Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Teaching Literature with the Common Core

One exercise that would be useful for people to understand the Common Core ELA standards is to think of a work of literature you care about, particularly one you've taught, and then to go through the standards for literature at the relevant level. What came to mind for me was Kafka's In the Penal Colony, which I once taught to junior and seniors in an alternative school. I'm not saying I turned the kids into Kafka scholars, but it was a successful unit.

I'm not really sure where this falls on the Common Core text complexity scale. I considered it to be reasonably accessible, as the heart of the story is a compelling and rather horrifying description of a unique, um, torture and execution device. It works on a straightforwardly visceral level, there's not much complex plot, dialogue, etc. Of course, that's partly because so much is under the surface. Seeing how much of the nuance street-wise kids pick up on is part of the fun of teaching literature in this kind of setting. But regardless, conceptually, this text gives graduate students plenty to work with, and if anything is perhaps too difficult for high school students.

Actually, this description captures it well:

In the Penal Colony is written with stark simplicity of language and economy of style, yet nearly every paragraph contains irrational, baffling or contradictory events.

So, let's go through the standards, thinking of a specific work:

  1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text,including determining where the text leaves things uncertain.
    OK, I really don't know what is wanted here. What is "analysis of what the text explicitly says?" Is that some fancy way of proving comprehension? Do they mean criticism? What kind of analysis? Any kind? All kinds? For example, ADP says:
    H8. Analyze the moral dilemmas in works of literature, as revealed by characters' motivation and behavior.
    I know what that means, at least.
  2. Analyze how multiple themes or central ideas in a text interact, build upon, and, in some cases, conflict with one another.
    For In the Penal Colony I'd write something about how the theme of "man's integration into the amoral organized industrial system" relates to "man's alienation from himself." It took a bit of thought to come up with that, and I'm still not sure what I have to say about the specific question of the relationship between the two themes, other than to point out that they are complimentary.
    I'm not sure why this particular aspect of theme is so important that in many cases, it will be not only be specifically analyzed in every single literary text read in 11th and 12th grade, but the selection of appropriate texts will over time be influenced by the need for clear interactions between multiple themes.
    In my opinion, they're reaching for MOAR RIGOR here and overshooting considerably their target of "not having to take remedial English at your local community college."
    ADP simply asks for:
    H9. Identify and explain the themes found in a single literary work; analyze the ways in which similar themes and ideas are developed in more than one literary work.
    Much clearer, thank you!
  3. Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama.
    OK, this is pretty clear. One specific question I'd address along these lines is why none of the characters in In the Penal Colony have names.
  4. Analyze in detail the condensed language of poems (or particularly rich language use (sic) in a narrative or drama), determining how specific word choices and multiple meanings shape the impact and tone.
    This is fine -- I specifically remember spending a fair amount of time on the word "harrow" in the text.
  5. Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text (e.g., electing at what point to begin or end a story) shape the meaning of the text.
    That's fine, as an assignment, at least. In the Penal Colony jumps into the middle of the one long scene that comprises almost the whole story and is very parsimonious in dribbling out back story, so you can definitely analyze the effect of that.
    Although, to be nitpicky, how that shapes the meaning of the text is a particularly subtle question. I'm not sure if the story was framed or structured differently it would have a different meaning. Depends on what "meaning" means.
    The old NCEE New Standards said:
    "(the student) evaluates the impact of authors' decision regarding word choice, style, content, and literary elements.
    "Impact" is better than "meaning." Come to think of it, can't this standard just be merged with #3?
  6. Analyze an author's use of satire, sarcasm, irony, understatement, or other means that requires a reader to understand various layers of meaning in a text.
    Yes... you can clearly do a lot of this with Kafka. I'm not crazy about the wording. Do we need to analyze the use of these things or is it enough to understand their use? Are we interpreting or critiquing?
  7. Compare and contrast multiple interpretations of a drama or story, distinguishing how each version interprets the source text.
  8. There is not a readily accessible adaptation of the text. Note that this standard will influence what works are included in the curriculum.
  9. (Not applicable to literature)
  10. Analyze how an author draws on and transforms fictional source material in a specific work.
    This isn't directly relevant to this text (and again, also a disincentive to read it under these standards).

Whew, that seems like a lot of stuff! The problem is, under these standards that's all you do with literature in English Language Arts grades 11 and 12. It seems that the authors of these standards are completely out of touch with how standards are used in many American school districts now. For example, in lots of places, you're expected to have the standard you're addressing written on the board at the beginning of class, and if an administrator walks in, he or she expects to see a clear connection between what's going on in the room and the standard. Which means, if you're working on In the Penal Colony and the assistant principal walks in, you'd better be:

  • analyzing how themes interact
  • analyzing some language from the text in detail
  • analyzing the impact of Kafka's decisions about structural aspects of the story
  • analyzing the use of features of the text that require the understanding of various levels of meaning

And that's it. Anything else is off-topic, not related to increasing student achievement, college or career readiness, and cause for you to get a bad evaluation.

Generally speaking, I do think that the traditional high school English curriculum can be way too literature-heavy. These standards take things way too far in the other direction. They simply fail to address the reasons anybody reads or writes literature, even in comparison to other very narrowly drawn, business-oriented US standards like ADP and the NCEE New Standards.

I would note in conclusion that this took me forever to write, is a complete mess, overly long, and perhaps unreadable, which underscores the difficulty of analyzing this mess. I'm not optimistic that a clear explanation of the problem with the ELA standards at the secondary level will actually emerge.

Good Basic Web Host?

The host of providencegrays.org seems to have gone quietly tits up. Anyone recommend a good source for just basic web hosting for a static site?

Nerfing My Business Model

CCP Chronotis:

The ABC's of Minerals

Minerals come from three distinct sources in EVE: Asteroids and Mining, NPC combat and loot reprocessing, and Rogue Drone Compound reprocessing.  Of these, mining of asteroid ores and reprocessing of rogue drone compounds are dependent on the value of the minerals to determine that activity's relative income level, whereas NPC loot is one of the total rewards given for NPC combat.

Houston, we have a problem!

Ideally, mining should be the greatest factor in determining the value of minerals since miners can target specific ores where these ores are available and, therefore, specific minerals.  Next up should be rogue drones and their compounds, with the distinction that this activity is not targeting specific minerals but collecting them en mass to exchange for money. 

However, the value of minerals is increasingly being determined by the diffused loot reprocessing source which forms only a small portion of the overall NPC combat rewards, yet devalues and slowly cripples the specialist activities, as NPC combat is not as adversely affected in income terms from mineral values decrease, whereas the specialist activities are.

