Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Pivotal Education "Innovation" of the Decade

I'm generally of the view that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to education, and a lot of standard discourse about "change" is really just pendulum-swinging. But I think there is at least one new thing from the past decade (in US public, primary and secondary education) which deserves special mention: schools completely and unabashedly optimized to increase the scores on two (or three or one) specific tests, especially new schools built from the ground up for that specific purpose.

This is a pivot, because there is a lot that leads up to that point (standards, tests, laws enforcing accountability, etc.) and lots of things that don't really get rolling until after you've got some of these schools.

When we designed a new high school in 2001, pre-NCLB, testing and accountability was already important -- after all, we were actually re-designing a school that had been closed for poor performance -- we never entertained the idea that the mission of the school was to raise test scores (or four year graduation stats). We were, to quote Ted Sizer, trying to teach kids to "use their minds well." And we figured if we did a good job at that their scores would be fine. We'd read about schools focusing on "bubble kids" and other now-familiar score optimizing strategies; this stuff just sounded cynical and quixotic. We were ill-prepared for the coming decade; something I'm not ashamed of.

Post-NCLB, there has been a whole generation of new schools that have been built in every facet to optimize test scores, by people who have no qualms whatsoever about that goal. Not surprisingly, these schools tend to get the highest test scores, relative to their peers.

The existence of these schools is important, because otherwise, your results are going to be fairly muddled. Some schools will do better, some will do worse, but you aren't going to get a clarion call for anything in particular that transcends the eternal debates in education (some schools of all types will do well, some poorly...).

But once your schools that are specifically optimized for high test scores, you're going to get some consistent winners -- the best optimizers -- and then you can turn the crank and start pushing for more schools on the score-optimizing model, based on their "objective" superiority.

By the way, most of these schools focus on "college" as a proxy for "high test scores," since you generally don't want to tell the parents and kids that the numbers are an end in themselves. So "college" works, since "high test scores" and "doing well in yet more school" are generally well aligned, and once we've got our new "college and career readiness standards" done, there will be no rhetorical gap there at all.

Anyhow, my point is that the existence of a significant number of these schools is the biggest "new" thing of the decade in US K-12 education.

Honorable Mention #1: Broad Academy

A brilliant move; it is like Microsoft training all of Apple's executives.

Honorable Mention #2: OLPC
By the end of this decade, every student in the country will be carrying some kind of electronic device, because of OLPC, there is at least one vision for a computer designed to meet the needs of students first and foremost (as opposed to businessmen, consumers, or publishers and record companies), even if that vision has still not been fully realized. If there was no OLPC, all we'd be able to do is say "not a Kindle, not an iPhone, not a $800 laptop" wave our arms around, and watch people's eyes glaze over as we describe our arcane geek fantasies.

Professional Adults

Jack Silbert:

I used to hold professional adults in greater esteem. Then I became a professional adult, and realized that we're just older versions of the same dopes from the schoolyard.

Arduino in Turtle Art


  • Arduino: At FOSS.IN, thanks to the efforts of the ever enthusiastic Kushal Das, I managed to get hold of an Arduino clone board (it is terribly difficult to get hold of one in Kolkata). I had heard of Arduino before and wanted to get one, and the session on it at by Russell Nelson finally served as the “kick” which made Kushal and me call up the local distributor and get a couple of boards for ourselves. I have been playing around with sensors support in Sugar for sometime (I helped make the Measure activity work on XO 1.5 hardware), and realized that this would be yet another interesting way to connect Sugar with the “real” world. So after a couple of weekends worth of work, I got Arduino support in Turtle Art.
    Turtle Art with Arduino
  • Sounds Like a Weird Kindergarten

    Cranston Herald:

    “The whole-school meeting lasts maybe six minutes,” said Chiappetta, who explained that the group often discusses their DREAM values, which stands for discipline, respect, enthusiasm, accountability and maturity. “By the time the scholars move upstairs, they are ready to learn and their baggage has been left at the door. It’s very cleansing.”

    The scholars have 30 to 40 minutes of homework per night and extra homework on the weekends.

    Although, as is often the case, when you read about what goes on in the school beyond the sloganeering and a few arbitrary rules, it seems more reasonable; e.g., I bet that "homework" is often finished before the kids actually go home, as part of the "extended day" activities.

    The interesting question is whether there are enough middle and upper class parents in Cumberland & Lincoln who are conservative enough to embrace the school's "no excuses" approach for their own kids, but liberal enough to send their kids to a school that's predominantly poor minority students. If there aren't, it will be tough in the long run to maintain their community's investment in the school.

