Sunday, February 28, 2010

What Should You Expect from a "Turnaround"

Angus Davis says with enough backing and effort, "Central Falls could go from worst to first." Unlike Davis, Deb Gist eschews the use of her favorite cliche and suggests "steady gains in student achievement."

Mass Insight gets more quantitative. The first of their "12 tough questions for states" asks:

Has your state visibly focused on its lowest-performing five percent of schools and set specific, two-year turnaround goals, such as bringing achievement at least to the current high-poverty school averages in the state?

Ah. OK, that's clearer. Let's go to the charts! (click for larger versions):

In the above graph, the red background is the average proficiency rate in reading plus math for economically disadvantaged students statewide. This is slightly different (from Mass Insight's "current high poverty school averages," but could well be higher depending on how you're calculating it (e.g., do you scale by size of school, etc). Against that are graphed the same data for the three RI high schools designated for intervention. The thinner line is the school's rate for their economically disadvantaged sub-population All the schools discussed here are 80%+ poverty schools.

Feinstein High School is of course notable for having already achieved Mass Insight's definition of a successful first phase turnaround prior to being turned around. The bottom slot is covered by Cooley High School. I don't know that much about Cooley, but it seems to come out as the runt of the litter of Gates-era small schools, lost its original principal to the Hope High turnaround, and from the numbers at least, genuinely seems to be going in the wrong direction.

The now famous Central Falls High falls decidedly in the middle. They're not quite closing the gap fast enough to meet Mass Insight's target by the 2012 NECAP's, but it is close. They need to go faster, but these scores don't reflect the results of this year's significant restructuring within the high school. Central Falls is a borderline candidate for radical turnaround. It is not a "this couldn't get worse" case.

Here's a few more comparisons for perspective:

Mount Pleasant High School (in grey) is the big Providence high school least affected by the past decade of reform and investment in Providence High Schools. They started out behind Central Falls three years ago and have lost a little ground in the interim. How they escaped intervention is a bit of a mystery. It is certainly their turn. And they are by no means the only Providence High School trailing Central Falls.

The purple line is the average achievement across the three (now two) small schools that Hope High was divided into during a major restructuring by the state, which included making all teachers re-apply for their jobs and hiring candidates from outside the district. Like Cooley in 2009, they started out at about half the proficiency rate of the state average for low-income students, well under Central Falls. In aggregate, they've basically caught up to Central Falls. That is, a major state intervention yielded slightly greater relative gains but not greater absolute achievement than Central Falls doing their regular administrative churn.

The exception to this within the three schools created by the turnaround is Hope Arts, which has broken through to meet Mass Insight's target. Given the district and state's inability and unwillingness to continue the reforms at Hope Arts, their capacity to sustain this is in question.

My main conclusion from all this is that Mass Insight's target feels right. To people outside urban education, it probably sounds absurdly unambitious, and it certainly isn't the end goal. But turnaround isn't really about turning ok but not great schools into great ones. It should be about turning schools that genuinely aren't working into ones that are doing right by the large majority of their students. It isn't about "worst to first," especially if your selection criteria don't even accurately identify the "worst."

Is Teaching Algebra II Everyone's Responsibility?

There is a good thread over at Living in Dialogue about the question of whether or not teachers should or do "strongly agree that the teachers in a school share responsibility for the achievement of all students."

In general, yes, but the more I chew over the NECAP numbers for high-poverty RI schools, the less I know what to make of them in terms of evaluating the whole school. The problem is, apparently we're only supposed to look at three numbers for high schools. Reading, math, and four year graduation rate. Yet math proficiency rates typically and routinely lag the reading rates by seventy percent in a given school. On paper, that looks like like half the school. In real life, it is what, a sixth of the student's day? And if the rest of the school is functioning well enough that 60%, 70%, 80% of the kids are reaching standards in reading and writing, what can the rest of the school do to improve math achievement?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Kabuki Negotiation in Central Falls

Pat Crowley on RI Future:

As the facts start to trickle out about what really happened in Central Falls, one thing is becoming clear: the teachers, no matter what they may have been told, and no matter what may be being said about them, didn’t have a shot at changing what appears to have been a pre-determined outcome by Central Falls School Superintendent Gallo.   The Projo has a video up from yesterday’s Board of Regents meeting where Commissioner Gist finally let’s the cat out of the bag.  She says:

What was happening before the selection was made was not a negotiation.


Whether they (the teachers) say they were supporting the transformation model or not, they say they are willing or not, that part does not factor in.

That’s right.  They teachers had no choice and no chance to work collaboratively on finding a solution.  The power solely resting in the hands of the Gallo and Gist, and the teachers could listen to what was going to happen to them but had no right to affect the outcome.

This is certainly one reason why "Parents are scarce at meeting to improve education system." Everyone knows that the superintendent has already decided what to do in Providence. Or at least that the range of options is even more limited than the four choices offered.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE (V)

Millot on the Borderland:

As for Gates, New Schools, their grantees, EdSector etc., my own experience with very large nonprofits is that senior staff can leverage their organizations in ways their presidents and boards can’t dream of. Instead, see a network of people – Shelton, Smith, Rotherham etc., with a similarly focused view of school reform from a similar subculture of philanthropy, similarly invested – psychologically or otherwise – in a specific group of grantees, working towards the same ends. It’s not a conspiracy so much as an open secret. They’ve never hidden themselves from the public, they’ve spent a decade daring people to challenge their positions. They are a case of emperors wearing no clothes.

Finally there is nothing like a coherent “for profit education industry.” It’s kind of like talking about the “United Nations.” The industry is divided at least between the multinational publishers, their local consultants and everybody else selling products, services and program. The first two groups want no change to the status quo and would be happy to repeal NCLB. The few, mostly weak, trade groups have badly fractionated the broader industry’s Washington presence. And within any segment of the industry there are literally hundreds of small for- and nonprofit organizations motivated by every force known to man.

Very few in the for-profit world are interested in running public schools – it’s a very unprofitable business. Having reviewed the economics of both the charter management and teacher training businesses, I would say the new philanthropy actually wants to push the burden of their own subsidies onto the government, via RTTT and I3. Finally, there’s just not a lot of exchange going on between the for-profits and the nonprofit represented by the naked aristocracy. Sure it exists, but its not very likely that anyone at for-profit Scientific Learning knows anyone at nonprofit KIPP knows anyone at for-profit University Instructors knows anyone at nonprofit Success for All knows anyone at Scientific Learning. With a foot in both worlds, I can say they are two different worlds and cultures – although they share the fee-for-service revenue model.

That's a good rundown on how peculiarly some of the parts of this puzzle fit together.

On Fran Gallo

As you might imagine, I'm a little less on the Fran Gallo bandwagon than I was last July. It is more than a little jarring to read the optimistic article from last January announcing Central Falls' new academy system, which stood out to me in contrast to Providence's current direction.

And you know what, they should have been optimistic, because their test scores took their second (at least) double digit jump in a row this year. By my count they're outperforming eight Providence high schools on the NECAP.

Then Race to the Top hit...

The one time I remember having a meeting with Fran Gallo, it was the opposite of this Central Falls teacher's experience:

But he was pretty sure early on in the tenure of Supt. Frances Gallo that these would not be good times for teachers in Central Falls. Familiarity would not count for as much as it used to.

McLaughlin says that in an early meeting with Gallo, he referred to the history of events in Central Falls, and Gallo cut him off to say, “History is dead.”

“I got a chill up my spine. It was just a few months after she’d been appointed superintendent.”

That is, when I met with her in Providence, she heard what I had to say because she already knew the history behind what we were discussing. Heck, I'm sure she knew it better than I did.

I don't think Fran Gallo did the right thing in Central Falls, but I'm not sure what the right thing would have been. Resigning in protest?

