Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Providence High Schools Making AYP for 2010

The envelope please:

  • Classical: enrollment based on test scores.
  • Feinstein: closed as "persistently low performing" and because of poor facilities.
  • Hope Arts: academic program being dismantled by PPSD, pending appeal to RIDE by student activists.

Also, the reason Feinstein had such poor facilities? Adelaide High School was given the building designed and built for FHS. What was Adelaide's graduation rate this year? 46.7%

Heckofa job, PPSD!

Also, note how much more understanding PPSD administrators are to schools attended by middle class and affluent people:

Two of the city’s most successful elementary schools, Vartan Gregorian and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., are on the “caution” list, which means they did not reach all of their academic targets.

But Contreras said that the classifications don’t tell the full story. King missed only two targets and Gregorian missed one. Both schools, she said, have shown steady improvement for three consecutive years, especially in reading.

Benchmarking SheevaPlug

computingplugs.com has some nice benchmarks of a SheevaPlug. Basically it is comparable to a 1 GHZ Athlon, except in floating point calculations, for which it lacks dedicated hardware. Also, the site is run on a SheevaPlug!

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Math" is a Dead Language

Dale Dougherty:

At Zoho, Sridhar created a program, which he called a "university" but it was nothing like a normal university. He began working with kids who had a high school education and who were unlikely to attend college for economic reasons. He didn't care if they had no previous computer experience. He didn't care that they didn't speak English.

Once in the program, the students were paid a stipend to attend each day. The program lasted 9-12 months and then the students entered a one-year apprenticeship program. After two years, the students were ready to be productive employees in an IT company. About 100 kids so far have been through the program.

The program offered concrete, hands-on instruction designed to follow how someone who was self-taught would learn. (The first teacher was himself a self-taught programmer.) They were expected to spend the bulk of the time learning on their own. The students were taught very little theory, avoiding computer science altogether. Instead students practiced solving problems and doing real work. They learn programming, English (many only know Tamil), and math. None of the students really like math and they learn just enough. Sridhar made a comment that might shock educators and employers: "Math is the new Sanskrit, the new Latin." He believes we overestimate the value of math as a tool to assess a student's ability.

Sridhar believes that finding new sources of talent outside the university was important for his company to remain competitive. Now, they have employees who are passionate about their work. By discovering raw talent and developing it, and by having the same expectations of them as college-trained engineers, Zoho has created a fast-track to new opportunities for young people in India who would otherwise not have that opportunity.

I've worked with plenty of kids who I'd happily have paid $50,000 a year to program straight out of high school.

SMS Data Bus for the Developing World

As part of SchoolTool's work with the National Institute for Education Planning and Administration in Nigeria, we've been discussing integrating SMS text messaging into the application. I have to admit that, being somewhat of a phone luddite, until today I didn't completely grok what my friends in the other side of the world were talking about. What they have in mind is not just sending text messages to people, but using SMS as a data bus a la the RapidSMS project.

For example, say the national Ministry of Education wants to collect demographic information from a tiny school in the middle of nowhere. Not only is there no internet connection to the school, there is no phone line, and there never will be. There is cell phone reception. With a GSM modem connected to the school's SchoolTool server (maybe your $99 SchoolToolBox) would be able to exchange data with a Ministry server via a series of SMS messages, to, say, report new student enrollments.

While this setup is not cost free, it would be a reasonably inexpensive solution to what is a nagging problem. Simply collecting paper school census forms a couple times a year from every school in a poor country with bad infrastructure is a burden, and the lack of accurate data at the national level has real implications.

So, I'm excited to see if we can make this work.

You're a Moral Imbecile

Fred Clark:

This calls to mind an old story:

But knowing their hypocrisy, he said unto them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a dime and let me see it."

And they brought one. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this -- FDR's or Herbert Hoover's?"

They answered, "Roosevelt's."

And he said unto them, "Right. So shut up. Have you morons already forgotten the 20th Century? When the choice is between imitating what worked and what really, really didn't work, why are you pretending it's terribly complicated?"

And after that, no one dared to ask him any question.

I'm not an economist, but we've got five applicants for every single job opening. If you tell me that the best response to that situation is to lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers, I will not accept that this means that you're smarter and more expert than I am. I will instead conclude -- regardless of your prestige or position or years of study -- that you're a moral imbecile. And knowing what I know about your inability to make moral judgments I will have no reason to trust you to make complicated macroeconomic ones.

People are scared of installing software on Windows

Miguel de Icaza:

Everyone is scared of installing applications on Windows either because they break the system or because you might be accidentally installing malware. In either case, the end result is countless wasted hours backing data up, reinstalling the operating sytem and all the applications.

An AppStore wont fix this.

For a Windows appstore to work, they need to guarantee that installing software wont ever break the system.

This is something that everyone knows, and hangs over every decision and discussion of every operating system for PC's, phones, the web, and everything in between, but it is rarely directly stated. It is a fundamental problem that everyone must resolve.

And you know what would be awesome? If things called "national educational technology plans" would point out issues like this that are immense impediments to schools using computer technology to its fullest. It isn't just recalcitrant teachers screwing up ed tech, it is half-assed junk technology, too.

The Difference Between Charter Schools and District Schools

If you went to your local school board, or whatever, and said "I've got a great idea for a new high school (or perhaps a turnaround). I can produce for you a high school which will:

  • a) take in 150 9th graders a year,
  • b) four years later send 100 of them to college,
  • c) the other high schools in the district can take care of the other 50 who don't make it through our program,
  • and d) it only costs 1/3rd more than a regular high school!"

Would they say

  • a) "Brilliant! Just what we need!"
  • b) "LOL WTF! Get out."

I don't know, but apparently this is considered a successful charter school.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Conscious Computing

Linda Stone:

Here at #Foo10, Sara has just pointed out that, for the first time she can remember, people are sitting in sessions, taking notes on notepads, laptops closed. Laptops are out of sight. It feels different. That’s another option. We can use technology to help enable Conscious Computing, or we can find it on our own, through attending to how we feel.

How do we usher in an era of Conscious Computing? What tools, technologies, and techniques will it take for personal technologies to become prosthetics of our full human potential?

In educational computing, even as we've still got, persistent, infuriating problems with basic access, the need to address the issues Linda writes about is increasing, steeply.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Useful Idiots in Contemporary School Reform


Gist said it’s time to revisit what high schools look like.

“Classrooms with rows of desks, and the teacher says turn to page 138, do the odd-numbered problems, and don’t make any noise — that doesn’t work anymore,” she said. “Kids are living in an interactive world.”

Gist, who has made teaching excellence one of her priorities, said she recently read a study of how students perceive great teachers.

“[Students] want to be challenged ... hard work that’s fun and engaging, and the feeling you can accomplish something, that’s the best feeling in the world,” she said.

You mean like this kind of thing?

URI/Provplan GIS transportation project (2006-2007)

Students worked with professors from URI and GIS experts from Provplan to study the transportation patterns of teens in Providence. Students learned to use GIS to create maps showing various transportation patterns they researched, then presented these maps at a forum at URI.

Hurricane Katrina unit (2005-2006)

In English, students read the text A Sudden Sea by R. A. Scotti about the hurricane of 1938 in Rhode Island while studying the relationship between geography and social, economic, political, cultural factors at play in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in social studies. Students mapped and calculated flood levels for all points of the city in science, and wrote a memoir from the point of view of a citizen of New Orleans. Students then created a textbook chapter about hurricane Katrina by assembling all their work from the different classes.

Feinstein Farm and water conservation project (with South Side Community Land Trust) (2008-2010)

Feinstein juniors who entered School 2 a year early worked with South Side Community Land Trust to plan, plant, and maintain an extensive garden at the school. They also designed, built, marketed, and installed water barrels for the community.

That's a partial selection of major cross-disciplinary projects undertaken at the highest achieving neighborhood high school in Providence, now closed with the support of Commissioner Gist.