    Saturday, December 26, 2009

    GregDek Saves Me the Trouble of Writing this Post

    Greg DeKoenigsberg:

    The OLPC organization is built to do hardware innovation. Of the many things they've attempted, it's the one thing at which they have clearly been wildly successful. They put the fear of God into Intel and forced the worldwide introduction of the Netbook, thus driving down the median price of personal computing all over the world -- whether you choose to give them credit for that achievement or not. Their decision to focus on hardware innovation as a core competency is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    Is the challenge of educating every child in the world bigger than OLPC can handle? Why, yes. Yes, it is.

    There's the problem of open educational resources, which is being attacked by organizations like OER Commons and Curriki and UNESCO, and possibly even by the United States federal government. Did you know that the Hewlett Foundation actually has a logic model for the development of open educational resources, which they now apply to every organization who comes to them for requests to fund education projects?

    There's the problem of open source software suitable for use by kids, which is being attacked by organizations like Sugar Labs and the KDE Education Project and GCompris and Squeak -- all of whom have successfully deployed software that is now being used by lots and lots of kids. None of these projects are perfect, but all are continually improving.

    Guess what? OLPC was *bad* at these things. That's why they have, quite sensibly, left those problems for other organizations to solve. OLPC is now, and has always been, a single piece of a very large puzzle. The shrill cries that "OLPC HAS FORGOTTEN TEH KIDZ!!!!" are at best, unhelpful, and at worst, ridiculous.


    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    Le Sigh


    PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The School Board voted this week to renew School Supt. Thomas M. Brady's contract for five years.

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Um... Define "Institutions of Power..."

    Ian Bogost (at, via Mark Guzdial):

    “Games are like folk music of the 1960s,” Bogost said. “They grew up with it. They identify with it. And it isn’t something really co-opted by institutions of power.”

    You know, I'm inherently sympathetic to whole "games in education" question, but unfortunately, the primary exponents of this activity come across as cynical, disingenuous hucksters.

    Slow Week Whedon Blogging

    I don't quite agree with Kevin Carey that the cancellation of Dollhouse makes Joss Whedon a greater tragic figure in the annals of popular culture. Doing another series with Fox after they wrecked Firefly was completely inexplicable, except out of friendship with Eliza Dushku and relief that he'd gotten a plausible new idea for a show, and I don't buy Matt Yglesias's argument that it was all about money. I find it highly unlikely running a series on Fox that you know is not going to be supported and will be canceled in two years at the outside is more profitable than a deal for a cable series that will actually be successful over a longer period of time, albeit at a smaller scale.

    To me, Dollhouse is just a further expression of the catastrophe that was the cancellation of Firefly. Even someone like Joss Whedon doesn't have an infinite number of great show ideas. Gene Roddenberry didn't have a great idea to follow up Star Trek, for example. Even David Milch drops stinkers like John from Cinncinnati. The reason Whedon so doggedly stuck with Buffy and Firefly, to the point of doing movie and TV versions of both, is that he knows ideas that good only come around a few times in a lifetime.

    OTOH, maybe he knew Dollhouse was a good, but not epochally great concept, so why not use it on Fox? It is no great loss.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    Merry Christmas from Against All Authorities

    The station in GE-8JV was looking a little more festive than usual tonight.

    The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer

    Noam Scheiber:

    The business schools had their own incentives to channel students into high-paying fields like finance, thanks to the rising importance of school rankings, which heavily weighted starting salaries.

    This, eventually, created a glut of overcompensated financiers who have led the drive to apply equally bogus and thoughtless rankings upon primary and secondary schools, which themselves trigger further sequences of unintended consequences nobody can predict control, or even discern.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    Interesting... Also Inevitable

    Norm Scott:

    One interesting thing was the number of young teachers, some from TFA and the TF programs who stood up for their schools. It wasn't just the older teachers who are outraged. These are the very people the ed deformers were counting on to be their shock troops. I was with some of the reporters on the way home and we ran into one of the teachers, a 3rd year TFA who remained after her commitment to stay at her school. Her school in the first year also closed. She said she wanted to stay in the NYC system and now that is doubtful. BloomKlein first went after the older teachers and now are eating their own young.

    The ever-tightening gyre of "reform."

    From the Start I Can See the End

    New Haven Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries at Public School Insights:

    What is fairly distinctive about our agreement is that in the context of those turnarounds, work rules in particular and to some extent compensation essentially become a function not of the overall contract, but instead of what we call an “election to work” agreement. So the person who's managing the turnaround school, or the people who are leading that school, would say, “In this turned-around school, this is how we expect to operate. This is how long our school day will be. This is how programming will happen during the day. This is how we’ll do professional development.” That sort of thing. An individual teacher's decision to go work in that environment constitutes his or her agreement to those conditions. Essentially what we came together with the union around is the idea that we wanted to be able to create situations where you could really have a “whatever it takes” mentality and you could build a team that has bought into that approach, even if the work rules were different than they are in the standard New Haven public school system.