This means long after miners have stopped mining as the ore values drop and you have long lost interest in the drone regions, loot reprocessing will still be carried out since it is only a part of the NPC combat activity and a supplemental rather than only source of income. 

It is this scenario we want to make changes to and fix by altering the mineral sources in such a way that each gets a fairer amount and relative income in mineral value and that the specialist activities are stronger competitors in determining overall mineral values obtaining minerals in a ratio which is more equivalent to the manufacturing demand ratios.

So what are you changing with the mineral sources?

NPC Loot

We identified a core set of loot tables which are responsible for contributing to the majority of the NPC loot sourced minerals and these are the first ones we want to adjust with Tyrannis, reducing the quantity of the Tech 0 items being dropped and substituting it with a variation of scrap metals or tags, for example.  There will still be the same amount of Tech 1 meta 1-4 modules being dropped and these will still act as mineral faucets if you desire a source of minerals still from NPC combat.

Whilst this will reduce one of the secondary incomes from NPC combat initially, this is weighted against all the potential rewards of NPC combat activity. With less overall mineral supply, the lower quantity of minerals still possible from loot reprocessing will eventually be worth more.

Unfortunately, I'd been buying and reprocessing NPC loot to give myself some easy income in the past few months when I've had little playing time, so I may need to figure out a new business plan. Luckily, the new planetary interaction system should fit the bill perfectly.

What's in the Book

Claus von Schools:

As one of the nation's leading ed researchers, Bryk knows whereof he speaks. The recent book he co-authored with colleagues in Chicago found that successful schools tackled reforms in five key areas: "school leadership, parent and community ties, professional capacity of the faculty, student-centered learning climate, and instructional guidance." None of these things seems particularly "bold." We've known about each for a long time.

But the book's authors draw the bold conclusion that we need to pursue all these areas at once to improve schools. Take just one of these items out of the mix, and see your results plummet. It's no accident that collaboration--among school staff; between schools and communities--is a central theme of the book.

Just to add some extra emphasis: I'm pretty cynical about arguments in the form of "the X things you need for y." Generally, these are pulled directly from the author's rear end. Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago is different; it is not philosophical, it is a statistical, quantitative argument that these were the decisive factors separating successful from unsuccessful school improvement efforts in Chicago. For example, there are plenty of nice plots of say, scores of schools with all five factors against those with only four.

Aw Yeah Chapter Books!

Art Baltazar:

“Tiny Titans comics are awesomely fun! Panel after panel of cartoony laughter…BUT…did you ever wonder what it would be like to read the Tiny Titans storybook style? Aw Yeah Traditional! Now is your chance! Tiny Titans GO CAMPING and go to the SCIENCE FAIR in two awesome Chapter Reader Books! AW YEAH! Now parents get to read Tiny Titans stories to their kids before bedtime and let their imaginations run wild!

“Aw Yeah Man! Working on these books was awesome! I think kids are really going to dig them. They could be read with parents or kids can read them on their own. I think the stories will spark ideas and imagination in those Tiny Titans fans! Aw Yeah New Medium! I can’t wait to hear what the kids think!”

Actually, Vivian and I find the Tiny Titans comics to be quite readable already. There are usually only a few words per frame, which is enough to keep you moving at a steady pace, and the stories aren't plot driven, more silliness-driven, with an absurdly large cast of characters (see above) and lots of jokes and references to the character's backstories. Daddy's favorite Tiny Titans piece discusses the definition of "continuity" and the nature of a "sidekick." Core Knowledge, to be sure.

Pre-order now!

Credit Where it is Due: RttT Reviewers

Sherman Dorn:

Here's who won in the side competition: the reviewers. At least at first reading, the reviewers' comments on Florida's application were serious in comparing the application to the scoring guidelines. I'm sure you can quibble with scores here and there, but I think any sane journal editor might be tempted to kill to have this quality of effort from manuscript referees.

Here's the ProJo summary of the RI feedback:

KEY POINTS Where state fell short on plan

Rhode Island scored 419 points out of a possible 500. Here’s how the state lost most of those points:

Weak teacher union support combined with failing to clearly show how districts and unions would participate in the reforms. 14 points lost.

Failure to develop an in-depth statewide data system that tracks student test scores and other achievement information over several years. 12 points.

Charter school cap and failure to show how the state would support “other innovative schools.” 8.6 points.

Did not show significant improvement in raising achievement and closing gaps among students. 6.2 points.

Inadequate evidence of the state’s capacity to put in place and sustain proposed plans. 6.2 points.

Lack of a statewide school financing formula and failure to show that R.I. has made education funding a priority. 5.8 points.

That's a pretty good analysis of RI's current reform strategy, and fixing those issues will result in improvements to the plan, not just trying to figure out a way to put a tighter hammerlock on the unions (except maybe they'll push for a complete removal of the charter cap). I particularly liked a line in the analysis that pointed out that RI's strategy for improving the teacher quality was entirely based on "importing teachers." Considering the number of newcomers to the state and outside consultants working on the proposal, that sort of thing isn't surprising. The proposal does little to acknowledge and build on RI's existing reform initiatives, to its detriment.

Also, a lot of these points can't be made up, because they're based on RI's current record -- they won't be able to produce a new data system out of thin air in the next month.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Left Some Points on the Table There...

RI's Race to the Top Comments, section "Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools:"

Though (RI doesn't) have a formal mechanism to grant individual schools within an LEA enhanced autonomy other than by creating a charter school, there is no prohibition against LEAs using their own authority to create innovative, autonomous public schools, and Providence has done this with Hope High School... The fact that there is only one example of this other model makes it appear as though districts don't know about it or it's harder than it looks.

It may literally mean that nobody working on the application actually knows about the variety of innovative, autonomous public schools in Providence (beyond Hope), and the Providence School District doesn't like talking about them, because they're phasing them out. Still, RI only got 31 out of 40 points here -- talking up the successes of site-based management in Providence might have scored a few more precious points.

I'm not going to go into great detail analyzing this whole document, particularly since I can't copy/paste from the scanned in PDF image, but overall, I'm somewhat relieved that the RttT reviewers seem less drunk on kool-aid than our Commissioner, and aren't convinced that importing New Teacher Project, TFA, and consultants from Texas will solve all our problems.

"Multiple Pathways" That's a Thing?

Larry Cuban:

Many districts across the nation have embraced the “multiple pathways” model of high school.

I'd noticed that term turning up in RI's reform rhetoric, but I didn't realize it was a thing. What does it mean?

Friday, March 26, 2010

What Happened to the American Diploma Project?