Perhaps it is unfair of me to mock a mere intern over his role in this aggregated mess, considering everyone from Arne Duncan to Commissioner Gist on down displays the same willful ignorance of the implementation of their favored policies, the dissonance between their words and the actions taken on their behalf.

Also, if Ms. Gist is that curious about the problems with our STEM pipeline, she might ask Jason Becker why someone with a BS in chemistry from one of the finest universities in the world would stay in Rhode Island but never take a job in his trained field and become an education wonk instead.

... And from the ProJo comment cesspool:

My son is in the Bio-tech program at Davies, where Ms. Gist just cut more than half the school's funding.

When the Money Doesn't Follow the Child

It is worth noting that under RI's new funding formula, which is still significantly better than what we had before, "the money follows the child" breaks down in at least two significant ways:

  • If a student moves from a high to low poverty district, the amount of state aid following them decreases.
  • Local property tax revenue, which varies due to the wealth of the local community, does not follow the student if he or she leaves the district.

So... what would we call a truly equitable system where all students in the state received truly equitable funding based on need, not zip code? Or is that simply unimaginable?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

If Only a Civic Minded Billionaire Would Open Some Sort of Academy to Train School Administrators to Manage their Districts Like Businesses


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — School officials seeking a budget increase for next year say the department does not have the money to cover contracts for principals, teachers and other school staff, after saying last year that the contracts were affordable.

The City Council, already faced with huge deficits in the city budget, wants the School Department to reopen the contracts or find another way to cover the pay raises.

The department, which accounts for more than half of proposed city spending next year, submitted to the council a $329-million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that calls for a 5-percent increase in spending, but projects a $17-million shortfall.

City Councilman John J. Igliozzi, who chairs the council’s finance committee, says he is frustrated that school officials testified that the department could afford the raises at public hearings last year.

“This is a recurring theme in this department, and it is getting really, really old,” Igliozzi said during a meeting last week attended by School Supt. Thomas Brady and other school officials. “If you don’t have the money, then you don’t sign the contract.”

School Finance Officer Matthew Clarkin, who spoke on behalf of the district at the meeting, said he could not explain what financial assumptions were made when the contracts were approved by the council last year.

That's Thomas Brady, Broad Academy 2004. Perhaps Sharon Contreras, Providence Chief Academic Officer and member of the Broad Academy Class of 2010, could do a paper and a powerpoint on this fiasco for her final project.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This Week in Resistance


PROVIDENCE — Listening to the public outcry over an earlier recommendation to close the popular Highlander Charter School unless it showed dramatic improvement, state education officials Tuesday reversed themselves and recommended the school be granted a three-year extension.

Highlander supporters said after the meeting that they were relieved the original recommendation was abandoned, but were disappointed the K-8 school was not granted the customary five-year extension permitted under state law.

In May, Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist told the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education that she was dissatisfied with the 10-year-old school’s uneven performance and did not feel comfortable reauthorizing Highlander for five years.

Hope Students File Legal Challenge Against PPSD Changes

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A group of Hope High School students gathered on the steps of the East Side school to announce the filing of a legal challenge with the state Department of Education.

The students, who are being represented without charge by lawyer Miriam Weizenbaum, claim that the school department's decision to move to a six-period day violated the Board of Regents' high school regulations. The regulations say that school districts "shall not reduce the ... amount of time allotted to common planning time currently practiced."

According to Weizenbaum, the new schedule would cut in half the time dedicated to common planning, which allows teachers to plan instruction, analyze student work and address student needs.


Why is Jason P. Becker Afraid of My Wife?

Jason P. Becker:

Over the last six months I have been working with the Providence Public School District to develop a new grading policy to be presented to the school board in September.  As I begin the actual writing phase of this policy, I came up with a great way to understand formative assessment versus summative assessments or longer form performance-based tasks.*

The overall goal of the policy I am writing is to transform grades from an unreliable amalgamation of behavior and various kinds of performance indicators to a metric which accurately presents a students progress on academic course goals.  It’s a herculean task in a district that has been devoid of a broader grading policy for some time and has only recently embarked on a more systematic set of professional development workshops to help teachers develop a powerful assessment framework within a standards-based curriculum.

One area I expect to get significant push-back is my planned restriction of the amount activities like quizzes, homework, and classwork can contribute to overall grades.  The rationale should be familiar to formative assessment gurus but can be hard to explain to teachers who have been using grades for purposes other than pure monitory of academic progress.  Here’s my crack at it:

Measuring student performance in the classroom is like running a long-distance race.  It takes months of practice to prepare for that final run.  Runners and coaches keep track of times during practice, and use several activities which improve the ability to run over a long distance that does not include simply running around the city.  On race day, lap times provide essential information to runners and coaches about pacing and required adjustments, but what matters most is the time it takes to finish the entire race.  All of that rehearsal is not how we judge a runner’s success.  It informs us about effort, whether the runner was willing to do what it takes to be successful.  It informs us about progress over time; did the runner see significant improvement right away, after a few weeks, toward the end, or at a slow and steady pace?  But in the end, what matters most is how long does it take to complete the race.  Our students should be judged on their ability to learn all of the material in an academic unit before the class must proceed to the next unit, not on their learning process to achieve that goal.

*At least I think I came up with this one.  To be fair, I’ve been reading so much on this topic I may have “borrowed” this from a book or article I read months ago only to have it resurface, seemingly a product of my own invention.

You can't read that on Jason Becker's blog, because after my wife left a rather pungent comment, he pulled the entire post after apparently deciding it wasn't such a great idea to announce to the world that an intern with zero experience working in a K-12 school, let alone teaching in one, has a prominent role in developing a new grading policy for the PPSD.

When I got my Master's in Teaching from the Brown Education Department, not so long ago, it instilled a deep respect for the knowledge and experience of the master teachers we worked with daily, most working in the Providence Public Schools. Those folks were the heart and soul of the teacher education program, and I was proud when Jennifer joined their ranks.

It is hard to believe that so quickly we've gotten to a point where teacher expertise is so denigrated by... everyone, the Providence Schools, RIDE, Brown.

I've made my share of idealistic mistakes, but I've never felt the need to hide from teachers while making them.

Does the Logitech G13 work with EVE Online on the Mac (Cider)?


It appears that unless a game ported to the Mac using Cider is specifically supported by Logitech, the game won't pick up emulated CTRL and ALT keypresses from the G13 (and presumably G15, etc). I'd guess that you in effect need drivers for both the Mac OS and the emulated Windows environment.

All more general speculation aside, without CTRL and ALT key mappings, the G13 is only minimally useful to the EVE player on a Macintosh.

You're welcome, intrepid Googler.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SchoolTool Receives Award from Commonwealth of Virginia

The Virginia Department of Education has presented to SchoolTool a statewide award for exceptional and exemplary contributions to Career and Technical Education through business and industry partnership. The full description of the award states:

"SchoolTool, an open-source computer software product, consists of a suite of free administrative software for schools. In 2005, SchoolTool partnered with the Arlington Public Schools CTE to author a competency-tracking application called CanDo. CanDo couples the SchoolTool software with the CTE Resource Center's Verso database of CTE competencies, allowing instructors to report and monitor student competency achievement. SchoolTool is an excellent example of a public-private partnership that has mad a significant impact on education in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, with the added support of the CTE Resource Center, have benefited."

SchoolTool was nominated for the award by the Arlington Public Schools Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education.

I'll Take Palin

Anthony Cody:

Someone recently told me I would be even less happy with what a President Palin might do with No Child Left Behind, so I should be a bit less critical and get with the program. I imagine President Palin might do worse, but honestly I am not sure how. And at least I would not feel as if I were administering the punishment to myself.

Republicans might kill us all, or bankrupt the government, or drown us in oil, but they couldn't make education policy worse at this point.

