Friday, May 28, 2010

Do You See This?

Threat Level:

A remote administration program installed on student laptops by a Pennsylvania school district and used by numerous companies to manage their computers is even more vulnerable than previously reported.

The LANrev program can be exploited from anywhere on the internet, not just from an attacker on the same local area network as a victim’s computer, according to researchers who say that a second key used by the system is just as insecure as one that was previously disclosed...

Researchers with Leviathan Security Group discovered the key and said it would allow someone on the same network as a LANrev computer to sniff the communication between the client and server. Then, masquerading as the server, the attacker could install malware on the target computer to control it — either steal data or use the webcam to snap surreptitious pictures of the student or other person using the computer.

Today's School Reformers Less Empathetic, Too

The Answer Sheet:

A new University of Michigan study shows that since 2000, college students have become less empathetic than before.

Compared to college kids of the late 1970s, the study said, today’s are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

The meta-analysis was led by Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and was presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science. She analyzed data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

"We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000," said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry. "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."

I don't have a study to prove it, but it certainly feels like this change has deeply affected how school reform plays out in the age of TFA and the Broad Academy. Not to say that the public has historically been sympathetic to poor and minority students in the past and now they're not. But the tenor of the "reformers" has certainly changed. There is a willfully unfeeling hardness now that you wouldn't have seen fifteen or twenty years ago, which may be an extension of the phenomenon described in this study.

Also... in addition to not being a nice person, you can't actually design an effective incentive structure for someone else if you can't empathize with them.

It is Almost Like the Only Criterion is Whether the Administrator Likes You

You may recall that last year my wife was passed over as lead teacher of the three person History department at her school, despite being the only applicant initially and well-qualified for the job. The job was re-posted and given to another person in the department, who we have no beef with, who is less experienced and we now know was exempted from some of the application requirements.

As we would say in EVE, "I didn't want that job anyway," but here's the follow-up:

As the old school is closing, everyone is applying for new jobs, and the person who got the lead teacher job applied at the lower-performing high school down the street. Not only did she not get a job there, but apparently it was given to someone from outside the district, which was only supposed to happen for high-demand jobs (which high school history is not and probably will never be) for which there were no qualified district candidates.

Apparently under "criterion-based hiring" in Providence, you can go from administration-recruited teacher leader to unqualified to teach in one short year.

Don't Hold Your Breath


A new principal has not yet been selected for (Central Fall High School), although Gallo hopes to hire someone “within 48 hours,” she told the trustees (Tuesday night).

Not that I have any inside info here...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Looking Forward to Seeing these Guys Next Week...

Tom Sgouros on Central Falls

Rhode Island Policy Reporter:

I read one "analysis" that said that Central Falls was too small to be independent, and it should join with Lincoln, Cumberland, or Pawtucket. This is your typical 30-second analysis: superficially plausible, but fundamentally ridiculous. With analysis like this, we'll all be broke soon. Central Falls is in a bind because their property tax revenue can't pay their expenses. Why should any other town want to accept that burden? None of its neighboring towns are exactly pillars of financial strength. Were Pawtucket to annex Central Falls, what would be the result except to bring Pawtucket a step closer to its own fiscal armageddon?

Perhaps it's interesting to ask how they got in this bind? Why, after all, is Central Falls so small? Who was it who thought such a small city was viable? Well, maybe it was all the rich people who used to live there.

Central Falls was a wealthy community of manufacturers and their employees when the larger town of Smithfield broke up in the 19th century, leaving it as the smallest piece. There was no question of its viability then; there was plenty of money to go around. Even as late as 1950, measured by amount of taxable property per student in its schools, Central Falls was one of the richest towns in the state, behind only Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket, and there was a considerable gap between them and fifth-place Newport. (Narragansett was actually first, but that's only because they had so few students, so I ignore them here.)

So what happened? The biggest demographic shift in our state and our nation's history, that's what. In the second half of the 20th century, our nation perfected suburbs, and the highways and cars that made them possible. In 1950, it was thought stupid to expect to live in East Greenwich and work in Providence; the country was for hicks. By 1970, that was no longer true. By 1990, the reverse was true for many. This is the very definition of an epochal shift. During those years, hundreds of thousands of people moved from our urban centers to what had been the countryside. Rich neighborhoods like Central Falls or Elmwood in Providence ( o/ -ed.) became desperately poor ones, while poor places like East Greenwich became quite rich. Central Falls became the poorest municipality in the state, followed by Woonsocket, Providence, Burrillville, and Pawtucket.

Tom is addressing Central Fall's budget woes more than its schools here. He is right that there is no problem with having a 1.3 square mile city, if it is wealthy, e.g., Hoboken. A 1.3 square mile poor city and/or school district, however, is another matter.

...They Pulled Me Back In

The one thing I did when the financial crisis hit and suddenly most of the houses around ours were vacant and being stripped of their pipes and wiring was get a new security system. The ADT system that was in the house when we moved in worked ok, but I found ADT's customer service to be so loathsome and inadequate that I was dubious of the thing's value. Also, ADT is part of Tyco, which doesn't fill one with confidence that they'll get their act together.

Anyhow, so I had a new Brinks system installed and felt a lot better about the product and people on the other end of the phone. Then Brinks was bought by Broadview, and I just got the email that Broadview is merging with... ADT.

The good news is that the neighborhood has not turned into a post-apocalyptic hellhole, and if anything, and my new next door neighbors are quite happy about having all new plumbing, wiring, etc. in their freshly rehabbed house.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shouldn't That Be "Perfectly?"

Joe Carducci:

The dumber the audience the more perfect the music must be played.

Hows that "New Labor-Management Model" Working Out?

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — After weeks of student-fueled opposition, Supt. Tom Brady finally met privately with a small clutch of students and teachers from Hope High School Tuesday.

But, after two-and-a-half hours of discussion, nothing changed.