    We did this in Providence for over a decade, and by the time it was ended by fiat -- actually, it wasn't even ended by fiat, because the change was never announced, never a memo, never a hearing, not an article in the paper, never a response from the school board about what the new policy actually was -- nobody even seemed to remember that this policy ever existed in the first place. No matter how committed the parties are in making this kind of agreement, the timescale of schooling (long!), combined with rapid turnover of administration, a constant manufactured crisis mentality (there's a problem, but it's chronic!), and the history of the American labor relations (as opposed to, say, European) makes long term success unlikely.

    On the other hand, this is probably the only way forward, so... well, this is why I wouldn't consider working for an urban school district anymore.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    (Don't Talk About the) Left-Right Convergence

    Ed Kilgore's got a good analysis of an important split between Democrats, especially in regard to education:

    But the other potential fault line is ideological, and is sometimes hard to discern because it extends across a variety of issues. To put it simply, and perhaps over-simply, on a variety of fronts (most notably financial restructuring and health care reform, but arguably on climate change as well), the Obama administration has chosen the strategy of deploying regulated and subsidized private sector entities to achieve progressive policy results. This approach was a hallmark of the so-called Clintonian, "New Democrat" movement, and the broader international movement sometimes referred to as "the Third Way," which often defended the use of private means for public ends...

    To be clear, this is not the same as the conservative "privatization" strategy, which simply devolves public responsibilities to private entities without much in the way of regulation. In education policy, to cite one example, New Democrats (and the Obama administration) have championed charter public schools, which are highly regulated but privately operated schools that receive public funds in exchange for successful performance of publicly-defined tasks. Conservatives have typically called for private-school vouchers, which simply shift public funds to private schools more or less unconditionally, on the theory that they know best how to educate children.

    Although the situation in education is even more tangled insofar as it is driven by business-model philanthropy more than actual businesses, in part because schools, unlike say, prisons or mercenary outfits, aren't really profitable to run (except via indirect methods, like real estate scams).

    Also, when you consider that, say, Key L.A. Unified staff positions are funded privately, it reinforces Matt Yglesias's argument that in practice there is less of a difference than there appears:

    At the end of the day, no matter what people think they think, nobody remotely sensible actually holds a pure strain of either of these views. Robust disagreement exists about whether public education should be provided exclusively through government-managed public schools or also through government-funded and government-regulated privately-managed charter schools, but nobody thinks it’s objectionable for public schools to buy desks from private desk-makers.

    Nonetheless, Kilgore's point is an important one.

    I'm also interested in the meta-commentary to Kilgore's post, which is similar to some of the responses I got for my little schematic of US school reform directions:

    UPDATE: In discussing this post with several friends, I recognize I should be very clear about my motives here. I am not trying to promote an ideological fight within the Democratic Party or the progressive coalition, and don't want to exaggerate ideological differences, either. But ideology, however muddled, is part of what makes most politically active people tick. And if we don't talk about it--and about differences in strategic thinking as well, which will be the subject of future discussions here--then all we are left with to explain our differences on this issue or that is questions of character. And anyone paying attention must recognize there's far too much of that going on. "Progressive pragmatists"--the camp with which I most often personally identify, as it happens--often treat "the Left" condescendingly as immature and impractical people who don't understand how things get done. Meanwhile, people on "the Left" often treat "pragmatists" as either politically gutless or personally corrupt. This is what happens when you don't take seriously other people's ideological and strategic underpinnings; whatever you gain in ignoring or minimizing differences in perspective or point of view is lost in mutual respect. Sure, the character attacks on both sides are sometimes accurate, but nobody should assume that in any particular case without further examination of each others' ideological and strategic views. That examination is what we are trying to promote here.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    No Sticks Left to Throw


    Rhode Island is not (on the list of probable first round Race to the Top applicants), probably indicating that State Supe Deborah Gist is working to do it right (with regard to detailing her aggressive reform agenda in a few hundred pages of prose).

    I heard on WRNI this morning that she may propose a funding formula for state education aid next month (we're the only state without one, iirc), so perhaps she wants to get that in first as well. That will be interesting because it is not something she can just issue an edict about and wait for the congratulatory op-eds to pour in.

    I have no insight (whatsoever!) into what the Rhode Island teachers' unions are thinking about RttT, but imho, they have some incentive to play hard to get. The application needs their agreement, but the state and local governments are already attacking with everything they've got across a broad front. I don't think administration has anything in reserve. What's the governor going to do, threaten to order districts to reopen their teacher contracts and give everyone a 3% pay cut? Oh wait:

    But Carcieri’s plan to cut about $40 million between now and June from the state’s 38 school districts, 13 charter schools and 3 state-run schools is more than a budget reduction — it’s a message to Rhode Island’s 14,600 public school teachers. Put simply, Carcieri wants teachers to take the same 3-percent pay cut that state workers accepted earlier this year, and he wants their pension plans reduced...