Trying Plug Computing

Plug computing has been around for about a year, but it is still a little tricky to get your hands on the hardware. TonidoPlugs are back ordered a month at the moment. Amazon has PogoPlugs, but they apparently have less memory, and I'm not sure how readily hackable they are. PlugComputer.org links to vendors for reference hardware and development packages. Note that the GuruPlug is generally regarded as a better compact space heater than computer (my TonidoPlug is very cool).

Oh, price? $99, more or less.

See also PlugWiki.

SchoolToolBox Explained

In response to requests from both Stephen Downes and my Mom, I'll explain my SchoolToolBox post and picture.

$99 SchoolTool Appliance...

The box I'm holding is actually a TonidoPlug with a SchoolTool sticker on it. The TonidoPlug is, in turn, just a generic SheevaPlug. Buying a TonidoPlug seems like the easiest way to play with plug computing in general. Specific to the TonidoPlug is some... other software which I really haven't tried to figure out yet, aside from noting that it does some useful dynamic dns stuff out of the box which helps you locate the server both inside and outside your home network.

So, what is this thing?

OK, take a wall-wart power supply, more or less double it in size, stuff the processing guts of a smartphone in there, add an ethernet jack and USB port, and install Ubuntu 9.04 server. It's a Linux server with a 1.2 gigahertz processor and 512 MB RAM and flash storage. All solid state, add whatever mass storage you want via USB.

It is not i386 PC architecture though, it is ARM, so you need binaries compiled for ARM, and you can't just install Linux from a generic CD image.

To build and run SchoolTool from source on a USB key, I just followed the standard developer instructions. We'll be able to build regular Ubuntu .deb packages in the future as well.

SchoolTool runs roughly as third as fast on the TonidoPlug as it does on my (oldish) PC. This would primarily be aimed at small schools in the developing world, who would not be bombarding the server with lots of simultaneous requests, so once we clean up a few existing performance problems on specific views (which go from annoying to unusable on this processor), it should be fine.

This provides a number of interesting possibilities for distributing plug and play SchoolTool appliances, and I'm looking forward to figuring out how to make that happen, whether via local vendors, government ministries, or some other route. Right now I'd say "Coming in 2011."

Monday, June 21, 2010

I'm Glad Other People are Noticing This

Barnett Berry:

Ironically, some of the same analysts who lament that teachers are treated as “widgets” promote the misdirected policy bromide that teachers have the “same value” no matter where they teach.

I don't think it is "ironic" though, I think it is an intentional rhetorical strategy. Come up with your argument (Each teacher has an objective, measurable level of quality.), anticipate the strongest critique (You can't treat teachers like simple machines, they're an integral part of tremendously complex systems.), then re-frame your argument using what would otherwise be the best language to attack it (We must stop treating teachers like widgets (by assigning them an objective, measurable level of quality)!). Classic Karl Rove, really.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Charters, Online Learning and RI's New Funding Formula

JB, a recent graduate of Brown's master's program in urban ed policy, comments on my question about the new funding formula and charters over at Flypaper:

The charters are losing some money from the state but they are getting more from some of the towns than they used to in the past. Overall they mostly lose between 2-10% once you account for the net difference.

The charters are happier, I think, because they have some strong language in the law about districts losing their state funding if they don’t send their local tuitions to charters (which has been a problem), the state is continuing to treat them more and more like any other LEA for funding purposes, and they will receive additional funding when they take on more challenging student populations.

In the end, charters will end up with essentially the same amount of money for each student as would have been spent had they been in their neighborhood school.

Perhaps. I just have difficulty believing that when a specific interest group is celebrating the passing of a complex appropriations bill that appears on the surface to not benefit them, well, that's a good time to keep a hand on your wallet.

Also, when Tom Vander Ark starts tweeting like this:

@deborahgist I'd like to know if we could chat about how money following the student fits with things like online learning.

And she replies:

@edReformer I'd love to chat about that.

Look out!

This is not an education plan, it is a business plan.

Friday, June 18, 2010


$99 SchoolTool Appliance...

$99, plug computing appliance. SIS in a box. ARM. It works.

New RI Funding Formula & Charters


Charter schools and vocational schools will lose some state aid as the new law changes the way those schools are financed.

Yet, charter advocates seem quite happy, despite their state funding being cut. Is it because the plan includes stronger "money follows the student" provisions. It is unclear to me what this really means to charters and other state-run schools. Less money from the state but more from the student's home district? I don't know. I've not seen this explained at all.

Also, I was wondering about Lincoln and Cumberland's districts likely losing nearly 10% of their students (and thus money) as their mayoral academy comes on line. As it turns out, they're big winners in the new funding formula, so that should even out the sting.

I Know I'm Beating this into the Ground


From a student’s end of year reflection.

“I learned that writing helps get a lot of feelings out, and that it helps you get through a lot. For example when my family member died I wrote a story about it and it made me feel a lot better…last year I never thought I would like writing. But this year changed everything.”

To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…this is to have succeeded.~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The thing almost nobody has noticed is that in the writing standards of high performing countries, the above is part of the fundamental goals of the curriculum. In the Common Core, it isn't.

The Future of English

Arthur Goldstein:

One technique entailed copying directions and converting them to first person. Another featured repeatedly rehearsing canned literary references, many of which could be trotted out to support virtually any quote about anything. No technique, in my view, much encouraged writing habits that would prove useful in the long haul. There was no time for such things and besides, half my kids could barely communicate in English. Sadly, there was almost no time to work on that either. (...)

My friend Rena Sum teaches Chinese, and overheard the following exchange:

“I don’t know what to do. I’m having trouble with the English Regents.”

“Oh, you should take Goldstein’s class.”

“Is it good?”

“No, it’s awful. You write and write and write. But you’ll pass the test.”

Curriculum and Standards as Source Code

Sean McGrath:

When I look at a corpus of law being worked by a legislature/parliament I see...

  • text, lots and lots of text, organized into units of various sizes: sections, bills, titles, chapters, volumes, codes, re-statements etc.
  • The units of text are highly stylized, idiomatized, structured forms of natural language.
  • The units of text are highly inter-linked : both explicitly and implicitly. Sections are assembled to produce statute volumes, bills are assembled to produce session laws etc. Bills cite to statutes. Journals cite bills. Bills cite bills...
  • The units of text have rigorous temporal constraints. I.e. a bill that refers to a statute is referring to a statute as it was at a point in time. An explanation of a vote on a bill is an explanation of a vote as it looked at a particular point in time.
  • The law making process consists of taking the corpus of law as it looked at some time T, making some modifications and promulgating a new corpus of law at some future time T+1. That new corpus is then the basis for the next iteration of modifcations.

When I look at a corpus of source code I see...
  • text, lots and lots of text, organized into units of various sizes: modules, components, libraries, objects, services etc.
  • The units of text are highly stylized, idiomatized, structured forms of natural language.
  • The units of text are highly inter-linked : both explicitly and implicitly. Modules are assembled to produce components, components are assembled to produce libraries etc. Source files cite (import and cross-link to) other source files. Header files cite (import and cross-link to) header files. Components cite(instantiate) other components...
  • The units of text have rigorous temporal constraints. I.e. a module that refers to a library is referring to a library as it was at a point in time e.g. version 8.2. A source code comment explaining an API call is written with respect to how the API looked at a particular point in time.
  • The software making process consists of taking the corpus of source as it looked at some time T, making some modifications and promulgating a new corpus - a build - at some future time T+1. That new corpus (build) is then the basis for the next iteration of modifications to the source code.

What we have here are two communities that work with insanely large, complex corpora of text that must be rigorously managed and changed with the utmost care, precision and transparency of intent. Yet, the software community has a much greater set of tools at its disposal to help out.

Standards and curriculum are in the same boat. Too bad the self-appointed leaders on these issues -- I'm looking at you Achieve -- are such feckless asshats. But what would you expect from an institution that would have the idiot Carcieri on its board.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Most Important Sporting Event in the Universe

Ushra'Khan has advanced to the finals of EVE Alliance Tournament VIII as the 4th seed.