The school administration, which insisted on a closed meeting, didn’t budge from its original position that Hope move from four 90-minute periods, known as a block schedule, to a six-period day, bringing it in line with the other high schools in the district.

After the meeting, students and teachers said they were frustrated and said they felt that the School Department’s mind was made up before administrators entered the room.

“I feel more resigned and defeated,” said Sean Georghagan, a math teacher.

"Resigned and defeated" seems to be a common reaction to meeting with this administration. That's leadership!

Even Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith, who has adopted a more conciliatory tone with the department recently, expressed his dismay at the way in which the issue has been handled.

“It’s not just what’s being done, but how it has been done,” Smith said before the meeting. “As we move to a new labor-management model in Providence, we have to make sure that Hope doesn’t happen again.”

If teachers are asked to change what they do and how, Smith said, then the School Department has a responsibility to include them in the conversation.

“At Hope,” Smith said, “you have teachers who have taken ownership of their school. We have to honor the work being done there.”

By the way, there's still an opening for a high school "turnaround principal" in Providence. That's looking pretty tempting right now, isn't it? Wouldn't you like to be right in the middle of this exciting new model of collaboration?

Back to "Evil or Stupid?"

Anthony Cody talks to Arne Duncan:

I told him it was not fair that these schools that take on the greatest challenges, in the toughest neighborhoods, have the screws put to them. A teacher at one of these schools told me their principal is the heart and soul of their school, and yet they have been told they must fire their principal to qualify for a school improvement grant.

Mr. Duncan told me that the principal need not be fired if she had been there less than three years. (unfortunately, the principal has been there too long to use this loophole.)

I then said that the continued emphasis on boosting test scores made these schools focus too much on test prep. "Oh no, we don't want that," he said. "We are using a whole bunch of outcomes, like dropout rates, not just test scores."

I was honestly a bit incredulous at this point. I said "These schools are on this list because they haven't made AYP. The biggest factor in AYP is test scores."

Secretary Duncan responded, "But we are going to get rid of AYP."

I will have to investigate this. I have been under the impression that test scores remain hugely important in designating schools as being in need of restructuring.

That should be a pretty quick and easy investigation.

This takes me back to the many "evil or stupid" debates that characterized life in the Bush administration. In this case, I'd put my money on Arne being stupid and the people advising him being evil.

But also, they simply don't get out enough at this point. In particular, policymakers are losing track of how interventions are being piled on top of interventions -- increasingly piled on top of other interventions that are beginning to work (at least in terms of what's being measured). The low-hanging fruit, the stereotypical urban school locked in stasis and quietly failing for 20 years barely exists anymore.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hope Teachers Keep the Ball Rolling

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — The students have spoken. The politicians have spoken. Monday night, it was the teachers’ turn.

About 25 teachers, more than a quarter of the Hope High School faculty, turned out to protest proposed changes to the school’s 90-minute block schedule, which students and teachers alike say is crucial to the school’s success. (...)

“I’ve been at Hope for 21 years, and I’ve been through 11 principals, 7 [school] restructurings and 35 assistant principals,” teacher Deb Petrarca said. “I’ve never seen Hope as good as it is now.” (...)

Megan Thoma, an arts teacher, said she moved to Rhode Island because of Hope’s reputation as a school with a flourishing arts program. Under the new schedule, she said, the arts electives will suffer and the Rhode Island School of Design might be less willing to work with the high school.

“You are driving out your best teachers,” she said, adding that 13 teachers have been cut already.

Another teacher contested the School Department’s claims that Hope’s test scores are worse than the district average. When you remove scores from Classical High School, which draws the best students from public and private schools in Providence, Hope’s math scores, while disturbingly low, are still a couple of points higher than the district average, said Ellen House, who heads the math department at Hope.

Deviating from the Formula


Gist also recommended that Blackstone Valley Democracy Prep, a new kind of charter school under the authority of Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, be allowed to double its incoming kindergarten class this fall, at an estimated cost of $700,000 to $800,000.

That would bump each grade at DMBV up to 150 students, and the ultimate total size of the K-8 school up to 1350, although one would guess it would end up being divided up into, say a 750 student K-4 building and a 600 student 5-8 building.

That's not particularly big for schools in general, but it is very big for a high-performing, "no excuses" charter, certainly the biggest I've heard of. These things tend to break down in multiples of about 35, so you get some with 35 per grade and some with 70-ish per grade. The Democracy Prep mothership started in 2006 with 131 kids but seems to have settled on 105 - 110 per grade, which is bigger than most.

I always try to look up the enrollment numbers. You usually get get no signal from a reporter if you're reading about a school that has 35 students, six teachers, a full-time counselor, and principal (plus support staff). The high flying CMO's (KIPP, Uncommon Schools, etc.) have unquestionably gotten better at achieving high scores for students right out of the gate -- rather than requiring 3-5 years for the school to "find itself," if at all -- but a lot of that is because they've gotten good at recruiting good principals and keeping the school so small over the first couple years that the principal can know every person in the community well. I'm sure in a lot of those schools if you walked into the office this afternoon the principal could rattle off the latest interim assessment data of individual students from memory.

So, on one hand, we've got a big push to scale up DPBV and start more mayoral academies managed by out of state CMO's, based on their successful application of a specific model elsewhere. But on the other hand, we don't seem to be very careful about actually adhering to that model in significant ways, including:

  • Size: (see above).
  • Demographics: every "no excuses" charter I've seen has been aimed almost exclusively at poor/minority students. While I believe in aggregate separate cannot be equal, it is also true that it is possible to create effective programs aimed at the needs of specific populations. We don't know how this will play out in a school whose populations are drawn equally from two urban (minority) and two suburban (white) districts.

    For example, in 2007-2008 Democracy Prep New York's out of school school suspension rate was 30% (compared to, say 4% for Francis Lewis High School). Since all the kids are minority, this is only an equity problem outside the school context. If you've got a more diverse population, it gets more complicated within the school.

