Sunday, October 31, 2010

Point of Clarification

Lest there be any confusion, I can't take credit for any of the hilarious Xtranormal cartoon spoofs of education jargon out there now. My original lack of attribution was just from haste and not really knowing where it did come from. As a leading purveyor of profane education analysis, I can see how people would infer that I was the author.

I had actually been thinking about doing a Waiting for Superman inspired dialog a week before that, but hadn't gotten around to it, after seeing this video:

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I ordered a PandaBoard today. It is the next generation ARM platform from TI. It has a full gig of RAM, dual core processor and onboard wireless, among other goodies. Also, it will run the current Ubuntu, which is what SchoolTool would use on the ARM platform going forward. The SheevaPlug is a bit of a dead end in that respect.

OTOH, the PandaBoard is more expensive ($174), and that doesn't include a case, power supply, etc. I'm hoping I can make a slick display case using the laser cutter at AS220 Labs to use at demos.

It's back-ordered right now but should arrive next month sometime.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ben Daley at Wireless EdTech

To be honest the Wireless EdTech conference wasn't horrible, and I have no real reason to call Chris Dede a prostitute, other than I can't stop thinking "What a prostitute" when I listen to him. I don't know why.

The fact of the matter though is that ed tech is still in a boring period. Maybe near the end of it, and part of the reason I went was to check in on that.

Nope. Still boring.

Also, the self-referential ed tech bubble was in full effect. You know what I'm talking about.

Ben Daly of High Tech High was the best part. I know he's not a big ed tech conference guy because I asked him if he was going to NECC about five years ago and his response was "What's NECC?" Anyway, he talked about:

  • Using Elluminate to do their "looking at student work" protocols virtually. The public can also join and observe this process twice a month over the interweb.
  • He showed off some nice books the students have made. Of course, that's nothing new, but they were really substantial, well designed, with high production values. In particular he passed around a book of artwork with text obviously culled from online discussion of the work. Really excellent modelling.
  • HTH is dipping their toes into online math instruction, which is probably going to become popular in a lot of progressive high schools which can't fit enough traditional math content into a project-based curriculum. If this can be made to work, it will be a great relief to many schools.

Gloom Settles Over Pittsburgh

Charlie Pierce:

Pittsburgh v. New Orleans: You want a crucial injury? We got yer crucial injury right here. Steeler DE Aaron Smith tore a bicep muscle last week and likely is out until the beginning of 2011, at least. Smith has missed 15 games in four years. Without him, Pittsburgh is 7-8 and gives up 22 points a game. New Orleans 30, Pittsburgh 17.

What You'd Never Guess from this Conference... that the kind of schools these people like are more likely to be closed than opened in 2010 (by my estimation).

Wireless EdTech Conference

I am at the Wireless EdTech conference today in DC. This is, to put it bluntly, exactly the kind of shit I hate. Not only do I hate it, but I think it is largely irrelevant. On the other hand, my friend Brian is on the advisory board and suggested I come down, and there are at least a couple people here I'd like to catch up with. Also, it is free, and I was able to crash with Dave Welsh, so it only cost SchoolTool a cheap flight on Southwest and a rental car.

Christopher Dede just opened things up. What a prostitute. He mostly talked about the National Ed Tech plan. The only question with that plan is who's punking whom? Is it a diversion to keep the ed tech community from noticing the rest of ED's agenda, which is already well underway and hostile to most of their goals? Or is the reason ED is destroying public schools to replace them with technology, and thus the people earnestly following the current reform strategy just tools of the technology companies?

Actually, Welsh did a good job of framing this session this morning by pointing out an op-ed in the morning Kaplan Test Prep Daily about the wireless companies wanting more bandwidth. Particularly the bandwidth that I use to watch the World Series in high def for free over the air. So my frame for this conference is that it is a prop in this debate.

Ben Daly from High Tech High is talking now, however, who is one of the people I actually like here, so I'll pay attention now.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

So You Want to Start a Charter School?

The not very illustrative picture above is the view from my office of the Hood Memorial AME Zion church, which is now for sale, now listed at $975,000, which seems way too high.

But, inflated price notwithstanding, it might make a good charter school, especially since there is about half a lot still empty behind the church, a full vacant lot beside it (I assume they go together), and another vacant lot behind that one (with a different owner, presumably). Anyhow, if it isn't big enough inside, there's room to grow. Please don't put in trailers though. Thank you.

View Larger Map

SchoolTool & Critical Links

I drove down to New Jersey last week for a very interesting (to say the least) meeting with the folks at Critical Links. Basically, they're a company which has expanded from offering a "small business in a box" server appliance to a "school network in a box" appliance, including IT functions (firewall, web filter, vpn, etc.) and educational applications (Moodle, LAMS).

And for two years, they've been shipping SchoolTool as an integral part of the product. This is, of course, exactly the kind of thing we've always wanted, although it is somewhat baffling that they never told us about it. We did have some developer to developer communication on specific bugs, but we had no idea of what the larger project was.

They've got many existing and in progress deployments around the world. Portugal is the flagship with over 1200 schools. Other smaller customers in Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Malta, the Seychelles Islands. That's just from my jotted notes; I need to get a full list. They support English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Good i18n support was key to their selection of SchoolTool.

Critical Links also has a strong relationship with Intel's education efforts. They're in the process of making their stack (including SchoolTool) an official "Intel Reference Recipe," and it is the standard server solution for Intel Classmate PC deployments.

When I first heard this, I was baffled because frankly any SIS/gradebook/attendance, etc. system, even one more mature than SchoolTool, would generate tons of questions, requirements, necessary customizations when dropped into even a few schools, let alone thousands spread over several continents.

It turns out they're currently using SchoolTool in a very specific way. Essentially, SchoolTool is used to manage student enrollment, courses and sections. They've hooked SchoolTool into the server's internal message passing system, so that, for example, when you add a student, they're added to Moodle as well. It is a familiar concept which we've explored as well on several occasions.

They've reskinned SchoolTool to blend in with their other integrated apps, and made a number of other small changes and improvements to make SchoolTool fit smoothly into their processes. Each server contains several virtual machines running Linux From Scratch instances, so they're building SchoolTool from source.

Overall, they didn't seem like the most open source savvy company. I'm trying to sort out what the technical requirements for GPL compatibility here are, but they are open to contributing back their changes and since SchoolTool is usually distributed as interpreted source code anyhow (I guess you could just distribute byte code if you wanted to), I don't see full compliance (if they're not meeting it now) as something that would constitute a strategic problem for them.