Me, June 2009:

In case you're wondering what our new national standards for math and English will look like, the best guess is the American Diploma Project Benchmarks. Either that or whatever comes out of Arne Duncan's ass.

Turns out I was wrong -- what we've got is whatever came out of ACT and the College Board's ass. Based on the actual content of the English standards, Achieve, the ostensible third leg on this stool, has been muscled aside by the testing companies as much as everyone else. By all rights, the Common Core standards should have been 90% done before they started, since there was very broad consensus already in place behind the complete, mature American Diploma Project (ADP), whose goals and supporters are essentially the same as Common Core's. Why wasn't ADP the draft #1 of Common Core? What happened? I'd love to know how the internal politics played out.

I'm not crazy about ADP, but at least it is clear, well organized, and well aligned with existing high quality standards already used in the US. It is a vastly better choice than the current draft of the Common Core in English.

Good Thing We've Got That anti-21st Century Skills Backlash Going Full Steam

Mark Guzdial:

The problem is the base assumption. I don’t think most CS faculty realize how little high school CS is really out there, even among CS faculty who are CPATH PI’s.

Pick a random high school in the United States. With enormous probability, it will have zero computer science. In Georgia, where we have more high schools teaching CS than any state in the Southeast (to the best of our knowledge), the probability is 75% that a random high school with NOT have computer science. There are over 125,000 high schools in the United States, and only 2,000 AP CS teachers. Those high schools that have a CS teacher typically have a math, science, or (especially in Georgia) business teacher who has had workshop training to teach computer science — or not. There are very few (less than one per state, more like one for every 10 states) classes on how to teach computer science. If you’re not happy with how computer science is now taught in high school, how will you feel about every science teacher (with little or no training) also teaching computer science?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pity the Poor Test Writer

Erik Bryan:

Whatever the meaning of the terms to define these standards, it’s hard to prove by testing that students are meeting them. Texas isn’t the only state guilty of gobbledygook. South Carolina third graders are expected to “read independently for extended periods of time for pleasure.” How do they teach this? How do you test it?

The Grade 8 New York English Language Arts Core Curriculum standards for listening comprehension skills insist that students must “respect the age, gender, social position, and cultural traditions of the speaker,” “withhold judgment,” and “appreciate the speaker’s uniqueness.” I’ve spent whole afternoons slamming my head on my desk writing practice tests, trying to come up with questions to address these requirements. I see wording like this in my nightmares. While these standards signal valuable, if not lofty, intentions for teenagers, they are almost impossible to assess in a standardized testing environment. Being asked to develop preparatory tests that align with these well-meaning, untestable standards is the hardest part of my job. Actually testing students on these dubious standards does them no great service, either.

To be clear: no other country regards standards as a specification for a standardized test, where easy "objective" measurement is a pre-requisite for a learning goal. Just because some kid who as been working in educational publishing for "two and a half years" doesn't know how to teach independent reading for pleasure, doesn't mean it can't and shouldn't be done.

More interesting than this not-very insightful piece itself is the meta-data: this link was forwarded to Alexander Russo by Mike Smith. No I don't think he means the inventor of the Smith Grind, but the one who is Senior Counselor to the Secretary, Director of International Affairs at the federal Department of Education Apparently it is a third Mike Smith. So this piece gives you a good sense of who the Common Core standards are really intended to benefit: the beleaguered test and textbook author.

Photo credit: J. GRANT BRITTAIN.

A "Truly Disadvantaged" School District

John Thompson:

A two decade-long intensive focus on the schools that stagnated, however, showed that they had higher rates of poverty and racial isolation (often above 90% for both metrics), served neighborhoods with higher crime rates (that undercut relational trust), and greater concentrations of children who live with nonparental guardians or come from foster care. In other words, serving "the truly disadvantaged" is a far greater challenge.

And Central Falls is a school district entirely comprised of a neighborhood of "the truly disadvantaged."

As far as I can tell the only one in the country. Probably the only one in the developed world. It would be nice if the press would occasionally note this oddity.

Next time you're coming down 95 through RI, just pop off the highway for ten minutes and have a look around.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why this Stuff is Hard to Analyze

Is reading made up of:

  1. Key Ideas and Details
  2. Craft and Structure
  3. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
  4. Range and Level of Text Complexity

That's how the Common Core ELA standards breaks it down, with the first three comprising 30% of the standards each.

It seems like a lot of emphasis on "craft and structure," for example. Is it too much? Well, it is hard to say. As far as I can tell, nobody has ever broken down reading instruction in this particular way, so you can't just do an apples to apples comparison.

And it isn't clear it matters at all, because when you look at the corresponding "college and career ready standards" for, say, "craft and structure," they don't seem to hew very closely to the concept, for example:

Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and explain how specific word choices shape meaning and tone.

By my reading, that standard is as much about "Key Ideas and Details" or "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas" as "Craft and Structure." And if you go through the other ten standards, most are similarly hazy in their adherence to category.

So maybe these four strands just don't matter and should be ignored. First, if they don't matter they shouldn't be there. Second, when you go through the corresponding K-12 standards, there does seem to be an over-emphasis on "craft and structure," a lot of, for example:

Grade 7, standard 4, informational text: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including technical, figurative and connotative meanings, and describe in detail how an author's choice of words affects meaning and tone.

That's pretty heavy for informational texts. I mean, you can do it, obviously. How does my use of "heavy" "a lot" and "I mean" in the previous paragraph affect the meaning and tone of this text? But how important is that process, really?

Or, in that case, is the problem more that the document insists on going through nine out of the ten standards twice, separately for literary and informational texts?

I don't know what to do with this mess.

Sorting the Best Teachers into the Right Schools

John Kass on "Arne Duncan’s list and the Chicago Way:"

When first elected in 1989, Daley eagerly reached out to those in the city's predominantly white professional class. They were edgy and many were considering leaving Chicago.

In response, the mayor built top magnet and college prep high schools, pushing through work-rule changes to attract the best teachers. He produced the schools that nervous white-collar voters demanded.

Members of the professional class wanted city life. But they wanted their children educated. They became clients of Daley's first tier. (emphasis added)

This is almost never mentioned, but the effect of switching from seniority to "mutual consent" ("criterion-based hiring," etc.) is more efficient sorting of the best teachers into the most desirable schools. Otherwise grumpy senior teachers can grab the spots in what are supposed to be the "good schools."

via M.Klonsky.

Dan Meyer's New Guide to Life

David Mamet:








Just replace "dramatist" with "math teacher."

