Friday, January 29, 2010

Common Core K-12 English Language Arts Standards Out

In a hurry to get to EduCon... Links: Ed Week piece; pdf of standards. We'll probably be talking about this in my 12:30 session tomorrow.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Geriatric Computing

I'm of the opinion that the future of geriatric computing is much more intriguing than that of educational computing, although I can't quite articulate the whole idea coherently. Nor do I know how one would make money off the burgeoning geriatric computing scene, if one exists, if there is an actual term for this, etc. OTOH, I do think that the iPad is for Old People.

Docked in Providence for the Weekend

By the time I made dinner, went to Walgreen's for some wipes, read The Cat in the Hat Comes Back for Vivian's bedtime story, loaded my pod into my fleet Tempest, and found my way over to the front lines in D-GTMI, the shooting was over -- and Ushra'Khan had achieved its greatest victory in our five year history, along with our allies in Against All Authorities, ATLAS, and others, we achieved a decisive operational victory, taking the station system, achieving a forward base of operation within Providence, destroying over 100 enemy capital ships and 190,000,000,000 ISK worth of material ($11,000 at the current exchange rate) against minimal losses. It was an Agincourt-scale slaughter.

This is what we've been working toward the whole time I've been playing the game, and it is still just the beginning of the end of slavery in Providence, but right now, we're enjoying a great victory.

My iPad Takeaways

No, you don't need one, that's why it is priced well under Apple's laptops, and it will surely go down more. The only way they could have really screwed this up was by pricing it too high.

The killer app for the iPad is surfing the web.

Apple making their own mobile chips should make the entire rest of the computing industry poop in their pants with terror.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jargon File

So I'm doing a thing at EduCon Saturday, session 2, 12:30 - 2:30:

With each wave of school reform, a new batch of jargon is deposited on our shores. Take a critical look at the new wave of business model reform language, from "Race to the Top," to "non-negotiables," including our new "higher, clearer, and fewer" "internationally-benchmarked" "college- and career-ready" "Common Core" standards.

The purpose here to help people not be disempowered by this bullshit. As far as I can tell, the only thing that can go wrong in this conversation is if we have a collective brainlock and run out of juicy jargon, so if you'd like to nominate some of your favorites, particularly business-speak, please do so in comments.

Pass the Popcorn


PROVIDENCE — A new study recommends turning the popular Vartan Gregorian Elementary School into a kindergarten through grade eight school, much to the consternation of some East Side parents who fear that the change would undermine the school’s success...

Harlan Rich, a leader of the East Side Public Education Coalition, has several problems with the recommendation, which will be subject to public discussion before any final decisions are made. Gregorian, located on Wickenden Street, is already crowded, Rich said. Although the study says the building could handle 452 students, Rich said he doesn’t know where they would put them. Gregorian is currently a kindergarten through grade six school with 369 students.

“The numbers don’t make sense,” Rich said. “This doesn’t seem to be based on sound pedagogy, but on saving money.”

Um... yeah, it is about saving money. I'm actually puzzled why the administration doesn't lead with that more aggressively, actually. You can argue pedagogy forever, but if there is no money, there is no money. And there is less than no money, at least according to the official books.


“We have a school that is successful and in demand,” said Robin O’Hara, one of the consultants. “But it is in need of modernization. In order to modernize, you need to put in an addition. We saw this as an opportunity to create a K-8 building.”

With the proposed closing of two middle schools, Perry and Bridgham, parents also worry that Nathan Bishop will become another overcrowded middle school.

“You have between 1,200 and 1,500 students from the two middle schools that are closing,” Rich said. “Will they expand the other middle schools to the breaking point?”

Finally, parents said they worry that Gregorian will no longer serve as a “feeder” school that sends children to Bishop. One of the driving forces behind the $35-million Bishop overhaul was that school officials saw it as a way to lure East Side parents back to the public schools.

Behind these contradictory policy straw men lurks the real spectre: WHITE FLIGHT. Too many brown kids in our shiny new schools mean OH NOES RUN BACK TO THE PRIVATE SCHOOLS!

I'm not sure who wears the pants in the Brady/East Side relationship, but I guess we're about to find out. If I were Brady I'd start floating some rumors about how he's might have to start having to move principals from high performing schools to the new turnaround schools (blame Race to the Top!), or perhaps the West End wouldn't mind having Bridgham renovated and expanded and having Gregorian closed. Then have a little sit-down with the East Siders.

As "Karina Wood, a parent of two Providence schoolchildren and a member of the East Side Public Education Coalition," told the ProJo:

“I’m fortunate that my children attend a high-performing school. But many families are not as fortunate. Every child deserves to attend a good school.”

That was apparently before they got the memo that closing schools in my neighborhood might result in my neighbors arriving in their high performing schools. They've still got some work to do on their messaging.

Nice That the Word is Getting Out, At Least


But (Feinstein H.S principal K.C. Perry) disagrees with news reports that say that the school is failing. Although its scores are still low, in 2007, Feinstein High was one of two Providence high schools to make double-digit gains in writing and math.

“We created a place where students were successful,” Perry said Monday. “Teachers and kids worked in teams. The persistence that students have learned here has followed them into college.”

At 59 percent, Feinstein has the second-highest rate of college enrollment, after Classical High School, the district’s jewel in the crown. And 40 percent of its graduates remain in college four years later, a rate only exceeded by Classical. The high school also performs well when you look at five-year graduation rates. Nearly 70 percent earn their diploma when given an extra year, Perry said.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Julia Steiny on Desegregation in Rhode Island

Julia Steiny in the ProJo:

Recently, back here in Rhode Island, The Journal’s front page splashed pictures of six chronically low-performing schools targeted for state intervention. I felt badly for the good people working in those schools. But surely along with most of the state, I was deeply relieved something would finally happen for the kids who were languishing.

Kudos to Commissioner Deborah Gist and the Board of Regents for saying: No more.

But the stats accompanying those photographs show that the six schools’ kids are overwhelmingly minority and poor. I thought immediately of Wake County.

The reform strategies under discussion for Rhode Island’s targeted schools are vital to any struggling school— eliminating seniority-based hiring, evaluating teachers (at last), and generally making the schools more about kids’ needs and less about the adults.

But what about the concentration of poverty? Aren’t we using the cities to sinkhole poor kids? Shouldn’t we help those kids have schools where the climate reflects middle-class expectations? Rhode Island is really small, with a public-school population about the same as Dallas, Texas, only a mid-sized city. And luckily, the state just implemented a statewide bus system. So we could do this.

Her point would be even stronger if she'd point out that most of these schools were hardly neglected over the past decade. People have been saying "no more" for a long time, but the problem remains intractable, thus we need to fundamentally re-frame the problem and range of possible solutions.

It Doesn't Take a Proctologist

David Sirota:

It doesn't take a political genius or a proctologist to know that when a party tries to take a steaming shit on, say, unions, it's a good bet that union workers are going to retaliate by taking a shit on that same party come the next election.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Star Fraction Joins the Fray

The Cosmopolite:

The Star Fraction Begins Operation Black Lustrum

As of this date, on the 5th anniversary of the alliance's foundation, the Freecaptains of the Star Fraction have commenced Phase One of Operation Black Lustrum, a campaign against the 'Holder' vassals of the CVA-ruled Providence bloc. The initial target of Black Lustrum is the Sev3rance alliance, a long-standing collaborator in the slave empire of the CVA.

The 'Holder' alliances of Providence, vassals and slaves to the CVA one and all, are in many ways more loathesome than the CVA itself. They are incapable of standing alone. They collaborate in a vile regime of slavery, standings enclosurism and violent expansionism. They are the levy troops of the CVA, thrown into battle against its foes at its whim. They may do nothing without the authority and imprimatur of the CVA. They own nothing. They are mere tenants. Without the CVA's protection, and the slave armies it will call to defend not them but rather the territories it rules through them, they are nothing.