  • Governance & Unity of Command: the current structure of DPBV seems to be dependent on maintaining the ongoing support of all of the following parties: RIDE and the Commissioner of Education, the state legislature, four mayors and their representatives on the school's board of directors, the electorate of four towns and cities (whose interests generally don't align), Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, and Democracy Prep HQ in New York. This is not the way it is done elsewhere at high performing charters.

Now, this may work, and I'd bet that in January 2013, when we actually get NECAP scores for this year's kindergarteners, they'll be quite good. And in fact, DPBV's biggest competition test-score wise in the medium term will probably be smaller more conventionally "no excuses" charters. 10 years from now DPBV, even if it is a successful school, will probably look considerably different than the current high performing charters in Boston and New York. It will probably have to go through several significant reorganizations, perhaps breaking with some of the involved towns or with its CMO. Mainly, it will probably stick out as another typical Rhode Island administrative oddball who everyone is used to but nobody can remember why this slightly too big for its mission charter school was stuck there.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Characterizing High Achieving Pilots and Charters

Boston Foundation: Out of the Debate and Into the Schools:

The high achieving case study pilot schools were characterized by shared leadership, flexibility and student focused mission. Pilot school principals were the most experienced among all types of schools, and had more years of experience working in the Boston Public Schools. Leadership of the case study pilot schools was shared among administrators and teachers in almost all aspects of the school. The schools maintained a focus on students and created a system of schooling that was flexible and that could adapt to the changing needs of students in the school and entering into the school. They were each striking in the degree of teacher voice and distributed leadership. Principals and teachers alike discussed the level of influence teachers had in the school. As a result, the school benefitted from actively engaged and motivated teachers who collaborated to build on one another's skills toward a common goal.

The high achieving case study charter schools were characterized by centralized leadership functions including monitoring for standards, teachers focused on classroom instruction, and a common philosophy among staff focused on high levels of achievement for all students. The charter schools had younger, less experienced staff than the traditional or pilot schools, and thus centralized many school functions (e.g., discipline, community engagement), with the exception of curriculum and instruction, both of which were delegated to teachers. Teachers worked longer school days and longer school years than teachers in traditional and pilot schools. Students were in school for longer days than traditional and pilot school students, and thus spent more time on academic work than their counterparts in other types of schools. These schools also had many routines and rituals for staff and students, who were clearly monitored.

I've not seen that distinction expressed so clearly before. It isn't inherently a pilot/charter thing though -- it would be nice if there were specific words to explain these two styles independent of their governance structure. That is, there are some charters that are run like high performing pilot schools, and vice versa.

I also think the subtle distinction between being focused on the "changing needs of students" and being "focused on high levels of achievement for all students" is telling.

Living the "Dream Schools"

Ron Whitehorne for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook:

Ackerman’s conception of a turnaround school with a longer school day, a centrally prescribed set of curricula, interventions and programs, and a contract with parents is not new. She did it before in San Francisco.  In 2004, she introduced the first three Dream Schools; 10 schools would become Dream Schools.  

Dream Schools had mandatory uniforms, the school day extended by two hours, and a Saturday school option. Electives including art, music, and second language instruction were included, social services were beefed up and physical improvements were made.

Teaching staffs were reconstituted with all teachers having to reapply for their positions. Scripted reading and math instruction was part of the mix. So was a contract that students and parents had to sign around what Ackerman called the "non-negotiables," stricter rules and higher expectations. Many of these ideas came from the playbook of Lorraine Monroe, founder of the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, a school that some characterized as “Catholic school without crosses." (...)

These are the six remaining Dream Schools:

Four of the remaining Dream Schools are on the state’s list of lowest performing schools. Of the 12 schools in San Francisco that are on this list, a third of them are Dream Schools.  

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Plausible Explanation

BMac22 in the ProJo cesspool:

This is just a last-ditch effort to get the NEARI on board for the Race to the Top proposal. Unions are against charter schools, so she is showing she's tough on charters to appease the union. If RI gets the grant then she'll recommend the full 5 years for Highlander next year. Jus a case of Highlander being in the wrong place at the wrong time - any charter up dor review right now woudl have been sacficed for the larger cause of winnning the grant.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Highlander Fall 2009 NECAP vs. PPSD & Charters

This isn't longitudinal data, just the grade by grade snapshot from October 2009. Not enough to make any kind of super-precise analysis, but it is hard to look at those graphs and say "Yeah, we should close Highlander."

I'm not sure what's up with the 3rd/4th grade dip, but to be honest, as a parent in Elmwood, I'm not that worried about elementary school, and the reason a couple PPSD elementary schools are at or above Highlander is there are some very good elementary schools here.

It is middle school that keeps parents awake at night, so closing a K-8 school that's doing very well in the later years because of some elementary school dips is just perverse. The reason Greene middle school (light blue) has such high scores is because it includes the district gifted program.

Looking at the charters, there's not a lot here to make the other local charters feel very secure. If Highlander is going, any of them conceivably could with some bad luck.

Gist Pulling the Plug on Highlander


PROVIDENCE — Making good on her vow to toughen oversight of the state’s 13 publicly funded charter schools and close ones she finds academically lacking, Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist recommended Thursday that a popular Providence charter school be granted only a one-year provisional extension.

She raised the very real possibility that the Highlander Charter School would be shut down after June 2011.

“I am very concerned about the performance of this school,” Gist told the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education during a work session.

According to her recommendation, she wants to give the school a year’s grace period “so that families can plan to pursue other educational opportunities,” an alarming sign to the school’s supporters.

Even by the standards of the past few months, this is straight-up national political posturing and grandstanding that has nothing, nothing to do with the needs of children in this community, or, for that matter, furthering education reform in Rhode Island.