On Having a Publicist


Feinstein High School is in a particularly awkward position. A separate school facilities’ study calls for the small, alternative high school to be closed, yet Brady told parents and teachers that they should move forward with a reform recommendation regardless of the facilities’ recommendation.

Karen Feldman, who runs a youth group called Young Voices, suggested that Feinstein teachers rally behind the transformation model and then press to relocate the school, which is in an aging building. If the building is to be closed, Principal K.C. Perry and several parents said they wanted to keep the school open for another year to allow the juniors to graduate from Feinstein.

Everyone should, at some point, have a publicist. Not so much because we all need the publicity, but it is quite illuminating to see how much more attention people pay to your work when someone else is promoting it on your behalf. In turn, you then realize why some things get more attention than others.

I'm not counting on "saving" FHS, but if nothing else, I've at least managed to change and complicate the narrative (not just through this blog, mind you) about FHS, and, most importantly, make the people working there feel a little better about what they accomplished there.

But it is really difficult to calculate the difference just having a publicist makes in shaping perceptions of charters vs. regular public schools. I mean, Claus does a good job, but it is a big country.

Sample conversation:

Me: When I was at school I saw 10 kids were already accepted to URI Talent Development.

Jennifer: That's just the first group. There's probably be 20, 25 total.

me: So... like a quarter or a third of your graduating class goes into URI TD every year?

Jennifer: Yeah.

me: Does anyone know about this?

Jennifer: Probably not.

I have been avoiding the Facebook vector, but the new Rhode Island is Ready page is too tempting to pass up.

On a Lighter Note

It sounds better to say I dropped out of Carnegie Mellon to go on tour drumming for Mark Robinson in UNREST (see above) in 1990, but truthfully it just led to my dropping out a semester later.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Does Central Falls Exist?

Referring to Central Falls, RI as a small city as the NY Times did today doesn't quite capture the nature of the place. It is 1.3 square miles of very dense, high poverty tenement housing, old textile mills and some shopping. But basically, if you drive north from Providence, you continue through the formerly industrial city of Pawtucket, and then you briefly pass through even bleaker Central Falls before entering more suburban zones. Map.

Central Falls is, essentially, an American township:

In South Africa, the term township usually refers to the (often underdeveloped) urban living areas that, under Apartheid, were reserved for non-whites (principally black Africans and Coloureds, but also working class Indians). Townships were usually built on the periphery of towns and cities.

It is a particularly egregious example of apartheid schooling in America. Our current state and federal "reform" agenda is completely incapable of and uninterested in addressing this kind of structural problem.

Central Falls schools should be desegregated via integration into the surrounding communities, including the two adjoining suburban communities. Anything else is just trying to figure out how to make separate equal.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Multiple Measures of the Same Data


The Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s method for identifying persistently lowest-achieving schools as defined in this Protocol includes analysis of the following factors:

  1. School-wide student performance in mathematics and reading against the state- wide average performance in these subject areas;
  2. No Child Left Behind Classification with respect to number of years in need of improvement;
  3. Subgroup performance in reading and mathematics against the state-wide average performance;
  4. Student growth percentile at elementary and middle school levels in reading and mathematics and graduation rates at high school levels against the state-wide average growth; and,
  5. School-wide improvement in reading and mathematics between 2005-2006 and the 2008-2009 school years against the state-wide average improvement.

Since AYP is based on math and reading scores, and graduation rates, broken down by subgroup, taking into account annual growth, these five factors are just chewing over the exact same data five different ways.

I still have trouble believing that I live in a world where decisions to close schools would be made without even bothering to move your finger over one more column on the NECAP report to look at the writing scores. Hey! You already paid for them! They're right there. See?

Never mind all the data RIDE has collected every year for the past decade in surveys of parents, students and teachers. Never mind RIDE's formerly strong and unique (in the US) school inspection system. And I have a strong suspicion that they couldn't be bothered to look at five year graduation rates either.

Never mind college admissions data. Never mind college retention data.

And, for the record, the test data for the "2008 - 2009" school year is the data that came out after the "lowest-achieving" schools were announced.

I'm about ready to go back to concentrating on internet spaceships.

Feinstein: Still Closing


After listening to hours of public debate on the proposed school closings, Brady made the following recommendations:

  • Delay closing Windmill Elementary School and Feinstein Elementary School at Sackett Street until a task force studies how to restore neighborhood schools at the elementary level.
  • Postpone the creation of three K-8 schools until the School Department is able to thoroughly explore the pros and cons of this approach. The district currently has middle schools with grades six through eight.
  • Close Feinstein High School and Perry Middle School, but keep Bridgham Middle School open. Brady decided to keep Bridgham open because the building is in much better condition and has superior educational facilities.

Feinstein High School teachers and parents, however, said that it would be a shame to close a school that has made amazing gains in reading and writing recently, beating the state average. They described Feinstein as a family, and said that the small high school has had great success in not only sending graduates to college, but keeping them there.

“When our grades went up, we never heard from anyone,” said Melissa Parkerson, a Feinstein teacher. “Our students have been torn apart. Please let them know they matter.”

That was my first school board meeting in a while...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is SEIU Part of the Keiretsu?

The Perimeter Primate asks:

QUESTION: What is the relationship between SEIU, Broad, and the Parent Revolution?

I guess I need to try to make some progress on the last part of Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home to get up to date on SEIU.

Belatedly... MILLOT: Sound Decision or Censoprship at TWIE (IV)

Events have gotten the best of me , but if you haven't seen it yet, part 4 of Dean Millot's saga is up at The Frustrated Teacher:

The keiretsu parted company with me years ago. In 2003, the handful of foundations supporting the emerging charter movement – at least the West Coast part of the "new philanthropy," cut long-time charter leaders out of the loop and off from funding. This included Eric Premack in California, John Ayers in Chicago, and Shirley Monestra in DC – people who played important roles passing and implementing their states charter laws’ These were experienced pro-market reformers, but preferred to harness business discipline to mission, rather than nonprofit tax advantages to corporate style; doubted the financial, educational and social viability of the Charter Management Organization model; and pressed their points with vigor. Above all they constituted the grassroots independent community-based charter movement’s “policy wonk connection” to federal and state government, the national education conversation, and the local media.

The remaining “leaders” of organizations in and around the charter movement saw the massacre, and decided discretion was the better part of valor. Consistent with the golden rule, many fell into line, most remained silent. The National Charter School Alliance, the bottom-up “membership” organization representing charter school associations that I led was strangled at birth. I was fired for using my own money to explore legal questions related to the withdrawal of a promised grant, and then cut off from education think tank publishing channels I had enjoyed for years. After the situation settled, the keiretsu formed a top-down “leadership” organization, the National Alliance of Charter Schools. (I think I have the emails to and from the key figures documenting this period on one of my old computers.)

I was far enough removed from this scene to not quite discern it when the purge took place. Just that one day "education reform" meant something completely different than it had meant seemingly a few days earlier.

Unfortunately, the Example of The South Suggests this Won't Work

Region 19 BOE Gazette:

There is a time to cut your losses. It seems to me that teachers unions are not only losing the fight to provide a quality education in America's cities but they are being unfairly and irreparably harmed for the effort. It may be time to pull out.

Let the philanthropists, oligarchs, big city politicians, urban right-wing parent organizations, and profit-seeking educational entrepreneurs have at it - ALL OF IT.

The teachers unions would be wise to retreat to the places where education can be practiced sanely. A place where expectations are matched by parental attention, an audience that's receptive, and with sufficient resources to do the job.

It will not be long before those who inherit the task will be calling for an end to standardized tests as a metric of success. In fact they'll be angry that public schools with unions have an unfair advantage in providing superior product. It'll be called class warfare and racist and unfair. It'll be a fun lesson in educational pragmatism.