When Yochai Benkler Speaks, You Should Listen

Benkler in the NYTimes:

The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, announced last week, is aimed at providing nearly universal, affordable broadband service by 2020. And while it takes many admirable steps — including very important efforts toward opening space in the broadcast spectrum — it does not address the source of the access problem: without a major policy shift to increase competition, broadband service in the United States will continue to lag far behind the rest of the developed world.

Tom's Simple Theory of Teacher Development

  1. You get "control" of the classroom and its processes.
  2. One to thirty years later you realize that the vast majority of your students don't retain or use anything you taught them (five minutes to thirty years after you teach it), and you have to completely re-make your teaching and/or conception of your academic discipline.

Perhaps one problem with even some of our better ed schools is that professors and experienced teachers tend to be more interested in their own journey through step two than getting noobs through step one.

An ever-increasing emphasis on year-to-year test scores short-circuits this developmental process. What the long-term results of that change might be, nobody knows.



The league changed its overtime rules Tuesday for postseason games. Starting next season, if a team wins the coin toss, then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball. If that next series ends with another field goal, play will continue under the current sudden-death rules.

If the team winning the toss immediately scores a touchdown, however, the game is over.

I was all ready to get indignant about this, but I like the specifics of this proposal. What you don't want is a system that encourages overtime -- you really want games decided in four quarters. You don't want longer games, don't want players getting hurt, and you don't want NFL coaches using even more conservative strategies and playing for ties in regulation.

An overtime system that is completely "fair" and predictable would encourage playing for overtime -- maintaining some significant aspect of randomness is good. On the other hand, what's annoying about the current system is that the team to get the ball first is likely to only have to drive the ball 30 or 40 yards to win the game with a field goal, which is the most anticlimactic ending possible. This new system creates an interesting tactical dilemma and encourages aggressive strategy. I like it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I'm Not Hearing Many Comments

Curriculum Matters:

The common core standards drew more than 2,000 comments in the first nine days that they were posted online for public reaction. By last Friday morning, the draft standards had gotten more than twice as many comments as the "college-and-career-readiness" draft drew during the entire month it was up for comment last fall.

Chris Minnich, who's leading the common-standards work for the Council of Chief State School Officers, told me that the comments are currently trending about 75 percent positive and 25 percent negative. Not that we can know that independently; the current plan is not to post any of the actual comments, so we can see for ourselves, but to summarize them at the end.

There is no reason people couldn't be also publishing their comments on the public internet, but I'm not seeing it. Based on the changes between the last public draft and this one, complaining loudly and in public is a much more effective strategy than speaking quietly and politely in an attempt to get the proverbial "seat at the table."

History of the "Do Now?"

One classroom technique that seems to have gained in popularity in the past decade is the "do now" at the beginning of the period, often followed by the "exit ticket" at the end of the period. Anyone know where this came from and what drove it?

Just "Re-hire" People BEFORE You Fire Them

Linda Perlstein:

I went to a reporters’ roundtable this morning with Deborah Gist, the schools superintendent for Rhode Island. Someone asked her the question that struck me from the start: Why did this turnaround get so much media attention? As I mentioned before, many schools have gone through reconstitution that involved teachers having to reapply for their jobs.

Gist suggested maybe it was because in a larger district, teachers removed from one high school can go teach at another. In this case, she said, “there isn’t another place for the teachers to go who aren’t asked to come back.” She also suggested it might have to do with the way state law requires notification of teacher terminations by March 1. Otherwise, a school that might rehire half its teachers can figure out which ones before it fires the other half. In this situation, Gist said, district administrators were obliged in March to give all the teachers notice, even if several of them would still be teaching in September.

How do you "re-hire" people prior to firing them? I suppose this is what you get when your interventionist state administration has no experience actually running an individual school.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Common Core English, Informational Text, Standard 4:

Interpret how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10 and No. 51).

Federalist No. 10, second paragraph:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Um... ok, I think I understand how Madison defines "faction." If this was a question on a standardized test, I don't know what I'd add about his further refinements to the meaning, as that definition seems clear, concise, and consistently applied throughout the rest of the text.

I suppose what is weird about this is how stiltedly structural it is. Perhaps its presence in the context of standards on "reading informational texts." I can imagine picking up a test that said "Describe Dewey's concept of 'democracy.'" I'd be surprised if it said "Interpret how Dewey uses and refines the meaning of 'democracy' over the course of Democracy in Education."

It is just peculiarly indirect -- not "interpret the meaning of the term itself" but "interpret how the author uses and refines the meaning of the term. Am I supposed to be looking at the rhetorical strategies that underlie his use of "faction?" Polarization? "Us vs. Them?"


Earlier today I wrote:

Let's say there is a high school at the end of my street, newly built on a plot near the city line next to a now mostly vacant strip mall (and when that Hollywood Video dies its inevitable death, it may be completely vacant).

Come to think of it, it was a Blockbuster. It is closed, as is the former Dollar Store and Stop and Shop. However, there is a new check cashing joint, and an enigmatic, Repo Man-esque empty storefront that says "RENAISSANCE" in black on white block letters and a building permit scotch-taped to the front door.

Some Quick Thoughts on the Reading Standards for Informational Texts

  • As ususal, the 11-12th grade standards seem to be shooting for a higher level of rigor than the College and Career Ready Standards.
  • Particularly at the high school level, it is all about evaluating logical arguments and evidence, but very weak on other aspects of rhetoric (logos, ethos, pathos anyone? Hello?).
  • The organization of this thing, with each of the CCRS threads repeated for four different kinds of reading, is absurd, idiosyncratic, redundant, and incompatible of the "fewer" aspect of their design goals.
  • They literally could have made "Reading and writing arguments" or, if you want to be snooty, "rhetoric," the single unitary standard in this entire document, and the only assessment you would need would be to read arguments of a sufficient complexity and write a sufficiently strong argument in response. That's really all they care about at the high school and CCRS level, and I think it'd be vastly better than this mess.

Thompson: Six recommendations for a kinder, smarter, better turnaround strategy

John Thompson talking sense:

1Repudiate collective punishment of educators, with written guarantees that also meet the legitmate needs of turnaround specialists and others to improve teacher quality.

2. Stop the scapegoating. Reducing the percentage of stigmatized schools from 1/3rd to 5% gives no relief to urban systems where failing schools are disproportionately located.

3. Remember that you can’t just shoot urban teachers and principals, as suburban schools get relief. Otherwise, how can "reformers" stop rhe outmigration of educators to less challenging systems that would inevitable under his ESEA?

4. See principals as the canary in the coal mine, who would be the real sacrificial lambs in the proposed ESEA. How do you recruit talented school leaders when they will lose their jobs if they do not increase performance for all students, with no loopholes, when so few have succeeded even with the assistance of NCLB’s tricks and exclusions?