Now I'm going to have to spend part of my weekend making spreadsheets and graphs to illustrate this, but it isn't really that complicated. What are the "other educational opportunities" available to K-8 public school parents living in this neighborhood? The very schools Ms. Gist identified as "persistently lowest performing:" Charlotte Woods Elementary, Lillian Feinstein Elementary, Roger Williams Middle School. I can assure you that Highlander's squiggly lines on my charts will be higher.

Not that any given family in this neighborhood actually has a very good chance of getting their kindergartener into Highlander, the ProJo reported in 2008 that "Highlander (had) 462 applicants for 26 spots."

This is paternalism and neo-colonialism taken to a bizarre new extreme. It is not only the poor people in this neighborhood who line up to get into Highlander, they have to hope to luck out over all the (often more affluent) outsiders clamoring to attend the school. And Gist wants to take it away from all of us.

On top of all that, Highlander recently moved into a new facility, a renovated factory building they share with Providence CityArts, which obviously provides a rich opportunities for well integrated enrichment and after-school programs. Are we going to throw away that resource? What message does this send to community organizations interested in deeply integrated collaboration with charter schools?

And Highlander is really "CVS Highlander," which represents an investment by one of the larger corporations headquartered in Rhode Island. What kind of message does this send to potential donors to Rhode Island charters, particularly ones aimed at low-income students, if they're subject to closure for quixotic political reasons?

Actually, if you read the whole ProJo article, you know the answer to the last two questions. The message is "Stay away from community-based charter schools, stick with CMO-managed 'mayoral academies.'" But for how long will they be the flavor of the month, especially since they're only dependent on maintaining an unprecedented set of relationships between RIDE, out of state CMO's, RIMA, the school's board of directors and community, and various consortia of urban and suburban mayors?

The mind reels.

Fighting Concentration in Educational Publishing

The Shuttleworth Foundation 2009 Annual Report:

During 2008 it came to the Foundation’s attention that the Competition Commission (in South Africa) would review a further merger proposal involving Maskew Miller Longman. This followed the action in 2007, when the Foundation successfully intervened in a multinational merger between Pearson PLC and Harcourt Education International, thereby helping to prevent the integration of local subsidiaries Maskew Miller Longman and Heinemann Publishing. The Foundation’s intervention centred on our concern that such a merger would have a negative impact on local education by driving greater concentration of what is already an over-concentrated education material publishing industry. As a result Maskew Miller Longman and Heinemann were instructed to run their operations separately.

With support form the Open Society Institute, the Foundation intervened in this second merger proposal involving Maskew Miller Longman and Heinemann. As a result, the ruling that Maskew Miller Longman and Heinemann should not join operations remains in force.

Kind of hard to imagine a US foundation doing the same thing.

Note that I have no direct connection to the Shuttleworth Foundation.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Does Deb Gist Have Against Elmwood?

Jeremy Chiappetta:

wow @deborahgist recommends 1yr prov renewal of highlander charter

CVS Highlander (a Big Picture K-8 charter) is doing fine, making AYP, and is a clear asset in a neighborhood which doesn't have many, and which includes the four "persistently lowest-performing schools" in Rhode Island which aren't in Central Falls. It is an asset to the neighborhood even though the people living here have no particular right to attend it in the lottery system. If we're still living in this house when my girls start school, it is where I hope they'll be lucky enough to attend.

I don't want it closed, and I don't want it turned into a test-prep factory.

Please, Ms. Gist, give this poor disorganized immigrant neighborhood a break and at least leave Highlander alone.

Note: Big Picture played a key role in the genesis of Highlander, but there is apparently no affiliation at this point.

RI AFT GIves RttT App the Thumbs Up

I can't muster much more than a shrug in response, but Bottom Up Education does a good job:

Today the RI AFT President Marcia Reback announced that she and the majority of AFT locals will be endorsing RIDE’s RTTT round two application. This is a huge political victory for Commissioner Gist and places RI in a better position to win the $75 million in federal RTTT grant money that it’s applying for in round two. So, why do I remain skeptical? ...

In any case, the federal money grab and application circus that the Obama administration has created through RTTT has held hostage debates about educational policy and reform for months now. The narrow RTTT reform agenda that further entrenches our culture of over-testing young people, demystifies teaching by deskilling it, and encourages the opening up of public education coffers to private interests, won’t do much to improve the educational lot of those most disadvantaged and underserved by our racist and classist educational institutions.

What it has done, however, is put education in the news, and at least in RI more and more people are talking about these headlines. This is a good thing. What I hope we can do moving forward as these reforms begin to take shape and we begin to sense that the change they promise may, in fact, not be on its way, is to at least use this new, more widespread engagement about education reform to build our ideas for what education should look like from the bottom up. To do this we will need information outlets that do not merely serve as mouthpieces for RIDE and local district officials, union leaders, politicians, and the self-important psuedo-reformers who have entered the education arena because it’s the new sexy thing. I hope that the dialogue that we see these folks having can be challenged by those who are actually most affected by all of this: students, parents, and grounded community members.

I'd add that I'm still completely in the dark about how the fundamental legal questions about RIDE's authority and the new limits of collective bargaining will play out in the medium term, and how that influences the entire sequence of events. That is, if the union expects to lose the relevant pending and future lawsuits in the end, they may be choosing to play nice and hope for collaboration in a situation where the only alternative would be a much higher level of confrontation and action than they seem prepared for. Or, if they think they're actually going to win legally, maybe they figure they'll take the PR win now and then stand more firm once they've got the law clearly behind them. Or something. Or maybe they're betting on having a more cooperative governor soon. I really don't know.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Data and Hubris

Michael Goldstein, using a helpful baseball analogy to explain why it isn't necessarily important for teachers to have long careers, on May 5:

David Ortiz used to be the Red Sox best player. Now he is their worst player. He may be the worst baseball player in the Major Leagues, actually.

He doesn’t have tenure per se. But it has been hard for management to pull the trigger on the obvious move: sit him down.