Perhaps Someone Should Write Down Some Rules for this Stuff

Remotely turning on cameras on student laptops is taking things too far, although as a former tech coordinator, I must admit I'd regard it as a pretty clever hack for finding missing laptops. But what this highlights to me is that there just doesn't seem to be a clear set of professional standards for any of this stuff. Or if there are, nobody seems to know about them. This is the crux of the problem.

More Honors for Feinstein High School Students

FHS student Toka Cleary wins the New England Golden Gloves championship in the featherweight class! I'm told he's grown as a student as well this year.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

If Only there were Local Examples of Sustained Successful Turnarounds

This is pretty weak tea:

dave brown: Regarding the proposed "turnaround" (fire all; rehire <=50%) in Central Falls... 1) Can you offer/discuss examples of similar schools where this response to "chronic failure" was implemented successfully? 2) Are there mechanisms to ensure that teachers are rehired on the basis of competence instead of seniority? 3) Do you have reason to believe that there are sufficient numbers of teachers with greater competence than those not rehired who will be willing to work in this school -- without resorting to incentives that might disrupt staffing at other RI schools?

Deborah Gist: 1. More information about both these examples can be found on the U.S. Department of Education's website.

Deborah Gist: a) In 2006, Locke High School was among the lowest performing schools in Los Angeles. Just 5% of Locke's graduating students went on to 4-year colleges. With the support of the community, a non-profit organization called Green Dot implemented a school turnaround model focused on making sure students achieve academically and are ready for college and careers when they graduate from high school. As part of the turnaround, only 40 of the school's 120 teachers remained in the school. Principals can be hired and fired at will, and principals have more control over the staffing in their schools as well. In the first year, Locke showed modest gains in test scores, but tested significantly more students (38 percent more than the previous year, indicating more students were staying in school throughout the year), reduced truancy and dropout rates, and improved the safety of the school setting. Additionally, nearly 20 percent more students graduated, and large percentages of those continued onto college.

Deborah Gist: b) An organization called the Chicago Academy for Urban School Leadership opened its first turnaround school in 2006 at the Sherman School of Excellence. The transition took place in the summer, so the student body remained the same and students did not have to temporarily move to other schools. Since then, Sherman has produced steady gains in student achievement. Another Illinois turnaround school was the Harvard School of Excellence. Before the turnaround in 2007, Harvard ranked in the bottom five out of more than 3,000 Illinois elementary schools. Harvard has since produced steady gains in student achievement.

Locke? "Modest gains in test scores? Chicago? "Steady gains?" That's the best you can do?

Clearly, Ms. Gist is a more accomplished politician than me, but I'd suggest a punchier, locally grounded answer like this:

What school has the highest reading and writing scores among Providence open enrollment high schools? Feinstein -- staff fired and "turned around" 2001. What school has the second highest reading scores and third highest writing scores? Hope Arts, part of the Hope turnaround, 2005. Third highest in reading scores and second highest in writing? E-Cubed, started with a core staff of veterans of the Feinstein turnaround.

Highest in math? Hope Arts. Second? Hope IT. Third? Feinstein.

We've done it, in Providence, in Rhode Island, we've sustained it, we've replicated it, it works.

Of course, the downside to that argument from her point of view is that she's ordered the closing of one of those schools and tacitly approves of the dismantling of the structural, governance and curricular reforms of the other two.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reforming and Un-Reforming Providence High Schools

I've started blogging some at RI Future, aimed more at the general local progressive policy community. Yesterday I posted the final version of my PVD high schools infographic with some commentary:

Schools in Rhode Island and Providence are suffering from the regular cycle of what Larry Cuban calls "amnesiac policymakers:"

Few policymakers are familiar with the history of urban districts and how they evolved through absorbing waves of earlier immigrants as well as past efforts to improve schooling for the poor. Instead these policy brokers draw from personal experiences while soaking up juicy stories others tell about schools. In ignoring earlier efforts at urban school reform, they either substitute their own pictures of what they think happened or they assume that nothing can be learned from the past because current conditions differ so much from conditions then (or they do both). They err.

The recent history of high school reform in Providence is particularly complex. As you may have forgotten, just short of 10 years ago Providence was accepting $13,568,880 from the Gates Foundation aimed primarily at creating small high schools. In the past fifteen years or so within the borders of Providence on average about one new high school has opened or been reconstituted each year.  

From 50,000 feet, it may feel like this has all added up to nothing; certainly Providence has not seen the kind of systemic change it aspired to a decade ago.  But there were real successes.  Unfortunately, the Brady administration in Providence and Chancellor Gist's RIDE seem more motivated to undo and erase from history the hard-won innovation and achievement in the PPSD's small high schools than sustain it.

In an attempt to illustrate the complexities of Providence's high schools, I've created this infographic:

Reforming and Un-Reforming High Schools in Providence

Feinstein, E-Cubed, and Hope Arts together are the equivalent of pushing a Central or Mount Pleasant's reading achievement over the state average. Or like creating six more successful charters the size of Times2 or Textron. Instead of celebrating these home-grown district schools, they're being dismantled by the state and district, and, in the case of Feinstein, likely closed outright.

SchoolTool "Dolce Vita" Sprint

We're midway through a SchoolTool development sprint at the Hotel Dolce Villa in the Federal Hill neighborhood in Providence, with Justas here from Vilnius, Douglas from El Salvador, and Alan from Philly. We got a nice rate for a suite during the week, and everyone's enjoying easy access to grilled pizza and other delicious fare. We're also making progress on beefing up some SchoolTool internals, including support for asynchronous tasks, which is handy for requests that take a long time, like complex reports, importing large sets of data, queuing emails, and the like.

We'll be at AS220 for the Providence Geeks meeting tonight.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE?

This is a rare guest post on Tuttle SVC, by Marc Dean Millot. Enjoy! --TEH

I am at turns, flattered, amused, confused and annoyed at Andrew Rotherham’s decision to call on a colleague at Scholastic and force This Week in Education's editor, Alexander Russo, to pull “Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?"within hours of its posting. I’m flattered that Education Sector’s departing founding would give the effort that kind of priority. I’m amused that he would be sufficiently sensitive on behalf of his colleagues at the Department of Education to leap to their defense within moments of the slightest provocation, but remain completely silent when confronted with my direct accusation that he was complicit in academic fraud three months ago. I am confused by this articulate and well-read University of Virginia Ph.d candidate’s failure to distinguish between the plain meaning of my sentences and his own inferences. I am annoyed that someone who I know personally wouldn’t just contact me, or even my editor, before taking action, when he’s had satisfaction before.

I know what I did and have explained as best I can. I know what Russo did, what he told me, and I have provided a complete record of our communications.

Enough time has passed for Rotherham to deny what Russo told me, so don’t doubt that I know what he did. What I don’t know is why. All I can do is lay out all the circumstantial evidence at my disposal, and offer my best assessment. Readers can decide for themselves.

Rotherham might be just another disgruntled reader – who happens to know the publisher.

There are lots of readers of lots of publications who read something and get very upset. Most don’t know the author - let alone the editor or publisher, and most media don’t make pulling the story practicable. They write a letter to the editor and maybe cancel their subscription. In the blogosphere. they write a comment under the offensive post and/or write something in their own blog.

Rotherham knows me and Russo. In November, 2007 he contacted me to say I was wrong about some post. He was right. I corrected the post and credited him with the change. it No big deal. Had he called me in this instance, I would have clarified my point - admittedly out of an abundance of caution. Even more likely, had he contacted Russo, Russo would have asked for the same, and I’d have done it. There is simply nothing in my past relationship with either to suggest otherwise. It happens that Rotherham is the only person with his interpretation, but there would be no skin off my nose for humoring him.

So why he didn’t call? I see two plausible reasons:

The first, what lawyers call a “sudden impulse.” On reading my post, Rotherham was “provoked” or “overcome with emotion” and without “opportunity to reflect” picked up the phone or blasted off an email to his contact at Scholastic. A “crime of passion.”