What this means is we have a big distribution channel in place, also potentially a marketing and training channel, and an installed base of users who are currently under-utilizing SchoolTool. It also means that the "bootstrapping" phase of SchoolTool's history is over -- we no longer have to worry about the problem of writing usable software without enough users. Of course, this opens up a whole set of exciting new questions, tier 2 support, training models, marketing, etc.

In fact, our overall distribution channel story is shaping up nicely here at the end of the year. We've got:

  • Critical Links appliance to Intel Classmate deployments and many other sites;
  • Progressing toward a March pilot in Cambodia to demonstrate working directly with a NGO and national government;
  • OLE Nepal should finish their RPM packages for OLPC servers this week (Fedora 13 packages are done already), giving us a pilot and channel for OLPC deployments;
  • We'll finally be back in Edubuntu for 11.4.

Lots to absorb and process!

Restrain Yourself


This came up because it is possible that a -A- Titan pilot goes to my son's school. We're not 100% sure yet, but we have very strong suspicions. And no, I am not thinking of murdering this poor pock-faced teenager! But would I stoop to cutting the internet cables to his house one stormy night during a very important CTA? Would I do that? Of course not. Seriously now, I wouldn't. But some of you might.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Your Conceptual Frame for Cheap Tablets

What I learned last week from commenter abellia and at the Providence Geeks meeting from Zigurd Mednieks is that the action in low cost tablets isn't so much coming from computer manufacturers going downmarket as lcd photo frame makers going upmarket and the development of the e-reader market inside China, particularly devices running Android.

The Career Path for Ambitious Teachers

Just stating the obvious on top of 5 Reasons Mr. Vilson Isn’t Becoming An Administrator … Yet -- this idea in reformy circles that there is no career path for ambitious teachers has always been silly. There is and always will be a chronic lack of competent administrators, and it isn't like once you become a principal you never see another student. This is another one of those "you are at a different stadium than where the game is happening" reform talking points.

The Real Widget Effect

Via Mike Klonsky, we find Paul Tough interviewing Bill Gates on the subject of education. billg says:

"In almost every area of human endeavor, the practice improves over time," says Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. "That hasn't been the case for teaching."

Hm... every area of human endeavor? What's most like teaching, or the process of education? Raising your own children. Has practice improved over time in that endeavor? How about creating and living in communities? How do our metrics look there? Helping people lead healthy lives? I think I read something once about an epidemic of obesity and diabetes (to pick one area). Caring for the elderly and dying... we getting better at that? Creating art? What are the numbers on high achieving painters and poets? Are you a better cook than your grandmother?

Fragment of an Overview of the Current "Crisis"

This is the beginning of a post that would be far too long to actually finish right now. It lacks links and references as well. But it is a nice start, so you might like to read it.

The Nature of the Crisis

Compared to other reasonably prosperous and developed countries on internationally administered tests, aggregate US results are middling. However, compared to other countries, the US primary and secondary education system is highly decentralized, segregated, inequitably funded and operates within the context of high and growing income inequality.

When individual states like Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire are compared to other countries, they rank near the top. To the extent that students in high income districts can be compared to other countries, they compare well, too.

While Singapore and Finland, exotic locales to most Americans, are the most cited examples of high performing countries, Canada is also consistently at the top. The most straightforward and accessible education reform lesson derived from international comparisons for Americans would be to become more like Canada.

There is not so much a crisis as a chronic problem of educating poor and minority youth in America, particularly concentrated in segregated schools. There is no existing model in the world for doing this right: nobody has overcome our level of income inequality, inadequate access to health care, high level of incarceration, etc. No other country of comparable wealth considers these conditions tolerable, no other country's schools successfully dig a sub-set of their students out of such a deep hole.

The Global Crisis

At any given time, there are many concurrent crises and moral panics in education (cyber-bullying! the new(est) math! the cost of college! etc.). In addition to the above concerns about US education compared to other countries, there is a sense today of global crisis, that no country is really preparing it students for a rapidly-changing and vaguely yet sensationally defined future, and thus education must rapidly undertake some vague and sensational reforms.

This has, I would argue, been true for the past 100 years, at least, and will continue to be the case indefinitely. And while it is possible that the present moment is the exact inflection point at which things can and must be fixed, it is equally possible that point was 20 years ago, or 20 years from now. And the solutions offered for this crisis are inevitably ones that fundamentally could have been, and in many places were, implemented 20, 50 or 100 years ago.

Switching to Offense

Confronted with NAEP achievement level numbers posing as "grade level" statistics, you can simply ask "By what process are NAEP levels aligned to grade levels?" The correct answer is "By no process whatsoever!"

You Need to Memorize This. Sorry.

Diane Ravitch:

NAEP doesn't report grade levels. It reports achievement levels, and these do not correspond to grade levels. Nor does he understand the NAEP achievement levels or just how demanding NAEP's "proficiency" level really is. To score below "proficient" on NAEP does NOT mean "below grade level."

NAEP has four achievement levels.

The top level is called "advanced," which represents the very highest level of student performance. Students who are "advanced" probably are at an A+; if they were taking an SAT, they would likely score somewhere akin to 750-800. These are the students who are likely to qualify for admission to our most selective universities.

Then comes "proficient," which represents solid academic performance, equivalent to an A or a very strong B. Guggenheim assumes that any student who is below "proficient" cannot read at "grade level." He is wrong.

The third level is "basic." These are students who have achieved partial mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient. This would be equivalent, I believe, to a grade of C. Many (if not most) states use NAEP's "basic" as their own definition of "proficient." This is because they know that it is unrealistic to expect all students to be "A" students.

"Below basic" is the category that Guggenheim confused with "below grade level." In 8th grade reading, 25 percent of students are below basic, not 70 percent. If Guggenheim knew what he was talking about, he might have said that 70 percent of 8th grade students were unable to score the equivalent of an A, but that would not be an alarming figure. It would not be a very dramatic story had he said, in sonorous tones, "25 percent of our 8th grade students are 'below basic' in reading, and that figure includes students who are learning English and students with disabilities."

Travel armed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's the Right Amount to Tip an Expert Teacher?

At the barbecue after the last Grays game one of the guys kept getting interrupted on his cell phone by a Curb Your Enthusiasm scale blow up which involved his ex-girlfriend, his boss's daughter, a haircut, and a too-small tip. After a while I realized the trio's highly charged response to this situation was pretty much the same as my reaction to a too-small stipend in a fellowship for "highly qualified educators."

It's just like a rich dude (Hewlett, not ISKME) stiffing you on a tip. And a bad tip is even more insulting if your base pay is actually pretty good.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"I never say I hated you, I just resent the fact that you exist."

