeed, low-income students given a chance to attend more affluent schools performed more than half a year better, on average, than middle-income students who attend high-poverty schools. This matters because performance in early grades tends to predict performance in later grades, and high school performance predicts the level of educational attainment, which in turn predicts adult earnings.

Today, more than 60 school districts are explicitly seeking to reduce concentrations of school poverty. For example, in Wake County, North Carolina, which includes the city of Raleigh and surrounding suburbs, the district adopted a goal in 2000 that no school should have more than 40 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The results are quite impressive, with Wake County's low-income, minority, and middle-class students generally outperforming peers in other large North Carolina districts.

Race to the Top has at least gotten me to think about what I'd do at this level of coarseness -- what policy prescriptions could be passed down from DC and actually make our schools better. The answer is desegregation, and the data backs it up.

SchoolHouse Rock

Matt Yglesias on how a bill becomes a law (starting from the current point in health care legislation):

  1. Senate Finance Committee writes a bill.
  2. Finance bill is reconciled with HELP bill.
  3. Reconciled Senate bill passes full Senate.
  4. House Rules Committee reconciles the slightly different versions of the House bill.
  5. Reconciled House bill passes full House.
  6. Conference Committee reconciles House and Senate bills.
  7. House passes conference report.
  8. Senate passes conference report.
  9. President signs bill.

Right now, the most important thing is to get through steps (1), (2), (3), (4), and (5). At the moment it appears that you can’t do (4) and (5) without a public option. It also appears that you can’t do (1), (2), or (3) with a public option. And that’s all just fine since this is what step (6) on the process is there for. At step (6) the appropriate thing to do is to press for a conference report that includes a public option. If progressives win that fight, then step (7) should be easy and there’ll be a tough fight over step (8). If progressives lose that fight, which I think may well happen, then I really do think it would be time to give up on the public option. I think it would be silly for the House of Representatives to vote “no” on a basically good health reform package merely because it didn’t include a public option.

Schools, Branding and Open Educational Repositories

Who is BetterLesson? Well, it is a guy from MATCH Charter School. Which is more interesting, a website, or a successful charter school? CK12? Who cares? Well, they're working with High Tech High, so I'm interested.

But why do we need these intermediaries at all? Why do I have to remember which schools go with which websites, like trying to figure out whether I can see last week's Mad Men on Hulu or iTunes? Who has a deal with AMC? Who cares? First place I look is the AMC website anyhow, so if it is anywhere, it should be there. And if it is good open content, it should be everywhere.

Why doesn't one of the foundations that funds these schools just cough up a few millions of dollars to send people to these successful schools, document and publish their complete curriculum on the school's website under a free content license? Then repositories like BetterLesson and CK12 can package and publish it however they want. But the branding and processes right now are all wrong -- it should be around successful school brands, not websites.

Partly in response to Dan. Also, good lord, that BetterLesson guy is full of himself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NAEP Technological Literacy Draft

I skimmed the NAEP Technological Literacy Draft. It's looking at "technology" writ large, not just IT or computing. Seems pretty good, if uninspiring. I predict it and its assessment will be roundly ignored.

In a related note, I like the explanation/justification of computer science that some Scots are working with:

  • CS gives you intellectual tools which make you view the world in a particular way: computational thinking;
  • It is central to absolutely any future development, such as climate change for example;
  • It enables you to specify, represent and solve problems in a robust and efficient way by developing a model of what will work under many circumstances;
  • It helps you to solve problems by applying generic principles such as abstraction and modularity;
  • It helps you to visualise internally complicated processes and complex models which evolve over time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ushra'Khan Rising

The past week has been a lot of fun in EVE. Ushra'Khan's war against Sylph goes well, they've lost almost half their pilots and some key leadership, while Ushra'Khan has been steadily growing.

They've been having trouble keeping their stations fueled, which has led to some crazy heists of their offlined hangars. To keep the pressure on their logistics system, we've been camping their ice asteroid belts (the source of station fuel). So I've been leaving a computer logged on with my character hanging out in a cloaked stealth bomber above one of their ice belts, keeping an eye on it as I go about my other business, driving off any attempts to mine with a few torpedo volleys. It is quite amusing for me, and I'm sure equally annoying to them. I did notice a lot of extra pilots in system on Saturday, the 10th wedding anniversary for Jennifer and me and thus not a big gaming day, and later discovered that some extreme mayhem was going down.

Part of adding members to U'K has meant more US timezone action, which also led to a few good kills, including getting the final blow on two Hulks, which earned me my first combat bonus from the Alliance, a cool 20,000,000 ISK. Hopefully we can keep up the action in the hours I'm actually able to play in the weeks to come...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SchoolTool Russian RPM Packages

Got word from Linux Ink that they're going to include SchoolTool RPM packages (for testing as a "technology preview") in the next version of Nau Linux, which is used in schools and academia in Russia. Not only does this help us cross over to Russian schools, perhaps more importantly it will take us a big step back across the bridge to the Red Hat sphere of influence.