Yet without them the CVA itself would be immeasurably weaker. This must be recognised. The CVA's battle thralls, mining slaves and bounty hunters underpin and prop up its regime in Providence. They fuel and participate in its new offensive into the Catch region. We understand that the vassals are the weak point as well as the strength of the CVA slave empire. They must be attacked and weakened to in turn weaken the brute blood beast that is the tyrant regime of Providence. The Freecaptains of the Star Fraction will wage guerilla war against the vassals that serve as a willing black gang in the engine room of the CVA's vast slave barque. If the stokers continue to collaborate then they must be deprived of their fuel and ultimately their living.

Now if I only had any time to play...

The Philanthropy, It Cuts Both Ways


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Rhode Island philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein said that he has received a $1 million anonymous donation to keep open a high school bearing his name.

Feinstein said he was disheartened to hear that Feinstein High School, the small, innovative learning facility on Elmwood is one of seven schools that may be closed due to the poor condition of the building and declining enrollments district wide. Supt. Tom Brady has recommended the closings after a consultant reviewed enrollment, student demographics and the state of the city's 44 public school buildings.

If nothing else, this will annoy Tom Brady, and thus it makes me smile a little. And it is nice to know that somebody appreciates the work that has gone into that school, and the ProJo will probably have to run a story about the history and strengths of the school along with its weaknesses. A million dollars can probably give them new science labs, patch fix some of the HVAC and other facilities problems, but ultimately it doesn't go that far. It will give a boost to people who'd like to save the school, and should make for some interesting meetings, particularly if people the the community argue for taking the million dollars, adding some RttT money and becoming a community charter. Whether that's really possible at this point I don't know, but it would be an amusing conversation.

A Really Good Answer


I was asked, what are the most important questions that need to be resolved during, say, the next five or so years?

There's only one: under what conditions can a learner manage his or her own learning? ...

Against this, especially in web 2.0 circles, there is a school of thought modeled loosely along the lines of Freire's 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' which suggests that people, working for their own benefit and creating their own association, can take charge of their own learning, and hence, their own understanding of the world. If it possible for people to effectively mount a counter to propaganda or corporate-based 'content learning' on their own, or is some manner of public intervention required, and to what scale.

Apple, Flash (OLPC)

Two innovative platforms challenging the long established personal computer paradigm came out at roughly the same time a few years ago: the iPhone and the OLPC XO. Comparisons between to two in general and in detail provide lots to chew on. Flash (as in Adobe, not memory) support is one interesting topic. Apple seems to have gotten away with forbidding it from the iPhone entirely. The XO shipped with an annoying, unreliable, confusing implementation. I don't know if this is a problem with the XO's target audience in the developing world, but I know it caused a lot of consternation from G1G1 users.

I've sometimes wondered why Apple's strategy was apparently more successful.

In an excellent post on the whole subject of Apple's relationship with Adobe Flash, John Gruber cites one relevant anecdote:

Here’s an email I got from a DF reader:

I was in line waiting for a coffee on Christmas day. In front of me was a kid, about nine or ten, who had an iPhone. He clearly had gotten it that morning. He was pushing frantically at a white box on a web page with the broken plug-in symbol. He was squeezing it, swiping it. He was frustrated and on the verge of getting pissed with his new toy. It seemed like he was trying to hit an online game page, probably one he was used to playing on the family PC. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I leaned over and said, “It won’t load Flash. It won’t play your Flash games.” His mom, ignoring him up to that point, was triggered by a stranger talking to her kid. “That’s okay honey,” she said, “we’ll get you a game from the App Store. His response to this? He started working that device even harder. He didn’t want an App Store game; he wanted his Flash game. And that iPhone suddenly took a huge dive in value to him.

Like it not, Apple needs to come to terms with this. If only for the kids.

I think this anecdote, and this reader’s takeaway from it, accurately captures the feeling behind much of the “Apple has got to bend on this eventually” sentiment that’s out there.

But think about it from Apple’s perspective. How do you think this situation turned out in the long run? Do you think the kid told his mom to return the iPhone for a refund? Or, do you think they went home and started buying games from the App Store? That there was a period of initial frustration due to Flash games not playing doesn’t change the fact that they (a) bought an iPhone and (b) were set to buy games from the App Store.

This suggests to me that Flash is a more important feature for kids than adults, but that no Flash is better than bad crashy Flash.

Found Poem

shows little plan
is never quite loud enough
relies too much on sources
considerably under time

gives little written feedback
feedback shows little connection
feedback verges on rude

attempts to follow directions
uses little feedback
assertions are not in depth
assertions state evidence
assertions aren't related to thesis

no plan
too quiet to give feedback
reads from sources
too little speaking too assess

too little feedback to assess
feedback shows no connection
feedback is rude

does not follow directions
does not use feedback
assertions are just statements
too little work to assess

no evidence of work

no evidence of work

no evidence of work

-- found cleaning office, 1/22/10.

Dynamic Systems: When All the Parts are Moving

Gary Litvin on the Python Edu-sig list:

Several years ago, Maria (Litvin) asked a high-ranking College Board person whether AP Discrete Mathematics was a possibility. The answer was absolutely no. The main reason was that the College Board was looking for ways to reduce gender imbalance and minorities participation, and another math course wouldn't help. Hence AP Human Geography... When the College Board abruptly cancelled the AP CS AB exam, part of the rationale given, again, was that cancelling this exam wouldn't hurt the gender balance and minorities participation. What they meant was they could afford to cancel this small and unprofitable exam. (They also cancelled AP Italian -- no gender imbalance there).

When you create a new quantitative goal or incentive -- reduce The AP Gap -- every part of the system responds, not just the part you're hoping to change. Most people who like to talk about a "systems approach" to education reform don't seem to uderstand how complex the system is.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Open Source Community is Us

Mark Guzdial's post Open Source Development: Not Very Open or Welcoming, in which he muses doubtfully over issues of usability and diversity in open source software and its communities, brought forth some comments in response, particularly from me. I'd say we pretty much exhausted that thread, but I'd like to reframe the issue somewhat with a hypothetical.

Let's say Mark Guzdial, member of and advocate for the open source software community, was concerned about usability and diversity within the open source community. He studied the problem and undertook a decisive course of action, developing and researching, in collaboration with a female colleague, a media computation curriculum designed to be accessible to students outside the stereotypical white male geek, publishing two books to support the curriculum, one using an open source programming language used by a high percentage of professional female programmers and an open source development environment focused on usability by novices, the second one using a well-regarded open source programming language developed from the ground up with the goal of clarity and ease of use by novices and professional programmers. This is on top of his years of work using what is widely regarded as the seminal open source educational technology project, Squeak. He is, in return, showered with accolades by the open source community.

What actually happened was this:

Mark Guzdial, a leading advocate for computer science education, was concerned about usability and diversity within computer science and the computing industry. He studied the problem and undertook a decisive course of action, including developing and researching, in collaboration with a female colleague, a media computation curriculum designed to be accessible to students outside the stereotypical white male geek, publishing two books to support the curriculum, one using an open source programming language used by a high percentage of professional female programmers and an open source development environment focused on usability by novices, the second one using a well-regarded open source programming language developed from the ground up with the goal of clarity and ease of use by novices and professional programmers. This is on top of his years of work using the seminal open source educational technology project, Squeak, which over the years has maintined a mutually frustrating arms-length distance from the rest of the open source community for a variety of technical, legal and social reasons. His work is not widely known among open source advocates.

And he publishes posts on his blog about how unusable open source software is and how anti-social its communities are.

The problem at this point is not working out who slighted whom first, or which "side" is right. The problem is that in 2010 the generic concept of the "open source community" obscures as much or more than it illuminates. If there is an "open source community," Mark Guzdial is much a part of it as the smelly, misogynistic hackers on IRC. Being an asshole is not required for admission. "Open source" was always amorphous because it was driven by voluntary self-organization, but it is even moreso now that it reaches into Java, Android, key parts of MacOS X, the entire web infrastructure, academic and government projects, etc., etc. There is no "other" here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reverse Engineering

chemtchr in EdWeek comments:

"In part to ameliorate the errors and costs associated with human scoring, test publishers are investing heavily in automated-response systems that use artificial-intelligence software to “read” student answers."

