Friday, July 30, 2010

He got the Broad Prize, We got the Problem


To paraphrase Malcolm X: “If I’m following a general, and he’s leading me into a battle, and the enemy tends to give him rewards, or awards, I get suspicious of him. Especially if he gets a Broad award before the war is over.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This is the Way the NECAP Works, Too


The scaling approach taken by the DC CAS is, to my mind, pretty unconventional, because the scaled scores do not overlap across grades. In grade four, the minimum possible scaled score is 400, and the maximum possible scaled score is 499. In grade five, however, the minimum possible scaled score is 500, and the maximum possible scaled score is 599. (The same approach is used in grades six through eight.)

This means that a fourth-grade student who got every question on the fourth-grade math assessment correct would receive a lower scaled score than a fifth-grade student who got every question wrong on the fifth-grade assessment.

That sounds ridiculous, but it’s not problematic if the scale for fourth-grade performance is acknowledged to be different from the scale for fifth-grade performance. The design of the DC CAS allows for comparing performance in fourth grade in one year with fourth-grade performance in the next year; but it doesn’t permit measuring how much students have gained from one grade to the next. Measuring growth from one grade to the next requires a test that is vertically equated.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Perils of Alignment

Dan Willingham:

A tall order, but without such a measure, we can predict that in about five years NAEP scores will not have moved much, and the mutterings will begin. In another five years we’ll have bounced on to the next fix.

I think there is good reason to think NAEP scores will go up, because the Common Core assessments are likely to be more closely aligned with NAEP, and thus test prep for Common Core will be more directly relevant to preparation for NAEP.

The more alignment there is, the less data. If graduation is based on achievement on Common Core assessments, college admissions and the difficulty of entry-level college courses aligned to CCRS, NAEP and Common Core assessments in alignment, then test scores, grad rates, and college enrollment and success rates should converge, which will lead to fewer checkpoints on the real preparedness of students, not more.

The Danger of Forgetting

Scott Rosenberg:

Rosen presents his premise — that information once posted to the Web is permanent and indelible — as a given. But it’s highly debatable. In the near future, we are, I’d argue, far more likely to find ourselves trying to cope with the opposite problem: the Web “forgets” far too easily.

The Subtle Distinction is Lost on Me

Jeremy Chiappetta, principal of Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley:

RT @ri_chris: Sounds like trophies for everyone. I hope this isn't true. RT @CumberlandRI: Cumb "Effort Honor Roll"


Schools across New England have been publishing their end-of-year honor rolls in the local papers. Many of these schools - from Rockport to Bedford, N.H. to Cumberland, R.I. - also include something called the “Effort Honor Roll.” This is the honor roll for kids who, well, didn’t actually make the honor roll but should feel good about it, anyway.

You tried, you failed. Congratulations!

Ashton Elementary School in Cumberland, R.I., says that the Effort Honor Roll is to honor consistently outstanding effort at school. These efforts include “consistently exhibits politeness, kindness and respect toward others” and “consistently works to best of ability.”

Democracy Prep HQ:

DREAM Rubric and DREAM Dollar Paychecks: Our school culture and behavioral framework are based on Discipline, Respect, Enthusiasm, Accountability, and Maturity, or DREAM. Reports distributed weekly to students and parents come in the form of a DREAM "paycheck" which can total up to $100.00 in DREAM- Dollars. Students will accumulate a college scholarship fund based on 10% of their DREAM-Dollar balance redeemable at graduation with interest applied over seven years of DREAM. Students can use DREAM dollars to "buy" privileges and benefits at school auctions, school trips, as well as other special rewards or recognitions. Every teacher monitors DREAM, recognizes students for exemplary behavior, and deducts DREAM-Dollars for infractions.

So... just don't call it an "honor roll?"

"Sometimes we try the Japanese model of work, but we never try the German, because we don’t want to cede any real control to workers."

Thomas Geoghegan:

The strangest thing I saw this year is a YouTube video, with a hip-hop soundtrack, about a lot of German kids on strike. These were IG Metall apprentices, and they weren’t like the kids in the cafés. (IG Metall is the largest metal workers’ union in Germany.) Instead they wore black, gray and white car coats and were from obscure little German towns, but all of them were marching, at night, both boys and girls, striking against the big global companies for not delivering on jobs. At about the same time as the strike, IG Metall held a rock concert with Bob Geldof, which drew 50,000 people, mostly kids. Here’s a shocking thing to a U.S. labor lawyer like me: In 2008, youth membership in IG Metall — kids under 27 who voluntarily pay union dues — climbed yet again, this time by 6 percent. At last count, IG Metall had more than 200,000 of these kids! As someone who ran for Congress and found out why campaign staffs think it a waste of time to bother with young people, I find that stunning. Even the Financial Times, which always writes off labor, has had to admit that in Germany, unions are resurging among kids who are highly skilled.

Why are kids in Germany paying dues, voluntarily?

I think it’s an American who can best explain why. It’s not Marx but John Dewey whose picture should be in the lobby of the Willy Brandt Haus, the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party. It’s Dewey who believed that schools should not just teach practical skills but explain why kids have to be political, to be citizens and yes, to get into labor movements to protect the skills they are acquiring. One can say that union membership is a “tradition” in certain industries. But that’s just an opaque way of saying that the kids get politicized both at home and at school as they go through the Dual Track — Germany’s specialized, apprenticeship vocational schools.

The answer to the problems of our country is education, but not the kind we’re pursuing, i.e., jamming more kids into college or even teaching practical skills; instead, it’s teaching them how, politically, to cut themselves a better deal. As long as that’s going on, it’s impossible to write off the European or, more specifically, the German model.

Just as the answer to the problems of democracy is usually more democracy, so the answer to the problems of a social democracy is usually more social democracy.

He could not be more precisely correct.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Also True of the "Criterion-Based" Hiring Process in Providence


I have heard from several independent sources that the teacher classroom interactions that IMPACT monitors and rates are the very same things that the TFA teachers learn in their summer crash course! It’s pretty much all the TFA people learn – how to stand up in front of a class and teach according to a formula.

So, in contrast, vet teachers would be learning a lot of these techniques for the first time in IMPACT training sessions. I heard that a lot of the new teachers were bored in the IMPACT sessions, having just learned it.

Given that this is so, then new teachers have an automatic advantage on style and training, but being inexperienced, one assumes they have a disadvantage on substance. Conversely, veteran teachers would not have had this training recently they would tend to score poorly on the IMPACT rating rubric. So, was there sufficient training (during the the first year when observations were already going on)? Is a one or two day PD presentation sufficient for IMPACT training and expectation? Were there enough opportunities and were these opportunities taken advantage of by the teachers during the rollout year and sufficiently encouraged by administrators?

Might we also see some inverse relationships that show high IMPACT scores among new teachers but whose kids have low DC-CAS scores?

Saturday, July 24, 2010


reported by ISD Rhom Windfell | 2010.07.24 14:11:49:

Breaking News: Ushra'Khan Alliance Disbanded

4B-NQN, Providence - A few hours ago, Ushra'Khan [UNITY] lost sovereignty over three systems after corporations were unexpectedly removed from the alliance, it is thought, by a Hydra Reloaded [HYDRA] spy.