Doing Less with SchoolTool

We now pause for a brief non-commercial message.

As a new school year approaches in much of the world, I'd like to take a moment to point out that while we generally promote SchoolTool as a free, open source student information system for schools, it can also be much *less* than that, depending on your needs.

That is, since SchoolTool is free and easy to install, particularly using modern virtual servers, you can use SchoolTool to solve specific problems without facing the much larger issue of migrating your whole school to a new information system.

Collect Assessment Data

Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia uses SchoolTool to create and print regular interim reports on all students. SchoolTool's new Report Sheet feature facilitates collection of grades, test scores, comments or other custom data from teachers at regular intervals. Stop emailing spreadsheets!

Track Grades and Attendance

Jeff Elkner of the Arlington Career Center in Arlington, Virginia, uses SchoolTool as his personal gradebook. Anyone using Ubuntu Linux on their desktop or laptop (or server in the "cloud") can easily install and use SchoolTool as their online gradebook and attendance journal. Schools can offer SchoolTool as a free alternative to teachers wishing to move their bookkeeping online.

Schedule Resources Online

The Paul Cuffee School in Providence, RI uses SchoolTool to coordinate the use of their computer labs and laptop carts. Teachers can check what resources are available via SchoolTool's calendar and place reservations online.

SchoolTool is at a point where a small community of individual users and schools implementing some of the above features will do a great deal to keep the project moving forward, and we have developer resources to assist and respond to bug and feature requests, so please have a look and let us know what you think.

For more information on SchoolTool, see

Who's Getting Paid at Charters (by Whom?)

Leo Casey (via F.Klonsky):

Note that in addition to public funds which come as revenue for its schools and government grants such as that secured by Cardin, KIPP nationwide has taken in more than $17.6 million from the Wal-Mart Walton Family Foundation over the last three years, and close to $120 million from various foundations since 2003. In each year of its existence, KIPP Baltimore has significantly increased its revenues and its end of the year bottom line balance, which is now close to $1 million on the positive side of the ledger. Moreover, KIPP Baltimore plans to open a second charter school in Baltimore in the coming school year. If we may be forgiven a little understatement, KIPP nationwide and KIPP Baltimore in particular are not exactly in the red.

But no sooner was the ink on that contract dry, than KIPP management decided it really shouldn’t have to negotiate such matters, and began a media campaign to that end. The program in the school was deliberately cut, and teachers’ hours cut in the most punitive way. To understand the full impact of what was going on, consider that KIPP Baltimore has a most interesting profile for an educational organization: it reports a total of 14 teachers, but 19 out of the classroom employees. Key KIPP Baltimore leadership figures, such as the Executive Director and the Principal, are very well-compensated with multiple sources of income — Baltimore charter school base pay, KIPP salary on more than one line, and salary as corporate officers of KIPP Baltimore, Inc. Baltimore KIPP financial documents are confusing — perhaps deliberately so — but one thing is clear: while Baltimore KIPP is now saying that it does not have enough money to pay its teachers the 33% premium on the charter school base pay it just negotiated, it has had no difficulty paying the Principal an additional premium at least 45% of her charter school base pay in at least one year with another 30% in at least one year as a corporate officer of Baltimore KIPP. But cuts were made only in teachers’ hours and in teacher positions.

Yeah... I've been confused about how numbers are being added up when we hear about how much charters are able to do with the same amount of funding as district schools. What contributions are they not counting? How much of the difference is not paying into the pension system, etc? How many people working on site aren't actually on the school payroll? I'd like to know.

It isn't like, say, the KIPP model of putting a few schools in a lot of different cities is designed to minimize costs.

Brace Yourself for ARM Netbooks

AlwaysInnovating Touch Book, via Linux Devices. Features a TI system-on-chip and a detachable display (the cpu, etc. is all contained behind the display, a la XO). Apparently they're shipping pre-orders. Shockingly, still some work to do on the Linux UI.

Later... oh, I forgot to mention that these are $400 with a keyboard and $300 without in a tablet configuration. Of course, if California was to buy one for every kid, what kind of volume discount do you think they could get?Also, we're really waiting for is a version with the Pixel Qi screen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Charters and Desegregation

I'm totally on board with the premise of Create Charter Schools That Reduce Segregation, and I wouldn't underestimate the challenge of desegregation via charters. Desegregating charters exacerbates the scaling issue, and the school models that are getting the most push and best test scores are tiny, so you'd need even more schools if you make them more diverse, serving a wider area. And their scores seem to benefit from a singular focus on high-risk students. Charters as a desegregation strategy is a long way away from the current framing and rhetoric.