The Unblinking Ear:

Surely, there's one group of the 90s that's both so criminally underappreciated and undeniably awesome that they deserve an unshared spotlight. And if that group isn't Silkworm, it would have to be Prisonshake.

Cleveland's Prisonshake had been around since 1987 and put out a slew of singles, EPs and a box set (no kidding) before releasing their first "proper" album, The Roaring Third, in 1993. This mammoth record got enough notice to receive a positive appraisal from Spin and inclusion in the Trouser Press Record Guide. However, Prisonshake's sound was more (early) Alice Cooper than Alice in Chains and failed to connect with anyone beyond a small percentage of the indie audience (which, as a whole, was much smaller now that it is today).

This was a pity because the record was simply a monster. It has all the strut, gnarl, grit and grandeur one could possibly want from a rock album. If the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion were the 1990s embodiment of rock n roll trash, Prisonshake equally celebrated this aesthetic but without the detachment. They played it straight and their convictions and sincerity granted them a greater power.

An you don't have to take my word for it. Here's Dusted's Nate Knabel on Prisonshake:

I think Prisonshake is like the axis around which all conversations about rock music should rotate. Like planet earth spinning far and wide in its revolution around the sun (that's what it does, right?), our conversations about rock music can pretty distant from the source. And it's winter right now. Really, I'd just like to tell every band begining with like Arcade Fire (who are just fine I guess) and extending to like Wilco, MGMT, I don't know, the Delta Sprit (and deifnitely Chromeo) to go get fucked. But it's okay, because Prisonshake remains a fixed inextinguishable source of heat. The Roaring Third is the best record of the 1990s.
The Roaring Third's "hit" was "2 Sisters," released separately as a 45. Was it the best song of the 1990s? Well, it was one of the best songs from one of the best albums of the 90s. And it definitely rocks harder than "Gold Soundz."

Now that your appetite is whetted, you can go purchase The Roaring Third from the Scat Records website for mere $10. It's a bargain at twice the price. Prisonshake have many other records available from Scat as well. If you want a quick sample of the rest of their work, Brushback at On Base On An Overthrow is a big Prisonshake fan and has posted many MP3 from their various releases.

But first and foremost, get yourself a copy of The Roaring Third. Your record collection is not of museum quality without it.

I concur.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why So Stingy, Hewlett?


OER Fellowship Program 2010-2011

Beginning in fall 2010, ISKME is offering a limited number of OER Fellowships to highly qualified educators. We will select up to six participants for the program, to run from November 2010 through August 2011. The purpose of these fellowships is to grow strong connections with educators who will serve as leaders around OER in their classrooms, school districts, and communities.

An OER Leader is someone who:

  • Collaborates with others to create and share an innovative OER Project
  • Mentors educators new to OER and advocates for the use of OER in their communities
  • Incorporates technology tools (wikis, nings, OER Commons) into their teaching practice

Educators can support each other in forging new pathways for collaboration in K-12 teaching by sharing teaching strategies, innovative ideas, and curricular resources. The sharing of Open Educational Resources (OER) and related practices involving digital and social learning is the cornerstone of ISKME’s facilitation of teacher professional development and peer-based learning. ISKME’s approach leverages existing practices of teachers and builds on ISKME’s OER Commons network for open teaching and learning resources.

ISKME’s OER Commons Fellowship project, supported by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, has the following goals:

  1. to engage in-service and pre-service teachers in trainings around collaborative learning strategies and shared online resources and processes;
  2. to develop and share a training model for others to use and adapt; and
  3. to create a pilot network that supports OER awareness and use in education.


  • Fall/Winter 2010 – This phase is comprised of virtual training sessions, wiki resource content creation and progress reporting/feedback
  • Spring 2010 – This phase focuses on social network use, co-facilitating training webinar and in-person workshop presentation, and documenting teaching resources used and student projects
  • Summer 2011 – Co-facilitate Teacher Academy


An OER Fellow is required to complete the following:

  • Participate in at least four of ISKME’s OER training workshops online and in person (when possible) during the 2010-2011 school year
  • Develop and document an OER curriculum project for a classroom setting, consisting of five or more new or adapted, open digital resources, such as inquiries, lessons, hands-on activities, etc.
  • Align OER materials to state and common core curriculum standards
  • Incorporate student work and feedback into project via text, photo, and video.
  • Use project and resources in the classroom setting on at least three occasions, and reflect upon the experiences in discussion and written formats.
  • Communicate and collaborate with other OER training participants and peers online and in-person during the fellowship period.
  • Introduce local colleagues to OER and collaborative processes and form online cohort of at least five other teachers to use social networking processes to discuss issues and challenges related to OER and education
  • Present at virtual and in-person trainings about learning and experience with OER processes, Fellowship Project, and potential for widespread impact.
  • Participate with ISKME in documenting and giving feedback on the impacts of the Fellowship and the project activities.

I do a brief Snoopy dance, perhaps the logjam is breaking, our time is now! I continue...

Upon completion of the above, a Fellow receives:

  • A stipend of $1,000
  • A certificate of completion from ISKME
  • Continued access and support in OER online networks

A thousand bucks?!? Here's what I say to that: Go. Fuck. Yourself.

I have no idea why the Hewlett Foundation cannot help but embed an insult in every gesture toward open K-12 content, but it has in every case I've seen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PVD High School -> College Enrollment Stats

Some last scraps of data I could never put my hands on last year. This is from the National Student Clearinghouse, if it is publicly available online, I don't know where.

This is Percent of Students Enrolled in College the Fall Immediately Following Graduation From High School for the class of 2009:

The little numbers next to the school names are the years of data for the school if it is different than 8. Note that the big jump in Hope scores kicked in when the class of 2010 took the NECAP as juniors, so those students are not reflected here. Classical, of course, is the selective enrollment school which requires a test for entry.

Here is the multi-year average of the same data for schools with more than three years of graduates:

For those of you just joining us, Feinstein High School is the school I helped start and was named as one of Rhode Island's persistently low performing by Commissioner Gist, and closed by Superintendent Brady.

Planning! Collaboratively!

By baldeagleization.

Locate the "reformer" in the above video.