The second theory is deliberate decision. For some reason Rotherham did not want to communicate with me or Russo. He did not want to give either of us a chance to respond or clarify. He wanted, or had to, talk with his publisher colleague.

The first theory needs a reason for Rotherham to get so upset. The column was not about him. He was not named. It’s possible, but odd, that he might be a die-hard fan of senior department officials, imagines “attacks” on them as attacks on himself and acts like someone under attack.

The second theory needs a reason for Rotherham not to call. Maybe he “forgot.” But that leads to the first theory. Maybe he lost our email addresses and/or phone numbers. Maybe he figured we’d tell him to take a hike. Or maybe he had reason NOT to communicate directly.

Some facts relevant to either theory: Both Russo and I have been engaged in debates with Rotherham for some years. There’s plenty of what Russo’s called “snark” directed at Rotherham on this This Week in Education. Rotherham and I have had several extended debates on and between his blog eduwonk and my edbizbuzz. My remarks were more formal and intellectual, but the tension of a contest is evident.

More important, in late November I started a series on This Week in Education accusing EdSector with academic fraud (starting here) - and Rotherham with complicity - regarding a report on CMOs drafted by Thomas Toch, but appropriated, edited and released by the think tank with vastly different findings and conclusions. To my direct charges the normally voluble Rotherham has remained silent – no reply, no explanation, no comment. Nada.

If Rotherham had contacted me or Russo, we would have asked why he had not responded to my TWIE series. Rotherham would be forced to give an explanation or be on the record of refusing to answer a direct question from his accusers. If he really wanted to get my post pulled, he had to call his colleague at Scholastic. Alternatively, given this history, Rotherham flew into rage and/or thought he “had us” and called his contact to deny us the opportunity to respond or edit the post.

Either way, it seems pausible that he wrote his post on Eduwonk to note his “victory” - at least to Russo and me, and “lock in” Scholastic’s decision. Unfortunately, the post was already circulating the web. Once again, amid the modest hubbub Rotherham is uncharacteristically silent on his role, and I expect no response to this.

I should also refer back to the "man with the eggshell thin temperament" in my first post on this topic. Rotherham has a particular loathing of arguments from anonymous sources, that falls somewhere between pet peeve and obsession. His response pattern tends to focus more energy questioning the source than addressing the substantive issues - the eduwonkette saga offers readers a start on that inquiry. Readers might consider the ironic juxtaposition of Rotherham's hostility towards anonymity on questions of substance with his willingness to go behind closed doors to squelch debate. Editors might as well.

Now, my view is that “every bully is a coward in disguise”. But that’s for readers to decide.


In case you're wondering, I made the big data graphic using OmniGraphSketcher (on our excellent new 27" iMac, about which I need to post at some point). I got started on the earlier graphs using Numbers, which I quite like -- finally a spreadsheet that makes sense to me -- but it doesn't let you scale individual dots in the scatter plot the way I wanted to. OmniGraphSketcher is kind of half-way between Numbers' capabilities and OmniGraffle's pure diagramming tools.

High Schools Infographic Almost Done...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Separate is Probably Not Equal?


I worry that racial isolation will mask inequities that can persist despite gains in test scores. Just take a look at what appears to be happening in New York City. The New York Daily News reports that the city's most prestigious high schools now enroll fewer black students than they did in 2002. The share of black students in some of these schools, like Bard and Eleanor Roosevelt, has plummeted to nearly half of what it once was. District officials counter that new "high-performing small schools...are enrolling large numbers of black students." But does this bear out our fears of segregation? And should we care?

We should care if this trend (assuming it is a trend) creates new inequities where we're least able to see them. In some of those new small schools, the overwhelming majority of black students are earning Regents Diplomas, and that's good news. But are they getting the same kind of preparation students at Bard or Stuyvesant receive? Some argue that the Regents Diploma has been dumbed down. Is it a good enough yard stick for measuring equity?

Good points, but this line shows how much the rhetorical frame is being moved:

There probably isn't such a thing as separate but equal in the long term.

Probably? I know that was unconscious on Claus's part, but if progressives start internalizing that perhaps Brown v. the Board of Education was wrong after all, we're all screwed.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE (II)

It is up at Ed Notes Online.

Part III will be here next week.

Providence High Schools Infographic

This is getting close to the definitive info-graphic to illustrate my perspective on public high schools in Providence circa 2009 (click on the image for the full size version):

On the x-axis, the values correspond to:

  1. Charter or state administered;
  2. site-managed PPSD school;
  3. district administered after state intervention;
  4. regular district management.

Area of the dot corresponds to the number of juniors taking the test. This gives you a somewhat distorted sense of the overall size of the schools since a lot of students in the lower performing schools never make it that far. Classical has the biggest junior class (240) by 32, but I think it is smaller overall than Mount Pleasant by a couple hundred.

The colors correspond to economically-disadvantaged rates:

  • Red = 95% and up;
  • orange = 85% - 94%;
  • blue = 80% - 85%;
  • green = 58% - 62% (there's nothing from 63% - 79%).

I also added in Central Falls High School just for reference. It is the third state high school to be turned around for Race to the Top, along with Feinstein and Cooley. As you can see, there are five other Providence high schools below Central Falls.

I decided to focus on the reading scores because the math scores are kind of useless since everyone other than Classical and Times2 is at 7% or under. It doesn't add much for comparison but makes the schools look worse than they actually are. And unlike the 2008 scores, there's nobody with writing scores mysteriously out of line with their reading scores.

The main thing now is adding commentary to the graph.

NECAP Math & "College and Career Readiness"

I forbid myself from looking at math standards, because it is way too easy to convince oneself that you are an expert on math education (see also the internet for examples of this phenomenon). But I have been puzzling over the low pass rates on the 11th grade math NECAPs in Providence.

All the neighborhood schools are around 5% or less. Classical High School has the highest proficiency rate at 54%. I'm not a huge fan of Classical -- the exam school which siphons off a big chunk of the academic talent in the system, but I find it hard to believe that 50% of the kids at Classical won't be ready for "college or career" because of their math skills. Nor, for that matter, do I think 96% of the kids at Feinstein are not prepared for college or career.

And this could, of course, be empirically tested. Did the kids who didn't pass NECAP math in 2007 have to take remedial math as college freshmen in 2009? What grades did they get in college math?

I don't understand the premise that "college- and career-ready" standards would be higher than what we have now. If they really hold to that definition, they would almost certainly be lower, or at least easier to achieve.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Emporer's New Standards


Kentucky yesterday became the first state to adopt common academic standards that were drafted as part of a nationwide initiative to establish a widely shared and ambitious vision of student learning.

With a unanimous vote Wednesday morning, the Kentucky board of education approved the substitution of the common standards in mathematics and English/language arts for the state’s own standards in those two subjects.

Yes, they just adopted a set of standards that haven't been finished or publicly reviewed. Also disturbing is that the commentary in the article is all clearly exclusively about math. They could have very easily just made this a math initiative, as that seems to be all any of the drivers of the project seem to have an interest in.

A Revealing Statistic

Mark Engler:

In 1971, the most popular field of study at universities in the United States was education. Social sciences and history came in a fairly close second, with all other fields falling far behind. But by the millennium, those patterns were a distant memory.

Business had become king on campus. It now awards twice as many degrees as any other field. As a corollary development, the famed “dismal science” is also surging. Ask Harvard undergraduates what they are studying, and their most likely answer will be “Econ.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Graph Dump: Achievement in Small RI High Schools

One thing I wonder about in the current wave of high performing charters is just how much of their success is attributable to very small size. So I crunched some numbers. Below is a table with the 11th grade NECAP (testing year) data from 11 small high schools in Rhode Island serving populations with over 60% economically disadvantaged students. They're also categorized by "autonomy":

  1. Autonomous: charters or administered by the state (the MET).
  2. Formerly semi-autonomous: schools which are nominally site-based within the district, but lost all real authority over the past two years, and schools formerly administered by the state but turned over to the district.
  3. Not-autonomous: these were always run as regular district high schools, just small.