In Catch, JWZ2-V, formerly held by Endless Possibilities Inc and UQ-PWD, which was controlled by The Resident Haunting, were both lost, while in Providence, Universal Army's removal cost Ushra'Khan control of 4B-NQN. All told, 15 corporations were removed from Ushra'Khan, with only Unity Holdings and Neh'bu Kau Be'Hude, the executor corporation, being left in the alliance, apparently under control of the Hydra agent.

Ugleb of UNITY said: "As of now, the Ushra'Khan are under hostile control and considered lost."

He believes the traitor to be Tarac Nor, a member of UNITY who has been in the alliance for a year and only recently earned a Head Diplomat role.

Ugleb revealed why he thought Tarac has done it: "Well he is Caldari, I assume [for] ISK."

So far Tarac Nor has not replied to the Interstellar Correspondents' request for an interview. Stay with us as we look to bring further information as we get it.

CCP keeps it easy for dramatic high-level betrayals to wreck alliances that take years to build up, because... DRAMA! And then lots of people blowing up spaceships, which is always fun.

What sucks though is losing the name of the oldest and one of the proudest and most storied alliances in the game.

We go on.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Depends on How You Define "Standards"

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook:

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (DOE) released a statement saying that Fordham didn't consider all the "tools and resources" that are available to Pennsylvania teachers because, unlike in some other states, they are not part of the official standards.

What you include in the standards document itself plays a significant role in Fordham's scores. They want a suggested reading list in an appendix, not a separate document. They want year-by-year standards, not benchmark standards fleshed out in a separate year-by-year curriculum document. They want examples and anchor papers in the same document, or at worst linked right next to the standards on the relevant web page where their intern can definitely find them when plowing through all this crap for 50 states. Also implicit in this is that the state ought to decide the above issues, not local schools and districts.

There is no evidence indicating that any of the above distinctions improve implementation. I would argue that it is best to keep the standards document itself as simple as possible, because you only want to revise it, at all, once every decade. You don't want to release a new version every time you switch one topic from second to third grade, add a book to the recommended reading list, or re-think the score on an anchor paper, nor do you want to be locked into only doing those things every five or ten years.

On the other hand, Finland doesn't really have a separate standards document that I can find at all. They have very simple minimal standards, that Fordham would hate if published separately, embedded in a comprehensive curriculum document.

All Signs Point to #3 (in High School, too)

Mark Guzdial:

How can we get more people through college? My base assumption is that public policy, like water and electricity, always takes the path of least resistance.

  • Option #1: As the College Board suggests, we can improve P-16. We do a massive overhaul of K-12 so that students come to college prepared and motivated. Not only is that prohibitively expensive, but you’ll be spending most of your effort on improving education for the kids not going to college. That’s not an effective application of money to improve this particular metric.
  • Option #2: Change college. We can lower standards (most likely since it’s least expensive), or we can improve quality, engage students, and reward teaching as well as research. While not requiring as broad a change as Option #1, it’s still quite expensive. College is expensive, and it’s not clear that we have enough seats in our colleges to get enough students in the system to budge those numbers that the NYTimes is complaining about. And if we built more colleges, they would try to be research-focused (or at least, research-infused) which means less focus on teaching and more junior faculty being forced to churn out papers (even if nobody, not even the author, likes them) to make tenure.
  • Option #3: We create more on-line opportunities for higher-education. They’re cheaper to offer, lower quality, and don’t require building more schools. Nobody gets tenure for offering on-line courses. Even fewer students will pass than in Option #2, but if we lower standards enough (and it’s just software!), we can make that happen,too.

Pretty obvious to me from this analysis which way public policy will likely go.

Also, #3 is the "disruptive innovation."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Maybe I Should Switch to Health Care

Andy Oram:

Riley, in what is likely to be one of the most revisited talks of the conference--yes, we recorded the sessions and will put them online--rapidly laid out the architecture of CONNECT and what's planned for upcoming releases. Requests between agencies for health care data have gone from months to minutes with CONNECT. Currently based on SOAP, it is being refactored so that in the future it can run over REST, XMPP, and SMTP.

Credit Scoring and Long Term Unemployment

Fred Clark:

MSN Money's Liz Pulliam Weston says a survey of HR managers found the use of credit-checks in hiring had increased from 25 percent in 1998 to 43 percent in 2006. Weston also describes the elegantly nasty conundrum this creates for those who lost their jobs in the global financial crisis:

Many Americans these days are discovering the Catch-22 of unemployment. And that is: You might fall behind on your bills because you've lost your job, and you might not be able to land a new job because you've fallen behind on your bills.

It's even worse than that, actually. One component we've identified in the secretive alleged formulas used by the credit rating agencies is that frequent credit checks will lower your credit score. So even if the unemployed somehow manage not to fall behind on their bills, they're still screwed.

Say you're unemployed and you decide to work your tail off to land a new job, so you send out 40 résumés a week. Half of the companies might decide to do a credit-check before getting back to you. This sets off alarm-bells at the credit-rating agencies. Twenty credit-checks in one week? There goes your credit score. And there goes your hope of landing a new job.

This is what the use of credit scoring in employment decisions means: Looking for a job disqualifies you from being hired.

This is cruelly Kafkaesque. It's also bad for employers, arbitrarily reducing the size of their pool of qualified potential employees. And it's hindering economic recovery, prolonging the revenue-loss and the expense of unemployment, hobbling economic growth and therefore, yep, reducing the overall number of new employees being hired.

Common Core: Perhaps not the Worst

Considering how much I disagree with the Fordham Foundation on politics in general, educational philosophy and the role and purpose of academic standards, I find much to agree with in their new report, The State of State Standards--and the Common Core--in 2010.

Their criticisms of the Common Core ELA are often pointed:

In the following conventions standard, it is difficult to determine how a teacher would use this directive to drive instruction:

Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses(independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations (grades 9-10)

This standard implies that a writer can “add interest” simply by using different phrases and clauses. Most uninteresting sentences, by virtue of being sentences, have phrases and clauses. Sometimes, interest is much better generated with simple, straightforward language. Encouraging students to overcomplicate their sentences to make them seem more interesting seems like confusing, if not misguided, advice. Depending on the genre, word choice might, for example, be a better technique than sentence construction for “adding interest...”

Finally, the organization of the reading standards is hard to follow. They are organized into four categories: “Key Ideas and Details,” “Craft and Structure,” “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas,” and “Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity.” This framework creates a false sense of separation between inextricably linked characteristics, such as themes in a literary text (treated under “Key Ideas”) and point of view (treated under “Craft and Structure”). Since many kinds of texts, genres, sub-genres, and their characteristics are discussed in each category, it is also difficult to determine whether a logical sequence covering all of this important content has been achieved. What’s more, because the standards often offer a choice of genres to teachers, as in “Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact,” (emphasis added) coverage of essential genre-specific content is even harder to track. ...

...the organization of the reading strand, as well as the instances of vague and unmeasurable language, mean that the standards do not ultimately provide sufficient clarity and detail to guide teachers and curriculum and assessment developers effectively. ...