The Decline of Rock Music in a Nutshell

Joe Carducci:

However, the radio business is about advertising, it isn’t about music, and the change in music could be noticed in the eighties and it was real. If you ask me anyone starting a band after 1980 was handicapped by the lack of an immersive exposure to great music by good radio stations. Mediated America no longer allowed provincial folk cultures to develop deeply on the highly refined level they once achieved in Appalachia, Louisiana, the Mississippi Delta, the Piedmont, the border…, so this new airborne folk media was what we had to make do with after WWII. It was quite productive for awhile and great folk media synthesizers like Eddie Cochran, Dick Dale, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, James Blood Ulmer…, made contributions as brilliant and nearly as organic as earlier, more rooted, less mediated folk synthesizers like Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry…. But it was less sturdy and thereafter, if young kids got turned on to music in junior high and form a band by the end of high school, then the end of great music radio in the early seventies resulted in the end of great bands in the early eighties. The good bands thereafter, even if inspired by their immediate predecessors became more directly derivative, more conceptual and thinner in achievement. (I’m thinking of bands like Social Distortion, Dream Syndicate, The Pixies, Eleventh Dream Day…, vs. those formed earlier such as The Germs, The Sleepers, The Wipers, Black Flag, The Minutemen…) These unsigned and unheard casualties are better known today than they were in their day, and this too is culture damage charged to Lee Abrams, even though no small label releasing such records ever mailed him a copy.

By the late 1980s the slight demographic wind at their back and the slow advance of the new independent label economy through college radio stations, a smaller club circuit, and a new generation of music writer and editor yielded what passed for a watershed radio event where AOR and CHR (FM’s Top 20 format) stations were suddenly forced to play what to them sounded absolutely foreign, Nirvana’s breakthrough single. But by then the music culture of America was dumbed down to the level rather of a media culture; meaning Grunge was as the Twist and it evaporated. Our music culture’s been broken down further of course since then.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nobody Could Have Predicted

The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The focus of the session was virtual worlds, and the academics were discussing whether to take their virtual campuses out of Second Life in protest, after the company that runs the online environment announced the end of a generous education discount.


Recent Research Quickies

Kaplan Test Prep Daily:

Low-income students in Montgomery County performed better when they attended affluent elementary schools instead of ones with higher concentrations of poverty, according to a new study that suggests economic integration is a powerful but neglected school-reform tool...

Researchers see the results as especially significant because Montgomery, one of the nation's best and largest public school districts with 144,000 students, has been uncommonly aggressive in seeking to improve the performance of students in schools with higher poverty.

It has divided the county into a high-performing, more-affluent green zone and a high-needs red zone, where schools receive about $2,000 more in per-pupil funding. And yet, the low-income students in the study performed better in the green-zone schools.

Harvard Education Review:

The national study, undertaken to determine how child development in 2010 relates to Gesell’s historic observations, used key assessment items identical to those Gesell created as the basis for his developmental “schedules” which were published in 1925, 1940, and after his death by colleagues Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg in 1964 and 1979.

Given the current generation of children that—to many adults at least—appear eerily wise, worldly, and technologically savvy, these new data allowed Gesell researchers to ask some provocative questions: Have kids gotten smarter? Can they learn things sooner? What effect has modern culture had on child development?

The surprising answers—no, no, and none. Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute, says despite ramped-up expectations, including overtly academic work in kindergarten, study results reveal remarkable stability around ages at which most children reach cognitive milestones such as being able to count four pennies or draw a circle. For the study, 92 examiners conducted 40-minute one-on-one assessments with 1,287 children ages 3–6 at 56 public and private schools in 23 states.

“People think children are smarter and they are able to do these things earlier than they used to be able to—and they can’t,” says Guddemi. While all children in the study were asked to complete 19 tasks, results echoed previous Gesell findings showing, for example, that a square is in the 4 1/2-year-old repertoire, but a child cannot draw a triangle until 5 1/2. These developmental milestones, Guddemi says, relate directly to what can be expected of children in kindergarten.

“The Gesell findings to me are very comforting,” says Lisa Fiore, program director for Early Childhood at Lesley University School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. She sees the data as a stroke in favor of those who find the focus on test scores—and not exploratory learning—troublesome. “I hope someone will pick up a hard copy of this study and say, ‘Listen, we should all relax.’”

Although the study shows children have the same developmental schedule they always have, Jerlean E. Daniel, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, says findings in recent years about the value of one-on-one conversations to early literacy, and music and patterns to math concepts, have added to the understanding of how children develop cognitively. Nonetheless, says Daniel, kindergarten has become more rigid and pressured. “Above all, young children need time—time to manipulate objects and ideas, time to make the information their own,” says Daniel. The Gesell study, she says, “is a resource to people who want to find greater balance in kindergarten.”

Retention in Charter Schools

Sarah Garland has an excellent piece in The American Prospect on the retention (i.e., failure) rates in charter schools:

Democracy Prep Harlem, the first school in a new network that plans to open more schools in New York and Rhode Island, is a charter that subscribes to the "no excuses" principle common at charters, meaning everyone, from students and parents on up, is held accountable for their performance and must pay consequences if they don't measure up. Unlike many charters, Democracy Prep, a middle and high school, has an outsized population of special-education students. Seth Andrew, the school's founder, says students at the school are far behind when they arrive in sixth grade. Last year, more than 20 percent of the sixth-grade class was held back. "The reason that charters exist is to help remediate for traditional public schools that are not teaching students to read, write, or do math, and that's not a one-year job," he says...

Nyeesha Hill, a student at Democracy Prep, had to repeat sixth grade at the school. Nyeesha is one of 12 siblings and lives with her grandparents in a lower-income section of Washington Heights, in upper Manhattan. She was held back in first grade -- because of behavior issues, she says -- so she was already old for her grade when she was chosen in a lottery to attend Democracy Prep. She struggled at the charter school and was assigned to summer school to improve her grades in three classes -- global history, writing, and math. She ultimately failed one of the classes, so under Democracy Prep's retention policy, she had to repeat the grade. "In the second year, I raised my hand for help and participated more. It helped me," she says. "It's a second chance."

But Nyeesha faltered again, and she will have to repeat eighth grade this year. She has pressed her grandparents to let her attend an alternative high school, where she hopes she can join peers who are her age and graduate faster. "I'm going to be 16 this year, and I feel like I shouldn't be in that school," she says of Democracy Prep. "I don't want to go back." Most of her classmates will only be 13 or 14 years old. Her grandfather, Duely Adolphus, shares her frustration. "I was under the assumption that by going to that school that she would be getting her high school diploma," he says. "I have really high regard for the school. I don't know why she can't move from that grade. Maybe Nyeesha isn't motivated."