5.  The Grand Bargain. to prevent teachers from being condemned as ineffective just because they work at an ineffective school..

6. Walk a mile in the school boards’ shoes. This should be the easiest rule for the former C.E.O. of the Chicago schools. Were the administration's ESEA to be adopted, urban districts would be required to balance the following.

Here's a not at all hypothetical situation. Let's say there is a high school at the end of my street, newly built on a plot near the city line next to a now mostly vacant strip mall (and when that Hollywood Video dies its inevitable death, it may be completely vacant). Now, this school has an incredibly well-respected, relatively new principal, who successfully started one small school before being saddled with forming another new school, this one awkwardly sized (600 kids) with a random bunch of overflow students and teachers displaced from the rest of the district. This is about the toughest assignment you can draw, and their numbers are, as you might expect, inconsistent at best.

My guess is they dodged being named as one of the "lowest 5%" simply due to the fact that the school hasn't been in existence long enough to build up enough consecutive years of not meeting AYP and other longitudinal numbers necessary to generate the score (I think this played a surprisingly large role in the scoring process in RI, considering the number of new/reconstituted high schools in Providence).

So anyway, it is highly unlikely that this school will escape being in the lowest 5% over, say, the next three years, particularly since standardization within the district offers few angles or opportunities to outperform similiar schools (through innovative curriculum, for example) and whatever schools are currently at their level or below will be disappearing every year. There is a strong undertow.

So, you're the district administration, what do you do with this principal? Leave him where he is until he's labeled the principal of a failing school and you're required by law to remove him? Move him now to a higher performing school to save his career? Maybe put him in charge of a new turnaround school, although that would look kind of weird.

If you're the principal, what do you do? Hang around and wait for the inevitable shaming in Providence? Or seek greener pastures?

The Three Challenges of School Reform

Sherman Dorn:

At least in theory, this fits with my argument in Accountability Frankenstein that schools have three different types of challenges: the challenge of truly mismanaged schools in crisis, the challenge of inequality, and the challenge of making sure the next generation is smarter and wiser than we are. I argued that NCLB tried to address all of those challenges with the same mechanisms, and it looks like the Obama administration is recognizing that they need different policy approaches: requiring states to identify 5% of schools in crisis, using OCR to address inequality, and pushing for common curriculum standards for the next-generation challenge. 

That's not saying that the proposed mechanisms are going to work. I am less worried about using testing to screen for schools in crisis than others, but I agree with Diane Ravitch that educational euthanasia is a simplistic response. That doesn't mean that states should allow schools with deep problems to fester but that both states and the federal government need to be much more humble about their ability to "turn around" schools in crisis or even replace them with putatively brand-new schools. It's the proposed four-option turnaround mandate in the blueprint that bears the most resemblance to NCLB's cookie-cutter interventions, and that's a matter of deep concern for me. 

I'm more pessimistic than Dorn. After 15 years or so of fairly intensive urban school reform, there seem to be fewer "truly mismanaged schools" than people think, because just in this morning's news I read about two more closings of improving or successful urban public schools that are closing. Maybe they're all closing for subtly different reasons, but the trend is clear, and our capacity for identifying the true basket cases from those struggling against the inherent difficulty of their charge is apparently shockingly low.

OCR cannot significantly address inequality if it limits itself to inequality within districts. That's dodging the real problem of inequality and segregation between districts.

And apparently nobody is really going to notice the problems in the Common Core standards until about year two of implementation. Everyone's desire to get a "seat at the table" is resulting in standards that simply are not being sufficiently challenged and tested.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Analyze the Structure of Texts

Following up this post, here's Reading/Literature standard 5 in the new draft Common Core standards in order:

  • K. Recognize common types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems).
  • 1. Distinguish major categories of writing from each other (e.g., stories and poems), drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.
  • 2. Refer to core elements of stories, plays, and myths, including characters, settings, and plots, when writing or speaking about a specific text.
  • 3. Demonstrate understanding of common features of legends, myths, and folk- and fairytales (e.g., heroes and villains; quests or challenges) when writing or speaking about classic stories from around the world.
  • 4. Explain major differences between poems and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., stanza, verse, rhythm, meter) when writing or speaking about specific poems.
  • 5. Explain major differences between drama and prose stories, and refer to the structural elements of drama (e.g., casts of characters, setting descriptions, dialogue, stage directions, acts, scenes) when writing or speaking about specific works of dramatic literature.
  • 6. Explain the effect of such devices as flashbacks and foreshadowing on the development of plot and meaning of a text.
  • 7. Describe how any given sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the plot or themes.
  • 8. Compare a poem with a conventional structure, such as a sonnet, to a poem without a proscribed structure, such as a free verse poem.
  • 9-10. Analyze how an author structures a text, orders events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulates time (e.g., pacing) to create mystery, tension, or surprise.
  • 11-12. Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text (e.g., electing at what point to begin or end a story) shape the meaning of the text.
  • CCR: Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section or chapter) relate to each other and the whole.

My thoughts:

  • Elementary: I'm not going to comment on the level of rigor, I'll leave that to my colleagues with first hand experience teaching the little ones. I would note that the kinds of "structure" these standards address is known within the discipline of English as "genre," and it is a fundamental analytical tool. We would be better served by a standard which addresses genre in a forthright and straightforward manner.
  • Middle years in general: Are these standards or tasks/assignments? In grades 4, 5, 6 and 8, you could literally teach kids to memorize 80% of a short essay answer to the question on a standardized test. In fact, I'd highly recommend that approach, preferably accompanied by clapping and chanting.
  • 6: What are "such devices as flashbacks and foreshadowing?" Do English teachers and scholars have a name for such devices?
  • 7: "Any given sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza?" Really? So to prepare students for an assessment of this standard I should give them selections at random? Is that what they'll be doing in college?
  • 9-10: Are "mystery, tension and surprise" really that important to college and career readiness? Can I see some research or international (or intranational) benchmarking to explain this pride of place in the high school English curriculum?
  • 11-12/CCR: I would like to see the 11-12 standard go in the direction of close reading and attention to detail rather than the most global analysis. Nonetheless, am I the only one who thinks the 11-12 standard is more demanding than the CCR standard? I approve the inclusion of consideration of the author's choices, but is that extra level demanded by the CCR standard? What is the relationship between the K-12 standards and CCR? Will there be a CCR exam that is not actually based on the K-12 standards (I predict yes)?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We Demand Evidence

Ze'ev Wurman:

Further, CCSSI says that these draft standards are internationally benchmarked. To verify that indeed they are, CCSSI should also release a crosswalk of its draft with standards of Singapore, Korea, Japan, and other high-achieving TIMSS countries. That should have been their exhibit #1 to support the claim of international benchmarking. It should be made available to the public immediately, before the ridiculously short public comment period is out.