Where literary elements are mentioned, their treatment is spotty. CCR reading standard number three, for example, is a wide-ranging statement: “Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.” The grade-specific standards for literature in this category deal largely with the literary elements of plot, setting, and characterization, but not in a systematic progression across grades. Students are never asked, for example, to define plot, nor to identify the elements of a plot so that they would be capable of doing what the standards ultimately demand of them in the upper grades, such as this broadly worded—and ambitious—standard for grades 11-12:

Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama...(grades 11-12)

This seems like a fine skill for students to acquire and practice, but on closer examination, we can’t be sure which elements of the story or drama students should know and analyze: Symbolism? Characterization? Stage directions? How are teachers to ensure that sufficient attention is given to all literary elements over the course of twelve years if these are not specified and if no systematic treatment is afforded them? ...

One troublesome aspect of the writing standards is the persistently blurry line between an “argument” and an “informative/explanatory essay.” Appended material seeks to clarify the distinction, and summarizes by saying that “arguments are used for persuasion and explanations for clarification.” Yet not all explanations clarify (“because I said so!”) and not all arguments must be persuasive. An argument merely introduces, develops, and establishes a claim by providing evidence to support the claim, as in a literary analysis. Here, however, a literary analysis is not an argument; it is categorized as an informative/explanatory essay, which is arguably another category altogether. Still, if arguments here are all persuasive, then they should include the essential characteristics of persuasive writing in their description, such as a recommendation or call to action—and the category should in fact be called “persuasion.” As they are, these new definitions are likely to confuse teachers, curriculum developers, and publishers.

Nonetheless, Fordham scores the Common Core ELA standards a "B+." Certainly higher than me. While they score six sets of standards higher (California, Indiana, DC, Massachusetts, Texas and Tennessee), and five other tied with "B+," they prefer to describe it as 3 "clearly superior" and 11 "too close to call." We basically agree on which are the best ones -- particularly Indiana's.

Unlike Fordham, I've never been able to tolerate the idea that our (de facto) national standards would not at least be our best, or based on our best. Even better, based on the best in the world. And really, that's all I really need to say at this point.

Fordham's report does do a good job of convincing me that there are probably a dozen or two sets of standards kicking around that are truly hideous, even worse than the Common Core. I imagine I'd rank some D's as B's and vice versa, but I'm not going to sift through that pile of mediocrity.

However, if Mike Petrelli, Checker Finn and Tom Hoffman can all agree unambiguously that Indiana's ELA standards are better than the Common Core, why aren't we talking about using Indiana's standards? Why settle for seventh (at best)? Why not start with Finland's? What's the agenda, really?

Tasks and Understandings

Mulling over my last post a bit, the pet Hamlet unit I refer to was built around basically these two tasks:

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

But those tasks were heavily scaffolded and really a jumping off point for an exploration of the emergence of modern drama and modernity itself.

I suppose that could count as:

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

But those three bits don't add up to what I was trying to get at -- something much simpler would do just to meet those three standards, particularly if you're just prepping for a test. What I really had in mind was more like this Finnish objective of instruction:

(for students to) consolidate their knowledge of literature, thus developing their thinking, expanding their all-round learning in literature, their imagination and artistic insight and vision and constructing their world view;

If you've got the first three but not the overarching reason, you've got a problematic foundation for a discipline.

The Coming Flowering of Curricula for Common Core ELA

Michael Goldstein:

Second, national standards go nicely with the rise of blogs, self-publishing and platforms like Some amazing teachers will sell their yearlong courses, often displacing textbook companies (or making licensing relationships with them). If you're teaching 9th grade algebra, do you want a book from Scholastic, or a whole curriculum (lesson plans, homework, classwork, a yearlong calendar, remediation plans, "Do-Nows," "Tickets-to-leave", quizzes, unit tests and a final exam) from the Teacher of the Year in, say, Philadelphia?

Regardless of my other shortcomings as an English teacher, I was pretty good at getting ideas for standards-based lesson plans and curricula. Disregarding actual effectiveness, would even claim my idea-generating capacities were exceptional. I wish I could find a copy of the Hamlet unit I wrote at Brown that was a mash-up of Pacesetter English and Walter Benjamin's The Origin of German Tragic Drama (one I sadly never got to try out...). With a good set of performance standards, I'm never at a loss for possibilities.

So in theory now that we seem to have nearly national standards and platforms for sharing lessons, there should be a national flowering of awesome online curriculum (and of unimaginably horrible curriculum, but perhaps it can be sorted). My enthusiasm for this flags when I look at the actual standards, though.

For example, what can you do with this:

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Well... hm. We can read a text and answer the question. Discuss it. Write it down. Work on underlining, taking notes, outlining, graphic organizers maybe. Look at exemplary models of this kind of analysis. Uh... analyze some simpler pop culture texts that kids are familiar with in this way...

But basically, you're just practicing answering this question for every text you read. I'm not sure there is any curriculum to write, other than, "Don't forget to ask this question every time." This question will be on the final exam. Maybe I'm missing something.

And for some of these, you aren't competing with Scholastic's book:

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

You're competing with Scholastic's semantic analysis algorithm. A computer program can not only provide cogent, useful and immediate feedback on this kind of task, it may even be able to give you feedback based on the same algorithm that will be used in your high-stakes assessment. So while a couple cool lessons might be nice for variety, sheer repetition will win the day.

These standards are designed to facilitate the School-of-One-ization of English instruction.

The Real Problem with NY Math Regents


The NY State Math Regents measure the ability of a student to take and pass the NY State Math Regents. The exam is aligned with overly-broad standards. The exam is poorly written. The exam is poorly designed. It tests vocabulary skills and guessing skills. It tests test-taking skills.

The NY State Integrated Algebra regents exam does not measure knowledge or skill in algebra, or in any area of mathematics for that matter. It cannot be fixed. A student’s score on this exam will never correlate strongly to SAT scores or college placement.

It is time to admit that the New York State Education Department is no longer good enough to create mathematics exams.

Catching Up to Tuttle SVC on HCZ Analysis

I'd just like to note that I was over a year ahead of the Russ Whitehurst in generating a contrarian reading of Dobbie and Fryer's analysis of the Harlem Children's Zone and its schools.

Me, May 8, 2009:

In particular, Fryer's self-described epiphany, "The attached study has changed my life as a scientist," is not credible. The statistics from the study, which is not linked, show significant progress by middle school students at The Promise Academy Middle School, but on the surface at least, little different than what other high achieving middle schools in New York score on common assessments. Frankly, KIPP, Democracy Prep and some of the other charters bump up against the statistical upper limits of the assessments used by the city and state. It would be difficult mathematically to score significantly higher.


OK, I just read through Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Close the Achievement Gap? Evidence from a Bold Social Experiment in Harlem. By my reading, the key point is that based soley on high-stakes English and math tests, the only interventions in the Harlem Childrens' Zone that have a substantial effect are the schools. What makes this study different than similar ones is that they can compare the scores of kids from inside the zone and outside, and find that there is not a significant difference.

I'm not enough of a statistician to say whether or not the amount of growth shown at the Promise Academy schools is significantly greater than that at older schools which Promise Academy explicitly emulates. If it is true, we're left with a mystery. What are they doing differently? Fryer claims to show it is not because of the other measures in the Zone.

If you buy this study, it is an argument against replicating the Children's Zone.