Ortiz is blocking an excellent player, Mike Lowell, from getting playing time. So not only does Ortiz stink, but someone good doesn’t get a chance.

David Ortiz's batting average in the 10 games from May 7 to May 19: .378

Home runs in that span: 4

Mike Lowell's batting average and home runs in that span: .269, 0

David Ortiz's slugging percentage, May 1 to May 19: .755

Rank of Ortiz's slugging percentage among all major league baseball players with more than 25 at bats in that span: 5

What's Up in Central Falls?


CENTRAL FALLS, R.I -- Central Falls says it's broke.

City Solicitor John T. Gannon and Joseph S. Larisa Jr., the special counsel the city has hired, filed a receivership petition Wednesday morning in Superior Court.

The filing claimed that for 2009-10, the city was looking at a $3 million shortfall in its nearly $18 million budget and a projected deficit of $5 million in the 2010-11 budget.

...and that's despite:

The state pays to run the city's schools. This year, the state is paying about $43 million to the school district.

That city is a singular basket case.

Waiting for a Funding Formula

Hard Deadlines:

The Senate finance committee, during hearings on education funding formulas yesterday, replaced the Gallo bill (S2770) with the RIDE/Costantino bill from the House (H8094), according to a posting on RI is Ready's Facebook page. According to the post, the one change so far is pushing the implementation date to 2013.

I've avoided going into the weeds about the particulars of the proposed funding formulae for education funding in Rhode Island. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on all the aspects of the problem.

I am, at this point, in favor of resolving the funding for next year as quickly as possible, even if it means pushing back the implementation of whatever long-term solution they come up with, because for a couple months now my wife has been stuck at various stages in the hiring process of several local charter schools who variously don't know how much money they'll have, whether they'll be able to expand, or whether they will open in 2010.

The impact of changes in charter funding are particularly difficult to predict because of the small size of the schools and the fact that several different facets of funding will probably all change at the same time (i.e., you get more per student, but now you have to pay all transportation costs). One also gets the impression that the lobbying by the "mayoral academies" and "traditional" charters might be working at cross-purposes, too.

Edu 2.0

Can I just say that I find the new Edu 2.0 posts on O'Reilly Radar deeply discouraging about the future of education, technology and O'Reilly Media. They make me feel like I don't want to have anything to do with any of the three.

Our Stupid Discourse

NYTimes, Friday:

Professor Lerman, the American University economist, said some high school graduates would be better served by being taught how to behave and communicate in the workplace.

Such skills are ranked among the most desired — even ahead of educational attainment — in many surveys of employers. In one 2008 survey of more than 2,000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to “solve problems and make decisions,” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.”

Yet despite the need, vocational programs, which might teach such skills, have been one casualty in the push for national education standards, which has been focused on preparing students for college.

NYPost, Monday:

Well, as education blogger Joanne Jacobs notes, educational performance counts for only 20 percent of East Palo Alto Academy students' grades. The rest comes from categories like "Social Responsibility," "Communication Skills" and "Critical and Creative Thinking."

Passing class must be easy when no one challenges you to learn.

Alas, ed schools like Stanford -- too busy pumping future teachers' heads with irrelevant, politically correct pedagogical theories -- apparently don't have time for such pedantries.

Indeed, only the loopy, fruity ed schools could come up with such irrelevant, radical theories as "Social Responsibility," "Communication Skills" and "Critical and Creative Thinking.".

e.g., KIPP Believe College Prep mission statement:

KIPP Believe empowers students with the academic skills, character traits, and self-confidence necessary to excel in our nation’s top high schools, colleges, and the competitive world beyond. Students internalize a critical consciousness and sense of social responsibility to improve the world around them.

Pinkos! We can only hope that someday these KIPP charter schools will be freed from the shadow of Linda Darling-Hammond and Paulo Freire.

Ghostwriting Gist

I wouldn't call it a scandal, but it is an interesting data point:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A member of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education paid a New York ghostwriter $10,000 to pen Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist's 10-page speech to the General Assembly last month.

Regent Angus Davis, an entrepreneur, offered to pay for a speechwriter when he heard that Gist was reluctant to tap into her department's budget for the work, as had been done in the past, Gist said Tuesday.

First, one should note that Gist picked one of Joe Lieberman's old hands, Dan Gerstein, or at least his shop, for the job.

Secondly, I'd noticed at the time that the speech struck a peculiar tone near the beginning:

Three weeks ago, I traveled back to Washington with our leadership team.

We went there because Rhode Island was one of only 16 states named a finalist in the President’s Race to the Top competition, which will award states more than $4 billion to dramatically reform and reshape education for the 21st century. And we were asked to make our final case for our plan to transform our public schools into national models of excellence and to show that Rhode Island is ready. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be talking about a winning streak — or any streak, for that matter — other than the one in my hair.

Well, I quickly came back to earth. As you may know, we got some very, very bad news that Monday. I learned that my Guinness World Record for most kisses in a minute had been broken by some ill-natured person in Scotland. (emphasis added)

As someone who spent more time than he really wanted to as an undergraduate analyzing the construction of gender and its role in oppression in texts, I just couldn't parse a powerful woman (a Time top 100 "thinker!") in a relatively new role would presenting herself in that way. I just didn't get it. Now, it kind of makes sense.

Next question: which consultant's idea was it to put her picture on the top of every single page of the Rhode Island Department of Education's website?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hope High Protesters' Punishment

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The 207 Hope High School students who walked out of class Thursday will receive a two-hour detention on Friday, during which administrators and teachers will present students with information on the six-period day and the graduation requirements.

Students will also not be able to participate in the high school's annual field day on June 16. Instead they will be required to perform a "school-based" community service during the time the field day is held.

The Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union called the punishment of Hope high School student protesters "extremely harsh under the circumstances."

"We're quite troubled by the actions that the high school has taken," said Steve Brown, executive director of the RI ACLU. "First, these mass letters of punishment offer no formal opportunity for students to respond and both school policy and the U.S. Constitution require that there be an opportunity to respond to these allegations."