Also, there is a fair amount of conceptual slop here. I've got the six MET schools represented as just one, sized to correspond to the size of one of the schools. It doesn't appear that they release a breakdown of the different sites (which I'd be curious to see). Also, I'd note that standardized test assessments are probably even less relevant in the case of the MET than other schools. Also, if I'm getting this right, in the "testing" year (which I used) there were two Hope schools with 11th grade classes about 130, but in the 2008-2009 "teaching" year there were three schools of 90-ish. Arguably that would be the more accurate representation but unless someone's giving me money or academic credit, I'm not redoing the table.

I got a C in statistics (and the data set is small, etc), so I can't do anything too fancy, but I did make a couple of scatter plots and pressed the little polynomial trendline button.

This one is NECAP total proficiency rates vs. size:

This is proficiency rates vs. autonomy:

The autonomy plot is potentially useful in illustrating why the district's current approach to small schools is misguided. They're working hard to turn the category 2 schools in to category 3 schools as quickly as possible. Also, the overlap between category 1 and 2 is greater than most people would expect.

Also, one thing we don't know is how successful a site-based district high school with 30-40 students per grade would be. Especially with "criterion-based hiring." Is there good reason to think it would be less successful than a charter of the same size? For that matter, is there reason to suspect a charter high school with 80 students per grade would be significantly higher performing than the existing (but fading) site-based programs?

Finally, I've got a bar graph derived from the NECAP "school year" numbers, counting small and large regular district neighborhood schools and using the strict definition of site-based (Feinstein, E-Cubed and PAIS not Hope). This is measuring average proficiency rate across reading, writing and math.

Anyhow, this is just a dump of stuff I've been unhealthily obsessing over, so I'd welcome any feedback.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Letter to the Editor on the Closure of Feinstein High School

Dear Editor,

In the February 10 article "Central Falls superintendent acts to fire city's high school teachers," Linda Borg and Paul Davis wrote that the schools ordered restructured by State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist were "each plagued by abysmally low achievement scores and low graduation rates for several years."

This is not true in the case I am familiar with, Feinstein High School (FHS) in Providence. The ProJo noted on January 26 that FHS has a 70 percent five year graduation rate (5th among all 18 "urban" (as categorized by the state) high schools), as well as the highest rate of college enrollment and retention among the 10 Providence neighborhood high schools. Not noted was that FHS's 2008 writing scores were third among all 18 urban public high schools in Rhode Island.

FHS's 2009 NECAP (teaching year) scores are even more impressive. They have the top proficiency rates in reading, writing, and overall among the 10 Providence neighborhood high schools.

This school which serves a population of 88% economically disadvantaged and 87% Hispanic or African American students has beaten the state averages for reading proficiency in Rhode Island by 5% (78% proficient vs. 73%), New Hampshire by 5%, and Vermont by 9%.

Not only is this trifecta repeated in writing scores (by 8%, 12% and 13%, respectively), but FHS has completely closed the achievement gap in writing. Economically disadvantaged students at FHS exceed the statewide proficiency rate in writing for NON-disadvantaged students by 3%. African American and Hispanic students at FHS each match the statewide proficiency rate of white students in writing.

FHS has the third highest math scores among the 10 Providence neighborhood high schools.

As a result of the closure of Feinstein High School, every 9th through 11th grade student at the school will be moved to a lower performing school as measured by the 2009 NECAP scores. Most will end up at a nearby school where the proficiency rates are 34% lower in reading, and 44% lower in writing.

Feinstein High School is being closed, but it is not because of "abysmally low achievement scores."

Tom Hoffman
Providence, RI

Above: Chart of proficiency rates of Providence high schools on the 2009 (teaching year) NECAP exam. Blue = writing, green = reading, yellow = math.

Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE? (I)

Part 1 is up at Schools Matter.

SchoolTool Appliance?

Chris Dawson and I have been waiting for the same thing, a super-cheap solid-state home (classroom, school, in a pinch) server in a wall wart form factor: TonidoPlug.

It runs Ubuntu under the hood, so turning it into a SchoolTool appliance for the developing world should be pretty easy. You'd need to attach extra storage -- although a USB key would do. I'm going to have to buy one and test it to see how it performs with just 512mb of memory. It should work fine for a small school in the developing world.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Coming Blogapocalypse

I have not yet commented on Dean Millot's post last week on This Week in Education questioning the conflicts of interest evident in the Race to the Top process, which was subsequently pulled by the blog's patrons at Scholastic. Ken Libby's post at Schools Matter is as good a place as any to catch up. Make sure and scroll down to read Dean's comment.

As Dean wrote, he's been fired from the TWIE gig, and he doesn't want to start a new blog for himself because he is more of a columnist than a blogger. He's the sort of writer that it is hard to respond to in a blog post. Too many ideas; too much thought necessary; so Dean's posts tend to sit in a tab until you guiltily delete them without coming up with a suitable response.

Dean has come up with a clever scheme to explain further what was behind his original post and what happened after it went up. He's going to guest post on four or possibly five blogs in coming days, including this one. This shows a deep understanding of the true essence of blogging: helping your friends and hurting your enemies. I'm honored to be of service.

I've not met Dean, but we share a connection through the late Tom Glennan, as level-headed, rigorous and perceptive an analyst of schools and school reform as I've met. Dean seems to be cut from the same cloth as his former RAND mentor.

In the meantime, I need to redd up around here, hose out the old hangar. It stinks of Minmatar grog and pod goo from last night's celebration.

By the way, it looks like I'm getting the post on "Rotherham's role in all this." Should be good for lulz and tears, delicious tears.

Unity Regained

Unity Station – 9UY4-H – Providence:

Then Karn steps forward, just enough to stand out from those around him, and raises both arms commanding attention.

“Brothers, Sisters, Warriors of the Ushra’Khan, we are stand once again in Unity Station!”

A rapturous cheer bursts from the crowd; shots are fired, drums beaten.

“It’s been a long two ... near three years since I last stood here, since I took a last, quick look back as we evacuated as the CVA dogs came for us.

“At that moment we set our will to one task – to return here one day, to drive the slaver back. To retake Unity.

“Strength and determination brought us through the long years in the wilderness.

“And my brothers, here we are!”

Again the crowd erupts, this time for minutes. Eventually Karn signals for attention again, and the hanger falls relatively silent. He notices for a moment the FTL feeds beaming his words to who knows where, ignores them, and goes on.

“Warriors, who would have predicted this? The slaver so weak, or allies so strong? Who could have seen this concordance of events that brought us here?”

“Xious!”, Karn calls across the hanger, “let it be known brother, that Ushra’Khan is forever in debt to your kin. Without the iron determination and inspiring courage of the Against All Authority fleets we would not be here. Without the brilliance of the vision of your commanders we would not be here.

“We could never ask for better allies, you know where to find us, if you need us just ask, a warriors debt is not forgotten.”

Karn raises his bottle again.

Once more the crowd cheers, glasses and bottles raised on high, and a chant rises out of the crowd like a living thing, like a war cry.


It goes on and on, the drums beating in rhythm to the chant, people swaying, leaping embracing.

After a time Karn finishes his bottle and smashes it against the hull of “Mon’tu” as if to end all that needs ending, and to set into motion all that is to come. Gradually the crowd falls silent again.

“Warriors, let this day go down in memory, for today is the day that marks the return of Ushra’Khan to Unity, and the day that the fire that has burned within all these years bursts forth to burn brighter than ever before.

“For, my brothers and sisters, that fire never went out!