A couple other points:

  • Whitehurst says three higher scoring KIPP schools "None provide or depend on community and social services to achieve their academic mission." Has this been documented by observation? Or is it just conventional wisdom? Where do you draw the line between "no excuses" and "social services? If a KIPP counselor does a house visit is that a social service? If a teacher dispenses advice at 9:00 PM on their cell phone to a student is that a social service? If a teacher refers a parent to a free clinic is that a social service? What if a city or HCZ social worker does exactly the same things?
  • Also, these social services are provided to the non-HCZ students in HCZ schools:

    The schools provide free medical, dental and mental-health services (students are screened upon entry and receive regular check-ups), student incentives for achievement (money, trips to France, e.g.), high-quality, nutritious, cafeteria meals, support for parents in the form of food baskets, meals, bus fare, and so forth, and less tangible benefits such as the support of a committed staff. The schools also make a concerted effort to change the culture of achievement, surrounding students with the importance of hard work in achieving success. These types of school policies are consistent with those that argue high-quality schools are enough to close the achievement gap.

    I suspect that this level of social services may be greater than those received by non-HCZ charter school attending residents of the Zone, confounding the entire analysis.

  • Despite the hype associated with the Harlem Children's Zone, which is at least an impressive feat of philanthropic marketing, the total scope of benefits may be simply inadequate. Compare the quality of life of a HCZ resident to that of any urban neighborhood in any Nordic country.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You Need a Ph. D. in Economics to Figure this Stuff Out


I've been mulling over that recent NYT article which had some business owner complaining that he couldn't get skilled (!) manufacturing workers to work for $12/hour.

At full time with no vacations that's about $25K/year.

Pioneer Institute's Critique of Common Core ELA Final Version

Pioneer Institute:

D. What are the implications of Common Core’s ELA standards for curriculum and textbook development, teacher preparation, and professional development?

Common Core’s standards make a coherent K-12 ELA curriculum unattainable. Unlike standards that point to the general cultural or literary knowledge (as well as the generic thinking and language skills) needed at each grade level, Common Core’s “anchor” and grade-level standards not only provide no intellectual base or structure for a curriculum, they actually prevent one from emerging. The academic content of English as a K-12 subject area consists of the concepts that guide literary study (including nonfiction) through the grades (e.g., genres, subgenres, rhetorical and literary techniques and elements, literary periods, literary traditions). But the texts that teach these concepts cannot take up even half of the reading curriculum at each grade level if it is to address all of Common Core’s reading standards with the weight it requires. What informational topics can contribute to coherent learning progressions from grade to grade in the over 50 percent of the reading at each grade level that is to be informational? What concepts can a progression of informational texts be based on for a coherent English curriculum in grades 6-12? Or is the ELA informational reading curriculum to cannibalize the reading content of the science, history/social studies, mathematics, and arts curricula in grades 6-12, content that English teachers are not expected and prepared to teach?

PI hits the CC standards particularly hard on the "Organization and Disciplinary Coverage of the Standards" and overall "Quality of the Standards." Since the states seem mostly content with analysis for "alignment" and "rigor," the overall low quality of the standards isn't going to come out until teachers start trying to use them. The PI's critique is coming from a rather different perspective than mine, but I'm happy to see it, and it reflects consistency and integrity on their part.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Arguing in Bad Faith

Elaborating a bit on the "knowledge vs. skills" rhetorical deadlock, it is pretty clear that the "knowledge" people do not believe that the "skills" people wil argue in good faith. Concessions are regarded as the latest in a century long list of tricks and deceptions. So we're pretty much stuck.

Missing the Low-Hanging Fruit

John Thompson:

Identifying the most ineffective teachers would have been the proper challenge. The task of identifying ineffective teachers, and devising efficient means of removing them, is doable, practically and politically.

Or, as I like to put it, "First, get rid of the sociopaths."

Removing Principals by Remote Control

I for one think that Michael Winerip's story about the removal of a popular and successful principal in Burlington, Vermont in order to qualify for federal stimulus money gets an important story right. I don't think this can be quantified, especially while we're in the middle of the process, but I've heard plenty of similar anecdotes. You could start with Central Falls, where nobody seemed to blame the principal, who was moved to middle school principal (iirc), and the previous AP moved up. Not moves consistent with a bad school administration.

This isn't 1992. The "lowest-performing schools" have been under a microscope for a decade.

In the Providence high schools effected, you have one that went downhill after the school's founding principal was moved to run a high school turnaround three years ago. The low-performing school has been merged with another small school run by a principal who has managed to more or less maintain the moderately good scores at her current school. And you have another principal who raised reading scores over 40% in two years before being faced with demotion to AP or firing.

I would guess that in about half of these cases removing the principal doesn't make sense, because there is no significantly better alternative at hand, but nobody really knows.

Make Some Noise Against Resegregation in Wake County

Not Holding My Breath for a Compromise


But it won't do just to get in touch with our inner poets or to move all our mental furniture into our right brains. Creativity depends on steady commerce between the left and right brains, Bronson and Merryman write. "Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process."

I wonder if this more robust vision of creativity can lead us to a truce in the battle between the traditionalists and the revolutionaries, between knowledge and 21st-century skills. You cannot reach a creative solution if you don't know your stuff.

The problem is that, at least rhetorically, the "21st Century Skills" side is more than willing to agree that you have to know stuff. The "knowledge" side hasn't left any room for compromise.

Luckily, I had a much better primary and secondary education than most people my age in America and spent three years doing Future Problem Solving, which does an excellent job of teaching the connection between knowledge, research and creativity, so I intuitively understand how these two parts are supposed to fit together.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Me Enjoying the UNREST Reunion in Cambridge Last Thursday

Photo by DEREK KOUYOUMJIAN for the Boston Phoenix.

Also sighted, Providence Geek/Cyclist/bassist Kip Bradford.

Defining "Extraordinary Growth" (part 2)

As I explained here and here, Rogers High School in Newport is named in RI's Race to the Top Application as a "proof-of-concept school" that has "produced dramatic student achievement gains of 10 to 20 percentage points over the past few years."

I decided to compare Rogers' gains to a rogues gallery of RI high schools:

  • The persistently lowest performing: Feinstein High School (FHS) and Central Falls High School;
  • the "could not be sustained" turnarounds: Hope Arts, Leadership and IT;
  • and the odds-on favorite to be next on the turnaround list: Mount Pleasant High School;
  • and the statewide averages for context.

As I showed previously, Rogers isn't seeing very significant increases in math -- particularly with low income students -- so I looked at the last three years of NECAP reading scores, most recently in October 2009, using the "teaching year" scores which include students who attended the school during the 2008-2009 school year, thus, for example, excluding juniors who have only been in the school for two months. This is important when evaluating the small schools in Providence, where the schools are constantly being rearranged by a hostile administration. For the sake of clarity, I'm going to refer to the tests by the year they were administered.

Presumably Rogers' designation was inspired by their schoolwide reading score increase between '08 and '09, and they stack up pretty well here, only trailing FHS and tied with Hope Arts:

Let's broaden the window a bit though, and look at schoolwide changes from '07 - '09:

Rogers is now in the middle of the pack and only two points ahead of lowly Central Falls, which has improved steadily in successive years.