The Political Economy of Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark:

Team Obama is winning on education and losing on health. One difference between the health care food fight and the coherent education agenda is a mostly unified eight year policy push by the new money foundations.

The debacle we’re watching in health care is, in part, sponsored by competing foundations. Heritage is supplying talking points on the right, Kaiser Family Foundation is pushing the president’s agenda.

Centerpiece of Team Obama’s education strategy is the Race to the Top grant program. The RTT criteria—particularly requirements for a school turnaround strategy, strong charter law, comprehensive data system, and links between student achievement and teacher evaluation—are the new education reform agenda. They represent a consensus of centrist foundations that simply doesn’t exist in health care...

If health care had benefited from a decade long push by a unified group of foundations, we would already have broader coverage and lower costs.

This is so weird, wrong-headed and self-serving it is hard to figure out where to start. Never mind that money and power are pushing in both health care and education for less public and more private governance, and are thus against Obama in health care (mostly) and with him in education reform. And thus have poured money into congressional coffers to oppose, slow, and block health care reform.

And lets not forget how much more ambitious the health care/insurance reform is than the education reform agenda. If comprehensive health care reform fails, we should still get a bill providing better data systems in health care and some stronger standards, transparency and regulation of private insurance companies. Pretty much equivalent to the ed reform agenda and equally weak tea.

And of course there is only unanimity between a small cadre of neo-reformers in education which excludes the vast majority of practitioners.

And it is hard to imagine the inverse equivalent of TFA, Broad Academy, etc. in health care. Can George Soros start a program to train and place socialist nurses on the board and management of insurance companies to promote reform?

Later... just in terms of generic scale of reform, an education bill as sweeping as the more ambitious of the health care proposals in congress would call for, say, fundamentally changing the balance between local, state and federal funding to provide an equal playing field for all schools and students. We're thinking much smaller in education.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Political Economy of "No Excuses"

Yglesias (not a Libertarian, making an argument for libertarianism):

I think libertarianism is best understood as a kind of esoteric doctrine. There’s strong evidence to believe that people who overestimate their own efficacy in life wind up doing better than those with more accurate perceptions. It follows that it’s strongly desirable for society to be organized so as to bolster myths of meritocracy. This will lead to individual instances of injustice and to a lot of apparently preventable suffering, but over the long-term the aggregate impact of growth (which, of course, compounds) on human welfare will swamp this as long as we can maintain the spirit of capitalism.

I'm wondering how long and how successfully the "no excuses" charter schools will be able to pull off the whole "bolstering myths of meritocracy" thing.

Big Picture Decides it Needs a Social Media Strategy

Dennis Littky:

attendees at big bang just reached out to 4546 people via facebook, text, and twitter to spread the word about big picture learning's work!

I can't think of a single blogger who works at a prominent charter management organization or one of their schools. I'm sure there are a few, somewhere (there may be a whole TFA and post-TFA layer that's under the radar of us old people), but as I've been pointing out for years, the separation between the whole online "school 2.0" conversation and the actual next generation of US schools (more or less) has been vexing.

Anyhow, if I'm missing something, feel free to clue me in.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Old Bethpage Vintage Base Ball Festival 2009

View the whole set of photos by Ray Shaw here.

Providence Teachers Union Files Suit Over Hiring Policies

Providence Teachers Union Membership Update, August 6, 2009:

On Thursday, August 6, 2009, our legal counsel filed suit against the Providence School Board, Superintendent Brady and Commissioner Gist regarding the Providence School Department’s implementation of the February 17, 2009 Commissioner’s Order. As you know, since the issuance of the Order, our Union along with representatives from the RI Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, have attempted to negotiate with the administration in developing a response to the Order that provided the district with the opportunity to interview for vacancies while also providing a fair and transparent interview/transfer process for teachers. It is our position that any modification of the hiring and transfer language in our Collective Bargaining Agreement is (1) negotiated and (2) a transparent system with explicit criteria for the ranking of candidates which recognizes qualifications and experience.

As I have previously stated, without formal procedures in place, the administration has made arbitrary and capricious decisions resulting in inequities for teachers. We continue to receive calls on a daily basis from members describing unprofessional and, in some cases, insulting treatment by the administration throughout the interview and selection process. For example, a National Board Certified teacher who applied for a position at a Cohort I school, was not selected for the position because a “more suitable candidate was selected.” The “more suitable candidate” is from outside the district. So, it begs the question as to what criteria the district deems a candidate “suitable.” ... Unfortunately, this is only one example of the numerous inequities that teachers have and continue to face, and one of the reasons that we have initiated our legal challenge.