    Carcieri said he wants teachers to make the same sacrifice state workers are making. He wants every district to reopen teacher contracts and get the unions to agree to salary reductions...

    I'm not sure "Oh noes, we might get some bad PR," is really going to scare the unions at this point. They're fighting for their life now.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Not that Consortium, the Other One

    Politics K-12:

    New Hampshire wanted to know if its existing New England consortium on common standards counts as much in earning points toward a grant as the larger Common Core effort.

    If the answer is "yes," (and I don't think it will be), does that mean RI can take out that crap about "Establish World-Class Standards and Assessments" out of our draft strategic plan and focus on continuing to implement the very well regarded regional standards we just wrote?

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    I've Heard the Same Thing from a Reporter in Providence

    Michael Miner:

    I heard the atmosphere at CPS is pervaded by trepidation: a lot of old faces have vanished, while new, young, and inexperienced faces popped up in positions of command. "I've had people I've talked to for years whose voice will literally shake when I get hold of them, and they'll say, 'I can't say anything,'" says another Chicago reporter who frequently covers the schools. "They're laying off hundreds of people, especially at the central office, and job security is really high on people's list. As much as they might not agree with what Huberman's doing, they don't want to be out there trying to find a job."

    via M.Klonsky.

    "Progressive" and "Traditional" Ed

    The Core Knowledge website:

    Ravitch discusses other progressive movements, too, like the social studies movement and the “life-adjustment” movement. The parade of bad ideas she documents would be very depressing if she did not also draw attention to a handful of brave souls who championed traditional education in the face of the progressive onslaught...

    Left Back is a thoroughly researched and eminently reasonable book. It is likely to be of interest to most readers of this newsletter, but it will be of particular interest to Core Knowledge teachers and principals interested in learning more about the academic tradition and the progressive reforms that have endangered this tradition. Teachers, principals, parents, and others who read this book will emerge confirmed in their conviction that Core Knowledge is good for kids and good for America.

    Why I Put Core Knowledge in the Bottom Left

    E.D. Hirsch, from the Core Knowledge website:

    Apologists for the current state of public schools continue to blame the persistent achievement gap between ethnic and racial groups on social conditions or on shortcomings in the innate abilities of some groups. But the proof that such social and psychological determinism is false is the fact that the achievement gap between social and racial groups has been greatly reduced in France and other democracies. If social or IQ determinism were true, then the educational success of those nations would be impossible. It is no accident that progressivism never took hold in nations which have greatly narrowed the test-score gap between groups. By criticizing progressivism, I don't of course criticize its emphasis on humane, lively, and imaginative teaching. That has been a hallmark of good education in all times and places. I mean only to criticize its all-too-successful attack on traditional academic subject matter as being boring, useless, and even soul-deadening.

    Let me remind you of the founding idea of democratic education as it was envisaged after the great democratic revolutions in Europe and America first by thinkers like Jefferson, then by Horace Mann and W.E.B. Du Bois. They wanted the focus of the schools to be on strong content in history, science, mathematics, and the arts. Those subjects were to form the common content which everyone learned. Commonality of content was the essence of the so-called "common school." The idea was that schooling should enable every person to stand on his or her own two feet, equal to every other person of similar talent and virtue, rather than, as in the past, having one's role in life determined by the status, wealth, or education of one's parents. This democratic ideal was shared by all the great founders of democratic education everywhere in the world. The common school was to be a place where children of all races and conditions would be offered the same opportunity to amplify their talents. How far short of this ideal our schools have fallen in the 20th century is highlighted by the degree to which other democracies have lived up so much better than we have to this egalitarian ideal.

    They have achieved this by two basic policies that are directly opposed to the principles of progressive education — first, they have determined that the emphasis of schooling should fall on the academic curriculum, not on slogans about growth, critical thinking, and individually tailored study plans — and second, that all children should share a core of common intellectual capital. The most acute thinkers about democratic education, including Jefferson, Horace Mann, and Du Bois, believed that it is not intelligence that increases knowledge but knowledge that increases intelligence. Du Bois, who was himself the product of the New England common school, would have scorned the sentimental absurdity that each child must have his or her own special curriculum suited to his or her special personality. (emphasis added)

    See discussion...

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    A Vision of 2012... circa 1993

    Scott McLeod:

    Judy O’Connell asked if the video below is the future of magazines. Yes, absolutely. Maybe not by 2010 or 2012 but sooner than we think. And for newspapers and books too. And, to a lesser extent, maybe we’ll even start seeing more interactivity and/or multimedia embedded within scholarly research, government or policy center reports, and other manuscripts.

    If ‘news’ is becoming more of a commodity every day, perhaps it’s this sort of added value from which publishers will make their money. I know I’d pay for something like this from my favorite periodicals.

    Really? The future of magazines is digital magazines with video? This is what people thought the future would be like before the World Wide Web was invented. Maybe SI could mail this out on a CD-ROM every week.