But Rogers has a much lower percentage of economically disadvantaged students, about a third, compared to the other schools, which are over 80% lo-SES. And what we really care about is improving opportunities for our most vulnerable students, right? How to these schools stack up looking at changes in NECAP reading for economically disadvantaged students on the NECAP reading test over the past two testing cycles?

Oops. I prefer this version of that graph where I refer to the schools by their RttT roles:

Why Is Michael Goldstein Afraid of Teachers?

The occasion of Michael Goldstein whining about commenters who disagree with him and the horrible structural disadvantage they present to ed reform -- despite the fact that the comments on his op-ed in the NYTimes are thoughtful and evenly divided, at least in the first group anyone's likely to read -- is a good time to point out that the ProJo would like you to grade RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist's first year. So far the F's are winning.

Out here in the hinterlands, comments on education related stories are dominated neither by "reformers" or their perceived teacher opponents, but by the same anti-tax reactionary haters we've always had.

Defining "Extraordinary Growth" (part 1)

RI Race to the Top Application:

We analyzed individual schools and LEAs in Rhode Island that have produced dramatic student achievement gains of 10 to 20 percentage points over the past few years. These “proof- of-concept” schools, such as the International Charter School (in Pawtucket) and Rogers High School (in Newport), both of which are urban communities; exemplify our theory of action, with effective teachers and leaders working within a system of policies and resources based on student needs. They demonstrate the power of this strategy to produce extraordinary growth.

To be honest, I know nothing about Rogers High School, it is all the way at the other side of the state, that is, a 45 minute drive away, over two big bridges! I believe there may be a toll involved as well. Regardless, I have no brief or beef for them, aside from inherent West Bay Pride.

Anyhow, to find out more about Rogers and their extraordinary growth, I made the chart below. Rogers is blue, RI averages in gray. The solid line is first the reading interpretation and analysis proficiency rate in the old New Standards Reference Exam, followed by the NECAP reading proficiency rate (testing year). The dotted line is the reading scores for low-SES students (not available by school online until 2008). The dashed line is low-SES (i.e., economically disadvantaged) math scores. Note that I'm following the misleading RIDE date convention, e.g., the "2010" scores are for tests given in October 2009.

Basically, Rogers demographics are fairly representative to those of RI as a whole, about 1/3 low-SES, 2/3 not, and their scores up until last year have closely tracked the RI average. This year they got a nice 16 point jump in reading, while their low-SES math scores remained as dismal as their urban peers. Rogers low-SES math score is exactly the same as Central Falls'.

We'll make more comparisons to other recent RI high school turnarounds in part 2.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

One Factor in Low NECAP Scores


Of all the grades that are regularly tested as part of the congressionally mandated NAEP program, the 12th grade results have long been the most disappointing. That has led some experts to wonder whether the problem stemmed from poor quality instruction in high schools or whether the older and more-savvy high school seniors just weren't trying as hard as the younger test-takers. ...

In the end, the study found, both of the monetary incentives spurred students to do better than they might have otherwise, although the second condition, in which part of the payout hinged on the students getting answers correct, proved to be the stronger incentive. Under both conditions, though, scores for both male and female students were, on average, at least 5 points higher than the scores for the no-incentive group.

This study is asking a different question than Roland Fryer's recent work on incentives -- this one is just about whether or not incentives make kids try harder on the day of the test. Anyone who has proctored low-stakes exams for inner city high school students knows just how big this issue is; in many cases the kids just put their heads down after five minutes. And why shouldn't they? It doesn't affect their lives.

This doesn't impact state to state comparisons on NAEP, but it does have an impact if you tried to correlate state assessments between states that have differing "stakes" attached to test scores. Up to this point, all standardized achievement tests, including NECAP, in RI have been no-stakes for the kids.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Fine Line Between Success and Failure for Rhode Island's High Schools

Let's look at three Rhode Island high schools referred to in Rhode Island's Race to the Top application:

  • School A is one of the "'proof of concept' schools" that "exemplify our theory of action, with effective teachers and leaders working within a system of policies and resources based on student needs. They demonstrate the power of this strategy to produce extraordinary growth."
  • School B is one of the "persistently lowest performing."
  • At School C, "The focus needed to sustain the (turnaround) work was not adequately created at the district level. The lack of adequate financial resources (to sustain job-embedded professional development and collaborative planning time), ongoing leadership coordination (between RIDE, the LEA, and the school) and mechanisms to ensure and strengthen buy-in from staff, the original design could not be sustained."

OK, so here are the 2008-2009 teaching year NECAP scores of the three schools, Rogers High School, Feinstein High School, and Hope Arts High School:

Which is School A, B and C?

The answer is in the comments.

"Bringing Hope High School into the Fold"

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — The Providence School Department’s head of high schools testified before the state Department of Education Tuesday that while the total amount of common planning time has been cut at Hope High School, teachers will still have plenty of time to collaborate this year...

In their petition to the Education Department, students say that eliminating or reducing common planning time will dismantle many of the positive reforms that the high school has experienced since 2005, when the state Department of Education reorganized the once-failing school. The students are asking the state Department of Education to overturn the school district’s decision to move from a block schedule composed of four 90-minute periods to the six-period day adopted the rest of the high schools.

Meanwhile, the city on Friday plans to file a motion to dismiss the petition on the grounds that the district hasn’t violated any regulations. According to City Solicitor Anthony F. Cottone, Supt. Tom Brady has the discretionary authority to decide how much common planning time is appropriate for the system.

“No one is talking about eliminating common planning time,” Cottone said. “Hope was in a unique situation. It was a site-based school. All we’re doing is bringing Hope High School into the fold.”

First off, I hope Mr. Cottone gets his terminology more precise before filing the motion. According to the PPSD website, the Hope schools aren't "site-based," which is defined by the district's contract with the PTU. If they were, it wouldn't make their situation unique, as there are still, to the best of my knowledge, officially two site based high schools in the PPSD, which have been stripped of their contractual rights under without following the defined processes. So he'd better make sure he gets his terminology right if he's actually facing a hostile attorney.

This whole situation is putting RIDE into a deeper and deeper bind. Virtually everything they've done in the eventful past year has been based on the primacy of their Basic Education Plan. This is the first time someone is using it to force a move that the new educational establishment does not want -- maintaining improvements made by their predecessors. If the city's motion to dismiss wins out, RIDE's authority will be diminished. If RIDE rules for the students, their (apparent?) allies in the PPSD will be weakened. If RIDE rules for the PPSD, they undermine their own moral authority and would seem to weaken the legal keystone of their Basic Education Plan.

Making this all more awkward for everyone is that Hope's turnaround was written off as a loss in RIDE's RttT application, signed by the PPSD and PTU:

Specific measures of performance and success were not clearly established upon implementation. As a result, it was not possible to specifically identify the relationship between action steps and observed improvement outcomes. More rigorous monitoring is required to ensure accountability. The focus needed to sustain the work was not adequately created at the district level. The lack of adequate financial resources (to sustain job-embedded professional development and collaborative planning time), ongoing leadership coordination (between RIDE, the LEA, and the school) and mechanisms to ensure and strengthen buy-in from staff, the original design could not be sustained.

Of course, the original design not only could have been sustained, it still can be. RIDE is being handed a perfectly good justification for mandating that PPSD find "the focus needed to sustain the work."