School leaders say that the higher attrition rates at charter schools are due, in part, to their retention polices: Students who are held back often return to regular public schools where looser academic standards allow them to move up with their peers. A 2004 study of charter schools in Arizona by the conservative Goldwater Institute found that charter-school students were significantly more likely than traditional-school students to switch schools if they were going to be held back. Andrew says Democracy Prep lost about half of the eighth-graders it planned to retain. (Around 15 percent of the eighth-grade class is held back each year.) At Kings Collegiate, the attrition rate ranges between 15 percent and 18 percent for all grade levels, school leaders say.

The high transfer rates leave charters open to the criticism that they're forcing out the lowest-performing students. Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University researcher who studies charter schools, says the retention policies of charter schools may sound good, but they "could be a mechanism to have the weaker kids go back to traditional public schools."

But Raymond says her studies have found that students who leave a school rather than be retained are less likely to be minorities or on free or reduced-price lunch, suggesting that it's the more affluent parents who worry about the stigma of repeating a grade. And charter-school leaders say they work hard to hold on to students whom they want to retain. That's why Kings Collegiate tries to hold back students only in the early grades, Peiser says. "They're more likely to stay with us," he says. Andrew, at Democracy Prep, says his school has an incentive to keep the students it wants to retain because they're the ones who make the most progress -- and New York City relies heavily on student progress on state tests to evaluate schools.

It will be interesting to see how that process plays out in the more integrated Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Somerby on the Manifesto

The Daily Howler:

That bafflegab from Rhee and Klein wasn’t a hurried, clumsy response to an unexpected question. This was the best the gods could do with a topic of their own selection, in a passage intended to show that they know how tough things can be in the schools.

If that's the best they've got at this point, they're running out of gas.

If We REALLY had a Desperate Need for College Educated Workers

One thing we could do is to regulate or eliminate non-productive aspects of the economy to shrink their share of the labor market. For example, phase out the health insurance industry in favor of a more efficient single-payer system. That'd free up a lot of college educated workers. Make some changes in the tax structure and financial regulation to reduce the profitability of speculation and overly complex financial instruments. Put all those Ivy League hedge fund guys to more productive use!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Weizenbaum: "Every day that goes by, kids are being deprived of a remedy."

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The lawyer for several Hope High School students has filed a motion in Superior Court that would force the city to restore the teacher planning time cut by the school district this fall.

Miriam Weizenbaum, the students' lawyer, is asking the court to enforce the state education commissioner's decision. In September, education commissioner Deborah A. Gist ruled that the Providence School Department must restore 84 minutes of common planning time to the teachers' weekly schedule.

The lawyer for the city of Providence immediately appealed that decision with the state Department of Education, which is expected to schedule a hearing before the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

According to Weizenbaum, the law states that plaintiffs must first exhaust their appeal before the agency, in this case, the Department of Education, before seeking redress in court. But there is an exception: If the plaintiffs can prove that further delays are hurting them.

From Providence to the Great Wildlands


The time has come once again for change. In the pursuit of our cause we have brought about, witnessed, and endured many changes. Some have been trials, others blessings, and nearly all necessities.

Years ago the Ushra'Khan set foot in Providence with a simple mission; to oppose Amarrian expansion in the region. The winds have shifted over the years in favour of one side or another, at first the conflict was held in balance, but in time the slaver gained the upper hand. Throughout this time we were there, harrying Amarrian Providence while we sought to build our strength and gather allies. At last, early this year, the tide was turned and Amarrian Providence, the CVA's Operation Deliverance, was broken.

The change came swiftly and in truth presented a new and difficult challenge. For our part in the campaign and liberation, we found ourselves in uncharted political waters. Having torn down the Amarrian order, we were faced with a power vacuum. Together with Against All Authorities we began to establish a new Providence, a necessary task if the slaver were to be kept out.

For much of this year that task has consumed us. Pacts, deals and treaties to broker, entire star systems to govern and lines on a map, drawn and re-drawn. Nation building was not our original goal, but over the years Providence has changed and grown, so it became an inescapable necessity.

Nearly three months ago the Ushra'Khan was betrayed by one of its own and systematically dismantled from within. This event was to begin a vicious cycle that is still ongoing. The alliance quickly reformed under the new Damu'Khonde banner and set to work re-establishing itself. But there would be repercussions, of course. There is great stigma attached to such an incident among we Capsuleers, and few alliances have ever survived such a grievous blow. This sent ripples throughout the regions political structure and disrupted the fledging new order.

Almost three months on, and much has changed. The politics of the region have continued to evolve, and while the Damu'Khonde survived its traumatic birth, it has changed greatly for it. And the reasons for that stem from the history I spoke of before.

The Ushra'Khan entered Providence to combat slaver expansion. Earlier this year that goal was achieved. Today, Providence is under new rule, and a new order. Our work is all but done, yet here we remain. We have been coming to the conclusion that it is time for change yet again. We are releasing control of all our Providence holdings to neighbours, allies or other custodians. Our mission is not one of carving out empires, and with the events of recent months we think that the time has come to give Providence over to its new residents entirely. It is time, for us to leave.

We shall go to the Great Wildlands, we remain a predominantly Minmatar organisation and believe that it is time to once again be closer to our people. We shall continue our mission from there, or moving as our needs dictate to fight where our pilots see fit. Be it in the pursuit of old foes who have crossed our path, or into the heart of Amarr itself. We have debts to repay, and our cause beckons.

It is time, to wander free once again.

I'm still weighing my options.

“The Huntingdon experiment looks like a good idea for Virginia”

Last week Vivian and I flew down to Bridgewater College for Uncle George's inauguration.

I have to say I thought his speech was quite good. It included a number of elements I recommend for impressing me.

Start by choking yourself up talking about how wonderful my mother's sister is:

Finally, this day is possible because of the support and love of my wife, Susan. She is a smarter, better person than I. For nearly forty years, I have been greatly blessed by her presence in my life, and now this community is blessed as well.

As quickly as possible, work in a reference to a 19th century panic or depression:

The year was 1880. The country had just suffered through the harsh six-year Depression of 1873. Moreover, wounds of the Civil War had not yet healed. Here in this very valley, memories of death and destruction were vivid. Parents and widows still grieved over their dead sons and husbands. Men awoke daily, tormented by memories of earlier times when they were whole—before arms and legs fell victim to the surgeon’s saw. An entire race was struggling to finds its way in a still hostile world, trying to understand why freedom turned out to be such a heavy burden. Time—possessing, as it does, the power of healing—and love—being slow, as it is, to overcome institutional hatred—had not yet finished their work.

This stretch here elegantly, well, it does a lot of things, to frame the community, George's deep ties to it, and the expansive vision he will elaborate throughout the speech. Bonus points for quirky historical quotes referencing my home town.