“The fire of freedom cannot be extinguished.

“We go on; we go on for our people!


A mighty roar erupts from a thousand lips and seems to go on for ever. Gradually it coalesces into another war cry, another chant. Even Butterdog looks up from his maniacal typing at a holo-deck in the corner and adds his voice in unison.

All raise their right fists into the air in time with the shout:


I'm actually pretty bad a flying internet spaceships, but I couldn't have done a better job of picking an alliance. This is a great victory, frankly one I never expected to see. But here we are.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Block Schedule & NECAP Scores in Providence

Here's a list of Providence high schools, from high to low aggregate scores on the 2009 NECAP. Schools that had block scheduling in the 2008 - 2009 school year (the test is given in October) are in bold italic:

  1. Classical
  2. Feinstein
  3. E-Cubed
  4. Hope Arts
  5. PAIS
  6. Central
  7. Hope IT
  8. Mt. Pleasant
  9. Alvarez
  10. Cooley

Of course, one of the first things the Brady administration did in high schools is get rid of block scheduling, in most of the small schools this year and Hope next year. It is a little unclear what the real motivation is. It will save money. Apparently they also think that if everyone has the same schedule it will be easier to take things like AP classes in other buildings.

Regardless, it flies in the face of what was working in Providence. You don't need any fancy statistical analysis to see the pattern.

Note - I omitted Hope Leadership because they don't belong in the "testing year" data, which is what I used. They didn't exist in the "testing year."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Providence High School Test Scores, circa 2009

I did a little tabulation of the Providence Public Schools' 2009 high school NECAP data, and the results are pretty striking. There's plenty of fodder for analysis, which I expect to break down in some subsequent posts, but here are the numbers and my brief, subjective, Feinstein High School centric and not even necessarily well informed descriptions of the schools involved.

For those who don't know, I was a member of the Feinstein High School (re-)design team and worked there for a few years as technology coordinator and teacher. My wife still teaches history at FHS.

This list excludes charters, etc. We're concerned here with the internal dynamics of the PPSD here.

Proficiency rates, numbers:

Graph (blue=writing; green=reading; yellow=math):

The schools (official profiles here):

  • Classical: the selective "exam school," that is, the only one you need to pass a test to get into.
  • Feinstein: small (365) high school reconstituted in 2001 as the model for small schools initiatives within the Providence Public Schools (that is, other than The Met, etc.). Nominally under site-based management. Ordered to be closed or turned around as a persistently low-performing school under Race to the Top by Commissioner Deborah Gist.
  • E-Cubed: A small (400) high school built in 2004, including a significant bloc of faculty from Feinstein, employing a similar design. Nominally under site-based management.
  • Hope Arts, IT, and Leadership: Small schools (400 each) created by the State's 2005 intervention in Hope High School. Turned back over to the district in 2009 In fall 2010 the district plans to undo several of the structural changes made by the state (e.g., removing block scheduling) and consolidating into just Hope Arts and IT at 600 students each. Also, the re-constitution of Hope caused more senior faculty from other schools to bump out a cadre of new teachers recruited for Feinstein.
  • PPSD Ave.: The average scores for the district as a whole.
  • Providence Academy of International Studies: Small (400) school built in 2004. Took a fairly traditional approach and attracted good teachers from other schools in the district, including some from Feinstein. Both principals of PAIS did internships at Feinstein, the current one is a former Feinstein Dean of Teaching and Learning. Nominally under site-based management.
  • Central: Big high school: 1260 total enrollment. Extensively renovated in recent years, but not the focus of any specific interventions.
  • Mount Pleasant: Big high school: 1400 students. When I did my student teaching there 10 years ago, it was generally regarded as the second best option for middle class families, with high expectations for behavior, not so much for academics. Also, a complicated 1990's failed reform story. Since the turn of the century,it has become a source of leadership and good teachers for all the other schools and initiatives above. Not surprisingly, it has seen a long, slow decline as a result.
  • Alvarez: School started mid-00's in a former parochial school building as a "Reverse-Klein" a small school created to accomodate overflow from large high schools in what turned out to be a very short lived enrollment peak. Subsequently moved into the new Adelaide Avenue facility originally designed for Feinstein High School. Well-regarded principal, but a hodge-podge faculty and student body put together under difficult circumstances. Traditional implementation.
  • Cooley: The Gates-era health science themed small school (400) that didn't take, for whatever reason. Sibling to PAIS. Ordered to be closed or turned around as a persistently low-performing school under Race to the Top by Commissioner Deborah Gist.

In case you're wondering, in the schools other than Classical, the basic procedure is students may request their top two choices citywide, with a lottery if they're over-subscribed, and if they don't get into them then they're assigned another school based on proximity. The small schools are all as much "neighborhood schools" as the big ones.

Also, after reading the above it might be a little more clear to you why I get so frustrated with "OK, now we're going to shake things up in urban education" rhetoric. I live in Providence, I'm focused on high school reform, and eight of the 11 schools in the list above were either entirely new or were comprehensively reconstituted in the 10 years I've been here.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Broad Approach to Innovation

Dale Mezzacappa in Education Next:

The “leviathan” right now is embodied in the person of Arlene Ackerman, the superintendent of the Philadelphia schools, who previously led districts in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

Ackerman believes strongly that centralized leadership can bring schools into line. Experimenting and nurturing innovation and new ideas from the bottom up is not her thing. In interviews and meetings, she still talks about “what works” in terms of what worked for her in her St. Louis high school almost 50 years ago.

At the same time, Ackerman has a strategic plan called Imagine 2014 that lays out a vision of high school strikingly similar to what SOF has been laboring toward. It calls for flexible schedules, more project-based and interdisciplinary learning, a more engaging and real world–based course of study, increased opportunity for teachers to work in teams, and better integration of technology across subject areas. But she has shown little sign, so far, that she wants to explore the connection between what is needed to make that a reality and what has been happening, in fits and starts, at (the School Of The Future in Philadelphia).

Or, for that matter, at SLA.

This "we must destroy your bottom-up innovation before we impose the same innovations on you at an very specific, yet somehow constantly receding point in the future" thing is, of course, incredibly frustrating. We're getting the same line in Providence. A common thread among adherents to this approach is participation in the Broad Academy.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Race to the SchoolTool

Tom Hoffman, SchoolTool Project Manager:

The SchoolTool project is excited to announce an initiative to provide 50,000 Euro in custom development grants to help schools, government, and organizations in the developing world to pilot and deploy SchoolTool for computer based school management. These grants will be funded by by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth.

You Can't Copyright a Recipe

Michael Ruhlman:

I almost never, ever tear recipes out of magazines, but leafing through Saveur on the 8 a.m.  Houston to Cleveland flight, this recipe caught me because I’d been wanting a soft, comfort-food, James-friendly dinner roll, the kind of Parker House roll that’s slightly sweet and yeasty and soft as a pillow.

Turns out this recipe comes from, which says that the recipe is adapted from Great Country Breads of the World.

There really are no new recipes, only adaptations of adaptations.

What I don’t like about any of these recipes is the enormous volume of flour measured in cups.  I did the Saveur recipe exactly and the dough was very stiff—how could I know if this was the way it was supposed to be since flour by volume is so variable.  But the flavor was good and I love cooking the dough in a springform pan, which is brilliant.

So I revised my version, with flour weights and a little extra honey, scales only please (if you must, measure 5 1/2 cups AP flour).  I found a nest of fricking grain moths in my sesame seeds so I had to throw those out and use poppy seeds instead.  Both work well.

Yet people still buy cookbooks! I've got five of Michael Ruhlman's.