Monday, July 12, 2010

The High School Reform Disconnect

Duncan said he was impressed by students and teachers at Aviation High School and would like to see a hundred more schools like it across the country.

"This is a model for the country, absolutely," he said, adding that the administration is interested in both charter schools and other innovative approaches.

State education officials see the school as an example of what they hope to accomplish if the state wins a grant from the competitive Race to the Top program.

Aviation High School:

Aviation High School believes that student success is maximized by relevant learning. Part of that relevancy at Aviation High School is of course found in the subjects we teach, especially those focused on aviation.

A separate part of our educational commitment is to use project-based learning whenever possible. Students learn as a team not only about the content, but about each other and working together, which in many ways can be just as valuable and relevant as the content. Work like this prepares students first for college, and then the real world, where they will need to work closely with coworkers and partners.

Aviation High School believes that the best way to learn is through hands-on instruction, and strives to include as much hands-on learning in its curriculum as possible. Our partners in the community are more than just names, our partners allow us to teach students with the real thing in front of them whether that's at the Museum of Flight, Microsoft, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, etc.

Students at Aviation High School leave ready to interact in a variety of work and study environments with versatility that few other educational strategies offer because of the connections to the world outside the classroom. We aim at every opportunity to foster that versatility and relevancy to the real world.

But Duncan's agenda in general and Race to the Top in particular are not geared toward this kind of school at all. Does he know this? What a phony snow job. What a bunch of liars.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

An Then the Administration Says, "How About If We Let You Play with Education Instead?"

Mark Halperin, quoted by Digby:

Well, there's great frustration within this administration as you know, Chris. There are people in there who say, "You know what? The country wants regulation of Wall Street, these people got rich and deserve everything they get out of this bill."

There are those, though, who consider that this administration's in almost a crisis, and not just because of the campaign contributions. But if the president wants to move a lot of his agenda --- immigration, energy,more on the economy --- he's going to need the support of people not just on Wall Street but in the wider business community and right now you're right, they're thinking about their self-interest.

And administration officials are frustrated. They call them in, they have meetings with them and they ask, "what should we do?" and they basically say "cut our taxes."

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The WoW RealID Thing

OK, tbh, I don't really read ed-tech blogs at all anymore, so I don't know if the whole World of Warcraft/RealID thing is getting much play in those circles. But, uh, if you're into that kind of stuff you should probably try to figure it out and follow along!

It Breaks My Heart to See Someone Motivated by Something Other than Money or Competition

Robin Aufses:

But if there is a teacher at my school in favor of performance-based compensation, he or she has yet to make that opinion public. And I think that’s a pity. It breaks my heart to listen to teachers who received final scores of 3s and 4s talk about how the system is terrible for morale. How can it be good for anyone’s morale to know you’re being paid the same as a person who received a 1? (For the record, there were very, very few 1s.)

History Lesson: What Conservatives Used to Think About Education

Heritage Foundation, 1997:

The school choice measures now before Congress would give parents the option to send their children to public, private, or parochial schools of choice. Thanks to the growing body of research supporting Catholic school education, Congress can be certain that inner-city children would benefit from these measures. This research looks at the impact of Catholic schools on a range of outcomes such as grades, standardized test scores, dropout and graduation rates, college attendance, and future wage gains.

In a study published in 1990, for example, the Rand Corporation analyzed big-city high schools to determine how education for low income minority youth could be improved. It looked at 13 public, private, and Catholic high schools in New York City that attracted minority and disadvantaged youth. Of the Catholic school students in these schools, 75 to 90 percent were black or Hispanic. The study found that:

  • The Catholic high schools graduated 95 percent of their students each year, while the public schools graduated slightly more 50 percent of their senior class;
  • Over 66 percent of the Catholic school graduates received the New York State Regents diploma to signify completion of an academically demanding college preparatory curriculum, while only about 5 percent of the public school students received this distinction;
  • 85 percent of the Catholic high school students took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), compared with just 33 percent of the public high school students;
  • The Catholic school students achieved an average combined SAT score of 803, while the public school students' average combined SAT score was 642; and
  • 60 percent of the Catholic school black students scored above the national average for black students on the SAT, and over 70 percent of public school black students scored below the same national average.

The line that "everyone" thought it was impossible to educate poor, inner-city, minority youth until KIPP arrived is a fiction. Conservatives thought Catholic schools worked. Liberals thought integration, head start, progressive schools or other alternatives would work.

Somehow we've ended up with a model of public, secular, data-driven parochial schools with TFA-ers taking the place of nuns.

And I came up with that example in the first page of the first Google search I tried. It is not an obscure mystery.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Budget Lesson #1

When I became technology director for a new school and $300,000 to spend, one of the first things I asked was, "Can I spend $200,000 and put $100,000 in the bank?" Of course the answer, for better or worse, was "No." You gotta spend it in the current fiscal year or someone else is going to end up with it.

Apparently nobody told Arne Duncan this and his crew at the Department of Ed got a little too cute with their $4 billion stimulus slush fund. Was it really just a coincidence that Congress started taking his toys away the first day of the new fiscal year? I wonder.

The first priority for that money was stimulus. If you don't spend it, you should lose it.


...we provided him with a $4.3 billion pot of money to use virtually any way he wanted to stimulate educational progress--$4.3 billion. He has spent a small amount of that.

You almost get the impression that the Department of Education is filled with people who don't really have much experience in government. If Rhode Island wins RttT, and we decide to sit on the money for an extra year or two with out spending it, do we get to keep it?

That'll Cool Tensions


Still, administration officials are concerned about the souring relations, and have been working to ease tempers, partly by emphasizing what they consider to be positive leadership by teachers’ unions in some regions.

“The administration is aware of the anger and wants to do whatever they can to cool it off, including getting third parties to issue words of praise for the unions when warranted,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a Republican who last month used his influential education blog, Flypaper, to highlight the forward-looking positions taken by union leaders in Delaware, Tennessee and six other states. Mr. Finn said he decided to write the post after an administration official pointed out how many local unions had helped lead overhaul efforts.

Yes, Checker Finn, just the person to reassure union teachers.

Happy Birthday Model M!


The very notion that computer hardware that began its tour of duty in the mid-1980s is still useful today seems improbable. It seems even more improbable that such surviving hardware would have moving parts. But it is, and it does.

If 25 years of staying power doesn't impress you, this should: its story hasn't ended. New model Ms are still being produced today in Lexington, Kentucky, United States by a company named Unicomp . I don't mean that Unicomp just bought the Model M copyrights (which they did) and rights to use the buckling spring design (which they did) and began innovating with new designs only marginally related to the older Model M (which they did not), attempting only to capitalize on brand recognition (of which there is little, I fear). I mean that they bought the factory, tool and die. Unicomp's website won't win any prizes, but they crank the same exact keyboards out that were being cranked out in 1986 today with two minor exceptions: you can now buy a keyboard with Windows keys and you can buy a Model M with a native USB interface. These aren't "copies" of a Model M; these are Model Ms. Even the addition of Windows keys or the new interface doesn't mean very much: the Unicomp spring assemblies still fit in the a Model M case from 1986, and vice versa. You can even buy parts from Unicomp to fix your 1985 Model M. Unicomp's new keyboards arent the cheapest: they start at $69 for a basic bucking spring model. But, then again, if you enjoy using a keyboard, and it will last you for 25 years, almost any price is a huge bargain as far as I can tell. Would it really matter if you paid even $250 for it, given a presumption of that time scale?