U'K will be going up against Dead Terrorists at 17:20 EVE time on Saturday. Watch it live on EVE TV.

Also, the Circle of Two vs. RED.Overlord qualifying match is pretty entertaining. Those three Freki frigates they are raving about below would be worth over $2,000 a piece at the current dollar to ISK exchange rate, and if they get blown up, they stay blown up.

The Common Core Will make High School English More Like This

American Educator:

Students were taught to fill their para- graphs with what the school calls “hundred-dollar words” and underline them for emphasis. These included transitions, such as “because” or “so I think,” and vocabulary from the state content stan- dards, or MSA words, as they’re called at Tyler Heights: “character trait,” “graphic aids,” “dialogue.” The children were instructed to review these words on flash- cards in their spare time—vastly more attention than was given to the real-world vocabulary from their Open Court stories. They would boast about how many hundred-dollar words they managed to include in each BCR. “$900!!!” a proud child would write at the bottom of his page.

Because the benchmark was going to ask the children to compare two poems, the third-graders of Tyler Heights were guided through practice BCRs comparing sets of poems. Because the benchmark was going to ask how they knew a passage was a poem, they wrote practice BCRs about how they knew passages were poems. (“I know ‘Smart’ is a poem because it has stanzas and rhyme. I know the text has stanzas and not paragraphs because they didn’t indent....”) Because the benchmark would ask students to choose which of several meanings of a given word best matched the example sentence, the third-graders were walked through those types of prob- lems, and because the benchmark would ask which of several words had the same sound as that underlined in the example word, they were walked through those questions too.

They have to change the structure of high school English to make in more amenable to "data-driven instruction." If you don't believe me, read the article, then look at the difference between the high school standards you use now and the Common Core.

Putting Race Back on the Agenda

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

Osiris Harrell, an outspoken activist at School Board meetings, has organized a new group of black fathers who are determined to change how their children are treated in the school system so that their stories are of success, not failure.

“Something happens between the time a black child enters the public schools and the time he leaves,” says the father of three. “Something happens that shuts out that light...”

The fathers group says the district needs to address two fundamental issues: curriculum and teacher hiring and training. Too often, Harrell says, American history is presented as little more than the accomplishments of “great white men,” while the contributions of black politicians, artists, writers and activists are downplayed or ignored.

Unfortunately, recruiting minority teachers is not likely to be helped by our commissioner's decision to arbitrarily raise the Praxis cut score for teacher education programs in Rhode Island.

Also, when my wife presented a lesson on the Haitian Revolution to the all white male history faculty as part of her job interview at a PPSD high school, the department head's response was "I usually skip that." Under the district and union's peculiar implementation of "criterion-based hiring," she didn't get the job based on the interview team's scoring, despite the support of the principal.

Job Outlook for Veteran Social Studies Teachers at Charter Schools

My wife applied four jobs at four charter schools this spring, three in Rhode Island, one in Massachusetts. For those of you who don't know us personally, she's the real teacher in the family, a stone-cold, natural-born teacher with ten years of urban (and a few more of rural) experience, much of that time implementing serious cross-disciplinary project-based learning, acting as School Improvement Team chair and other school leadership roles, and acting as a mentor teacher in the Brown teacher education program, including their intensive summer session. As a top step teacher with a Master's degree in the PPSD, she makes something north of $70,000 a year.

Despite the extreme toughness of the current job market, I was optimistic that at least one of these jobs would work out, because, in addition to Jennifer's skill and experience and evident good fits philosophically, we had some pretty good connections going -- friends on the board of directors, administrators who Jennifer had mentored as pre-service teachers, strong letters from one of the founders of the school, relatives with prominent roles in the school community.

And... nothing.

My conclusion from all this is that charter schools just don't feel they can spend their personnel budget on high experience and salary history/social studies teachers. They have to save their money for tested subjects, then science, then realistically a lot of them would probably even prioritize arts above social studies. Given the current system, this is completely rational. Most charters cannot afford all experienced teachers, so they have to pick and choose.

Well, that explains three of the cases. The fourth was a special case because it was a charter that had offered Jennifer a job four years ago and then retracted it (i.e., denied they had made it over the phone) when they found out she was pregnant. Actually going through the interview process again this year was probably just too awkward for everyone concerned.

So... we may be in the PPSD for a while whether we like it or not.

Mom's Prizewinning Hat


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Culture of Dishonesty

Regarding the "culture of dishonesty," one also has to ask for every case of manipulating standardized test scores, how many teachers are asked or ordered to change grades, how many kids get bogus "credit recovery," and how is that affected by the need to juke the graduation rate? And how much more does all this poison the well for alternative assessments?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Common Sense 2.0

Steven Pinker:

The effects of consuming electronic media are also likely to be far more limited than the panic implies. Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of “you are what you eat.” As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.

Yes, the constant arrival of information packets can be distracting or addictive, especially to people with attention deficit disorder. But distraction is not a new phenomenon. The solution is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life. Turn off e-mail or Twitter when you work, put away your Blackberry at dinner time, ask your spouse to call you to bed at a designated hour.

And to encourage intellectual depth, don’t rail at PowerPoint or Google. It’s not as if habits of deep reflection, thorough research and rigorous reasoning ever came naturally to people. They must be acquired in special institutions, which we call universities, and maintained with constant upkeep, which we call analysis, criticism and debate. They are not granted by propping a heavy encyclopedia on your lap, nor are they taken away by efficient access to information on the Internet.

The new media have caught on for a reason. Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

How's That Job Search Coming?

Well, right now the big question is whether Jennifer is going to be Lester Freamon pre season 1, Jimmy McNulty between seasons 1 and 2, or McNulty post season 5.

Who is the Toad in this Context?

Newark Mayor Cory Booker and RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist tweet:

Sweet are the uses of adversity; Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head; (As You Like It, act II, scene 1)

Who is the Duke, living in exile? Whose adversity is sweet to use?

Daddy, who is eating, loves me.

Being a long time fan of Edward Tufte, going back to when I was sufficiently intrigued by his regular quarter page ads in Harpers to track down his books at the Pitt library, as well as being a Common Core obsessive, I couldn't resist one-click ordering a copy of Virginia Tufte's Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, which is name-checked in one of the ELA standards.

Also, as you have no doubt noticed, Gentle Reader, my own syntax is, at best, turgid; so perusing this text could hardly hurt.

Artful Sentences is a compendium of example sentences illustrating various syntactic constructs and concepts. I'd imagine anyone who teaches grammar, syntax, writing, etc. to high school students on a regular basis would consider it well worth their sixteen bucks to provide some freshness and inspiration. However, it strikes me as rather gnomic for use by high school students, particularly as worded by the standard:

Vary syntax for effect, consulting references (e.g., Tufte’s Artful Sentences) for guidance as needed...

For example, there is nothing between the title and chapter one, "Short Sentences," except a table of contents and acknowledgements. Whatever the book is for, how it might be used, what point of view it represents, what aesthetic stance, is only determined by the reader by reading the book, which has a certain elegance, but doesn't result in something that seems approachable and practical to most high school writers, and certainly not something that would be very helpful in the context described by the standard, as a sort of handy student reference.

One wonders how that reference got in there in the first place. In the previous draft, language standard 3 in both high school levels was simply:

Make effective language choices.

a. Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual.

Fairly useless. The full standards that replaced it in the final draft are:

Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

(9th & 10th) a.Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual (e.g., MLA Handbook, Turabian’s Manual for Writers) appropriate for the discipline and writing type.

(11th & 12th grade) a. Vary syntax for effect, consulting references (e.g., Tufte’s Artful Sentences) for guidance as needed; apply an understanding of syntax to the study of complex texts when reading.