    In particular, it is amusing that Scott is arguing here that the disruptive innovation -- the web -- is at the 11th hour going to lose out to a sustaining innovation for traditional print media -- fancy proprietary tablet book readers.

    What Does This Make Me?

    Linda Perlstein:

    Miner writes that the head flack at Chicago schools “spoke of the value of having ‘everybody on the same page.’” Ack. I could rant pretty thoroughly about how creepy and unproductive it is to want everyone in a massive organization to be on the same page—and foray into my loathing of how “being a team player,” which principals say all the time, has come to mean “not questioning anything”—but perhaps today is the day I should start trying to blog shorter.

    I’ll just say two things:

    1. The “same page” climate means that only the crankiest, most out-there gadflies have the guts to question or criticize, which is not as productive as an honest dialogue among everyone.

    A Good Enough Schematic of US School Reform

    This is pretty much the universe as I see it. The upper left needs a better name or representative organization. I considered "no excuses" but I don't think that's quite it.

    One thing about this graph is that each quadrant tends to be ambivalent toward the ones they share a border with and save their attacks for the ones diagonally across from them. Also the top tends to ignore or try to avoid fights with the bottom.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Am I Imagining it, or is this a Condescending and Dismissive Tone?

    Common Core State Standards Initiative: Summary of Public Feedback:

    Respondents conceptually embrace the idea of “fewer, clearer, higher” standards. However, most also suggest the standards be expanded in one or more areas. Respondents suggested dozens of topics that could also be added or expanded, but rarely is it suggested that a topic be eliminated or minimized. Among the topics suggested to be added to the standards are 1) civic readiness; 2) applied learning; 3) awareness of author strategies; 4) collaboration; 5) oral and written language development specific to disciplines; 6) the way that gender, race, class, and culture shape our textual interpretations; 7) ability to navigate in a digital world; 8) differences in formal and information rules among forms of genres; 9) topics and research questions; 10) flexible writing processes; 11) reading for pleasure; 12) viewing skills; and 13) vocabulary development.

    There is a predictable relationship between a respondent’s expertise and his or her suggestions. Writing teachers want more specificity about the process, types, and purposes of writing woven into the Common Core State Standards; librarians tend to be more sensitive to the opportunities and demands created by the online environment; and reading teachers offer much more detailed and specific standards related to teaching reading.

    Overall, the document reads like it was written by the people who worked on the math standards. One gets the impression that having to deal with those other standards is just an annoying distraction from the real work on mathematics. I mean, they constantly refer to the "English Language Arts" standards. There are no proposed common standards for English Language Arts. They do not exist! There are "reading, writing, and speaking and listening" standards, which are, in some undefined but apparently necessary way, different.

    Wednesday, December 09, 2009

    Teacher Distribution and District Size

    Kati Haycock:

    We’re beginning, though, I think, to see some efforts to change that. One of the most interesting is in Hamilton County, Tennessee, where, using real data, they’ve identified some of their strongest teachers.

    They’ve provided them incentives to come in groups to their lowest- performing schools, and they’ve also paid the teachers in those schools who are strong performers more, as well. And results in the schools are up, as a result.

    Guilford County, North Carolina, is another system that has taken this issue on and made some real progress. Houston Independent School District is doing some interesting work around teacher distribution and performance, as well. And I think some of these cities will help lead the way as we figure out what’s the right combination of strategies. How much of this is about really important – is about school leadership? Because we know that having good leaders in schools is one of the strongest magnets we can have for strong teachers. But how much of this is impeded by contract provisions that we need to change?

    It is not a coincidence that she cites three southern districts, two county based and one 310 square mile urban one. Providence is 18.5 square miles. There are only a handful of schools in the green areas above. Redistributing teachers within the city is not a solution to our problems.

    There is no reason the Race to the Top criteria couldn't have "incentivized" realignment of districts into larger, particularly mixed-income, units. Of course, that would have been a hundred times more controversial than anything that actual made the proposal, which is why is isn't in there, despite the fact that it is almost certainly a precondition to one of their main strategies having a chance of working.

    Riding the Range with Robert Pondiscio

    I'm not that surprised that conservatives in the West like to use romantic representations of cowboys in their character education, just as you wouldn't be shocked if a liberal New Englander lingered over, say, the Bread and Roses Strike in a similar context. But lets be clear, this "Code of the West" has little, if anything, to do with genuine social history, so when Robert Pondiscio raises the subject on the Core Knowledge blog, it gives you an opportunity to see where his priorities lie. Apparently not so much with historical accuracy.

    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    Concerning Hope High School

    To the Board of Regents and Commissioner Gist,

    I am writing in support of the students, teachers and other members of the Hope High School community who spoke at the December 3rd meeting of the Board of Regents. Their concerns speak directly to the credibility and integrity of the Board's ongoing and future reform initiatives.