Brown also said that a parent of a Hope student has asked the ACLU to contest the punishment, which his agency is looking into.

I'm not sure if I'd call it "extremely harsh." If the district is unlucky it might be just harsh enough to keep the kids agitated (through June 16!) but not harsh enough to intimidate them. Also, this part (from the letter sent home) might not be a good idea with such a well-organized and informed group of students:

...during (the detention) administrators and faculty will present the students with additional information and explanation regarding graduation requirements and the transition to a six-period schedule.

Let's Make Schools Like This!


If I look at this (World of Warcraft player angst), I see two factors here that are the problem: The first is that people only consider raiding fun if it is successful, and fast at that. That is a development of the video game age, affecting younger players far more than those over 40, like me. I grew up on board games and pen & paper roleplaying games, which worked on very different basic premises: In most board games only one out of several players wins, which teaches you to enjoy the act of playing the game, because you simply can't win all the time. And in pen & paper role-playing games you don't really win at all, and again do it for the fun of playing. It is only single-player video games which ended up teaching people that it is possible to win every game, and even necessary to win every stage to advance to the next one. With that video game mindset, it is obvious why somebody assembling a pickup group insists of only chosing those players which have the biggest chance of success.

Actually, this is frighteningly applicable to our testing and accountability regime:

tier10_priest_male_hd Let’s get one thing out of the way: I hate GearScore. I hate it. Hate it. HATE it. It sucks. It’s an arbitrary number that an addon assigns to my character in order to determine my worth as a player. Not to mention that it’s a broken system that is too easy to exploit.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Ubuntu Developer Summit

UDS-M Wiki:

At the beginning of a new development cycle, Ubuntu developers from around the world gather to help shape and scope the next release of Ubuntu. The summit is open to the public, but it is not a conference, exhibition or other audience-oriented event. Rather, it is an opportunity for Ubuntu developers -- who usually collaborate online -- to work together in person on specific tasks.

Small groups of developers will participate in short Forum and Workshop (formerly called "BoF"/Birds-of-a-Feather) sessions. This allows a single project to be discussed and documented in a written specification. These specifications will be used for planning the new release of Ubuntu, as described in FeatureSpecifications and TimeBasedReleases.

What was striking this time, compared to four or five years ago, the last time I attended a UDS, was the greater number of converging threads -- particularly in terms of hardware. OEM's and in particular, ARM hackers.

"Ubuntu developers" doesn't really describe the range of people there. A Linux distribution touches on a wide variety of vendors, upstream projects, designers, community enthusiasts, desktop environments, advocates of particular hardware (netbooks, tablets), or users (accessibility, i18n), user communities (education). It is loose, like an unconference, but not really improvisational, because almost everyone, including me, is showing up with a specific, probably complicated problem that usually involves complex coordination with other hardcore geeks in attendance. But the structure and tone of each public session varies wildy.

Nonetheless, both times I've attended I've felt like it would be valuable for people who have expansive ambitions for "open" processes in education to attend one of these things. Just getting a sense of the scope of what goes into a Linux distribution is both humbling and inspiring. It is vastly, vastly, vastly more complex and successful than the equivalent in any other field. Not that more than a tiny fraction of that happens at UDS, but it opens your eyes.

Also, in the case of Ubuntu, a stunning example of large scale venture philanthropy.

My big takeaway about Ubuntu in general is that the customization necessary to run Ubuntu (or anything else) on each piece of ARM hardware should give Canonical a good source of income. That is, ARM devices are much less generic and standardized than PC's. So if you are putting out a netbook that you'd like to ship with a Linux distro on it, you can't just grab a standard ISO like you do for PC hardware, and it will make sense to pay Canonical to do the necessary customization.

My Idle Central Falls Speculation

I wonder if the fact that they haven't been able to hire a principal to take over that circus had anything to do with the change of heart.

The Loser in Central Falls? Rushed, Pre-fab Reforms (hopefully)

On the whole, I don't think anyone won in Central Falls. Perhaps "management" comes out best for the moment, as Rick Hess thinks, especially since they avoid our actually finding out what the limits of teacher labor law actually are in 21st century Rhode Island. On the other hand, it looks like many teachers will be getting almost a $5,000 raise, which ain't chicken feed.

It will be annoying if we discover in 2015 that all these negotiations outside of normal collective bargaining were completely unnecessary.

But I don't think "reform" won, particularly since neither the "turnaround" nor "transformation" models are or were likely to achieve anything dramatic. Although, the big elephant in Rhode Island is the question of how a successful turnaround will be defined. Especially in math. From 7% to... 25% (realistic)?, 50% (unrealistic and unsatisfying)?, 75% (not gonna happen)?

I hope the biggest loser is the idea that trying to make these decisions based on a slate of prefab options and extremely short timetables, with very quick soundbite reactions from national political figures, is just a bad idea. And frankly we're not likely to see anything as rash on a national level as these stimulus-driven measures anytime soon. This circus has made everyone look bad.

Apparently I Have No Idea of What I'm In For

Mark Guzdial:

My middle child sent 13,000 texts last month.


Jason Calcanis:

Over the past month, Mark Zuckerberg, the hottest new card player in town, has overplayed his hand. Facebook is officially “out,” as in uncool, amongst partners, parents and pundits all coming to the realization that Zuckerberg and his company are–simply put–not trustworthy.

Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo convinced me that the best general analogy for social networking sites is a nightclub. They come in and out of style, even though at any particular moment, the hip place seems transcendently hip. I mean, it isn't a coincidence that Facebook started going out exactly the same time Tom Brady showed up.