I'd argue that the 9th and 10th grade standard is clear and sufficient for "college- and career-readiness." I can picture 12 people sitting around a table in a windowless conference room, drinking bad coffee, feeling compelled to think of something to differentiate a 12th grade version of the standard and finally setting on this thing.

Out of curiosity, I did a full text search on "syntax" through the rest of the document. In 11th & 12th grade writing standard 1.c:

Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.

11th and 12th grade writing 2.c:

Use appropriate and varied transistion and syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.

In both of the above cases (and their equivalents in the redundant discipline-specific standards) the only differences from the 9th and 10th grade standards are inclusion of the italicized sections on syntax.

To be sure, one would hope that 12th graders would use more fluent and varied syntax than 10th graders, but I'm dubious about the pride of place it receives in these standards, as one of only a few consistent differences between under and upperclassmen in English. Will 11th and 12th grade curricula aligned to the Common Core inherit a much greater emphasis on explicitly teaching students to use varied and complex syntax? Should that be regarded as the primary difference between writing at these levels? Will essays with simple syntactic structures receive failing grades from automated essay scorers? Time will tell.

The title of this post, by the way, is a dinnertime quote from Vivian, at age three demonstrating her mastery of grade 4 language standard 1.a.

Giving 'em a Taste of Their Own Bullshit

Christopher Bergfalk:

In NYC Chancellor Joel Klein’s 4/9/10 article in the Washington Post, ”Why great teachers matter to low-income students” he states when referring to the NAEP test that “Ten points approximates one year’s worth of learning on these national tests.”* He goes on to take the 33 point difference in avg. scale score for “poor black students” in Boston vs. those same students in Detroit to mean “by fourth grade, poor African American children in Detroit are already three grades behind their peers in Boston.”

What does this means in DCPS as evidenced by the discrepancy among average scale score increases on the 2009 8th grade NAEP Math test for the DCPS demographic groups? According to Chancellor Klein’s methodology, it means:

  • In 2007, the difference in average scale score between non-economically disadvantaged students and economically disadvantaged students was 21 points or 2 years worth of learning. In 2009, it is 33 points or 3 years of learning. Those left behind are now an additional year behind in 2009.
  • In 2007, the difference in average scale score between economically disadvantaged Hispanic and Black students was 7 points, less than a year of learning. In 2009, it was 22 points or 2 years of learning. Those left behind are now further behind their peers.

* 10 points on NAEP tests is equivalent to 1 year of learning can also be found on the “McKinsey & Company” April 2009 “Detailed Findings on the Economic Impact of the Achievement gap in America’s schools.”

I'm not a psychometrician, but I have a strong suspicion that the 10 points = 1 year bit is a complete crock. And based on the high degree of rigor in the rest of Chris's analysis of DC's NAEP scores, I'd suspect he thinks so too. Tactically, though, if you're going to win, you gotta be willing to use the other side's tricks against them, explaining exactly what you're doing in the process. And hopefully having fun, too.

His larger point in the presentation underscores what complex dynamic systems school districts are, especially when you're shifting around highly segregated populations across district, charter and private schools that may be opening, closing and re-organized at an ever-accelerating rate. Shifts in population may completely mask gains and losses in teaching and learning, by accident or design.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Meet the New Boss, Different Than the Old One

Karn Mithralia:

As of 10/06 12:30 hours Ushra'Khan will declassify Providence as being under free-fire policy. Here ends our Burn Providence campaign. Our stations in Providence will open to neutrals within the next 24hrs, with the exception of those in the ZQ2-CF constellation. We reserve the right to ask neutrals to leave this constellation or be shot.

Neutrals are warned to take all necessary precautions in Providence, we do not speak for other alliances in the region.

The slaver threat has retreated to the corrupt embrace of the Empire it serves and to there we turn our attention. Accordingly let it be known that the Amarr Empire is now a Ushra'Khan free-fire zone. May CONCORD protect you, your god won't.

The difference between a "sandbox" MMO and the rest is that in a sandbox, after you storm the castle and kill the boss, you don't do it over again next week. You have to figure out how to run a castle. This has not been easy for our band of guerrillas.

Myself, I've had all the high-anxiety complications I need in real life thank you very much, and find myself on an extended hiatus from internet spaceships, but hope to get back soon(tm).

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Follow Me on Twitter!

I discovered how to use Feedburner to mirror the first 120 characters or so from my RSS feed to Twitter. So, if you prefer to know when I post that way, I'm tuttle_svc on Twitter.

I'm Tired of this Crap

My comment on The All-New Hechinger Report's crappy little interactive analysis of grade level expectations in different states:

“How to use an adverb?”

  1. The standards you cite often do not address this specific point, for example in Connecticut “write three or more paragraphs, maintaining focus on a specific topic and using a variety of sentence beginnings, e.g., start with an adverb” is not the same thing at all.
  2. Given that Massachusetts — highest achievement — and Michigan — not so much — are the two states that don’t require this by your measure until sixth grade, what does that say about the importance of this issue, particularly in terms of grade level timing?
  3. Your wording of the prototype standard simply doesn’t reflect a sophisticated understanding of how humans learn to use language. You don’t have to know what an adverb is to use an adverb. If you ask a three year old about their trip to an amusement park and they say “The roller coaster went really fast!” then they know how to “use an adverb.”

You'll be shocked to learn that the Hechinger Institute is funded by Gates.

The School Reform Cycle of Life


One week from today, the first class of the Science Leadership Academy will walk across the stage at The Franklin Institute as our first graduates. For the kids, it represents an incredible rite of passage into adulthood and all they will accomplish once they leave our walls. Tonight, I want to try to unpack how I feel about all this. I'm not sure I can.

Linda Borg:

PROVIDENCE — It was a night of last things: the last commencement ceremony, the last valedictorian, the last class gift.

Feinstein High School is closing and on Tuesday night, the Class of 2010 walked the stage with a mixture of elation and sorrow, profoundly aware that the school is a success, despite its fate.

I spent most of the morning pummeling the usual tools in the ProJo comment cesspool.

Forging Unprecedented Public-Private Partnerships

Licensing curricula to Pearson might work out fine for Montgomery County, although the fact this was a no-bid contract raises suspicion, but this should be verboten:

The school system... has applied for a federal grant to obtain public money for this enterprise...

The federal government should not pay school districts to create content for vendors to sell to other school districts. If anything, we should be trying to get to the point where the feds should be bidding against Pearson on this. Just pay Montgomery County $10 million to write the curriculum and give it away under a permissive open content license.

Pay for it once!

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Classic Neal Stephenson Slashdot Interivew

Neal Stephenson on authorship, prestige, getting paid:

To set it up, a brief anecdote: a while back, I went to a writers' conference. I was making chitchat with another writer, a critically acclaimed literary novelist who taught at a university. She had never heard of me. After we'd exchanged a bit of of small talk, she asked me "And where do you teach?" just as naturally as one Slashdotter would ask another "And which distro do you use?"

I was taken aback. "I don't teach anywhere," I said.

Her turn to be taken aback. "Then what do you do?"

"I'm...a writer," I said. Which admittedly was a stupid thing to say, since she already knew that.

"Yes, but what do you do?"

I couldn't think of how to answer the question---I'd already answered it!

"You can't make a living out of being a writer, so how do you make money?" she tried.

"From...being a writer," I stammered.

At this point she finally got it, and her whole affect changed. She wasn't snobbish about it. But it was obvious that, in her mind, the sort of writer who actually made a living from it was an entirely different creature from the sort she generally associated with.

And once I got over the excruciating awkwardness of this conversation, I began to think she was right in thinking so. One way to classify artists is by to whom they are accountable.

That's from 2004.

Nice Comment Explaining the Hope High Situation

east side res explains from the ProJo cesspool:

1) The new schedule greatly reduces planning time--including common planning time by grade as well as department time. (Which is especially concerning considering that the new curriculum is coming down the line AND there are major special ed changes occurring at Hope IT next year, which include integrating resource students into mainstream classes.)