    In a letter to his fellow Regents just short of one year ago, Angus Davis praised the nomination of Arne Duncan as Barack Obama's Secretary of Education, citing his record of successful turnarounds as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools:

    "In a hearing this summer before Congress, he testified, 'We are one of the few districts in the country that literally shut down underperforming schools and replaced the entire school staff. The turnaround strategy has resulted in doubled or tripled student performance in many of these schools, he testified: 'Same children, same families, same socio-economic challenges, same neighborhood, same school building... Different teachers, new leadership and a new educational approach, and the results are dramatic.'"

    If this is true and praiseworthy in Chicago (and perhaps it is not (1)), the test score gains at Hope High School have been equally dramatic, or moreso.

    The teachers at Hope High School cannot simply be written off as representatives of the "status quo," or people who don't "put children first." They are the vanguard of reform who answered the state's call in 2005, and they have been successful.

    In turn, their professional futures at the intersection of local, state and federal reform initiatives look roughly like this: the systematic dismantling of their meticulously crafted program by district administration, test scores likely declining back to the mean just as each teacher is personally evaluated and perhaps compensated based on those scores.

    The next step will be closure of the school for management by an outside agency, as the collapse of Hope's reform following a return to district administration will be seen as proof that turning around district schools does not work. The teachers will have no right to another job in the district and a professional portfolio featuring declining scores in a disheartened, failing school, and a local administration which has already shown a willingness to use the mis-named "criterion-based" hiring policies to punish dissent.

    This will be their reward for successfully confronting one of the state's most intractable school reform challenges.

    As Tony Bryk and Barbara Schneider wrote in their book, Trust in Schools (p. 139-140):

    ...external actors have taken on important roles in schools' social networks, and the development of relational trust across these new role sets also becomes important....

    A mutual dependence for success now exists across this expanded social network of internal and external actors. Since power relations typically will be structured with asymmetry favoring district and state agents, it becomes incumbent on these external agents to acknowledge the vulnerability sensed by school-based actors. Any actions taken by external agents to reduce this vulnerability should go a long way toward building trust across this expanded social network. (2)

    Put another way, an activist Board of Regents and Commissioner need to demonstrate that you will have the back of those who work directly on your behalf on the front lines.

    If the Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education do not have the will, capacity and stamina to defend your own freshly won gains in Rhode Island school reform, then perhaps you should reconsider the scope of your ambition for the future. I hope you will act decisively in this matter.

    Tom Hoffman
    Providence, RI


    (2) Chall, Leo, Bryk, Anthony, & Schneider, Barbara. (2002). Trust in schools. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation Publications.

    Integrated, Progressive Charters

    Mike Petrilli:

    Yet even in the face of these challenges, at least a handful of fantastic, integrated charter schools have gotten off the ground. Consider Capital City Charter School in Washington--the first public school the Obamas visited as President and First Lady--which serves equal numbers of white, black, and Hispanic children and roughly equal proportions of poor and middle class kids--and which has gotten strong results over its ten-year history. There’s the famous High Tech High (HTH), founded with an explicit mission to serve a diverse group of students in the San Diego area. And there’s the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST)--the best school in Denver, which is just about perfectly integrated along racial and class lines. Such schools should offer inspiration to the school reform, pro-charter crowd, as well as civil rights types--indeed, to just about everyone except neo-separatists who would prefer that, say, African-American youngsters learn from African-American teachers in Afro-centric schools.

    Of those three, I know High Tech High is a very progressive design, and from browsing its website, Capital City is also a Coalition of Essential Schools school and generally progressive. DSST looks more traditional, but it is difficult to say just from the website, especially in a high school focusing on science. It is hard to create a genuinely rigorous science program that does not include a healthy dose of inquiry.

    So no, at least two of those schools are not inspirational to everyone, they shouldn't be inspirational to people who don't like progressive education. Like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

    This is one reason the RI mayoral academies are such a curious construct. The intent seems to be to create integrated, city/suburb, "no excuses" schools. As far as I can tell, there is no precedent for that. It might work, but if it does they'll probably end up quite different from their original urban/segregated inspirations.

    The Etymology of Decimate

    RIC’s Dean of Education, Roger G. Eldridge, Jr. in the ProJo:

    Eldridge opposes raising the (required Praxis) scores (to 179), saying the change could have a dramatic impact on the size of teacher training programs next year, particularly at RIC, which trains about 375 new teachers a year.

    “I was always in favor of raising them, but not as high as 179,” Eldridge said. “I can live with 175. That’s fine.” ...

    “We are hoping the scores will go up,” he said. “So I am not as worried as I was about losing a huge number of students. We may lose 10 to 15 percent.”

    Increasing scores to 179 in a single year “would have decimated us,” he said.