A peculiar people lived in this valley. They were peculiar in dress and custom. They were peculiar in thought as well. Their ancestors had been drawn to this continent in 1719 by the promise of freedom of thought and practice, and by possibilities. They first came to Philadelphia. Later, these German pilgrims fled west as their principles of nonviolence turned others against them at a time when men took up arms against a distant monarch. They settled in Lancaster County. Others moved still farther west. The great valley beckoned them—the valley known in the north as Cumberland and in the south as Shenandoah. Here they settled. Here, the mountains provided sanctuary, keeping a hostile world at bay.

They were a simple people. Most were farmers. They toiled the land, reared their children, and, above all, sought to walk in the Way taught and lived by a Palestinian Jew named Jesus.

From their midst arose an evangelist who was not content with the toil of hands. At age twenty-four he embarked on a journey to teach Greek and German to students of the Brethrens’ new Normal College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, just a short distance from the place of my youth—a school that later would become known as Juniata College. “The Huntingdon experiment looks like a good idea for Virginia,” wrote Daniel Christian Flory.

Others disagreed. Some Brethren thought colleges were “calculated to lead us astray from the faith and obedience to the Gospel.” But Flory did not defer to those who feared education; rather, he regarded religion and education as “mutual allies in the fulfillment of human possibilities.”

Unfortunately, a funnier quote from critics who were afraid students would come back from Huntingdon as "cane-twirling dudes" was left on the cutting room floor.

Gimme a good definition of what an American liberal arts college is all about, grounded in the history you've spent half you speech setting up:

The values that comprise the Bridgewater Experience, at first blush, seem quaint and old-fashioned.

Perhaps we are simply behind the times. Initially, one might even suspect it is merely a façade. But then the authenticity and power of these values and this culture become apparent. And after a while you begin to realize that something is present here that the world desperately needs.

The values that our ancestors have generously passed onto us are precious and increasingly uncommon: the college’s attention to developing the “whole person”—that is, the mind, body, heart, and soul; to exploring what it means to be human and to live a thoughtful and purposeful life; to aspiring for wisdom and not merely knowledge; to nurturing an inclusive and caring community in which love-informed giving, and not self-centered taking, is valued; and to serving something greater than ourselves.

Now, you can talk about globalization. Bonus points for maintaining a complete historical perspective giving China its proper status:

Great societies like China have advanced with lightening speed. Talented, highly educated people from Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe now compete with our sons and daughters for the best jobs. No longer do America and Western Europe have the world’s economic stage to themselves.

Lay out a nice succinct plan based on the above, pointedly avoiding easy (and particularly technological) fixes.

Time does not permit full amplification of all the steps we can and will take to enhance the Bridgewater Experience and student outcomes; however, there are two deserving of attention due to their criticality: diversity and internationalization. Both bear on the necessity of providing an adequate global context to our students’ intellectual development and career preparedness.

Trustees, faculty, and staff who have heard me speak of this know I am speaking in the broadest terms possible. Principally, I mean diversity of experience, culture, and perspective. While this certainly entails greater racial and ethnic diversity, it is broader than that. In general terms, it is the intentional formation of a learning community comprised of people who have experienced life differently and, as a result, bring different perspectives and ideas to bear. It is a place where ideas arrive via different avenues and streets. It is a place that helps prepare our students how to work, how to deal, and how to get along with other people, including people who are different. And it also is a place where the color of one’s skin does not define the individual, or limit his or her possibilities.

Today over 90 percent of our student body hails from one of two states. That needs to change. Today we have only five international students. That needs to change as well. A goal of more than 100 is not unreasonable.

In addition, we need to do a better job of recruiting, retaining, and graduating more students from underrepresented groups. We also need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining faculty, staff, and senior administrators from underrepresented groups.

Keep your arguments about technological and social changed rooted in your values.

I am not naïve. While many have voiced support for this initiative, I know some members of the BC community may be concerned. Some may fear the loss of that which they value the most: BC’s strong sense of community. Bridgewater students are “nice,” is a common refrain around Rockingham County. I sense among some the fear that people from outside the valley may not be so nice.

That is understandable; however, it underestimates both the source and strength of that which makes this place so special. The Christ-values of compassion, respect, generosity, and integrity, as well as a deep yearning for justice and equality, have withstood the test of time; they are not as fragile as some may fear.

In any event, a community that is truly formed and informed by the values of Jesus cannot be defined by mountains. Barriers, whether natural or the product of man’s fears, have no place in such a community.

Because we care deeply about our students and about helping them fulfill their possibilities, and because we care deeply about the world and its inhabitants, we are compelled to prepare our students well for a society that is global and diverse, and we are compelled to welcome to this community people who are different.

Given our faith tradition and the concern some may have over what we call “Christian values,” it is important to note that “different” also includes people who reject faith in a divine being, as well as those who do not know what to believe. It is precisely because this institution is rooted in the values of One whose principal trait is love that all are welcome who seek knowledge and truth in the context of an inclusive, respectful community. For it is in our dealings with each other, and in our common pursuit of knowledge and understanding for the betterment of all people, that we are joined in community.

And show a little class consciousness!

While we go about the task of enhancing the student experience, we must be attentive to our special role in being a college for working people. Bridgewater College is not an institution of hierarchy or privilege. Many of our students’ families are of limited or modest means. A large percentage of our students come from rural areas or small towns. More than a third are the first in their families to attend college. Quite a few come from high schools that have not prepared them particularly well for college.

Educating the non-elite is a mission we warmly and enthusiastically embrace. We are not, and do not want to be, a place motivated or defined by rank and privilege. Frankly, that is not what Brethren values are about. Nor is it what the world most desperately needs.

Overall, George seems to be taking to his new role like a duck to water, and Bridgewater is lucky to have him. I'm looking forward to seeing how they grow together in the years to come.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nobody Could Have Predicted

I have no particular insight into Teacher absentee rate at Central Falls High School worries school officials and Central Falls police, school officials tackle discipline issues at high school, except perhaps to say if you're relying on someone from The Met to lead a crack down on discipline, you're in a weird place.

Information Chemistry (or Literacy, if you must)

Jon Udell:

To most people, all four items in the What Computers See column are roughly equivalent. They're understood to be computer files of one sort or another. But when computers use these files on our behalf, they use them in very different ways. The first two uses enable people to read, print, and interact online. The latter two enable computers to exchange data without loss of fidelity, so that other people can read, print, and interact online.