2) The is no discussion of the loss of reading, writing, and math support classes students currently receive at Hope their 9th and 10th grade year. The district has said low-performing students will get that support, but the fact that all the support teachers have been let go, suggest otherwise. Also, if those support classes are still in place, what classes are taking the hit? Science? Art? History? The classes the district claims they are trying to protect by switching to the 6 period day?

3) There is no discussion of the quality of the curriculum being implemented vs. what Hope has in place. The new curriculum focuses on lower-level thinking and removes projects requiring higher levels of depth of knowledge (DOK) from most subjects. (Which will be added back in two-three years down the road. Read: portfolio projects, which are hugely successful at Hope and require students to develop complex skills and thought while connecting curriculum to the real world are being removed to align with "the rest of the schools".) If the issue is standardization (which is one reason being given by the district), Hope created aligned units across schools three years ago--long before the district began doing so.

There is no proof that the system being implemented by the district will succeed. In a school that has found success, it seems dangerous to stop so many effective programs to implement something that is questionable at best, and, honestly, is taking the academic standards established at Hope and reducing them greatly to meet the needs of the lower-performing schools.

4) Why can't the curriculum be implemented in the block? Math and science teachers have been doing it this year, and Hope teachers have agreed to work with the English and Social Studies curriculum (which is still in its beginning stages even though it is supposed to be implemented in less than three months) to make it block-friendly. What sort of curriculum is so dependent on a 53 minute schedule vs. a 87 minute schedule?

(My answer to that would be: a curriculum that doesn't look at larger life questions and skills. A curriculum that doesn't trust it's teachers to be able to assess student needs and develop the necessary steps to bring them to the goal. A curriculum that has specific teaching goals every single day but neglects the huge deficiency of knowledge students have--especially in math--and leaves no time for real comprehension because teachers must be at a certain point in the curriculum or else face professional repercussions.)

There is nothing wrong with the district clearly stating what students should know and be able to do by a certain point. There is nothing wrong with holding teachers and students to a high standard. But when there is such blatant disrespect for teachers and for a rigorous curriculum that is already in place . . .

I look forward to your second article Ms. Steiny. I find the plan--and specifically the implementation of the plan--so appalling and contrary to all logic, I'm curious to see what good you find in it. Or see what they didn't tell you. Or see what beautiful nuggets of wisdom they have been hiding from the Hope community.

Pick for Central Falls principal misstated record on resume

WRNI's Elisabeth Harrison:

Sonn Sam, a principal since 2006 at the Met School in Providence, said he raised math scores on standardized state tests by 79 percent.

In fact, math scores at the Met have been flat since 2007, and just 4 percent of students reached proficiency last year.

On the radio, Fran Gallo said the numbers on his resume had no effect on the decision to hire him, which I totally believe, because everyone knows The Met's numbers aren't that great. Which isn't to say it isn't a good school in other ways.

However, "doesn't pay very close attention to numbers" isn't exactly what you want to hear about a turnaround principal (or superintendent). Nor is it indicative of someone ready to do some principalin' under a giant microscope. And frankly if they really thought he was ready, he wouldn't be co-principal. My sense is that his role is to lend reformy-ness and be super community relations guy.

Not that I have a dog in this hunt. I'm just rubbernecking.

The ProJo seems to have declined to cover this, btw.

Sometimes a Low Math Score is Just a Low Math Score

Julia Steiny:

But Hope’s sad 4-percent proficiency in math is emblematic of what’s still deeply problematic there and at most Providence schools.

Then what are Hope Arts NECAP scores (2008-2009 teaching year) in reading, 76%, and writing, 51%, both over the state average for low income students, emblematic of? Especially if you agree with Dan Willingham and friends that reading tests are really measures of broader knowledge. You can argue that poor literacy skills drive down math scores, but that's not the case here.

These math scores are indicative of no more or less than what they profess to directly measure: math achievement. The math scores are horrible, at least on their face, in every high poverty school in the city and state. They aren't helped in Providence by the fact that nearly every middle school student with serious aptitude in math is sent to Classical, not surprisingly the source of 73% of the students passing the math NECAP in the city. Outside Classical, the numbers are depressingly consistent despite wide variations in size, governance, curriculum and pedagogy.

Why am I not hearing more substantive analysis of what's wrong with math? Why are we rolling back successful whole school reforms to address one subject? That might be the right move, but it should be argued on those terms.

Word of the Day: Nutpicking

The replies (well, about the first 20) to Matt Yglesias's Why Is Paying Effective Teachers More A Form of “Teacher-Bashing”? are excellent, which is actually a good sign that more teachers are starting to get engaged in this discussion and on-point. Hopefully this trend will develop over summer vacation.

I particularly like this paragraph from Cyrus's comment:

No sane commentator would say “unless we first eradicate poverty we can’t improve schools”. Obviously, perfection is impossible. However, improvement certainly is possible, and improvement in poverty issues would do a hell of a lot more to help school performance (and everything else) than firing teachers who don’t make their quotas. If you dug up an insane commentator saying what you imputed to critics of merit-based pay, you’re probably nutpicking; if you didn’t even bother to that much, it’s just a strawman. Really, Matt, you have talked about this issue before, but apparently didn’t learn anything.


This is Not a Disruptive Innovation


Behind the blue screen, however, is a host of unanswered questions about a system that seemingly requires little overhead. There are no libraries, cafeterias, playgrounds, coaches, janitors, nurses, buses or bus drivers — but can cost taxpayers per student as much as or more than traditional public schools.

This year, the San Mateo virtual school attended by the Drews children is expected to receive $5,105 per student in state and federal money — $375 more per student than what children in their authorizing school district of Jefferson Elementary in Daly City are expected to receive, said the district.

If you're delivering an alternative product at the same price as existing alternatives to customers who would be part of the market regardless, then you don't have a "disruptive innovation."

Actually, if these virtual schools preceded the original homeschooling movement, offline homeschooling would be seen as a disruption of these expensive virtual schools.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Teaching Problem Solving Through Video Games


I'm fairly certain that playing videogames has given me unrealistic expectations when it comes to solving real problems. Independent of the scenario - a race of ravenous sentient robots, a wife lost in the folds of a parenthetical metanarrative, and so on - I can be expected to deliver a satisfactory resolution in twenty hours or less. More than satisfactory, in fact. I will recalibrate your entire concept of success as it relates to human endeavor.

I might leave a crack somewhere in the proceedings, something to allow for a sequel, sure - Navajo rugs, and so forth. But this oil thing exists at a point beyond my ability to usefully file it in my mind. I have a naive, quasi-religious faith in the capacity of people to resolve problems, borne of three decades plowed into interactive power fantasies and utopian science fiction. It's left me more or less paralyzed by the world-as-it-is.

Good SchoolTool & CanDo News

SchoolTool will receive a 2010 Creating Excellence in Career & Technical Education Award from the Commonwealth of Virginia next month for our partnership with the Arlington Career Center and VA CTE. This may be the first time an open source software project has won this kind of award.

SchoolTool and CanDo (an extension of SchoolTool) have been used in five districts in Virginia this year. They've had some support from the state CTE resource center, but otherwise have self-hosted the software. They're running dedicated Ubuntu server instances for this purpose, which has proven to be as trouble-free and appliance-like as we'd hoped. Word must be getting out that CanDo is working, because thirty-eight districts have expressed interest in using the system next year!

Finally, the Northern Virginia Community College, which collaborates extensively with the Arlington Career Center on their Governor's Academy, will use CanDo in a demonstration project they're developing around portfolio assessment in Automotive Technology.

Sounds Strangely Familiar

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

MLLI was the result. It was a group effort, with Coyle serving as the lead teacher - there was no principal. The program was project-based, meaning students generally were supposed to focus on learning about real-world issues in ways that incorporated multiple subjects in one project - reading, science, social studies, something like that.

Everything went well in a year and half of preparation and training.