We're Already There

Jim Horn:

Now with the Oligarchs' new plan, the bottom 5 percent of schools will be targeted each year for "turnaround," and it doesn't matter what the poorest schools do, because the poverty that assures them their status at the bottom of the barrel makes them sure targets for conversions of urban schools into apartheid charter chain gangs, either that or the second-most popular option of firing all the school staff.

Because the annual testing will continue unabated under the Oligarchs' plan that Obama will present, this new system will pit the poor against the poorer and the poorer against the poorest, because the only thing that will keep your school off the shutdown, er, turnaround list is some other school in your vicinity that is doing worse still. No targets, no impossible goals. AYP be gone, they don't need you anymore. Under NCLB 2.0, there will be a never-ending list of the "bottom five percent" of schools every year, and there is nothing any school can do except to hope there is some schmucky school further down the road that is even poorer.

Have I pointed out that at the end of my street is a high school whose most recent drop-out rate is 62%, and its still open while they closed my school?! The schmucks!

What if Charters were "Opt Out" instead of "Opt In"

David Segal:

We (the RI legislature) increased the number of potential charter schools in the state last night, and as I mentioned on the floor, I’m still very concerned about charters’ creaming off of students who have more involved parents, and who are therefore predisposed to achieve at a relatively high level. I describe the problem in more detail over here, but the essential concern is that to get into a charter, a kid needs a parent to usher him or her through the process and who will pledge to be highly involved in his or her education. Ideally, every parent would be willing and able to be so committed to their kids, but we don’t live in an ideal world, and so kids without that sort of support can’t get into most charters.

H7450, to be heard before the House’s Health, Education, and Welfare Committee, addresses the issue by creating an opt-out system, rather than an opt-in system. Charters that believe they can do a bang-up job of educating anybody and everybody should love the idea, as it provides them a chance to prove their mettle. And we ought be very concerned about those that express apprehension — a school that’s not willing to work the a true cross-section of the public school population should not be funded with public dollars.

An interesting idea, and not one I've heard before.

The War is Already Here

Scott Jennings:

Looking back at my wrapup of 2009, it does seem as though, three months in, we’re in danger of repeating ourselves. After all, we have Activision Blizzard’s Bobby Kotick asserting his particular brand of fear and loathing with one of his most popular studios, and now it seems the talk of GDC 2010 was… Farmville. Specifically, how metrics-driven game design (such as what Farmville uses) will destroy fun as we know it.

"You want to make an intrinsically interesting game," he said of game designers at large. "[When] you add extrinsic motivators to make your game better, if these studies do apply to games, you're destroying intrinsic motivation to play your game."

"The game industry used to use no metrics whatsoever," he continued. "Everything was gut and by the seat of our pants. Then metrics came around, and [now] we're addicted to metrics. If I change a value of my purple hat, fourteen more people buy it, and we think we're totally in the zone."

"But that's totally missing the point," he said. "That can lead you down a bad path. Extrinsic motivators will lead you towards dull tasks, and you're totally [cornering] yourself into designing sh***y games that you have to pay people to play" with reward structures.

And that’s not even the most apocalyptic take. Jesse Schell, Carnegie Mellon professor who gave a widely discussed talk about how gaming-style rewards can be used as motivational tools outside of gaming (for good or ill) said, quite literally: ethical game developers are at war with Farmville.

"The 21st century will be a war of attention," Schell said. "We have to choose sides." The world can either be controlled by the designers who only want to make money -- the "persuaders," as Schell labeled them -- or these games can be controlled by the humanitarians, and the artists, and the fulfillers. The persuaders can be beaten, Schell said, but only "if we wake the hell up."

"The war is already here," Schell pleaded. "You're fighting in it right now."

Good wrapup of not just GDC, but the overall state of gaming circa 2010. You should probably read the whole piece by Raph Koster he links to as well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Text Complexity

This is the central organizing idea of the Common Core reading standards:

In 2006, ACT, Inc., released a report called Reading Between the Lines that showed which skills differentiated those students who equaled or exceeded the benchmark score (21 out of 36) in the reading section of the ACT college admissions test from those who did not. Prior ACT research had shown that students achieving the benchmark score or better in reading—which only about half (51 percent) of the roughly half million test takers in the 2004–2005 academic year had done—had a high probability (75 percent chance) of earning a C or better in an introductory, credit-bearing course in U.S. history or psychology (two common reading-intensive courses taken by first-year college students) and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better in such a course.

Surprisingly, what chiefly distinguished the performance of those students who had earned the benchmark score or better from those who had not was not their relative ability in making inferences while reading or answering questions related to particular cognitive processes, such as determining main ideas or understanding the meaning of words in context. Instead, the clearest differentiator was students’ ability to answer questions associated with complex texts. Students scoring below benchmark performed no better than chance (25 percent correct) on multiple-choice questions pertaining to passages rated as “complex” on a three-point qualitative rubric described in the report. These findings held for male and female students, students from all racial/ethnic groups, and students from families with widely varying incomes. The most important implication of this study was that a pedagogy focused only on “higher-order” or “critical” thinking was insufficient to ensure that students were ready for college and careers: what students could read, in terms of its complexity, was at least as important as what they could do with what they read.

In this sense, these standards are designed to be "college-level literacy" standards. Can you independently decode and comprehend texts of sufficient complexity and length to get through college courses? That's what the standards endeavor to ask.

They do see reading as a skill, but quite explicitly not a "21st Century" skill. Nor do they perceive a liberal arts approach to high school humanities as being necessary or sufficient. And they warn against using proxies like the application of specific reading strategies in place of more direct attempts to measure comprehension; although it is unclear whether they believe those strategies are necessary for comprehension.

Their analysis has a commonsensical appeal, particularly if you accept the framing of the problem of primary and secondary education strictly in terms of college preparedness.

But whether this is right or wrong, this is not the way other countries, states, or professional organizations have approached writing reading standards; it is not the "common" approach. They're clearly making an argument that previous standards were fundamentally flawed, and that the Common Core standards represent a new, corrected design. Rushing to write national standards is a dubious idea; rushing to adopt and implement national standards whose philosophical roots are not widely discussed, understood or accepted seems like a recipe for disaster.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What Literacy Standards?