---Education Week, Jan 21 2010

I'm afraid Hirsch is wasting his eloquence in arguing that humans should be the ones to choose the common standards that will save us (at last) from the failures of standards. if machines are going to score our children's verbal competency, it makes sense to let them choose the standards by which that competency will be judged, and the curriculum to inculcate it. That's reverse engineering (a primary focus of the implementation stage of the Race to the Top). We must start with the goal, then work backwards to design the process that will achieve it. In this case, the goal is clearly maximum profits for the booming data processing industry, and we're right on track.

Alternately, E.D. Hirsch's proper response to any question about "standards" should be "I don't give a damn about standards. What's the curriculum?" He doesn't really want standards like Finland, which he praises in his piece -- their standards are exactly the kind of thing he hates, all about "skills and techniques in reading," pursuing the student's interests, etc. He may like the stuff other than standards, but basically he's just not into standards and really has nothing useful to say about them. Any more than I have anything useful to say about smartphones.

Those Damned "Experts"

Ed Week:

Most experts in the testing community have presumed that the $350 million promised by the U.S. Department of Education to support common assessments would promote those that made greater use of open-ended items capable of measuring higher-order critical-thinking skills.

But as measurement experts consider the multitude of possibilities for an assessment system based more heavily on such questions, they also are beginning to reflect on practical obstacles to doing so.

The issues now on the table include the added expense of those items, as well as sensitive questions about who should be charged with the task of scoring them and whether they will prove reliable enough for high-stakes decisions. Also being confronted are matters of governance—the quandary of which entities would actually “own” any new assessments created in common by states and whether working in state...

I'm particularly amused by the concern over the "added expense." Presumably that's what the $350 MILLION DOLLARS is for.

Can I be the first to say to the testing industry: No Excuses!

BTW, I'd pay $30 a year for online access to EdWeek, but I can't do $60 plus.

RI Teachers Granted Collective Bargaining Rights!


According to (PTU head) Smith, (RI Commish of Ed.) Gist also agreed to ensure that any issues involving wages, benefits and working conditions must be subject to collective bargaining. Gist’s (Race to the Top) plan includes a memorandum that says that any contract violations would be submitted to binding arbitration.

A key concession, and a pathetic comment on the strength of Labor in America.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Texas and Race to the Top

Anyone who wants to criticize Texas for not applying for Race to the Top should first do a comparative analysis of the Texas College and Career Readiness standards and the Common Core CCRS. Or perhaps read mine. Given the way the scoring works, it is unlikely that you could win a grant while maintaining your own standards.

RI, the South, and the Chance for Success Index


That article, “Quality Counts and the Chance-for-Success Index,” by Macke Raymond and her colleagues at CREDO, noted that grades on the Chance-for-Success Index are strongly influenced by measures of family income and the level of education achieved by parents living in a state (variables included in the index). So while states tend to interpret their grades as measures of the quality of their schools, the grades don’t really capture the contribution of the state’s schools to the success of its young people; instead, they reflect how wealthy the state is.

Raymond and her CREDO colleagues re-calculated the Chance-for-Success index for 2009, leaving out the family background variables, and found that state rankings changed substantially. Hawaii, Rhode Island, Indiana, Alaska, Nebraska, and North Dakota all dropped significantly. Florida, Texas, Maine, Idaho, Arkansas, and Mississippi all gained. Take look for yourself here.

One thing that's funny is that the next day there was a post on Flypaper about the sad state of New Jersey's schools, which rank #2 on the unmodified CFSI score and #1 on the adjusted CSFI.

Beyond that, there is precious little movement in the top states based on this analysis: some middling states go down to low and some low go up to middling, but the top states, all in the northeast, mid-Atlantic, midwest or Virginia, are consistent.

Whatever this analysis is worth (and it may not be much), it is the kind of thing that makes me scratch my head about the steadily increasing Southern influence on education policy in Rhode Island and Providence. We keep pulling in more Southerners, who seem to have had some success in pulling their states from terrible to OK, but if we were just up to the level of our New England or Mid-Atlantic peers, we'd be way above Florida, Texas, etc.

It's Official(er)


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Faced with declining enrollment in city public schools and "excess capacity" in school buildings, Supt. Thomas M. Brady is recommending closing seven schools over the next two years and reopening the popular West Broadway Elementary School, which closed in 2007.

Among the schools potentially slated for closure are Lillian Feinstein Elementary School at Sackett Street and Feinstein High School, two schools that state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist has cited recently as failing schools...

Enrollment in the state's largest public school system has declined about 15 percent over the last six years, from a high of 27,900 students in 2003 to 23,632 in 2009, according to the plan. That is a loss of about 700 students a year...

The department's plan lays out a proposed timeline for school closures, renovations, and reconfiguration:

-- Lillian Feinstein Elementary School at Sackett Street: close in summer 2011; students attend "other schools in close proximity" that fall.

-- Messer Street and West Broadway elementary schools: Fix West Broadway elementary in summer 2010; move Messer Street elementary students to West Broadway; fix Messer Street school in summer 2011; move Messer Annex students to main Messer building in fall 2012; close Messer Annex 2012.

-- Windmill Elementary School: Close in summer 2011; students attend "other schools in close proximity" that fall, including Hopkins elementary, which becomes a K-8 school.

-- Bridgham Middle School: Close in summer 2011; students attend Nathanael Greene, Stuart and other middle schools that fall.

-- Perry Middle School: Close in summer 2011; students attend Del Sesto and other middle schools.

-- Feinstein High School: close in summer 2010; students attend Alvarez and other nearby high school that fall.

-- Ninth Grade Academy: already closed.

I didn't realize how steeply enrollment was declining until last spring, and once I did, the administration's moves at least made some sense. That is, Downtown was really interested in Feinstein High School, yet, only interested in stripping it of all of its unique and redeeming features. They were acting exactly the way you'd treat a school you were already planning on closing, and at which your only priority is suppressing anything that might come up as a reason to keep it open a year later. It is, at least, rational.

And to be fair, the school was really doomed by the previous administration's decision not to move FHS into the new Alvarez building in 2007 but to instead start a new school. On the whole it is an indifferent swap -- neither school is making AYP, and the principal at Alvarez was a long time teacher at FHS, although amenable to reverting to a traditional model. Ultimately it was probably more of a personal politics thing at the administrative level.

Anyhow... you have to be amused that the state managed to slip into its Race to the Top proposal as "turnarounds" the closure of two schools that were going to be closed for facilities issues anyhow.

Also, not surprisingly, the gentrified, well-organized Armory/West Broadway neighborhood is getting their elementary school back (their also losing the ugly pile at Bridgham, but that could be a win, too). And poor disorganized Elmwood is losing two neighborhood schools.

I'm not so much shocked by these kinds of things in themselves, as just more highly agitated by all the talk that would make you think we're on the cusp of a golden age of technocratic equity. It is power politics, same as it ever was.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kissing the Ring

East Side Monthly:

The final cost for Superintendent Brady to create a model middle school to help reenergize (sic) the Providence school system: $e5 million. The cost for 234 East Side families to have a state-of-art (sic) middle school in their backyard that their kids can walk to? Priceless

There is something particularly impressive in the way Brady has consolidated power and gets credit for things started by his predecessor in Providence. That is, back when the mayor was a convicted felon, and you might find that, say, the inexplicable abundance of soda machines in obscure corners of high school basements was part of a money laundering scam, you also had a clear, contractual process for engaging administration, the union and the community in ongoing site-based school reform. Now, it is pretty much raw political power and influence. If you want to keep that special school, you'd better remember who's buttering the bread in this town.

Free and Open Source Software in Brazil

The World Bank -- Global Dialogue on Exploring the Results of Governmental Open Source Software Policies: Brazil Experience:

FLOSS became a central policy for the Brazilian government on October 23, 2003, with the special decree that created the related e-Government committees. There were eight committees, to work on the development of a government strategy, and one of them was the Free Software Implementation Committee (Comitê de Implementação de Software Livre), which had a special focus on migration from proprietary to free software in public sector.

However, the migration experience has shown to be very difficult, with a number of cultural and technical challenges. As a strategic solution, the Ministry of Planning part of the committee decided to focus on new free software development and collaboration efforts, in the interest of the government entities. As a result, the Brazilian Public Software Portal (Portal do Software Público Brasileiro) was created in 2007, as a central repository ( where all the government agencies could collaborate through shared software solutions.