"We thought everything was going to be perfect," Coyle said.

Then, in September 2005, the kids arrived at the space in Wedgewood Park Middle School (previously Bell Middle) that was MLLI's home. Reality was a lot different than the plan. One big factor: Many students assigned to the school by the MPS central office had no idea what they were getting in to and were neither ready for nor interested in a project-based program.

The staff took major steps backward. They made schedule changes aimed at establishing control and revamped the educational plan to try to give students basic skills they didn't have.

Turnover of both students and staff was high in the first couple years. Test scores were low, attendance was not good, discipline was a continuing issue. But gradually, things got better.

This year, MLLI had some of the sharpest improvements in test scores of any school in Milwaukee and the percentage of sophomores rated as proficient or better was sharply above the MPS average in all five areas tested. The percent of proficient readers jumped in one year from 40% to 66%.

But the MPS budget picture for next year (exacerbated by a deficit MLLI ran last year) would have meant a cut in the number of general education teachers from nine to seven in the 173-student school. Class sizes would increase, and the climate would suffer. The staff felt that, even if some way were found to avoid the cuts this year, the outlook for succeeding years was discouraging.

"We all looked at each other around the table, and we all kind of said we can't keep doing this," Coyle said. They looked at their vision statement and asked: Can we do what we say we're doing?

"There's not a single person who said yes," Coyle said.


  • Another urban high school being closed by a cash-strapped and uninterested district just as it finds its stride.
  • Getting discipline right is one reason progressive/project-based high schools get a slow start out of the blocks. I think they often over-estimate the centrality of a permissive disciplinary posture to their mission.
  • There was, in this Gates-fueled era, too much of an emphasis on starting the high school of your dreams from a blank slate. They/we missed the middle ground between cookie-cutter franchises and re-inventing the wheel every time.
  • Still, throwing all this away now, after surviving the painful "school finding itself" period, and managing to improve, despite what sounds like an uncooperative and uninterested district administration, is an incredible waste.
  • And Gates deserves particular scorn for how completely they abandoned their progeny. I'm not even talking about money, just the merest expression of support or even acknowledgement would be nice.

In local news, the RI Board of Regents yesterday approved a new small progressive charter high school in Rhode Island, The Greene School. Differences this time around:

  • Explicitly affiliated with Expeditionary Learning schools, which will provide some structure and professional development out of the gate.
  • Leadership from an experienced high school principal.
  • Charter, not district, although to be honest I don't know why RIDE approved this school at the same time they were going after Highlander, so in a few years RIDE might be as hostile toward The Greene School as Providence is toward its small high schools now.
  • Not in the city.

Going Off Message


Both Gist and Providence Supt. Tom Brady acknowledged that schools can’t close the reading achievement gap alone.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Future of Magazines is the CD-ROM


The only real differentiation between the Wired application and a multimedia CD-ROM is the delivery mechanism: you download it via the App Store versus buying a CD-ROM at the now defunct Egg Head store at your local strip mall. And I really mean that comparison. For all of the interactivity that was touted in the Flash prototype, what we’ve really ended up with is a glorified slide show. Instead of the “Next” and “Previous” buttons you might have been used to on those old CD-ROMs of yore, you instead swipe left and right to change pages (well *cough* images of pages).

Letter to Regents & Commissioner on Highlander

My letter:

Dear Regents and Commissioner Gist,

I own a home and live at 125 Adelaide Avenue in Providence with my wife and two daughters, aged 1 and 3. We're two blocks from Highlander Charter School.

My wife and I both have masters degrees in teaching, from the University of Pittsburgh and Brown, respectively. She is currently a teacher in Providence, and I did formerly. In my current work in open source school data systems I collaborate with schools on four continents. We are, in short, highly informed consumers in the educational marketplace.

We have been planning to enter our oldest daughter in the lottery at Highlander in two years and would still do so without reservation.

As a parent I am angered that the state would propose to take this option away from my family, presuming to know our needs better than we do ourselves.

As the husband of a master teacher currently considering a range of job opportunities at district schools and charters in and outside of Rhode Island, I am baffled by the message sent by the proposed abrupt closure of Highlander. When weighing our final decision about what position to take should we assume Rhode Island charters offer less pay, loss of union protection and, unlike Connecticut and Massachusetts, the possibility of capricious closure?

As a resident of Elmwood I am frustrated by the Commissioner's indifference to the upheaval which has been brought to our fragile neighborhood, where five of the six schools named "lowest-performing" in the state are sited, including the two closest elementary schools, Charlotte Woods Elementary and Lillian Feinstein Elementary. Highlander's arrival on Broad Street was a blessing; it provides social capital we cannot afford to lose.

As an advocate for urban school reform, I am well aware of the destructive effect of policy churn when each new superintendent brings his or her own pet programs into a district, discarding his or her predecessor's indiscriminately. I am afraid the commissioner's actions toward Highlander represent a new era where charter schools throughout the state are subject to the same treatment each time a new commissioner arrives.

I was going to attend the Regents' meeting today, but based on Commisioner Gist's reply and the general tea leaves, the outcome will be an extension for one year to see next year's performance data rather than the original one year extension to give parents a chance to run for the lifeboats before the ship is scuttled. I'm not particularly happy with that, but I don't think there is much chance they'll completely roll over Gist and just give them the five year renewal now.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Quick Reax: Common Core ELA Final

Each draft has been superficially better than the previous and eliminated the most incongruous boners. They have assented to elevating narrative to one of the three required types of writing. All of the drafts, however, have been shackled by the craptastic College- and Career- Readiness standards, which is probably the worst conceived organizing framework in the history of ELA standards. That's impossible to fully overcome.

A full text search for "rhetoric" illustrates some of the remaining issues:

Speaking and Listening 3, CCR: Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric. (p. 22 & 48)

Reading Informational Text 6, grade 9-10: Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose. (p. 40)

Reading Informational Text 6, grade 11-12: Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text. (p. 40)

Reading Informational Text 9, grade 11-12: Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features. (p. 40)

Speaking and Listening 3, grade 9-10: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence. (p.50)

Speaking and Listening 3, grade 11-12: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used. (p.50)

Note on range and content of student language use: At the same time, (students) must come to appreciate that language is at least as much a matter of craft as of rules and be able to choose words, syntax, and punctuation to express themselves and achieve particular functions and rhetorical effects. (p. 51)

OK, English teacher, according to this set of standards, which asserts the primacy of argument, what are you supposed to teach about rhetoric?

So Much for "International Benchmarking"

Common Core:

The standards... Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society...

Note the shift in language from "benchmarked to" to "informed by." The ELA standards are not and will never be "internationally benchmarked." Technically, this makes them invalid for use in a RttT application, but of course, nobody cares.

Artful Sentences

I hadn't noticed this reference in previous versions of the Common Core ELA standards:

Vary syntax for effect, consulting references (e.g., Tufte’s Artful Sentences) for guidance as needed;

This is apparently a book by Edward's wife mother. I'm intrigued, but it seems like such an incongruous reference. I'm just... puzzled.

Good Thing I'm Not OCD

corestandards.org -- 10:01 AM, June 2:

The Common Core State Standards will be available at this link Wednesday, June 2 at 10 a.m. Please check back at that time.


The server www.corestandards.org:80 at CCSSI Staging requires a username and password.

I'm all a quiver.

10:10 -- UP!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Central Falls Principal(s) Announced


Evelyn Cosme Jones, currently one of the assistant principals at the high school, and Sonn Sam, principal of the MET school in Providence, have been selected to serve as co-principals, Gallo said.

Before coming to Central Falls High School, Jones worked as an assistant principal at three Providence schools, E{+3} Academy, Central High School and Hope High School. She was a Spanish teacher in several schools and is also proficient in Portuguese. (...)

“She’s phenomenal, with superior skills, particularly in analyzing student data,” Gallo said. “We already know she is well-liked by students and teachers, and we desperately wanted to keep her.”