Perhaps the strangest thing about this article in the February Phi Delta Kappan by Vicki Phillips and Carina Wong from Gates is that they seem to think that the two parts of the Common Core Standards are in math and "literacy." They aren't! It is math and "English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies and Science." This confusion is part of the reason they're such a mess! If they were clearly, only "college-ready literacy" standards, odd and ill-conceived as that formulation might be, they'd make some sort of sense. Add the burden of defining the discipline of English and/or Language Arts for a generation of English teachers and students, and the whole thing collapses.

Thompson: Synthesize and apply multiple sources of information presented in different formats in order to address the question of Central Falls High

Thanks to John Thompson for pulling together some of my recent posts on the Central Falls data into something broader and more coherent.

Spaghetti Alignment

Common Core reading standard #7.

The College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) version:

Synthesize and apply information presented in diverse ways (e.g., through words, images, graphs, and video) in print and digital sources in order to answer questions, solve problems, or compare modes of presentation.

The four 11-12th grade instances:

  • Compare and contrast multiple interpretations of a drama or story (e.g., recorded or live productions), distinguishing how each version interprets the source text. (This includes at least one play by Shakespeare as well as one play by an American dramatist.)
  • Synthesize and apply multiple sources of information presented in different formats in order to address a question or solve a problem, including resolving conflicting information.
  • Synthesize ideas and data presented graphically and determine their relationship to the rest of a print or digital text, noting discrepancies between the graphics and other information in the text.
  • Synthesize information in different formats by representing complex information in a text in graphical form (e.g., a table or chart) or translating a graphic or equation into words.

NECAP RI/NH Grade Level Expectations, 12th grade:

R-12-4. Demonstrate initial understanding of elements of literary texts by: 4. Identifying the characteristics of a variety of types/genres of literary text.

R-12-7. Demonstrate initial understanding of informational texts (expository and practical texts) by:

  1. Obtaining information from text features [e.g., ... charts, graphs, or illustrations].
  2. Using information from the text to answer questions, perform specific tasks, or solve problems; to state the main/central ideas; to provide supporting details; to provide supporting details; to explain visual components supporting the text; or to interpret maps, charts, timelines, tables or diagrams.
  3. Organizing information to show understanding or relationships among facts, ideas, and events.

R-12-8. Analyze and interpret informational text citing evidence as appropriate by:

  1. Explaining connections among ideas across multiple texts.
  2. Synthesizing and evaluating information within or across text(s)

The above would be the basis for my Common Core > NECAP alignment for this standard. Going in the opposite direction would be different, which is part of why this process is a nightmare. But anyhow.

I don't even know what I'm supposed to say about this. The Common Core standards are weird, ultra-jargony, and poorly organized, mashing literature into what should be a fairly straightforward "read charts, etc." standard. I mean, this should be a pretty easy one, and I've settled on dissecting this standards more or less at random.

Everyone should be able to agree (does, I'd bet!) that a kid leaving high school ought to be able to grok the range of charts, maps, and other data graphics they're likely to encounter in work, college or the New York Times. It is a no brainer, and there are dozens if not hundreds of perfectly usable, workmanlike treatments. Why so weird? How does one "synthesize and apply information?" Whose damage is that anyhow? Is that a 21st Century Skill or some reading research thing?

I'm not even sure I can come up with a coherent set of feedback on this mess. Or even a coherent blog post!

The Sound of Knife Scraping Bone

Alice Mercer:


Well, being unionized, it’ll be a lot more civilized than that, but a week that started with my school being subject to “reconstitution” ended with me getting one of these. Keep a couple things in mind…

  1. Last week ended with a lot success and kudos from my peers and others at CUE. I was sharing what was going on in the lab with students, and getting great feedback.
  2. The seniority dates for pink slip notices under discussion were in the 7 year range, and seemed far away.
  3. Our school thought our principal was likely to get replaced, but as a staff, we were getting more focused, and organized in our instruction.

Now, my school is gonna be tossed to the four winds, and although I’ll probably be recalled since I’m right at the cutoff date, it’s highly unlikely I will be in the lab, or at my current site. I don’t know what to say. Random moments of absurdity from this week…

  • The district, perhaps trying to be kind, responded to an inquiry about our site by teachers at another school, but saying that we had “won a state grant”. Well, only if we kick 50% of the staff out. Really, it doesn’t help with the humiliation factor!
  • My district is recruiting TFA interns to fill positions that really aren’t open, and the district is claiming that they will not be filling any of the positions now made vacant by lay offs.

And this brings us to the rest of my post. You see, the only problem with this is they’ve sent pink slips out to high school teachers in math and science (the very “hard to fill” positions they claim they need under-qualified TFA interns for). They have also sent pink slips to a number of special education teachers at elementary, who would likely be better candidates for training to work in high school special ed classes than someone with absolutely no experience teaching anyone let alone high school kids with special needs.

I think the Obama administration needs to get their NCLB reauthorization through quickly, because already this spring the axe is falling so widely and indiscriminately that people are bound to start asking more questions about exactly where we're going with all this. It is as if the supply of truly benighted schools has turned out to be less deep than reformers thought, and budgetary woes combined with a drive to find the "lowest 5%" is creating a dark undertow of chaos and destruction that is eclipsing what we thought were the dark days of the Bush administration.

I Guess We'll See How Powerful RI Unions Really Are


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A Superior Court judge ruled today that the East Providence School Committee "acted lawfully" when it unilaterally cut teachers' salaries and forced a 20 percent contribution to their health insurance costs last year.

Facing a deficit of more than $4 million, the board made the reductions in January 2009, saying it had to in order to comply with a state law that says school districts can't deficit spend.

The board's lawyers also argued that the committee was able to make the changes without the consent of the local teacher union because there wasn't a contract in effect for the almost 500 teachers. The last agreement expired on Oct. 31, 2008.

"... When the parties have reached an impasse in negotiations and their actions are not governed by a binding collective bargaining agreement, a committee can make unilateral changes when faced with an actual deficit," Judge Michael A. Silverstein said in his written decision.

Good thing leaving Rhode Island isn't very hard.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Many Facets of Reading standard #7

The many manifestations of Common Core reading standard #7 in the high school classroom.

The College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) version:

Synthesize and apply information presented in diverse ways (e.g., through words, images, graphs, and video) in print and digital sources in order to answer questions, solve problems, or compare modes of presentation.