Now I've got to go start the pot roast for tonight, based on the braising technique in Ad Hoc at Home...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

What's Been Tried in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook has an awesome piece on the history of turnaround-like strategies in Philadelphia, many of which parallel various initiatives in Providence's history. Feinstein High School (in Providence) was basically created on this model:

5. School-based management schools, (early 1990s)
Superintendent Clayton and the union proposed allowing schools to adopt their own goals and strategies for achieving them, with more control of their own budgets and the ability to seek waivers from the teachers’ contract and administrative rules. Each participating school would have a decision-making council including teachers and parents. Not many schools participated, and the joint teacher-administrative committee approved few waivers. Some school councils continue to operate, but their powers have waxed and waned. As a reform approach, school-based management quickly fell off the radar.

And then reconstituted similar to the "Keystone Schools:"

6. Keystone Schools (1997)
In the 1996 contract, the administration of David Hornbeck and the PFT agreed to a provision that allowed the “reconstitution” of schools that were academically distressed, including the removal and replacement of teachers. The contract spelled out that the schools would be chosen by a joint committee after a collaborative process. The following year, Hornbeck announced that Olney and Audenried High Schools would be “keystoned,” but staff protests erupted. The union filed a grievance claiming that the agreed-upon process had not been followed, and an arbitrator agreed. Many staff voluntarily left the two schools, but the District did not follow through with a reform program.

Although here it was more successful, ultimately "the District did not follow through."

Science Leadership Academy (in Philly) is one of these:

9. Small high schools (2004 - present)
CEO Paul Vallas created nearly a score of small, mostly themed high schools during his five years in Philadelphia, including ones built in partnership with Microsoft, the Constitution Center, and the Franklin Institute. He created nine schools from scratch, converted several middle schools to high schools, and divided Kensington and Olney High School into smaller units. Some had special admission requirements; others, like the new Kensingtons, were designed to improve the typical neighborhood high school experience by focusing on themes like the arts or business. A recent study of the new small high schools found improved climate and attendance, but not discernibly better academic results. Varying resources and admissions requirements for all the different schools have exacerbated inequities.

Also, note that the interventions get more traditional over time. If you're at EduCon talking about breaking down the walls of a school, you're talking about something they had extensive experience with in the Philadelphia School District. Forty years ago.

One of these for every city in the country would be great.

Nobody Could Have Predicted

How and why did Feinstein High School's test scores in reading and writing go up so dramatically in just one year? The short answer is... test prep.

Prior to this year, the school was organized into multi-age groups with promotion based strictly on a standards-based assessment of student work in a portfolio/exhibition. Thus "11th grade" students weren't necessarily grouped together. Some would be with the "seniors," others with "freshmen" and "sophomores." This is not optimal for preparing for the 11th grade assessment, and for this as well as general philosophical reasons, the school did little direct test prep. Their overall approach to project-based learning also did not focus on the kind of tasks that turn up on the exam, particularly the reading exam.

This year, the school was turned back into a regular school like any other in the district by the Brady administration. This meant that all the now officially 11th grade students (how this was determined by the district might have also made this group stronger, btw) had English together. Oddly (and presumably to save money), the NECAP is given in October, which meant that the students from FHS taking the test had two years of interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum, followed by about six weeks of test prep. This, apparently, is a good combination. Don't expect it to be replicated, though.

Where did KIPP Come From? The Houston Independent School District

Kevin Carey:

The best thing the charter school idea did wasn’t to impose market discipline on KIPP or on the traditional public schools that KIPP is competing with for students. It was simply to allow KIPP to exist in the first place. That’s all, and that’s more than enough. Charters, it turns out, are just a way of allowing non-profit organizations to run really good public schools, in an environment that shields them from the horrible bureaucratic and political problems that plague traditional school systems. If that creates virtuous competition, bonus, but if not, it doesn’t undermine the case for charters.

This is a misrepresentation of history. KIPP was begun in the Houston School District by public employees of the Houston School District. Yes, there were struggles, particularly over space, but, as you may have noticed, space is almost always at a premium in urban schools, and is as much of a source of controversy today in the charter debate as it was when KIPP was a little extended-day program in a Houston Middle School. But if you read the history, what KIPP was doing was not dramatically out of sync with the rest of the district philosophically and supported by many important administrators through its early years.

Had KIPP simply become a local charter, it would be one of many successful local charters (like Times2 in RI, for example) that don't have much influence beyond its doors.

What "allowed KIPP to exist" in the form we know it today is charter law plus millions and millions of dollars in philanthropy and other support from an array of think tanks and other political allies (including key administrators in the New York public schools) that helped it spread across the country.

The other key factor is that accountability measures -- testing -- made it easier for them to make strong claims about the efficacy of their system.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Feinstein High School Closes the Achievement Gap; Then Closes

Well, the fall 2009 NECAP scores are out, and the numbers for one of the "6 worst R.I. schools" to-be-turned-around under Race to the Top and/or closed, Feinstein High School are... illuminating.

  • At FHS, the percent proficient in writing (these are all beginning of 11th grade, btw) went up from 32% in '08 to 63% in '09. That's eight points over the Rhode Island average, 13 points over the New Hampshire average, and 12 points over the Vermont average.
  • FHS's "economically disadvantaged students" passed the writing standard at a 64% rate, 21 points above similar students statewide, and two points higher than the statewide average for non-disadvantaged students statewide.
  • FHS's "Hispanic or Latino" students passed in writing at the same rate, (60%) as white students statewide.
  • In reading, the percent proficient went up from 45% in '08 to 72% in '09. That's one point under the RI statewide average, and three points over Vermont's average.
  • FHS's "economically disadvantaged students" met the reading standard at a 75% rate, higher than the overall (any income) average of RI, New Hampshire or Vermont, and 14 points higher than RI's low-SES pass rate.
  • No FHS student scored at level 1 -- substantially below proficient -- in reading or writing.

I'd note that the figures in bold above constitute what is known in the contemporary parlance as "closing the achievement gap." Yeah, it is a little cherry-picky, but less so than most claims of "gap closing" turn out to be under close examination.

Heckuva job, Tom Brady.

Heckuva job, Deb Gist.

Heckuva job, Arne Duncan.

You can be proud of yourselves for closing this one. I'd like to hear how this is "best for kids."

Tom Sgouros, a Treasurer for Rhode Islanders

I know a lot of you have been waiting for my endorsement of a candidate for Rhode Island treasurer. I'm happy to announce my support for Tom Sgouros in this fall's election. I've become a fan of Tom's incisive writing on RI policy, including a piece he wrote in 2006 on education policy, "The Shape of the Starting Line," which includes this interesting data:

Though the underlying reasons are not perfectly clear, professional jobs in Rhode Island pay salaries competitive with salaries in our neighboring states, while blue-collar jobs pay far less. Table 10.2 compares state mean salaries for several professional occupations (not teacher, but veterinarian, psychologist, accountant, architect, and so on) with the mean for several blue-collar jobs (cashier, carpenter, hairdresser, butcher, etc.). In one list, Rhode Island ranks 8th in the nation, slightly behind our neighbors, but in the same league. In the other list, the one ranking blue-collar wages, we drop to 23rd. The only other states that skew this direction are California and the states of the South. Other states skew the other way, or not at all. This is a disparity that has nothing to do with government, since these are predominantly private-sector jobs. In other words, school committees who are criticized for their decisions about teacher pay are making essentially the same decisions that thousands of private employers have made about hiring accountants, psychologists and architects (Sgouros, 2005a).

It is suggestive that Massachusetts and Connecticut do not have the disparity between professional and blue-collar jobs that Rhode Island does. Table 10.2 shows that Connecticut ranks third in the country in professional pay by this measure, but it also ranks third in blue-collar pay. For Massachusetts, the ranks are 4 and 5, respectively. In other words, the average wage in Rhode Island is a number that means something very different than the average in both of these two states.

This suggests why our school performance looks more like a southern state as well.