Currently, the Portal is fully operational and there are 34 software solutions in different areas, such as education, health and public administration. Considering only the Federal Government Administration (excluding cities and states), savings in software licenses is estimated to be more than US$ 3,750,000 since 2007. The size of business opportunities created around the software solutions available in the Portal was more than US$ 10,000,000 in 2009, and it is expected that this value added will increase more than 10 times over the next few years.

One hard thing to get across is that idea that while open source closes off certain commercial opportunities, it opens up others.

The Impact of the Massachusetts Senate Race on Education Policy

None! The teabagger's platform is indistinguishable from the Obama administration's!

I support and respect teachers, but I think our next U.S. senator has to be in favor of high standards, choice and accountability in public education. That means testing, charter schools and reforms that make it easier to weed out bad teachers and reward the good ones. That is my education platform and I pledge that as the next U.S. senator from Massachusetts I will put the interests of kids first.

via TWIE.

Wars, Real and Imagined

waxx22 on the Ushra'Khan forums:

well it had to happen sometime. several days ago we had our first casualties. One of them died the other was a leg wound. The guy that guy injured was a personal friend of mine and the kia was a sergeant who i also knew (but he used to be in charge of me and would smoke the life out of me on a daily basis). I wil miss him anyways, as for my friend he is expected to recover................Just a news update from a guy in afghanistan..........btw i read about the 49-u thingy, good job guys you may not have taken the system but god damn you did some massive damage to the goons....see you guys soon

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Wisdom We're Losing

Chris on the passing of too many wise educational leaders:

I worry that we are losing wisdom. Wisdom is a funny thing, because it isn't something you are born with, and it isn't something you can acquire quickly and easily. It is hard-fought, path paved with mistakes and regret and reflection. Those folks who acquire the term "Wise Beyond Their Years" often have had to get there the hard way.

I'd just add that in particular we're losing or have lost the influence of post-WWII philosophers and educators who had to specifically confront the question of how to create a civilization that will not destroy itself with Fascism, Communism, The Bomb, etc. This was the deep background of the 60's.

I guess one Essential Question would be: Was that program of the 40's and 50's a success, and is it now a victim of that success?

Monday, January 18, 2010

War News

CONCORD Outer Region Political Summary (CORPS) Briefing:

In the southeast, the Catch region has seen several battles as a territorial dispute has long-time neighbors Against ALL Authorities [AAA] and Curatores Veritatis Alliance [CVA] clashing repeatedly. CVA ally, Libertas Fidelitas Alliance, began dropping sovereignty claim markers in Catch just over a week ago in four strategic systems near the AAA-held gateway system of HED-GP. What started seemingly as a simple probing attack has now escalated into a full scale border war, with both sides calling in allies to bolster their already not-insignificant numbers.

AAA's efforts to counter attack have thus far focused on the system of SV5-8N, which was wrested back to AAA control just yesterday. With three more Catch systems still under Libertas Fidelitas control, it seems unlikely that this conflict will cease anytime soon. Public statements from CVA and their allies have been vague in terms of their actual territorial ambitions but very specific about AAA's friendly relationship with longtime CVA nemesis Ushra'Khan. Speculation is rampant as to what the long-term effects of the CVA-led incursion into what has traditionally been acknowledged as AAA space will be.

Catch is not the only area of space that has AAA's attention. Along with allies Systematic Chaos, C0ven and Ushra'Khan, AAA has begun an invasion of Querious starting with an attempt to take 49-U6U from Goonswarm. Fighting in the system has been very heavy but control of the system still remains firmly in Goonswarm's hands. It remains to be seen what effect IT Alliance's incursions into Delve and the CVA incursions into Catch will have on this particular front with respect to both Goons and AAA's commitment.

In technical news, that heavy fighting in 49-U6U has been crashing the solar system -- in this case a server blade is dedicated to managing all activity in the system/node. Updated rules for system conquest and nerfing of the Titan's Doomsday Device has lead to long, mobile mixed fleet battles involving well over 1000 ships. Unfortunately I think inevitably the size of battles will always expand to the capacity of the servers. It is like highways and traffic.

On the other hand, nobody else lets you try anything close to battles on this scale.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Web 1.0

Can anyone even remember Web 1.0 anymore? Seriously?

Some Assurances Seem More Assured than Others

Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms around four specific areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools. (emphasis added)

East Side Monthly:

One of the real coups for proponents of (re-opening Nathan Bishop Middle School) was the recruitment of Lazzareschi. A product of the Providence public schools himself, Lazzareschi started his administrative career as the assistant principal at Carl Lauro Elementary School on Kenyon Street before becoming a principal in Cranston. For the last five years, he had been the popular principal at the Martin Luther King School here on the East Side. His career received an additional boost last year when he was selected as Rhode Island’s Elementary School Principal of the Year, which earned him a trip to Washington to receive his award.

In theory, this is the kind of thing that Race to the Top is supposed to stop -- sending your best principal into new $35 million dollar neighborhood school in the middle of the most (i.e., only) affluent part of the city. I'm not going to hold my breath.

On the other hand, if they spent $35 million dollars on this school to please the most affluent and influential constituency in the city, and are only hoping for $100 million from RttT, which will just help poor folks, who might not be citizens or vote and don't make campaign contributions, that kind of puts things in perspective, too. As a politician, you need that money, but it is not enough money to upend the power relationships in your city.

There are some other nice quotes in the East Side Monthly article alluding to the need to get the "right" kind of kids in the school:

More pragmatically, the challenge is to ensure the school is able to recruit a new sixth grade next year that is as excited about being here as the current class seems to be. Administration and parents are aware of what has to be done. The school has begun to hold open houses for prospective parents and interested neighbors to showcase just how far the new Bishop has come. Then in the spring, the plan is to invite in fifth graders to see what all the buzz is about. The School’s goal is to have around 700 students when all three middle school classes are filled.

Don't worry, those seats will be filled... the only question is by whom.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Joanne Weiss Invites a Supplemental Panel of Experts to Evaluate the Plans for the Sand-Based Foundation of Her $4 Billion Edifice


Marc S. Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, which oversaw a consortium to write standards and assessments in the 1990s, told Ms. Weiss that the only way to gauge that commitment is to send teams out to talk to key officials. “Whatever papers you ask people to sign in the process are worth almost nothing,” he said.

He added, "And the draft proposals the Common Core put out are a piece of shit compared to what we did fifteen years ago." No he didn't, but was he at least thinking it?

Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller asked how best to assess whether states had the technical and leadership capacity to develop and sustain the new testing systems.

In response, Mr. Cohen said that states should be asked to describe their technical capacity in detail, but that the Education Department should assume they will underestimate their capacity to do the job. The challenge for the department, he said, is to press applicants to be specific about their plans and capacity without forcing them to submit “works of fiction” that promise the impossible.

A management expert offered lessons learned from studying 150 consortia in various industries. Byron Auguste, a director of the management-consulting group McKinsey & Co., which studied a wide range of consortia including the Star Alliance of airlines, said no consortium has succeeded without “focus, clarity, and specificity” about its objectives and its division of labor. He offered a sobering vision of consortium prospects, however, saying that only “a few dozen” of the 150 groups studied were successful...

Another unresolved dilemma, captured in a question by Ms. Weiss, was how much test-design detail to demand from states in their applications. Requiring too much could constrain innovation, and asking for too little might allow something less than a well-thought-out plan.

There were so few easy or complete answers to such questions that at one point, Mr. Cohen turned to Ms. Weiss and said, smiling, “If I were in your shoes, I’d be getting a little worried.”

“That happened long ago,” she said with a laugh.

As soon as I heard Duncan announce they were putting $350 million into developing assessments, I assumed that what had happened was this:

  1. Some consultants at the Dept. of Ed came up with the whole Race to the Top plan.
  2. They were analytical enough to see that the strongest point of attack would be at its foundation: our tests are of insufficient quality and rigor to base everything else on them.
  3. Solution: think of the most money you could possibly spend on developing tests, multiply it by, say, five, and announce that was what you were spending on better tests.
  4. Problem solved!