    While "decimate" may turn up on your Praxis exam, it doesn't appear that you're expected to know the original meaning of the term. Lucky for Dr. Eldridge.

    More substantively, I don't have a strong opinion about raising the Praxis cut score for new teachers, but I am concerned that our Commissioner seems more concerned with the PR value of "from worst to first" to a research-based analysis of what the optimal cut score might be.

    Friday, December 04, 2009

    Tim Quirk's Hilarious Warner Bros. Royalty Statement

    Tim Quirk:

    I got something in the mail last week I’d been wanting for years: a Too Much Joy royalty statement from Warner Brothers that finally included our digital earnings. Though our catalog has been out of print physically since the late-1990s, the three albums we released on Giant/WB have been available digitally for about five years. Yet the royalty statements I received every six months kept insisting we had zero income, and our unrecouped balance ($395,277.18!)* stubbornly remained the same.

    Now, I don’t ever expect that unrecouped balance to turn into a positive number, but since the band had been seeing thousands of dollars in digital royalties each year from IODA for the four indie albums we control ourselves, I figured five years’ worth of digital income from our far more popular major label albums would at least make a small dent in the figure. Our IODA royalties during that time had totaled about $12,000 – not a princely sum, but enough to suggest that the total haul over the same period from our major label material should be at least that much, if not two to five times more. Even with the band receiving only a percentage of the major label take, getting our unrecouped balance below $375,000 seemed reasonable, and knocking it closer to -$350,000 wasn’t out of the question.

    So I was naively excited when I opened the envelope. And my answer was right there on the first page. In five years, our three albums earned us a grand total of…


    via Mac.

    Hope High Finds its Bollocks

    Kudos to the Hope High School community:

    LINCOLN — In an unprecedented move, more than 50 teachers, students and alumni implored state education leaders to save Hope High School, once one of the state’s worst high schools, from being dismantled piece by piece.

    Providence School Supt. Tom Brady is imposing a six-period day on all of the city’s high schools because, in a district where students move from school to school, a uniform curriculum means that all students will be on the same page whether they attend Hope or Central High School.

    But Hope’s teachers say that replacing the school’s “block” schedule of four 90-minute periods a day with six 48-minute classes will effectively undermine five years of hard-won reforms, changes that have earned the school national recognition as well as praise from Governor Carcieri.

    “We will no longer have weekly advisory periods, weekly [schoolwide] planning time and our every-other-day team planning will be eliminated completely,” said Marianne Davidson, a faculty member, at Thursday’s board of regents’ meeting.

    Student advisories, considered a critical tool for building trusting relationships between students and adults, would be slashed from nearly 90 minutes a week to 30 minutes, maybe less.

    I'll be drafting a letter of support this weekend.

    In the meantime, I'm also glad this came up now because the Regents need to be reminded that if they start acting like the school board for the whole state, the whole state will start treating them like their school board.

    Thursday, December 03, 2009

    True in Educational Technology Too!

    Mark Bernstein:

    Our tech press is both corrupt and silly, forever chasing the expected narrative without understanding, or even trying to understand, the underlying technology. The costs to everyone are frightening.

    Read Growing Pains: Scaling Up the Nation’s Best Charter Schools

    Hugs and kisses to Dean Millot (and Alexander Russo, and frickin' Scholastic for that matter) for publishing Tom Toch's original draft of his Ed Sector report, Growing Pains: Scaling Up the Nation’s Best Charter Schools. It is simply the clearest and most informative explanation of how the vaunted Charter Management Organization industry works. If you want to understand what's really going on at KIPP, etc., read this. Not that it is some kind of expose or damning indictment.

    It rings true to me because I know what goes into running a small urban high school, and I had opportunities to talk to leaders of some of the more prominent progressive CMO's in the first half of the decade.

    I could quote huge chunks of this, but you should just read the whole thing. My favorite paragraph:

    And the leading charter networks have made a strong case for increased funding for disadvantaged students. Many of the education commentators who lavish praise on KIPP and other high-performing charter networks also argue that there is sufficient money for traditional public schools to educate students effectively, if only the money were spent more efficiently. Charter management organizations, much freer than traditional public schools to use their resources as they like, have put that proposition to the test and proven it doesn’t apply in many parts of the country. To get strong results they have had to spend more money than they expected, and more money than has been available to them in many parts of the country—above and beyond the cost of their buildings and their lower state and local funding. Under the education models of the highest-achieving charter networks, it takes more to do more.

    If you really want a summary, Claus's is good.

    Coming Attractions in Education -- Replication!


    Two of the (four schools slated to be closed in NYC), Frederick Douglass Academy III and KAPPA II, are in school networks that sprang up in order to replicate already existent successful schools. Schools in the KAPPA network — there are seven of them — are modeled after the KIPP charter schools. Frederick Douglass Academy III, which according to the proposal would lose its middle school grades and keep its high school, is designed to replicate the original Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem.