Small Schools and Cut Scores

Julia Steiny:

To be proficient in math, a kid needs 1,140 points. The inevitable nastiness of tests is that 1,139 is not proficient, but 1,140 is. Nine Beacon juniors got 1,139. One lousy little point would have rendered those 9 kids proficient, adding a whopping 20 percent proficient to the existing 16. In math, 36 percent proficiency would have given a core-urban school rock-star status. But no, it was not to be.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hope Not Going Quietly


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- More than 200 Hope High School students went back to their school Thursday afternoon after a march downtown to protest what they said would be disruptive changes to their schedule, but were told by school officials they would not be allowed back into classrooms until Friday.

This affair is a reminder of how differently "reform" story plays out in every city, despite the many common themes dictated by national power players.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Direct Action Gets the Goods


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Students at Hope High School plan to walk out of class Thursday at 10 a.m. to protest changes to the school's schedule that they say will undermine five years of reforms at the once-troubled East Side school.

The walkout, organized by a student group called Hope United, is an attempt to draw attention to the school department's plan to eliminate the school's block schedule (four 90-minute classes a day) and the benefits that go with it, including longer classes, more electives and more teacher common planning time.

The Floors Are Falling Out From Everybody I Know

The National - "Bloodbuzz Ohio" (official video) from The National on Vimeo.

Sleepless in Belgium.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

At UDS Brussels

I'm at the Ubuntu Developer Summit for version 10.10 in suburban Brussels. My release manager, lead developer and I are here essentially to do some highly technical politicking necessary to get SchoolTool and our myriad Zope dependencies into the next version of Ubuntu.

We seemed to get about 80% of the way to that goal within the first two hours this morning, so I guess the trip is paying off.

Due to ash-related delays I was in cars, airports or planes from about 7:00 PM EDT Sunday to 10:00 PM Monday, Brussels time, so unfortunately, I'm not feeling very inspired or useful today.

Looking forward to an Edubuntu meeting on SchoolTool, Moodle and Sugar tomorrow afternoon though.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Tobin Tax!

If education was partially funded by a tax on financial transactions, a Tobin Tax, as Robert Reich proposes below, the net effect of today's market hiccup would be... more money for schools!

This is a good thing to bring up whenever a hedge fund creep or other millionaire starts talking about what's "best for kids."

SchoolTool Development Grant Awards

The SchoolTool Project is happy to announce the recipients of in-kind software development grants worth a total of EUR 50,000 to facilitate the deployment of SchoolTool’s free and open source administrative systems in schools in the developing world.

The grants will fund customization of SchoolTool to meet the specific requirements of the countries involved for integration with existing data systems, government report generation, and other local needs. All these improvements, and SchoolTool itself, will be available at no cost to all schools in these countries and around the world. In several cases local vendors, non-governmental organizations and government agencies are collaborating with schools to support future scale-up of these pilot projects.

This grant is funded by Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu Linux, Canonical Ltd., and Thawte, as part of his ongoing sponsorship of SchoolTool.

Grant Recipients:

  • 25,000 EUR: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport of the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Open Institute.
    The Ministry and the Open Institute, a local NGO, will pilot a Khmer language version of SchoolTool at 25 high schools in October 2010 with the goal of full deployment to all high schools in October 2011.
  • 7,500 EUR: National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration NIEPA), Ondo, Nigeria.
    NIEPA is a national center for training in education management in Nigeria.
  • 7,500 EUR: Mpelembe Secondary School, Kitwe, Zambia.
    Mpelembe is the leading technical school in Zambia and an active participant in the Enhancing the Visual and Presentation of Educational Content project of the International Institute for Communication and Development.
  • 5,000 EUR: Sulaimon Shado Schools, Lagos, Nigeria.
  • 5,000 EUR: Centro Escolar Cantón El Calvario, Centro Escolar Cantón La Soledad, and Escuela Santaneca de Enseñanza Especializada, El Salvador.

Brain Injury

Sports Illustrated:

Dr. Jordan Grafman has never examined nor met Ben Roethlisberger, and yet listening to him talk about the people he studies, it's as if he's describing the troubled Steelers quarterback.

Grafman is a neuropsychologist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and for decades he has studied the effects of brain trauma on Vietnam veterans as well as civilians. "My specialty is frontal lobes," he says, referring to the part of the brain involved in regulating a person's judgment, inhibition and social behavior. "A person with damage might not read the intentions of a woman at a bar very well, for example," Grafman says. "They might succumb to more primitive urges instead of saying, 'I shouldn't do this because it affects my career.'"

It is exactly Roethlisberger's apparent lack of inhibition, foresight about career repercussions and poor social judgment -- and perhaps his inability to judge the intentions of women -- that currently have him suspended from the NFL following two separate accusations of sexual assault, one in Georgia and one in Nevada. Roethlisberger spent the weekend undergoing an evaluation, mandated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, to see whether past brain trauma -- a 2006 motorcycle accident and a batch of concussions suffered on the football field -- has anything to do with his behavior.

Forwarded to me by a cognitive scientist and Steelers fan...

My Favorite Facet of Understanding

Fred Clark:

I'm harping on this point of Republican opposition to empathy because I find it so astonishing. This is not something I would ever have accused them of. "You think empathy is a Bad Thing" is a really low, nasty thing to accuse someone of.

If a friend of mine had said to me, a year ago, "Those Republicans, they're anti-empathy," I might have lectured him on civility.

"That sort of hyperbole isn't constructive," I might have said. "Of course they're not opposed to empathy. They're not monsters. To be opposed to empathy would make you a sociopathic fiend and a solipsistic moron. Let's just stick to policy disagreements and not stoop to such hideous accusations."

But it has been the Republicans themselves, over the past year, loudly proclaiming this opposition to empathy, proudly boasting that this vicious insult must be applied to them. And they've even managed, with disturbing consistency, to act as though it were really true. It's just baffling.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Apparently Not Moving

Well, it doesn't look like we'll be abruptly moving out of Providence this year, which is both a disappointment and a relief, since I no longer have to worry about imminent real estate disasters.

Portfolios and the Common Core Standards

I'll mention in passing that having standards like this:

Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama.