I've occasionally wondered whether the new ones were the same as the old. I'm glad to know that if my Model M ever gives up the ghost -- going strong 10 years after pulling it out of a pile on the way out of the computer recycling center -- I don't have to start trolling eBay.

Monday, July 05, 2010

True About Education Reform, Too


And what's most amazing is that it has almost nothing to do with the arcane subject of macroeconomics at all. It has to do with the notion that a bunch of politicians and economists are making important decisions based upon what they perceive to be human behavior. I'm not sure that most of the people who are doing that have a clue about human behavior. (There are some economists, like Robert Frank, who study that aspect of the field, but I don't get the sense that they are being consulted.)

It's certainly possible that many of these elites believe they have special knowledge of the world of markets and can, therefore, predict how bond traders will react to certain situations, which seems to be of the utmost concern. However, their predictions have been miserably off the mark on that so far and there's little reason to have confidence that their rather simple-minded view of what motivates people has any validity at this point.

DUNned by the Telecoms

As I mentioned last week, we're looking into using SMS in countries like Nigeria to transfer data between remote schools and central administration. This is the easiest and cheapest way to do it in the poorest countries in the world.

Whether or not it is the easiest and cheapest way to do it in the US is a different question, especially if you're a cell-phone luddite who ostentatiously parades around his Old Man Phone, on the rare occasions he can find it and/or its charger, and it is actually charged. Needless to say, the Old Man Phone doesn't do SMS or Bluetooth. Strictly speaking, I don't ever have to get this functionality working on my computer, but I'll never fully understand it if I don't have a little hands on experience myself.

So... what you need is a phone with Bluetooth support, in particular one which supports the Dial Up Networking (DUN) service over Bluetooth. In theory you could also send SMS's using your PC through a USB connection, but I'm using Linux, and there are probably no drivers for your controlling particular phone via USB on Linux. Bluetooth is at least a standard interface.

The problem is that US carriers don't like to leave DUN on. It is what allows you to "tether" your phone. If you have a data plan, that's what you'd use to connect your laptop to the internet via the phone. The carriers don't want you to do that. They want to sell separate services, so they disable DUN in software. That's why in the US you can't tether your iPhone but you can almost everywhere else.

In this case, I don't even want to access the internet via DUN, I just want to send an SMS. In fact, I shouldn't even need a data plan for it to work, just a voice and SMS account.

So what I need is the cheapest possible phone that I can get without a long-term commitment, e.g. a pre-paid burner, that supports DUN over Bluetooth.

I imagine this is possible, and I'm sure I could have done it with my goofy old N-Gage, before I lost it, but at this point it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are also other possibilities which might work like buying a generic modem and trying to stick a pay-as-you-go SIM card in, but they all involve spending about $100 to try the experiment. I could, of course, just buy a cellular modem with a two year commitment, but that's expensive and I generally don't need it. I could just give in and buy a modern phone, but what I'd want then is an iPhone or good Android phone, which also don't support DUN without being rooted, so it still doesn't really solve my problem.

Also, all of the above may be wrong, because I really don't understand this shit.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Would You Take Finland?

RE: Evolution or Revolution, I think the question to ask is, "Would you take Finland's educational (and child welfare) system?" And if the answer is yes, then let's just do that. Finland's change from mediocrity to excellence was evolutionary. If you don't want that, the burden of proof is entirely on the side of doing something more difficult, untested and "revolutionary" than what Finland did.

TCBC: Recent Readings, Black.

Christopher Alexander:

I should like to tell the story of Mr. Ishiguro, the eighty-year-old plasterer who did the black shikkui for us in the Eishin project. Mr. Ishiguro was known as one of the last great plasterers of Japan. The art of making shikkui, a lime paster mixed with organic gum and polished to a fine finish with a series of blades of greater and greater suppleness, is one of the great old arts of Japan.

Mr. Ishiguro offered to come out to our construction yard, when we were considering the idea of working with him, to make samples. He and his son made a rough framework, and on it the elder Mr. Ishiguro plastered an area about one square meter in black plaster. His son, sixty years old, and the head of their two man company, made a similar area of light green plaster.

His son finished first. The light green plaster was very nice by any ordinary standards. But the elder Mr. Ishiguro worked at his black plaster for a long, long time, lovingly stroking the small square of plaster, for hours it seemed, with his softest trowel, as gently as one might stroke a beloved woman's skin. He went on with it. And he went on with it. His plaster, his black panel, shone in an almost unbelievable way. It had a surface of satin gloss and sheen, yet so deep as if the world was in that plaster.

Whatever quality it was, it did not exist in the green plaster his son had made. I asked the elder Mr. Ishiguro, as we were all three standing there, what it was, and what the difference was. He said, quite openly, that his son, though he had been plastering for forty years, had never understood this "something." He is interested in the business, he takes care of the money, he is a good plasterer. But I was never able to teach him this. And he shook is head.

That is a whisper of the something, a direct relationship between person and matter, which has escaped our modern consciousness.

Anthony Bourdain:

Fifty miles out of Prague, the halved carcass of a freshly killed hog hangs, still steaming in the cold, from what looks like a child's swing set. It's a wet, drizzling morning and your feet are sopping and you've been warming yourself against the chill by huddling around the small fire over which a pot of pig parts boils. The butcher's family and friends are drinking slivovitz and beer, and through noon is still a few hours off, you've had quite a few of both. Someone calls you inside to the tiled workspace, where the butcher has mixed the pig's blood with cooked onions and spices and crumbs of country bread, and he's ready to fill the casings. Usually, they slip the casing over a metal tube, turn on the grinding machine, cram in the forcemeat or filling, and the sausages fill like magic. This guy does it differently. He chops everything by hand. A wet mesa of black filling covers his cutting board, barely retaining its shape -- yet he grabs the casing in one hand, puts two fingers in one open end, makes the "V" sign, stretching it disturbingly, and reaches with the other -- then buries both his hands in the mix. A whirlwind of movement as he squeezes with his right hand, using his palm like a funnel, somehow squirting the bloody, barely containable stuff straight into the opening. He does this again and again with breathtaking speed, mowing his way across the wooden table, like a thresher cutting a row through a cornfield, a long, plump, rapidly growing, glistening, fully filled length of sausage engorging to his left as he moves. It's a dark, purplish color through the translucent membrane. An assistant pinches off links, pins them with broken bits of wooden skewer. In moments, they are done.