Sam has led the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, known as the MET school, since 2006. He also worked there as an assistant principal and a teacher and advisor since 2003.

I don't know either of those people but they sound like interesting choices. Of course, none of the schools mentioned above even match Central Falls 7% proficiency rate on the 2009 math NECAP, so...

Gist Bites Dog

When Central Falls exploded across the national scene, a lot of experienced education reporters, like Linda Perlstein and Alexander Russo wondered what the big deal was. While the Central Falls case did have a few unique facets, in general they had a point: reconstituting schools isn't unusual nationally or in Rhode Island. In fact it is so mundane in Rhode Island that nobody here seemed to remember the many times it had been done in this state during the past decade.

I suppose closing charter schools isn't that unusual either, but the way Gist v. Highlander is unfolding is pretty darn weird, and, I'd think newsworthy.

Also, it is rather obviously a case where Gist is grandstanding for the national stage. I'd like to see some real national reaction to the particulars of the case, not just the general idea of having high expectations for charters.

This is Just Nuts


“I do not take this decision lightly. This is hard,” Gist said. “But this is exactly why the kind of decisions we have to make in education do not get made. Nobody wants a school that people are happy with to close.

“But we have to have higher standards in this state than the ones that have been in place.”

Not everyone at the state Department of Education agrees with Gist’s tough stance.

Keith Oliveira, who for 11 years has overseen charter schools for the department, “wholeheartedly disagrees” with Gist’s recommendation and says the school deserves to be reauthorized for at least three years.

Oliveira was part of a six-member team from the department that visited the school in May. Oliveira says four of the six members, himself included, did not think the school deserved such harsh treatment and made their feelings known. But their opinions were not reflected in the official report given to the Regents.

“It’s a good school that has done what RIDE has asked them to do in terms of its curriculum, intervention strategies and a stronger focus on teaching and learning,” Oliveira said. “So now that they’ve righted their ship, why would we not give them the opportunity to show the results?”

Oliveira tendered his resignation last week, effective June 4, saying that he and the commissioner “don’t see eye to eye.”

“This to me was a decision in search of justification,” Oliveira said. “What I mean by that is she came here with an agenda to increase accountability for charter schools. She wants to do this as a policy stand, to send a message about how tough we’re going to get.”

The Regents also expressed concerns about Gist’s recommendation at their last meeting and requested a special work session to discuss the topic at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Highlander is in high demand; more than 850 students applied last year for 33 open spots. Recent reports from the state Department of Education praise the school for its strong relationships with students’ families and community partnerships, including CityArts!, a youth art program that shares its South Providence building. (...)

Gist, however, has said repeatedly that having a charter is a privilege and that charters should be held to even higher standards than other public schools because they have more flexibility. For example, many of the state’s charter schools have uniforms, longer school days and requirements that parents sign homework. Many also require teachers to work longer hours and attend summer training sessions.

Gist argues that one or two other charters that also serve high numbers of low-income students perform at or higher than the state average, proof that their methods are effective, she says.

“We cannot have charter schools — whose whole purpose for existence is to demonstrate innovation that shows significant results — with performance levels that are lower than other schools that don’t have the kind of autonomy and flexibility that charters have,” Gist said. “If their performance isn’t where it should be, it’s an indication that the model they are using didn’t work.”

Kudos to Oliveira for standing up for what he believes in.

I'm anxiously awaiting the gushing approval from Flypaper, Eduwonk and the rest of the ed reform media of Gist's new minimum standard for renewing a charter: must have higher achievement than all non-charters.

Is Traditionalist vs. Progressives Over?

Larry Cuban:

Cyclical battles between Traditionalists and Progressives over the best ways to teach reading (phonics vs. whole language) and math (conceptual vs. rule-driven), over which subjects should be central to a core academic curriculum—are no longer central to what is occurring in public schools now and in the immediate future.

Since the late-1970s, the center of gravity in debating what are “good” schools has shifted slowly from Traditional vs. Progressive curricula and pedagogy to where U.S. students stand internationally on academic performance. The cold-water dousing of the U.S. falling short in global economic competition in the 1980s coincided with the “Reagan Revolution” in the U.S. and the emerging belief that a results-driven system of schooling was crucial to a growing economy. That shift toward political conservatism, containing an animus to government action and a love affair with free market principles has created new structures that make the cyclical battles between Traditionalists and Progressives as quaint as a rotary dial on a phone.

In the past quarter-century, a decided shift in the primary goal of U.S. schooling has occurred: From creating the best curriculum and pedagogy to increasing student achievement. Today, what largely defines a “good” school is the level of student performance on key tests, high school graduation rates, and college admissions.

From my point of view, Cuban is overstating the case. The rhetoric has certainly changed in the era of accountability, but it isn't clear that the war hasn't simply changed to a new front -- defining what goes into the standards and assessments.

Progressives are at a disadvantage in this fight because we spend half (or more) of our time questioning whether or not the entire system of standards and assessment are appropriate at all, rather than strongly asserting what should go into them.

Traditionalists simply refuse to understand the role of standards in the educational endeavor, which does surprisingly little harm to the influence of their arguments.

The ground is also more favorable to the traditional side because traditional tests and grading yield more readily to straightforward and seemingly objective data analysis. Progressives like me who get into data systems are generally motivated by the challenge of collecting much richer and complex qualitative evidence and data about learning.

I do understand what Cuban is getting at, however. I'm leaning toward believing that we need a third archetypal style to describe American education. Perhaps we can call it "programmed," or maybe there is a more appropriate term floating around out there. The Common Core ELA standards are a good example of an approach which should be satisfying neither to traditionalists nor to progressives. It is about redefining the entire system, from goals down, to fit the needs of automated systems. Perhaps this is just a variation on Cuban's thesis.

But, all of the above mostly just reflects talk. What's happening in the ground, in my neighborhood, city and state is that progressive education is being rolled back, rapidly, systematically, and largely silently in favor of traditional approaches. Schools are being closed, curricula is reverting to traditional paradigms, veteran leaders are marginalized.

This is done at the same time as, for example, our RttT application promises an ambitious program of "project-based learning" some time in the future, guided by a new batch of outside consultants. Does this reflect confusion, the new union of traditional and progressive, or is it just a lie? I know one thing for sure, you won't hear anyone from RIDE stepping up and saying that Hope High School should retain their block schedule because they're going to need it once we all start doing project-based learning again.

What's the Theory of Action Again?


Peter Cunningham, a spokesman for the federal Education Department, said, “We know TAP (the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program, a performance pay system) and other reforms are hard work. We can’t expect immediate results. That’s why we’re committed to evaluating programs over the long term and identifying ones that deliver the results for children.”

But isn't a premise of an incentive-based approach that it isn't such hard work if the right incentives are put in place? That the reason traditional reforms don't work is because they mis-understand human nature and motivation? Is performance pay just sort of a prelude to the same old reform processes that will suddenly work with a little extra cash incentive?

Put BP into temporary receivership

Robert Reich:

It's time for the federal government to put BP under temporary receivership, which gives the government authority to take over BP's operations in the Gulf of Mexico until the gusher is stopped. This is the only way the public know what's going on, be confident enough resources are being put to stopping the gusher, ensure BP's strategy is correct, know the government has enough clout to force BP to use a different one if necessary, and be sure the president is ultimately in charge.

If the government can take over giant global insurer AIG and the auto giant General Motors and replace their CEOs, in order to keep them financially solvent, it should be able to put BP's North American operations into temporary receivership in order to stop one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

The Obama administration keeps saying BP is in charge because BP has the equipment and expertise necessary to do what's necessary. But under temporary receivership, BP would continue to have the equipment and expertise. The only difference: the firm would unambiguously be working in the public's interest. As it is now, BP continues to be responsible primarily to its shareholders, not to the American public. As a result, the public continues to worry that a private for-profit corporation is responsible for stopping a public tragedy.