The laws of information chemistry say that if we want to exchange data, we must provide it in a format that's useful for that purpose. In this example the PDF and HTML formats aren't; the iCalendar and xCalendar formats are. To most people it's not obvious why that's so. Our brains are such powerful pattern recognizers, and we know so much about the world in which the patterns occur, that we can look at Fig. 2a and see that the text clearly implies a structure involving dates, times, titles, and descriptions. Computers can't do that so easily or so well.

Fundamentally important to living in the future.

The Question of Credibility

Liam Goldrick:

And this leads us directly to the question of credibility. While I am personally inclined to support elements of what the superintendents' manifesto calls for -- and inclined to support elements of broader education and teacher reform agendas -- I am disinclined to associate myself with a clarion call that is dishonest on its face and misserves the national need for a critical conversation and accompanying set of public policies to address issues of economic inequality. That need extends well beyond the education system and requires responses much broader than merely strengthening the teaching profession and overhauling human capital systems.

Helping Poor Students Learn: It is Troublesome! Try it and See!

Jason asks in email for my opinion of Kevin Carey's The Supposed Trouble With Helping Poor Students Learn. It is perfectly clear that it is possible to improve education for poor children, or, for that matter, rich ones. For example, consider this chart of last year's NECAP performance in Providence high schools:

Nonetheless, the process is difficult, expensive, has a low margin for error, and probably can never truly meet the goal of "closing the achievement gap," as there is always another more expansive definition of that gap waiting in the wings.

Beyond that, in a profoundly unequal yet highly competitive society, it is difficult to protect reforms that primarily affect the disempowered poor from administrators serving the most powerful interests in our society, like Tom Brady, Deborah Gist and Arne Duncan. Looking at the above chart, all of the schools achieving above the city average except Classical -- the one which has a significant minority of affluent students -- has either been closed, had its successful reforms substantially dismantled, is facing impending re-organization, or has a substantial threat of the above hanging over its head. The people served by these programs are simply insufficiently powerful to protect them politically.

Too many of these "reforms" are less about data and improving the lives of children than shifting power relationships between adults.

And beyond that, the whole setting up strawmen about which side is more extreme is just tiresome. I know what I see.

Fundamental Mis-Analysis

Geoffrey Canada:

Whether they are the 1,400 in our two charter schools or in the local traditional public schools, we make the same guarantee: We will get you through college. Given the desperate need for high-skills workers, this is a promise that America needs to make to all of its students.

I know this is just boilerplate, but it isn't correct. Which high-skills workers is there a desperate need for, and what makes one think that HCZ's graduates will be trained for those fields and move to where they're needed? And if they have to move, is the Zone sustainable?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The (Non-Existent) Equity Effects of Mutual Consent Hiring

It is worth repeating this quote from a Center on Reinventing Public Education reoport, Seniority Rules: Do Staffing Reforms Help Redistribute Teacher Quality and Reduce Teacher Turnover?, cited by Bruce Baker:

We conduct an interrupted time-series analysis of data from 1998-2005 and find that the shift from a seniority-based hiring system to a “mutual consent” hiring system leads to an initial increase in both teacher turnover and share of inexperienced teachers, especially in the district’s most disadvantaged schools. For the most part, however, these initial shocks are corrected within four years leaving little change in the distribution of inexperienced teachers or levels of turnover across schools of different advantage.

This has always seemed pretty obvious to me.

Skuuting at Pronk

Vivian Skuuting from Tom Hoffman on Vimeo.

Pronk! Unfortunately I did not find Ralph W. Llama and his tuba.

Vivian did a lot of riding at the Providence Cyclocross Festival on Sunday too, but we forgot a camera!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Laser Cutting at AS220 Labs

I took the Intro to Laser Cutting class at AS220 Labs on Saturday, making the above doo-hickey as my first test project. To be honest, laser cutting seems pretty simple -- it is just like using a printer. Like everything else, it gets tricky if you want to model 3d shapes -- a dovetailed box, for example. But for making simple little tools, etc., it is pretty amazing. I'm feeling like it will be worth a $40 annual membership (and $10/hour on the cutter) just to make cool little toys for the girls.

This is Essentially the ENTIRE Argument

Walt Gardner:

I don't believe that even the best teachers can completely overcome the huge deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development that poor students bring to class through no fault of their own. They can help narrow the gap between these students and those from advantaged backgrounds, but they can't eliminate it. That's a vital distinction given short shrift in today's debate. It's one thing to improve academic performance in absolute terms, but it's quite another to improve performance in relative terms.

And not just concerning teacher quality -- education reform in general.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I Wish This Wasn't So Easy

Jeremy Chiapetta:

RT @BESbuzz Boston Prep's 10th grade scored 100% A/P on Math and 97% on Science - the best in the state - ALL KIDS CAN LEARN AT HIGH LEVELS!

On 2010 MCAS:

  • Number of eighth graders taking the MCAS: 71
  • Number of 10th graders taking the MCAS: 26

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Feinstein '10, Hampshire College '14

A report from Emely Barroso, the scholarship winner I alluded to in the spring:

How was your experience moving into the dorms?

It was so surreal the day I moved in. All summer we had been packing and preparing and then... it was finally the day. When we got to the campus, there were so many cars and people. It was crazy. While we were moving stuff into the room, it got extremely hot and sunny. Everyone got so sweaty throughout the day, and the flies were murder. My mom insisted on cleaning and organizing the room. It was the cutest thing. Also, my hall mates were moving through the hall with all of their things. All of the doors had labels with our names. After I got settled in, I walked with my family back to the car where we all said our goodbyes. It was so bittersweet. I was happy to finally be at the school I had dreamed about all summer, but I realized how much I would miss my family and friends.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Word of the Day

Crackazon Prime.

Do We Have the Stomach for this Fight?

Here's the thing: at the same time Waiting for Superman, NBC's Education Nation, and Oprah launched an education reform onslaught with Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone at its center, New York City was releasing its school progress reports for last year.

Check out the Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy Charter School's rankings for student progress (i.e., "value added") in English Language Arts. I'm not sure which of these stats makes the punchiest soundbite or exactly how to word them:

  • The percentile rank of the median ELA growth HCZPA's lowest third of students, relative to similar NYC neighborhood and charter schools: 0%
  • The above compared to the "city horizon:" -10.6% (how you generate a percentage rank that's negative, I don't know)
  • Percentile rank of median ELA growth for all HCZPA children compared to similar NYC neighborhood and charter schools: 4.2%
  • Above compared to the "city horizon:" -1.4%

Put another way: HCZPA had the least growth in ELA among the lowest third of their students among NYC neighborhood and charter schools schools with a similar population.