    On one hand, you have to give them some measure of credit for at least following though on the rhetoric about being quicker to close unsuccessful charter schools. OTOH, I tend to think this will be harder on the generic "charter school" brand than they may appreciate. Nobody wants to take a chance on sending their kid to a school that will closed. If charters come to be seen as ephemeral, it will be a big problem for them. People are justifiably risk-averse with their children.

    RI's Draft Strategic Plan

    I'm going to try to avoid obsessing over the Rhode Island Department of Education's new draft Strategic Plan, in part because it is so wholly Race to the Top boiler plate. I swear they tore this thing right off a fax from McKinsey.

    Apparently business consultants have a really bizarre concept of "strategy." To me strategy is all about the focused allocation of scarce resources. This thing is like a list of wishes. And this plan makes no reference to the ongoing context of school reform in Rhode Island -- nothing about SALT for example, which is a fine foundation for many of the goals described.

    I must linger for a moment over this part:

    Priority Name: Develop User Friendly Data Systems

    Priority Goal: Create a data-driven culture for education decision-making.

    Objective 4: Redesign the school and district accountability processes to extend beyond NECAP results to include valid and reliable data against key indicators so that the appropriate supports, interventions, enhancements, and improvements can be targeted effectively to improve student achievement.

    Objective Measures:

    By 2012, Rhode Island will have implemented a performance management system based on student growth and teacher effectiveness to measure performance of schools and teachers.

    By 2015, Rhode Island will be able to demonstrate a 10% increase in student achievement directly tied to a system of supports and intervention.

    Strategy 4.1 Develop accountability process that accurately measures the effectiveness of school and district programs, supports, and interventions.

    • Develop systems requirements for collecting data related to student-level supports, including evaluations and individualized supports Develop metrics for growth model, gap analysis, and teacher effectiveness.
    • Develop query-driven reports that apply performance metrics to disaggregated data in order to improve student achievement.

    Strategy 4.2 Develop standards and processes for how these metrics are to be used to improve student achievement.

    • Develop methodology for including growth metrics and teacher effectiveness into a system of state performance measures, and possibly into AYP.
    • Develop performance measures for systems requirements of the BEP.
    • Create set of diagnostic metrics to match capacity and systems measures to specific interventions and initiatives that will ensure acceleration of student achievement.

    This is weird and absurd in a number of ways, but I'm drawn to this "objective measure:"

    By 2015, Rhode Island will be able to demonstrate a 10% increase in student achievement directly tied to a system of supports and intervention.

    I'd love to see even a science fiction fantasy timeline about how that is supposed to work (or even mean, what is a "10% increase in student achievement," esp. when you're going "beyond NECAP?"). You get your baseline data in 2013, measure effective new local interventions in 2014, scale them statewide and measure the results in 2015?

    No Excuses!


    College-educated black men, especially, have struggled relative to their white counterparts in this downturn, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for black male college graduates 25 and older in 2009 has been nearly twice that of white male college graduates — 8.4 percent compared with 4.4 percent.

    In the future, perhaps the Walton and Fisher families can help unemployed KIPP-sters find jobs at WalMart and The Gap.

    Coming Attractions in Education -- Harvard study: Computers don't save hospitals money


    A Harvard Medical School study that looked at some of the nation's "most wired" hospital facilities found that computerization of those facilities hasn't saved them any money or improved administrative efficiency.

    The recently released study evaluated data on 4,000 hospitals in the U.S over a four-year period and found that the immense cost of installing and running hospital IT systems is greater than any expected cost savings. And much of the software being written for use in clinics is aimed at administrators, not doctors, nurses and lab workers...

    Himmelstein said that only a handful of hospitals and clinics realized even modest savings and increased efficiency -- and those hospitals custom-built their systems after computer system architects conducted months of research.

    Has there been a similar study for schools?

    Of course, I'd like to think good open source administrative platforms will eventually lower the cost of building effective, customized solutions for schools.

    However, I am decidedly pessimistic that a rapid injection of RttT stimulus money into the current educational data systems market will produce the desired results.

    Also, note that computerization here is decidedly a "sustaining innovation," not a "disruptive" one.

    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    "What's that Relic?"

    We were driving through Pawtucket on Sunday on a classified mission, and I saw this big old building. I said "What's that thing?" Jennifer said "That's Tolman (high school, est. 1926 population 1,400)." I suddenly felt like I was living in the future. My first, unconscious reaction to the sight of a prototypical urban comprehensive high school was "What the hell is that relic?" Someday, I'm told, everyone will have that response.

    Tuesday, December 01, 2009

    Putting OLPC in Perspective

    However short OLPC might have fallen, particularly in comparison to their early vision, the collapse of the Crunchpad before it entered production provides some perspective. That they got XO's in production at all, and that they're still in production years later, was and is highly unlikely and quite an accomplishment.