Instead of like this:

Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

Will be a great boon to people trying to write and market "digital portfolios," as the requirements will suddenly become vastly simpler.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Applying the Common Core to Dana Huff's Brit Lit Plans

I guess Dana Huff teaches at a private school, so she doesn't have to worry about state or national standards, but let's look at her recent blogging about her plans for her 11th grade Brit Lit class and the Common Core standards for reading literature in 11th and 12th grade.

First, here again are the draft Common Core standards:

  1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves things uncertain.
  2. Analyze how multiple themes or central ideas in a text interact, build upon, and, in some cases, conflict with one another.
  3. Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama.
  4. Analyze in detail the condensed language of poems (or particularly rich language use in a narrative or drama), determining how specific word choices and multiple meanings shape the impact and tone.
  5. Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text (e.g., electing at what point to begin or end a story) shape the meaning of the text.
  6. Analyze an author's use of satire, sarcasm, irony, understatement, or other means that requires a reader to understand various layers of meaning in a text.
  7. Compare and contrast multiple interpretations of a drama or story, distinguishing how each version interprets the source text.
  8. (Not applicable to literature)
  9. Analyze how an author draws on and transforms fictional source material in a specific work.

OK, now, let's look at Dana's essential questions for the year:

  • How do our stories shape us? How do we shape the world around us with stories?
  • How is a period of literature a response to the culture/history of that period?
  • How is a period of literature a response to the previous period?
  • What themes/ideas transcend time and culture?
  • What are the key concepts, values, and literary forms of the various periods
  • How has the English language changed over time?

These are the right questions to ask in an 11th grade literature class. They represent important and authentic reasons for reading literature in school. One might argue, as the Common Core standards do, implicitly and explicitly, that perhaps this puts too much emphasis on teaching the history of the art of Literature. One might also argue that Dana's is really a humanities curriculum. Certainly the Common Core's confusion about whether or not its standards address "literacy" or "English Language Arts" doesn't help.

Regardless, there is a large gap between Dana's questions and the Common Core standards. They don't fit together. The relationship between standards and essential questions is more a question of art than science. Let's take a quick look at the relevant NCTE standards, which I'd guess Dana might have used as a reference:

  1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

The connection between Dana's questions and these standards is evident, as is the difference in approach between the Common Core and NCTE standards. In Understanding By Design, the fundamental planning process is:

  1. Identify desired results - big ideas, enduring understandings, essential questions, real-world performances.
  2. Determine acceptable evidence - performance tasks, exams, etc.
  3. Plan learning experiences.

The Common Core standards jump straight to step two; they are either specific tasks or suggest a narrow range of possible assessments.

Let's look at Dana's initial outline of her assessments:

In thinking about the literature, I drafted a list of potential essay/writing assignments, which would make eight major writing assignments in year, or four each semester.

Prospective Composition Assignments

  1. 2 Narrative Essays—College essay
  2. Persuasive/Argumentative Essay—Beowulf as hero
  3. Literary Analysis—characterization in Canterbury Tales, courtly love in CT
  4. Creative—Macbeth directing a scene, Literary Analysis—characters, theme, symbols in Macbeth, Persuasive—witches’ influence, who is to blame, Lady Macbeth’s influence
  5. Persuasive/Argumentative Essay—Satire (A Modest Proposal)
  6. Literary Analysis—Poetry Explication
  7. Annotating a text

These assignments correlate rather directly with the Common Core standards. For example, "Persuasive/Argumentative Essay—Satire (A Modest Proposal)" maps pretty directly to "Analyze an author's use of satire, sarcasm, irony, understatement, or other means that requires a reader to understand various layers of meaning in a text." Her "Literary Analysis—Poetry Explication" just has to become the more specific "Analyze in detail the condensed language of poems (or particularly rich language use in a narrative or drama), determining how specific word choices and multiple meanings shape the impact and tone."

"Literary Analysis—characterization in Canterbury Tales, courtly love in CT" is a little problematic because the most relevant standard is very specific: "Analyze how multiple themes or central ideas in a text interact, build upon, and, in some cases, conflict with one another," so one would have to come up with other themes in CT and how they interact with themes related to courtly love. A few other narrowly drawn, somewhat arch analytical tasks would have to be added (and all this presumably repeated in 12th grade).

So... what does this add up to? Probably well-wrought literature classes in high performing schools can modify their tasks to fit the Common Core standards, maintain their higher level foci, and suffer relatively little. But for the secondary English teacher, these aren't so much standards as anti-standards. They say to the teacher "Standards, as your discipline has conceived them, don't matter. Big ideas, reasons are optional. Just complete this list of assignments and whatever else you do is irrelevant." On the other hand, in many if not most schools in the US, teachers will only be permitted to undertake activities that are directly related to these tasks, and assessed and rewarded or punished based on these and the rest of the Common Core standards/tasks. What the long term impact of that will be, nobody knows.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Vivian's Baseball Song


Red Sox, White Sox
David Ortiz, would you like some bacon?

Her first composition, written while the Sox were getting swept by the Orioles.

Scratch Forks the Open Source in Education Community


Welcome to the distribution center for BYOB (Build Your Own Blocks), an advanced offshoot of Scratch, a visual programming language primarily for kids from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. This version, developed by Jens Mönig with design input and documentation from Brian Harvey, is an attempt to extend the brilliant accessibility of Scratch to somewhat older users—in particular, non-CS-major computer science students—without becoming inaccessible to its original audience.

Great, Scratch has proven to be the best tool for getting kids started on programming, computational thinking, etc., with a "low floor," and with BYOB, you should be able to keep going with a "high ceiling."


This is and will remain free software, subject to the MIT Scratch license that sets conditions for distribution of modified versions such as BYOB.

That is, BYOB is free software, except insofar as it is required to retain a non-free license which is technically incompatible with all other free software and free software distribution channels, as will be the case for all Scratch-derived projects.