Too bad they didn't talk to the experts about ten months ago.

via TWIE.

Serve Like It Is 1998

Ah, perhaps one rumor explained.

We are calling on educators and web professionals to join our new effort – the 2010 MLK Day Technology Challenge. The purpose is simple: to connect schools and non-profits that have technology needs, including skills training and mentorship, with web professionals, developers, graphic designers and new media professionals who are willing to volunteer their skills for the common good.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?” We ask that you answer his call in 2010 by participating in the MLK Technology Challenge.

Typical projects include:

  • Refurbish computers for schools
  • Teach students how to use popular software or online services
  • Build a database for a nonprofit
  • Help out in your school’s computer lab
  • Become an online mentor for students across the country

If I call bullshit on this, does that make me a bad person?

If the federal government, especially given the role technology plays in its own education strategy, does not think IT in schools is professionalized enough to do this stuff itself, it needs to provide adequate funding. This is not cutting edge stuff anymore. This is like inviting plumbers to spend the holiday putting in new toilets in the local school. Not that it wouldn't be a nice gesture, but it really shouldn't be necessary.

More Rumor Mongering

Greg DeKoenigsburg on the Open Source For America Education Workgroup list:

I've heard lots alluded to. Next week I'll be visiting the US DoE to talk with some folks there about their various open source / open content initiatives, and I intend to post a full briefing to this list. Look for something next Saturday.

Perhaps my invitation was lost in the mail.

Rumor Mongering

Chris Puttick on the SchoolForge-UK mailing list:

I've been given a tip that President Obama is launching an edu challenge for open source next week.

Fun Facts about Feinstein High School

I needed to get some perspective on Feinstein High School's (FHS) status as one of the "worst" schools in Rhode Island, hypothetically to be turned around, but almost certainly simply to be closed.

I went to RIDE's Information Works site and looked up some numbers to compare FHS to other "urban" schools in RI. I couldn't find a handy spreadsheet, so I looked up the numbers in PDF's and made my own spreadsheet of the most recent data (08-09). The fun facts:

  • FHS has the third highest 11th writing score of the sixteen urban high schools which provide scores, behind only Classical (enrollment by test scores) and Times2 (a K-12 charter).
  • FHS's five year graduation rate is sixth of the sixteen, but second among neighborhood district schools.

Those are the cherries, of course. The reading scores are surprisingly bad - 13th, the math scores are lousy and four year graduation rates lag.

But bad schools do not typically rank high in any areas. What you see in Feinstein is a school that was built pre-NCLB around performance standards and authentic assessment. It never really accepted that tests were the most important measure of student learning, never embraced test prep, and never optimized their program to, say, dial back the writing, debate, and presentation to ratchet up the practice on short answers to reading prompts (also, they never found a good full set of math teachers). And since they're in a building the district would rather shutter... game over.

What's crazy, really, is how many of the high schools in Providence were either started, reconstituted, or at least significantly renovated over the past ten years. The only ones left alone are Classical and Mount Pleasant, which has steadily declined as its leadership and the district's attention was directed elsewhere. It is the school most in need of serious intervention (its scores are far below FHS's), but it was passed up this time. I wonder why.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pulling things out of the Air


Among the changes that Gist’s staff has already made to the application is removing a section stating that if a student is taught by a teacher deemed to be “ineffective” two years in a row, a letter would be sent home to the parents.

First off, no I am not so obsessed that I went the department of education to read the Race to the Top draft.

And, not to flog a dead horse, since they apparently dropped this half-baked idea from the plan, but still, I can't not be shocked by this stuff.

One thing about education is, there are a lot of schools in the world, and, given the sample size, a lot of effective schools, even if most aren't. And a competitiveness argument inherently accepts that there are lots of successful schools elsewhere.

Do any of them do this? Anywhere? I bet the answer to that question is "No." Beyond that, this is just an extension of provisions in NCLB which virtually everyone agrees are the least successful parts of the bill.

This is just pulling ideas out of the air. It is grasping at straws.

Ethan Zuckerman on Google in China

Ethan Zuckerman outlines one of several scenarios:

Google is about to join the front lines of the anticensorship wars.
Hal Roberts, John Palfrey and I published a study of tools designed to subvert and circumvent internet censorship a few months back, based on research we conducted over the course of three years. In the course of that research, we ended up with a simple realization about the design of censorship circumvention software:

A robust anti-censorship system has, at minimum, three components:
- Lots of non-contiguous IP addresses, making it difficult for censors to block the entry points into the system
- Huge amounts of bandwidth that can access the public internet, as a censorship circumvention system is basically an ISP
- Multiple methods to feed fresh IP addresses to your users

This isn’t a complete definition, of course – good anticensorship systems use SSL encryption to prevent keyword blocking, but that’s a solved problem. The three components above tend to be very hard for small anti-circumvention projects to solve. It’s very hard to obtain lots and lots of IP addresses, and very expensive to provision sufficient bandwidth… unless you’re Google, in which case, these obstacles should be trivial. There’s still lots of work that needs to be done ensuring that users of circumvention systems get fresh IP addresses, but a Google-backed anticensorship system (perhaps operated in conjunction with some of the smart activists and engineers who’ve targeted censorship in Iran and China?) would be massively more powerful (and threatening!) than the systems we know about today.

These tools would have a built-in market – the millions of users who were enjoying Google’s tools from within China – and could radically change the landscape of the internet freedom field. An emphasis on internet freedom tools would allow Google to engage with a smaller Chinese market, but would allow them to maintain a toe in the waters while maintaining a stance of disengagement with the Chinese government.

Is Google going to do this? I have no idea. I hope so. They could have done so previously, but it would have been viewed as a shot across China’s bow. Now that they’ve launched a torpedo, that shot across the bow seems more likely.

The overall context seems to be that Google is never going to make much money in China anyhow, so why not go all in for a free internet, which is crucial to their long term success in their core markets. The only thing that could kill Google is the collapse of a free and open 'net.

Of course, creation of a massive anti-censorship apparatus would have considerable impact on internet use and policies in schools, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

*Really* Small Schools


The Race to the Top application highlights McKee’s umbrella organization, the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, and its hopes to expand in 2011 by contracting with two charter school operators. Achievement First would open a K-12 school serving students in Cranston and Providence, and MATCH Charter Schools would open a grade 6-12 school serving Blackstone Valley and Providence students.

In addition, Rhode Island Mayoral Academies has asked if its original charter to serve 1,175 students can be doubled, to 2,350, although that request has not yet been taken up by the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

Quick thoughts: If I had to pick a "no excuses" CMO to work in Providence, Achievement First makes the most sense, as they've got a track record in Connecticut cities similar to Providence. MATCH is to me the poster child for un-scalable, un-realistic charter school designs. You can probably pull off one in a city like Providence, with an Ivy League school and finding loads of outside funding, but it is so obviously not a more general solution. MATCH is to me a better argument for the impossibility of improving urban education than the opposite. If that's what it takes, we need to find a way to redefine the problem.

But the thing that strikes me most right now is: damn, those are small schools. The Achievement First schools seem to average about 50 a grade. Divide that between two cities and you're talking about a program that will probably graduate 25 Providence kids a year. Which is great in itself, but it is a very slow method of transformation.

Decantation, not Creaming

Victor Lavy, Olmo Silva, Felix Weinhardt, The Good, the Bad and the Average: Evidence on the Scale and Nature of Ability Peer Effects in Schools (abstract):

We study the scale and nature of ability peer effects in secondary schools in England. In order to shed light on the nature of these effects, we investigate which segments of the peer ability distribution drive the impact of peer quality on students’ achievements... We find significant and sizeable negative peer effects arising from students at the very bottom of the ability distribution, but little evidence that the average peer quality and the very top peers significantly affect pupils’ academic achievements... We further provide evidence that the effect of the very best peers substantially varies by the ability of other pupils. On the other hand, the effect of the very worst peers is similarly negative and significant for boys and girls of all abilities.