Senate Procedure is Nobody's Most Important Issue


In the real world, if your problem is that 41 Senators are playing procedural hardball and making it impossible to get things done, the solution is for 59 Senators to play hardball in return and stop letting the 41 stop things. Recognize that zero voters will punish you for engaging in procedural hardball and that the number of voters who will even realize any of it happened is approximately zero.

True in Education, Too

Robert Reich:

It seems as if more and more decisions that should be made democratically are being shunted off somewhere to a few people who make them in back rooms. Which programs should be cut, which entitlements pared back, and what taxes raised in order to reduce the long-term budget deficit? Hmmm. Let’s convene a commission and have them decide.

Commissions are a default mechanism when politicians want to hand off difficult issues to “experts.” But reducing the long-term budget deficit has almost nothing to do with expertise. It’s about our nations’ values and priorities. Nothing could be more central to the democratic process.

Democracy requires at least three things: (1) Important decisions are made in the open. (2) The public and its representatives have an opportunity to debate them, so the decisions can be revised in light of what the public discovers and wants. And (3) those who make the big decisions are accountable to voters.

But these principles are in retreat, and I say this not just because of the proposed deficit commission.

Um... Advertising?

Brian X. Chen:

When I picked up my iPhone over the weekend, I had an epiphany. I was using the LinkedIn app to confirm an invitation to connect, and it hit me: This is the future of mobile computing, the mobile web — the mobile experience.

No, I’m not saying the LinkedIn app is the future per se (that’d be silly), but rather the overall concept of it. The LinkedIn iPhone app is, in my opinion, better than the actual website. Same goes for the Facebook app compared to

I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but are there ads on those apps? If not, how do these things stay in business? Selling the app?

Another Oft-Cited Study Revealed to be a Simpleminded Load of Crap

Wall Street Journal (no less):

Most researchers agree that college graduates, even in rough economies, generally fare better than individuals with only high-school diplomas. But just how much better is where the math gets fuzzy.

The problem stems from the common source of the estimates, a 2002 Census Bureau report titled "The Big Payoff." The report said the average high-school graduate earns $25,900 a year, and the average college graduate earns $45,400, based on 1999 data. The difference between the two figures is $19,500; multiply it by 40 years, as the Census Bureau did, and the result is $780,000...

Mark Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, calls it "a million-dollar misunderstanding."

One problem he sees with the estimates: They don't take into account deductions from income taxes or breaks in employment. Nor do they factor in debt, particularly student debt loads, which have ballooned for both public and private colleges in recent years. In addition, the income data used for the Census estimates is from 1999, when total expenses for tuition and fees at the average four-year private college were $15,518 per year. For the 2009-10 school year, that number has risen to $26,273, and it continues to increase at a rate higher than inflation.

Dr. Schneider estimated the actual lifetime-earnings advantage for college graduates is a mere $279,893 in a report he wrote last year. He included tuition payments and discounted earning streams, putting them into present value. He also used actual salary data for graduates 10 years after they completed their degrees to measure incomes. Even among graduates of top-tier institutions, the earnings came in well below the million-dollar mark, he says.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Competing Against Non-Consumption and the iPad

One of the characteristics of a "disruptive innovation" is competing against non-consumption, rather than other products. Some people who might like to have a regular full featured laptop might not have enough money, so their choice isn't "netbook or laptop," but "netbook or nothing."

Here's a nice string of anecdotes about tech non-consumers who are lusting for iPads, but the thing here is that they aren't people who couldn't buy other computers because they were poor, they didn't want other computers because they knew they were pieces of shit. They are more demanding consumers, and they required a sustaining innovation (in usability, etc.) to consider buying a computer.

Second Quick Pass at K-12 Common Core

I took a second skim over the draft K-12 Common Core English Language Arts standards this morning. Quick thoughts:

  • They are actually called English Language Arts standards now.

  • They insist on dividing literature into narrative, drama, and poetry. Google tells me this formulation is not unheard of, but given that poetry and drama can also be narrative to varying degrees, and the document's definition of narrative writing says "Narrative writing is fundamental to novels, short stories, biographies, autobiographies, historical accounts, and plays," there's a considerable amount of conceptual slop here for a document which aims to define the discipline for a generation.
  • I'm not qualified to judge the elementary grades, but my overall impression is that it is a pretty steep slope up to fifth grade, at which point you're doing everything you're ever going to be required to do in English, just at a lower level. After that, it is lather, rinse, repeat at higher levels of difficulty for seven more years.
  • Narrative writing is excluded from the high school standards, and the author's are so guilt-wracked by including it at all that I'm not sure I could fulfill the standard, let alone the average educated adult. Actually, the "narrative" standard is rather clearly a "short story" standard, so again, the underdeveloped concept of genre within the standards is problematic. "Genre" is a useful construct in the language arts -- they should use it!
  • In particular, some of the "Observing craft and structure" standards for literature will be particularly deadly in their classroom implementation; e.g.: for grades 9 and 10: "evaluate how playwrights use soliloquies to portray the internal thinking and feeling of characters." That means lots of evaluate the soliloquy questions on the grade 10 test, and two years of drill on soliloquy evaluation for millions of kids. Ug. Each of these narrow little standards is ok on its own, but there aren't very many of them, so you'll end up over-emphasizing what's a pretty arbitrary set of academic tasks.

More to come...

Get Ready for the Numbers Game, Guidance Counselors


“We want accountability reforms that factor in student growth, progress in closing achievement gaps, proficiency towards college and career-ready standards, high school graduation and college enrollment rates,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in announcing the proposed changes. “We know that’s a lot to track, but if we want to be smarter about accountability, more fair to students and teachers and more effective in the classroom, we need to look at all of these factors.” (emphasis added)

So basically, in the future, every time a parent or student gets advice from a guidance counselor, he or she will have to try to calculate whether or not this advice is for the benefit of the student or to help juke the school's stats.

This will be good news for shady colleges, which will then drive a whole new cycle of post-secondary data-driven accountability numbers, etc...

Monday, February 01, 2010

What Greg Learned at the Department of Education

Greg DeKoenigsberg at Open Source for America edu list:

This is definitely a key area of interest for Ideally, what they want to see is an open source version of a cognitive tutor ( and/or other intelligent tutoring systems ( There's a great deal of frustration with the folks at Carnegie Mellon, who did a lot of the cognitive tutor research with grant money, and then turned around and handed the research to Carnegie Learning, who are now putting intellectual property protections around that work. It might be a bit of an uphill climb to replicate that work as open source, but it's precisely that kind of project that hopes to fund with their $500m over 10 years.

Anyway. That was the meat of my conversations. likes open source, gets open source, and wants to fund open source to help education. I've encouraged them to articulate *particular* problems they'd like to see solutions for, and will continue to press this angle. The more effectively can say "gee, it would be great if we could solve X," the more effectively we will be able to drive the geeks of the world to start working on a solution for X.

I refuse to believe they'll do a damned thing for open source until I see some actual licensed code and content. These foundation types talk a good open source game have no track record -- none whatsoever -- delivering the goods in K-12.

Total AP-Test-Taking Load

Mark Guzdial:

In 1998, each Physics AP teacher got about 19 students to take the exam. In 2008 (I only have 2007 test-takers data, so there’s a year smudge here), the productivity dropped to 13 test-takers per teacher. In 1998, each CS teacher produced 5 test-takers, while in 2008, that was 7 test-takers per teacher.

I don't really understand AP, but those numbers seem really low for a program that's got such a prominent place in the current discourse about school reform.

Welcome to the Rabbit Hole

National Conference of State Legislatures in Kaplan Test Prep Daily:

"If we continue on our current (education) policy path, federal resources, which now account for slightly more than 7 percent of the enterprise, will drag the entire system into the rabbit-hole world where compliance with federal dictums masquerades as reforms," the group said.

I'm not sure state legislatures are my best friend, but well put.