Back in the cold backyard, you're on your fifth slivovitz when the sausages arrive in a cloud of vapor, straight from the pot. Everybody's damp and a little drunk; hard country people with rough hands and features for whom a mist of cold rain is apparently no obstacle to a meal. There is goulash, mopped with crusts of bread, and there are blood soup and many sausages. The whole of the pig is very well represented. But it's the blood sausage that sings -- or, more accurately, spurts. You cut into it with your knife and it explodes across the plate like a Hollywood bullet hitting a skull -- and again you think of Zola, the greatest of food pornographers, that wonderful scene in the charcuterie, our tragically absurd hero starving in the midst of ridiculous bounty. His in-laws stirring blood and spices for boudin noir, filling their glass display case with enticingly described delights he is unwelcome to try. It smells here like that room must have: blood and onions, paprika and a touch of nutmeg, notes of sweetness, longing... and death. The woman at the end of the table with a face like a concrete pylon sees you close your eyes for a second, appreciating, and she smiles.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Goal of a Charter School

My favorite statistic from recent education research is simply this: from Hoxby's research on New York charters, the characteristic of a charter school most closely associated with high achievement (as measured by test scores) is "Mission statement that emphasizes academic performance." This is a more statistically significant increase than those from longer school day or year, different hiring and compensation, any specific curriculum, class size or other structural changes. Chew on that for a while.

Keep it in mind when pondering the general question of why charter schools perform no better on average nationwide than traditional public schools. The history of charter schools parallels the standards and accountability movement, but it is not of that movement. Many charters have missions not exclusively focused on academics, particularly as measured by standardized tests. This was regarded as a feature, not a bug, and even this spring no less than the RI Board of Regents approved a new charter whose mission has no particular focus on academic achievement.

If the charter movement as a whole is going to change these aggregate stats, they're going to have to purge the schools that lack a singular focus on achievement as measured by test scores, graduation rates and other placement stats. In fact, I'm getting the feeling that process is already starting. Whether that reflects the spirit of community initiative and innovation that launched the charter idea is another question.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tom's Cosmological Bookclub

I'm having a second crack at Christopher Alexander's 4 volume cosmological magnum opus, The Nature of Order, this time trying to use book 4, The Luminous Ground, as the entry point.

One of the many hurdles to accessing this text is the price, now a steal on Amazon at $60.18, but you can also read it on Google Books, although from what I gather, the more you read it there the more pages will become hidden, so it is a kind of bizarre experience.

Anyhow chapters 8 - 11 sound like just what I need right now:

  • The Goal of Tears
  • Making Wholeness Heals the Maker
  • Pleasing Yourself
  • The Face of God

Here's an excerpt which won't disappear from chapter 8 regarding a school Alexander helped design:

And now, so many years later, when people are asked what is is about the school that means most to them, many say "the lake." It has become first on many people's list of things they like about the campus. What people originally told us, half ashamed, about their dreams of water and small paths where they could think about their lectures, was something real. Now that the lake is there, this real feeling has room to exist, and has become more real. The connection people expressed as an aspect of their inner selves was not an artificial concept but an inner reality which has been proven in practice.

This lake shows what I mean by "sadness." Of course, superficially, it is mainly happy. The ducks are swimming, the light is beautiful, people walk arm in arm around the lake. But if you compare it with an asphalt playground, the more usual core of a high school -- that asphalt does not allow your sadness to exist. It hardens your heart, you have to stifle your feelings, you can hardly allow yourself to feel anything. But this lake, even though it allows happiness to exist, is much closer to tears. If you have tears, you can feel them at the sight of the lake, or of the wind ruffles on the surface of the water. Its very existence in the school even allows your tears. You become the kind of person who can shed tears -- your tears are closer to the surface of your existence.

I am, of course, curious what Doyle might make of this.

You Know What Would Make Race to the Top Even More Cost-Effective?

Jonathan Chait:

House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey proposes to fund money for saving teachers by cutting back funding for the Obama administration's wildly effective "Race to the Top" program, which provides incentives to states that reform their education policy.

Yes, but insofar as RttT has been "wildly effective" in "incenting" states to change their education policy, that has already happened, so wouldn't it be even funnier to then cut the amount of money you're giving out?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Emperor's New Funding Formula

RI's new education funding formula is an improvement, but that's not saying much. Imagine trying to maintain your household budget by annually incrementing what you spent in each budget line in 1995, and you'd get an idea of how screwed up things here were. So it is better, finally, and that's something.

But nationally, or internationally, it is no big deal. How it rated mention on the National Journal blog, I don't know, but it does provide a good check on who the true believers and inside insiders are based on who rouses themselves or their PR staffers to praise Ms. Gist's charming new outfit.

Bruce Baker is not charmed or amused:

Quite honestly, Ms. Gist and the RI legislature may have been better off saying that the foundation level will be set at $8,295 because that’s how much we are willing to pay for – not this silly back of the napkin justification of the amount they were willing to pay for. That in mind, this foundation formula and its arbitrary weights – excuse me – weight – actually bring us backwards, not forwards in the school finance debate, making a mockery of “research” and its potential use for informing state school finance policy.

Good use of the Dumbest Stuff I Ever Read! tag. Gotta get me one of those.

Yadda Yadda Alignment

The Sacramento County Office of Education finds that this California standard (for grade 9-10):

2.5 Extend ideas presented in primary or secondary sources through original analysis, evaluation, and elaboration.

is aligned with these standards from the Common Core:

  • 9. Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance, including how they address related themes and concepts.
  • 10. By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
  • 1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • 9. Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

What's the verb in the California standard? Extend. The Common Core standards take great pains to keep all tasks tightly constrained to the texts for easy scoring. They are specifically constructed to not require the student to "extend ideas," unlike the standards of other high performing countries. How do you train a bunch of temps or program a computer to score "idea extension?" If you can't you'd better come up with a simpler standard. That's the way the Common Core is designed, at least.

Of the four CC standards cited, they really only need the first one. The last three are off topic and seem included simply to obfuscate the issue.

This comes up on page 6 of a 67 page document. I'm not going to slog through the rest.

What is the point of doing an alignment of standards if you don't seem very concerned with the precise details of what the standards say. Why bother? Why bother changing if the details aren't important?

Enjoy Your Retirement, Bill!

Inside UMF:

FARMINGTON, ME (April 15, 2010)–Theodora J. Kalikow, University of Maine at Farmington president, announces the retirement of William W. Geller, UMF vice president for administration and longtime University administrator, as of June 30, 2010. During his better than 33-year career at UMF, Geller has also served as vice president for student affairs, assistant to the president and grant coordinator, executive director of educational services, interim provost, executive director of educational services, vice president for student and community services and interim director of admission.

“Bill has done a wonderful job for UMF no matter what his position title happened to be,” said Kalikow. “He has been a mentor to many generations of UMF students, a supportive colleague, a creative and organized thinker who helped shape UMF and a most trusted and respected advisor for me during my entire presidential term.”

During Geller’s most recent service as vice president for administration, he has led the way in mapping out a path whereby UMF can survive and thrive in years to come, despite the difficult state and national budget challenges. Through the years, he has helped shape UMS fiscal policy and worked collaboratively with his CFO colleagues. Additionally, he has been a leader on the libraries and Education Center capital campaigns and a trusted collaborator with the Town of Farmington.

That's my father-in-law! Yes, education is the family business here.

Rhee Makes Her Loyalties Clear

Valerie Strauss:

Rhee states frequently that her concern is only for D.C. schoolchildren. If that is so, it seems odd that she would be so quick to suggest that she might abandon them without giving a new mayor a chance to do what she considers the right thing.

Her comments are hardly a great lesson for young people, who need more than ever to learn how to listen to other views and compromise.

Would it not be a far better message for Rhee to tell D.C. schoolchildren that she is here to stay and fight to improve their schools?