I don't have access to the full paper, but intuitively, this sounds about right, and provides a hook for discussing peer effects in charter schools. Gifted and talented programs, some magnet schools, and other exclusive schools are designed to "cream" the best students. Some charters also "cream," explicitly or through more subtle means (depending on local rules), but my perception is that the bulk of lottery-based charters, intentionally or not, have a process better described as decanting:

Decantation is a process for the separation of mixtures. This is achieved by carefully pouring a solution from a container in order to leave the precipitate (sediments) in the bottom of the original container. Usually a small amount of solution must be left in the container, and care must be taken to prevent a small amount of precipitate from flowing with the solution out of the container.

That is, it is not about pulling the best off the top, but about leaving the most extremely difficult and needy students behind. This does not need to be as intentional or active as the term "decantation" would suggest though. Say you're selling your food stamps to buy drugs or considering the possibility of fondling your step-daughter: you're not likely to sign the kids up for a charter school that will lead to lots of calls and perhaps unexpected house-visits from nosy white 20-somethings. I'm not saying that's a big percentage of parents in high poverty neighborhoods, but issues like these play a big role in the lives of the very highest need kids, which, as this research would seem to verify, play an outsized negative role in the life and success of a school.

And, I guess one underlying issue I have with the whole NCLB accountability regime, which I don't focus on that much, is simply that it strongly discourages creating a school to specifically addressing the very lowest achievers. You're just not going to get the test scores you need; you can't pull up the lowest acheivers far enough, and at that extremity (e.g., 16 year olds with "third grade" reading skills) I'd imagine that growth models will be especially funky. And having those kids in the building will make the rest of your scores lower than an equivalent school without them.


If Race to the Top was really competitive, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) states, including Rhode Island, would launch a withering attack on the bogus "international benchmarking" of the Common Core English standards -- asserting that every other state that tries to use these standards as part of their application should get no points for the relevant application items. That's a lot of points. If you actually click through the links and read all the other standards, it is pretty clear; but very time consuming, tedious case to make. It is like tracking down all the bogus footnotes in an Ann Coulter book.

Instead, this is all a competition within a sort of insider cartel. You'd probably need extra outside funding to be able to pay someone to do that comparative analysis -- but some McKinsey person being paid by Gates is not going to do that for you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Only Half of My Work for the Decade Negated this Week

My work on SchoolTool is blissfully, deliriously free of bureaucracy. It is the ed tech equivalent of being a mechanic hired by Neil Young to restore part of his car collection. I send Mark a brief report and .zip of invoices at the end of each month and a longer report/proposal at the end of the year, and that's it.

Occasionally, the lack of a larger structure trips us up though, for example, I didn't know this year that Mark was going to be announcing a major life change in December, right when I'd usually start asking his assistant to remind him about the SchoolTool proposal. So, nothing happened until after Mark's holiday break, which, if you're a self-made billionaire, can be as long as you want.

I know Mark well enough to think it highly unlikely he was pulling a Kafka Romance Dissolver on us, but I started to get a queasy feeling on Monday after getting the news that the school I'd spent the first half of the decade working on was going to be intensively intervened upon and probably closed. Mark would be getting back to work Tuesday (London time), and there was a small chance that within a span of less than 24 hours, pretty much my entire professional body of work could be nullified.

However, that didn't happen. :D

SchoolTool will go on -- with exciting plans brewing for our first multi-school deployments in the developing world. More about that soon... In the meantime, here's the public version of the SchoolTool 2009 report and 2010 plan.

Close Enough for Rock and Roll (and Disruption)

Cory Doctorow:

This is the pattern: doing something x percent as well with less-than-x percent of the resources. A blog may be 10 percent as good at covering the local news as the old, local paper was, but it costs less than 1 percent of what that old local paper cost to put out. A home recording studio and self-promotion may get your album into 30 percent as many hands, but it does so at five percent of what it costs a record label to put out the same recording.

What does this mean? Cheaper experimentation, cheaper failure, broader participation. Which means more diversity, more discovery, more good stuff that could never surface when the startup costs were so high that no one wanted to take any risks.

This is sort of the culture version of "disruptive innovation." Same tune, different verse.

Doesn't Philly have Asian Gangs?

As a resident of Providence, reading about black on Asian violence in Philly schools, one obvious question presents itself: doesn't Philly have any Asian gangs to take care of this kind of thing? What's the deal?

Congratulations George!

That's my uncle!

BRIDGEWATER, VA – The Bridgewater College Board of Trustees announced January 11 in a special on-campus meeting that it has unanimously selected George Cornelius as the eighth president of the College.

A seasoned leader in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, Cornelius will assume the presidency on July 1, 2010. He currently serves as Secretary of Community and Economic Development for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where he oversees a department of approximately 350 employees and 90 state and federal programs and works closely with many of Pennsylvania’s universities, colleges, and communities. He has been an avid proponent of postsecondary education and training, which he regards as essential in a world fundamentally changed by technology and globalization...

“The Bridgewater opportunity was attractive because it combines my passion for education and my interest and abilities in organizational leadership and development. The Church of the Brethren has played a major role in my life, so the fact that the college is grounded in the tradition and values of the Church makes the opportunity even more special,” commented Cornelius. “My wife and I look forward to joining the Bridgewater community and to building on the contributions and successes of Phil and Cherrill Stone. I look forward to working closely with President Stone during this time of transition and to meeting the faculty at the earliest opportunity.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

You Won't Have Feinstein High School to Push Around Anymore

ProJo - State orders overhaul of 6 worst R.I. schools:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Rhode Island education officials have identified six of the state's "persistently lowest-achieving" schools for intensive intervention.

Central Falls High School has been identified, along with five Providence schools: Charlotte Woods Elementary, Feinstein High School, Lillian Feinstein Elementary, Roger Williams Middle School and William B. Cooley, Sr., Health & Science Technology High School.

As many of you know, I helped redesign a then-reconstituted (turned-around, whatever) Feinstein High School in 2001. I believe it was opened originally in 1994 but foundered initially due to poor leadership. This was in the era of big Gates small schools grants, of which Providence was a major recipient. I've not had much interaction with the school for the past five years or so, but my wife has worked there since 2001, teaching social studies, and we live two blocks away.

Before I ramble on further, a few very important facts:

  • The building that houses Feinstein High School (FHS) is not owned by the city, but has been leased under rather unfavorable terms. I believe that lease is almost up. Also, it is in a converted office building in bad shape overall, lacking a gym, auditorium, etc.
  • The other small high schools in the city are in new facilities, including one designed specifically for FHS but given to a new school several years ago for reasons unknown to me.
  • Enrollment is declining in Providence, so something is probably going to have to close.
  • FHS was re-opened by an administration looking for a "break the mold" high school, followed by a middle period of feckless indifference, concluding with the current administration which has a laser focus on getting everyone very much back into the mold.
  • We were told to create a standards-based program "where time was the variable and learning the constant," with a population of students mostly entering well under grade level. As an expected consequence of this design, FHS has a four-year graduation rate in the lower third of RI urban high schools (56%) but the second highest five year graduation rate among neighborhood urban high schools (69.8%), with almost all of the students who stay an extra year graduating.
  • FHS's math program has always been weak, the design of the school is admittedly humanities-oriented in many details, and they've never been able to find and hold onto a strong cadre of math teachers, and math leadership at the district level has been weak as well over the past decade. On paper in 2010, that's half your school.

I realized last year that low scores plus bad real estate situation alone is pretty much a death sentence. I don't have the stomach to try to gather and enumerate the strengths of the school or the slights and bad breaks it has endured.

At this point, all aspects of the original design have been completely dismantled, and it is just a small big high school that the district administration loathes in a crappy, leaky building. Might as well put it out of its misery. Unfortunately, the grand facilities plan for the district will not come out until the school has to go through a charade of gathering community input about which of the four Race to the Top turnaround strategies we would prefer. I am, at this point, perfectly happy just keeping this about the building, enrollment, and money, and moving on.

But being called one of the six worst schools is Rhode Island is going to stick in our craw for a long, long time though. FHS might not be the first on the list of high schools you'd pick to send your kid to, but if you had the time to visit schools and do your research, it sure as hell wouldn't be at the end of it. It has served many kids in this neighborhood well.