This isn't some random school I cherry-picked, it is the flagship school of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. It's so extreme that your first reaction is probably "Wow, something must be wrong with those numbers." Which is fine by me. That's the beauty here: you either have to give up some of your faith in the miracle of the high performing charter school as the solution to our problems, or some of your faith in the reliability of narrow measures based on test scores and, in particular, the efficacy of more complex value-added measures.

The thing is, I haven't seen anyone else mention this rather breathtaking statistic, but I can't be the only one to have wondered how the HCZPA did on the new report card. This is news, and a wonderful way to turn the discussion in a different direction, but even opponents of business model reforms haven't brought it up yet. And to be honest, even doing so makes me feel a little guilty somehow.

Later... the explanation for the negative growth percentile (you can find the guide for teachers in the link above):

For each element in the Progress Report, the peer range is the range of scores earned by peer schools in the 2008-10 period excluding “outlier” scores that deviate so dramatically from the other scores that it is not reasonable to use them as reference points. An “outlier” score is defined as one that is more than two standard deviations away from the mean. The peer range “minimum” is the lowest non-outlier score and the peer range “maximum” is the highest non-outlier score.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Focus on the Hard Problems

Having followed a link from Michael Goldstein and read this EdWeek piece by Mike Schmoker on differentiated instruction, I might as well jot down my response.

  • Schmoker elides several issues here:

    The innovation-Differentiated Instruction-went on to become one of the most widely adopted instructional orthodoxies of our time. It claims that students learn best when (despite some semantically creative denial) grouped by ability, as well as by their personal interests and "learning styles."

    This obscures what is to me the key feature in contemporary "differentiated instruction." It isn't that you have students grouped by ability in general, but that you have them grouped within the same classroom. I attended a fairly progressive rural middle school that in the early eighties had all students grouped by ability into five tiers. Teachers know and have always know how to handle that kind of differentiation. Once we decided that differentiation between classes was an equity problem, then differentiation within the classroom became a hot topic, because this type of differentiation is undeniably technically difficult.

    But nobody really denies that a wide range of abilities exists within each age-graded level in a school, and this must be handled one way or another. Differentiation by learning style is more complicated and convoluted, and while science can show that narrow, scientific definitions of learning styles don't stand up to experiment, I would simply say this is an area where teaching is more art than science. If you try to overdo learning styles or take them too literally, you've lost the plot.

  • As Schmoker is a former administrator and current consultant, it might be too much to ask for him to note that this is a case where teachers aren't the problem. These fads are driven by administrators and consultants.
  • His "three simple things" aren't that simple:

    Second-and just as important-we need to ensure that students read, write, and discuss, in the analytic and argumentative modes, for hundreds of hours per school year, across the curriculum. We aren't even close to that now. All students should be reading deeply, discussing, arguing, and writing about what they read every day in multiple courses. We can do this: Consider that students spend about 1,000 hours per year in school.

    Third, we need to honor, beyond lip service, the nearly half-century-old model for good lessons that all of us know, but so few consistently implement (except, notably, when being formally evaluated).

    The consistent delivery of lessons that include multiple checks for understanding may be the most powerful, cost-effective action we can take to ensure learning.

    Good lessons start with a clear, curriculum-based objective and assessment, followed by multiple cycles of instruction, guided practice, checks for understanding (the soul of a good lesson), and ongoing adjustments to instruction. Thanks to the British educator Dylan Wiliam and others, we now know that the consistent delivery of lessons that include multiple checks for understanding may be the most powerful, cost-effective action we can take to ensure learning. Solid research demonstrates that students learn as much as four times as quickly from such lessons.

    It is difficult to do those two things at the same time. Maybe as difficult as differentiating instruction! We're not so much circling around to the clear solution as back to the fundamental difficulty of educating students. Sure you want to balance those two things, but how?.

The reason you should not follow fads is not because they distract you from the correct easy solution; it is because they distract you from the eternal, irreducibly hard problems.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Importance of Picking on "No Excuses" Charters

Pointing out that schools that willingly embrace the challenge of serving disadvantaged students are doing well, but not exceptionally well is hardly the most generous, kind or empathetic hobby. It is a necessary task in today's policy environment, however.

Because the simple "charters are better" argument is rapidly collapsing -- the data just doesn't support it. So now you have the much more sophisticated "the better charters" -- in particular the best "no excuses" CMO's -- are better" variant. Aside from being an obviously unfair comparison, the burden of proof is pushed onto a small set of schools. There is not a lot of room to winnow that set down longer before you're just left with a handful of exceptions and outliers, not a strategy. And there is a firehose of public and private money being plowed into this group of CMO's. So we can and must put a microscope on their claims and performance.

If only half of KIPP's schools in NYC are in the top 25%, that's important. If none of Achievement First's are, that's important. If neither of the HCZ's are, that's incredibly important. If "no excuses" charters have, over time, the same ups and downs as every other kind of school or, for that matter, human institution, that's not surprising, but that's not what's being sold.

It isn't my fault; I'm not the one that made such grandiose claims and placed so much importance on such a small number of schools.

In the local context, the argument for importing "no excuses" schools as Mayoral Academies has been that not only are they good schools, really qualitatively different than even the successful local charters, like Paul Cuffee, that we already have. I'm not the one who made those claims, but I'll be watching to see if they prove out. It isn't a fair comparison, but it wasn't my idea.

Exactly, Indeed

Matthew Di Carlo:

If anything, it seems that the presence of teacher contracts in a state has a rather large, positive effect on achievement.

Now, some may object to this conclusion. They might argue that I can’t possibly say that teacher contracts alone caused the higher scores in these states. That there are dozens of other factors besides contracts that influence achievement, such as lack of resources, income, parents’ education, and curriculum, and that these factors are at least partially responsible for the lower scores in the ten non-contract states.

My response: Exactly.

Building New Clubhouses

Leah Buechley & Mako:

Some of the most revealing research in diversity in STEM found that women and other minorities don't join STEM communities not because they are intimidated or unqualified but rather because they're simply uninterested in these disciplines.

One of our current research goals is thus to question traditional disciplinary boundaries and to expand disciplines to make room for more diverse interests and passions. To show, for example, that it is possible to build complex, innovative, technological artifacts that are colorful, soft, and beautiful. We want to provide alternative pathways to the rich intellectual possibilities of computation and engineering. We hope that our research shows that disciplines can grow both technically and culturally when we re-envision and re-contextualize them. When we build new clubhouses, new, surprising, and valuable things happen.