The administration is making no effort whatsoever to maintain even a veneer of fairness about their hiring processes. Whether or not that makes a difference in the outcome of this lawsuit, I don't know.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

"School of One" circa 1992, without the Terrible Name, or Computers

Thomas Hoerr, 1992:

To get started, Hoerr had his faculty read, study, and discuss Gardner's writings. Putting theory into practice involved trial and error, but after some initial bumps in the road, staff successfully developed curriculum and teaching techniques that played to the various strengths of individual students. In the classroom, the result was, says Hoerr, "a bit like looking into a beehive: the uniformed visitor might see lots of bees moving in many directions with no apparent logic, but the beekeeper knows what each bee is doing and how an activity fits within the overall pattern."

I don't understand why "computers can make it easier to do the difficult, sophisticated things we've been trying to do for years" is a less appealing, or at least less used, argument than "New! Disruptive! Etc."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Widespread Distributed Oversight

From The Caryatids, page 252:

Lionel lifted his elegant brows and spoke with great conviction. "Radical projects need widespread distributed oversight, with peer review and a loyal opposition to test them. They have to be open and testable. Otherwise, you've just got this desperate little closed bubble. And of course, that tends to sour very fast."

That's One Stacked Kindergarten

So, if you sent the list of the opening staff at Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley back in time or to some quiet corner not familiar with the current education reform discourse, of which the school is very much a part, and asked, "What are the priorities of the organizers of this school?" the obvious answers would be: small student to teacher ratio (8:1 counting "teaching fellows"), advanced training (seven masters degrees on the staff of a kindergarten), respect for experienced teachers, and emphasis on in-depth psychological training for teachers. Of course, none of these are ostensibly priorities of the education reform movement which Democracy Prep is a part of. So what this means, I don't know.

Downes' Excruciatingly Detailed Analysis of "Dumb Money"

I'm glad Stephen did this, because I don't have the time or patience to pick apart Newsweek's lame ed reform analysis. When the international comparisons start flying, you know you're in for some bullshit. My red flag went up when they followed the economic competitiveness argument with a criticism of Germany's educational system. Of course, most people don't know that Germany is the world's leading exporter, still.

And I'm totally down for converting our entire system to be exactly like Finland's. Let me know when we're starting.

Also, it is interesting how the "achievement gap" rhetoric in Toronto is different (and similar) to the rhetoric in the US. Somehow it doesn't put my teeth on edge the same way.

This Sounds About Right to Me

C. Scott Ananian:

As I wordily tried to explain in a comment to gregdek's post, I think Ivan is mostly right here: OLPC tried to do "seven new things" (as Mary Lou explained to me when I was hired) -- and "new things" end up costing a lot of debugging and development time, in one of the Iron Laws Of Writing New Code And Making New Hardware. But another problem was just Picking The Wrong Partners. With the exception of the display (one of the few unalloyed successes of the XO hardware), most of our hardware and software partners were working at cross purposes. Red Hat didn't really want to build an embedded OS product, "mesh networking" to Marvel meant household networks between your TV and your stereo with maybe 10 participants, the Geode was an orphaned offering from AMD, the display and flash NAND controller was a unloved one-off, etc. Success is found by aligning your partners' interests with your own.

Yes, combined with Ivan's post, I think some refinement to the "XO: awesome hardware, half-baked software" conventional wisdom is needed, to include "dubious component choices."

The Post-NCLB Superintendent


Parents also questioned Friendship's credentials, citing problems at its high school, Collegiate Academy, which is in "corrective action," a lesser form of federal sanction, because of poor test scores.

That's from an article on DC high schools, where "Friendship" is Friendship Public Charter School, being brought in by Rhee to turn around a failing high school. Apparently, by the currently legally binding definition of "failing high school," Friendship's NYC 9-12 high school is failing, too, so they have exactly zero track record in doing this job. According to federal law.


In a statement, Rhee spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said, "Over the next three years DCPS expects to see significant increases in student achievement, with dramatic improvements in instructional rigor, school culture and climate and student engagement."

Again, according to the current law, none of that crap matters. It is just all hand-wavy happy talk. Are you going to make AYP? Why are they going to make AYP in DC when they couldn't in NYC?

That's all schools in every city in America have been asked for the past seven years, and it is still the law. Funny how it doesn't seem to apply to Michelle Rhee's DC. It's like the place is being run by a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing hippies.

RUSSO: How Health Care Reform (and RttT) Really Affect NCLB


In reality, the failure of health care reform would greatly embolden Congressional Republicans and dramatically weaken any school reform efforts led by the President and Democrats in Congress. Either way, NCLB reauthorization is likely to take place in a very different environment and process than did ARRA and RttT. It's not just gonna be Duncan and Miller in a room with their wish list.

Yeah... I don't see the NCLB II being decided by a handful of blue dogs. Or... I'm not sure what the blue dog's role will be, but it will be different than in health care. Teachers unions != big pharma.