The other Providence schools on the list are also in my neighborhood:

  • Lillian Feinstein Elementary is the closest district elementary school to our house (five short blocks). I don't know anything about it.
  • Charlotte Woods Elementary, Roger Williams Middle School and William B. Cooley, Sr., Health & Science Technology High School are part of a rather dingy campus stuffed between Broad Street and 95. I suspect they have some larger plan in mind; Roger Williams made AYP last year, and it is exactly the kind of big old pile of a junior high a CMO wouldn't want to mess with. It wouldn't be hard to make it worse, so I'm not sure what they're thinking. Cooley was another one of the new Gates small schools that didn't quite take.

Also on the list is Central Falls High School, which is too tempting for would be reformers to avoid -- it is a one square mile urban district. A perfect fracking petri dish!

All the high schools are ones that have been either reconstituted by the district, taken over by the state, or started from scratch in the past ten years. That kind of gives the lie to the "historic" scope of this effort. We've been down this path before. Maybe now we'll get some outside management in, and that'll make all the difference. Except we've been bringing more and more outsiders (me!) in for the past decade as it is.

I will probably go to the community meeting about Lillian Feinstein Elementary, since theoretically my girls could go there. I'll have to think about and inquire into whether Big Picture Company is interested in that kind of thing. Otherwise, I'm puzzled about how this is supposed to play out -- the current district "reform" is ALL SCHOOLS MUST BE EXACTLY THE SAME so I don't know how other reforms work in that context. Same dance, different dancers?

If Only There was an App for That

Linda Perlstein:

This month’s Atlantic has a lot for education reporters, though given that I usually read it online, I was shocked that the actual magazine costs seven bucks! Given that I was captive in an airport, the money was well spent.

I wanted to read the James Fallow article this month, which is longer than I'm likely to get through online, so I made a stop at Borders in Cranston to pick it up (and get the new Tiny Titans). Guess what? They didn't have either!

Hilariously "Uneven" Ed-Tech Punditry

If you're the type to be amused by uncovering the internal inconsistencies and incoherence of self-important punditry, you'll love Whiteboarding "Uneven" Learning by EduFlack. I can't be arsed to spell it out for you; just revel in it if you're so inclined.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

WAR! (as the causal soldier knows it)

News of EVE:

49-U6U, Querious - Over 547 ships have been lost in the last 24 hours and 216 of those in the last hour alone as GoonSwarm repels a Systematic-Chaos and Against ALL Authorities invasion of this GoonSwarm held system. SBUs have been deployed and battles are raging around them...

Although Goons appear to be holding onto the system, Hratli reports that "AAA renter" Ushra'Khan has killed 78 GoonSwarm carriers. What impact those losses will have on the ongoing defense of the system remains to be seen.

We are in this fight, but the line about Ushra'Khan taking out 78 carriers is some kind of Goon disinformation (and we don't pay rent to AAA).

I logged on Saturday night expecting this fight to be over, but the massive slugfest was still going on. So I jumped in an interdictor (the Puny But Angry) and headed over to the fight, before getting stuck behind a Brick Squad blockade on the entry gate to 49-U6U. I sat at a station for about 45 minutes with some other trapped support ships, listening to fleet comms call for more interdictors in the battle zone, until there was enough of a pause in the action for the main fleet to send a detachment to break the blockade. At that point we made a run for it, but unfortunately, I got bombed (with my micro warp drive running), woke up in a fresh clone back at home base, and decided to call it a night.

On one hand, this was boring and unsuccessful, but if you want to have a grunt's eye view of a massive wargame, this is the kind of thing you're signing up for.


Catch - Against ALL Authorities [.-A-.] are currently fighting wars on two fronts, one in an attempt to free systems that were recently taken by Libertas Fidelitas [LFA], with help from Curatores Veritatis Alliance [CVA] and a second against GoonSwarm [OHGOD] in 49-U6U.

As of this time F9E-KX, SV5-8N, WD-VTV, and 9KOE-A have been taken by the Providence residents with capital fleets currently deployed by .-A-. and friends as they attempt to free F9E-KX and SV5-8N. With the fighting still in progress it looks possible that .-A-. may be able to recover SV5-8N, though reports indicate that they are taking losses of about five to one at the current time.

From our point of view, World War III has just broken out. There are well over 10,000 characters in the involved alliances. Should be fun!

Thursday, January 07, 2010


I have nothing to say at the moment about bubblegum EduPunk, but if in the future I do, you can be assured of my authority, since I am almost certainly the only major educational technology blogger namechecked in Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears:

Vehicle Flips: "Diplomacy, Home and Abroad" (from the Harriet compilation The Long Secret 1995)
In its one minute and fifty seconds, "Diplomacy, Home and Abroad" makes and airtight case for this Pittsburgh quartet as the intellectual's Ohio Express. The exuberant lo-fi anthem is as addictive as anything on the Buddah roster, and Frank Boscoe is a vocal dead ringer for Joey Levine. (Although, to be sure, Levine never sang lines like "Maybe Madeline Albright could provide some insight / into your keen and nimble mind!") Still not convinced? Never fear, as Boscoe and company have the foresight to wed such potentially highfalutin' lyrics to a gloriously lowbrow two-chord guitar hook, which lurches relentlessly in perfect counterpoint to Tom Hoffman's caffeinated military backbeat. As Boscoe hollers "Woo-ooo!" and the buzz pedals kick in, the sugar rush is too blissful to ignore. If Cole Porter had written a song for the Kasenetz-Katz Empire, this is what it would have sounded like.

This Strikes me as Strangely Familiar

James H. Lytle, professor at Penn GSE, analyzes Arlene Ackerman's "theory of action" in Philadelphia for The Notebook:

  • How does this theory shape the principal’s role as school leader? The teacher’s role in the classroom?
    In the School District of Philadelphia paradigm, the roles of principal and teacher are to implement central office policies and directives.

  • Who is/will be accountable? 
    As the chart indicates, most decisions affecting instructional programs, time utilization, staffing, resource utilization, and performance/accountability standards are made at the central office. Principals and school faculties are responsible for effectively implementing the strategies, and are currently the accountable parties – the ones who will be sanctioned if their schools don’t perform to standards (School Targets).

  • At what point has there been consultation with principals and/or teachers on the determination and nature of the activities?
    As the chart suggests, virtually every component of the “reform” agenda has been centrally determined.

  • What incentives and sanctions are being used to encourage implementation of the activities?
    The incentive system appears to be driven by rewards (principal bonuses) and sanctions - reconstitution, principal removal, school categorization (low-performing, in need of improvement, corrective action, Renaissance, etc. – in part dictated by NCLB), and charter school conversion.

  • Where is the thinking? the learning?
    As is evident from the chart, the “thinking,” that determines organizational strategy and operational conditions is centralized at an executive and legislative level (local, state, and federal). The effect is to reduce professional judgment and diminish capacity and adaptability at the school level, that is, the level where the organizational services are provided.

  • What’s missing in the PELP framework? Are there blind spots?
    The most obvious shortcoming is that the framework does not take into account “emotional intelligence” and “relational trust,” two research-based notions that have a direct relationship to successful educational reform. A simple explanation would be that effective leaders, whether in central office or schools, need to be aware of their own emotions and of how their behavior affects those around them, and build trust with teachers, students, and parents.

  • What outcomes does the District’s “theory of action” foretell? Does the research on effective schools, school improvement, and school change support the approach being taken?
    A direct answer would be no. Deficit-framed, high stakes accountability, remedial approaches, with significant sanctions and minimal rewards, do not work for the long-term, either in schools or the corporate sector. They erode the trust and willingness-to-risk which behavior change requires, foster low expectations, limit adaptation at the school-site level, and portend long-term morale problems, including high employee turnover, and declining organizational performance.

The Tablet App Store

John Gruber:

The most-asked question from readers was whether I expect The Tablet to be a tightly-controlled software platform like the iPhone. No one doubts that there will be an App Store for any possible Apple tablet computer — either a new branch of apps specifically designed for the tablet (as I expect), or iPhone OS apps modified to run on larger displays, or both. The question from readers is whether I expect the App Store will be, as on the iPhone, the only way to write native third-party software for the device.

To me this is so obvious, I didn’t consider it worth addressing. I say: yes, of course the App Store will be the only avenue for native third-party tablet apps. (“Native” as opposed to web apps, which by definition are wide open.) Whatever the problems and complaints developers have about the iPhone App Store, Apple clearly sees it as a huge win. They love the experience it provides, they love the control, and I’m sure they enjoy the 30 percent cut of the revenue.

I truly don't know what to expect from the apparently soon to be announced Apple tablet thing-y, but I'd bet Gruber is right on this point.

There has been essentially no progress on making operating systems more robust or secure, so we get this instead.

This Proves My Point About Learning Styles!

Mark Guzdial:

On the way to Rochester on Monday (across two planes, 3 hour delay, and 2 hour flight), I read Richard E. Mayer’s Multimedia Learning, 2nd Edition which I highly recommend.  It’s a synopsis of literally dozens of studies, categorized as supporting (and sometimes disputing) 12 principles of how to design multimedia for effective and transferable learning.  I saw a lot of great ideas for how to improve computing education. That observation also has a downside.  Some of Mayer’s well-supported principles aren’t appearing anywhere in computing education that I can see.

One figure really struck me, and I’m including it here (hoping that a single figure counts as ‘fair use’):

This figure summarizes four studies where student data were split based on the amount of prior knowledge that students had about the field of study.  In one experiment, the experimental treatments were integrating text and pictures (text next to pictures) and the other where they were separated.  In the other three experiments, students were shown text with supporting illustrations vs. only text.

What’s striking about these four results is the huge difference for students with low knowledge.  Doing it right matters a lot for these students.  What’s also striking is how it doesn’t make much difference for the high knowledge students.  In fact, in the first experiment, the low-knowledge students even did better than the high knowledge students when given integrated text plus illustrations.

I don't actually have a point about learning styles, except to say that indeed, the hackneyed version that trickles down through professional development lectures to mandated lesson plan requirements is indeed hackneyed. But the truth is out there, and it is subtle and complex.

Also, I look forward to Dan's review of this book.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Parsing the Local Implications of Dean Millot's Posts on Charter Boards

In the past year, we've established that district-based turnarounds in Providence -- there is apparently no legal basis for site-based reforms to be sustained against the whim of the mayorally appointed school committee. Whether state-administered school turnarounds (e.g., Hope High School) have any legal protection against the local school committee once successfully "turned around" by the state is very much an open question. Until last year, it was believed that contractual language in Providence's contract over "site-based management" had some weight. This has turned out not to be the case.

So then, when is working for school reform in Providence or Rhode Island not a sucker's bet? I tend to think of this from the perspective of the individual teacher, but Dean Millot's series (they need special tags or something for these mini-series...) of posts on the power relationships between Charter Management Organizations (CMO's) and local boards put it in a broader context. Just as teachers have to consider whether or not to invest their time in fixing a school if their work is likely to be undone by the politically appointed (in Providence's case) board, a CMO has to consider whether a charter school's board can and will stick with them long enough for the investment to pay off financially. Do they need to control who gets on the board to make it more allied to the CMO than the community?

Getting back to Rhode Island, the only good answer is a "traditional" community-based charter, where the board can be made up of like-minded people sympathetic to the values of the school (or, less idealistically, the interests of the CMO -- although I'm hazy to what extent CMO's can participate in the management of RI charters at all).

The new "mayoral academies" are just a perverse case -- the board is made up of the mayors or their appointees from participating communities, which must include a mix of urban and suburban/rural towns. This pracically guarantees diverging interests over the long haul. I don't see how the schools don't become political footballs over the years, and I don't know why a CMO would want to deal with it. It is bad enough having to deal with the inconstancies of one city government, adding three more into the mix hardly seems like an improvement. Leaving aside my other concerns about the academies, the governance structure is just a typical Rhode Island jury rigged workaround.

I Realize Telling Will Richardson What to Do is Now a Cottage Industry, But...

Will Richardson:

My favorite conference of the year, Educon 2.2, is only a few weeks away, and I wanted to post my “conversation” here to see if there might be some…um…conversation about how to best make the, ah, conversation valuable at the conference. (NOTE: I had originally intended to lead a conversation on “Greening Education” but I’m switching this new topic in.)

Nooooooo... I was really looking forward to something fresh and Green from Will.

Inbred Rhetoric

Ryan Hill:

The philosophical mind-set shift that NCLB forced upon our country is not trivial and its importance should not be underestimated. Until NCLB, it was understood–not hypothesized, but understood–that students who are low-income, of color, or classified as special education students simply could not be expected to learn at the same levels as high-income white kids. NCLB said that it’s possible for our kids, of all income levels, races, ethnicities, or classifications, to achieve at a high level. This is a critical message to send to schools and to the general population.

Are young ed reformers just rebelling against their racist, classist, The Bell Curve reading parents? I don't know, but I also don't know where they got the oft-repeated idea that "Until NCLB, it was understood–not hypothesized, but understood–that students who are low-income, of color, or classified as special education students simply could not be expected to learn at the same levels as high-income white kids." Yes, you can find some grumpy teachers who believe this (particularly of "special education" students...), but when was this the basis of public policy?

And even if that is true, has eight years of NCLB disproved it? If I wanted to argue the opposite case I'd start with the fact that the 2009 Broad Prize winning district doesn't even meet NCLB's standards for "adequate yearly progress." The failure of NCLB to close the achievement gap at scale is a powerful argument against a "schools only" approach to equity.

The real situation is pretty obvious -- on the micro scale we can create some extraordinary schools that substantially mitigate other disadvantages, but at the macro level, we have failed to systematically undo broad, persistent, historically-grounded inequality at the national (or even city) scale via schools alone, and there is little reason to believe it is possible, at scale.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Least Surprising Study

Considering the minimal version of Teach for America's philosophy is that good teachers and schools can overcome poverty, and the maximal version (of some of their friends', at least) is that poverty and inequality can only be overcome through education, it should not be too surprising that TFA alumni aren't as civic-ly engaged outside of education as similar peers. Why distract yourself from the civil rights issue of our time?

In fact, if your express purpose was to create a vehicle to convince idealistic kids to not contribute outside education, you'd be hard pressed to imporove on TFA's approach.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Creative Commons Licensing for Utah Teachers

This seems like a reasonable iteration towards openness:

R277-111-3. Educators Sharing Materials.
A. Utah educators may share materials for noncommercial use that educators have developed primarily for use in their own classes, courses or assignments...
D. Utah educators may share materials under a Creative Commons License and shall be personally responsible for understanding and satisfying the requirements of a Creative Commons License.

Not to get too nit-picky, but here are a few thoughts:

  • This rule implies that Utah regards this work by teachers as "work for hire" and controlled by the school.
  • They could be a little more explicit about which licenses are permitted -- NC only?
  • I don't really care how you define "open," since I don't value "openness," but I'd note that this does not make these materials Free Cultural Works -- "works or expressions which can be freely studied, applied, copied and/or modified, by anyone, for any purpose."
  • What we should trying to get to, in the end, is something like this:
    All educational materials, resources, tools, etc. developed with government funds or by government employees should be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution license, the MIT license, or another relevant permissive open license when appropriate.

Via Pete and David Wiley.

Friday, January 01, 2010

"Disruptive Innovation" Gone Wrong

One thing about business books about cool ideas like "disruptive innovation" is that they naturally emphasize the successes of whatever approach they're interested and not the negative cases. In particular, it is hard to think of a failed "disruptive innovation."

Here's one that anyone working in the ed-tech trenches in the last fifteen years can probably relate to: ink jet printers. Talk about your down-market approaches competing with non-consumption! All of a sudden you went from one black and white copier (and a mimeo!) for the whole school, maybe a laser printer in the library, to a full color printer in every classroom, and the damn things were so cheap that after a while they were giving them away with every computer.

In retrospect (and at the time by many), this is regarded by consensus as a complete disaster. "Good enough" wasn't good enough, support was a nightmare, administration impossible, durability insufficient, overpriced proprietary ink quickly negated the initial cost savings. These are standard arguments against disruptive innovators by incumbent players. Sometimes the incumbents are right.