The four 11-12th grade instances:

  • Compare and contrast multiple interpretations of a drama or story (e.g., recorded or live productions), distinguishing how each version interprets the source text. (This includes at least one play by Shakespeare as well as one play by an American dramatist.)
  • Synthesize and apply multiple sources of information presented in different formats in order to address a question or solve a problem, including resolving conflicting information.
  • Synthesize ideas and data presented graphically and determine their relationship to the rest of a print or digital text, noting discrepancies between the graphics and other information in the text.
  • Synthesize information in different formats by representing complex information in a text in graphical form (e.g., a table or chart) or translating a graphic or equation into words.

The apparent predecessor of the CCRS version from the first draft:

11. Synthesize data, diagrams, maps, and other visual elements with words in the text to further comprehension.

There are no updated benchmarking links for the apparently now final CCRS. Here are quotes from the documents cited as benchmarks of the draft version:

American Diploma Project:

F5. Interpret and use information in maps, charts, graphs, time lines, tables and diagrams.

G1 (not originally cited but seems to fit the new version). Evaluate the aural, visual and written images and other special effects used in television, radio, film and the Internet for their ability to inform, persuade and entertain.

Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates:

Students entering colleges and universities will be expected to read a variety of texts, including news articles, textbooks, essays, research of others, Internet resources.

Understanding University Success: A Report from Standards for Success

F. Successful students are able to read and interpret visual images, including charts and graphs. They:
F.1. identify the primary elements of the types of charts, graphs and visual media that occur most commonly in texts.
F.2. interpret accurately the content of charts, graphs and visual media that occur in texts.

Reading Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress 2009:

Integrate and Interpret: The next set of reading behaviors refers to what readers do as they integrate new informa­ tion into their initial sense of what a passage says, often interpreting what they read in the process. When readers engage in behaviors involving integrating and interpreting, they make comparisons and contrasts of information or character actions, examine relations across aspects of text, or consider alternatives to what is presented in text. This aspect of the reading is critical to comprehension and can be considered the stage in which readers really move beyond the discrete information, ideas, details, themes, and so forth pre­ sented in text and extend their initial impressions by processing information logically and completely. As readers integrate information and interpret what they read, they frequently form questions, use mental images, and make connections that draw on larger sections of text, often at an abstract level. They also draw on their knowledge of the structure and elements of literary and informational text...
Procedural Texts and Documents: As the matrix shows, document texts on the 2009 NAEP Reading Assessment may in­ clude, but are not limited to, tables and charts. Stand-alone procedural text or documents will not be included at grades 4 and 8; such text will be embedded in or ancillary to con­ tinuous text. They may appear as stand-alone stimuli at grade 12 but their use will ac­ count for only a small amount of the stimuli in the entire assessment. It is likely that many of the documents may be used as part of intertextual item sets. For example, a stu­ dent might encounter a bar graph and a timeline with items that relate to both texts.

English-Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools:

2.1 Analyze the structure and format of functional workplace documents, including the graphics and headers, and explain how authors use the features to achieve their purposes.

Virginia Postsecondary Outreach Campaign and Data Collection, Essential English Skills Analysis:

F5. Interpret and use information in maps, charts, graphs, time lines, tables and diagrams.

British Columbia, Grade 12 Prescribed Learning Outcomes:

B12. recognize and explain how structures and features of text shape readers’ and viewers’ construction of meaning and appreciation of author’s craft, including

  • form and genre
  • functions of text
  • literary elements
  • literary devices
  • use of language
  • non-fiction elements
  • visual/artistic devices

Hong Kong Numeracy Skills, Senior Secondary:

  1. provide or find out, select, analyse, organise and present quantitative information on topics using appropriate tools and strategies such as surveys, questionnaires, interviews, tables and charts
  2. understand, interpret and use quantitative information through processes or activities such as ordering, describing, classifying, comparing, explaining, justifying, predicting, inferring and drawing conclusions to solve real-life or simulated problems (e.g. drawing up a proposal to request assistance or contribution with the support of quantitative evidence)
Ontario Canada, Grade 12 Reading and Literature 2.1:

identify a variety of characteristics of literary, informational, and graphic text forms and demonstrate insight into the way they help communicate meaning (e.g., quoted material is used in a literary essay to support the analysis or argument, and the thesis is often restated and extended in the conclusion; recurring imagery and/or symbols often help to develop themes in poems, stories, and plays; the structure of a son- net provides a framework for the poem’s content)

Teacher prompts: “What can you expect to find in the concluding couplet of a Shakespearean sonnet?” “How could you adapt a short story to a ‘graphic novel’ format? What literary ele- ments would you need to preserve?”


Construct meaning from visuals: pictures, charts, diagrams, symbols, graphs, tables, maps

This is not a perfect comparison, because they've expanded the scope of the CCRS in the new version, but it is the best we've got until they release a new benchmark document, which will almost certainly never happen.

While we're at it, here's the 9-10th grade versions from the Common Core:

  • Compare and contrast the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums (e.g., Auden’s “Musée de Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).
  • Compare and contrast the accounts of a subject in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story told in print, video, or multimedia), analyzing which details are emphasized and how the account unfolds in each version.
  • Integrate quantitative or technical information presented in maps, time lines, and videos with other information in a print or digital text.
  • Integrate quantitative or technical information presented graphically (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table) with other information in a text.

OK, some thoughts, somewhat jumbled for obvious reasons:

  • Why are there both 11th and 12th grade and CCRS standards? What's the difference? What's the relationship between the two?
  • There is no reason to cram analysis of artistic media into your "can read charts" standard.
  • Arbitrary over-specificity: is "comparing and contrasting multiple interpretations of a drama or story" really the only way to meet this standard for reading literature in 11th and 12th grade? I can't, say, write a thesis on the interplay of text and visuals in illuminated manuscripts or the evolution of pictographic scripts? The forced over-specificity is clear in contrast to every other standard they cite as a benchmark.
  • Arbitrary "rigor:" Why does the Social Studies version of the 12th grade standard include "noting discrepancies between the graphics and other information in the text." Is that going to be on the test? Do we need to prepare exercises which include graphics that conflict with the text? Is that a common problem?
  • Many or most of the grade-level standards are sort of curriculum hints or assessment specifications, not standards.
  • The way the draft Common Core ELA standards are constructed is really, really different than any other ELA standards used anywhere in the world. Also, they're a conceptual mess.

Order the Standards

OK, these are all mainfestations of Reading/Literature standard 5 in the new draft Common Core standards:

  • Explain major differences between poems and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., stanza, verse, rhythm, meter) when writing or speaking about specific poems.
  • Explain the effect of such devices as flashbacks and foreshadowing on the development of plot and meaning of a text.
  • Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section or chapter) relate to each other and the whole.
  • Distinguish major categories of writing from each other (e.g., stories and poems), drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.
  • Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text (e.g., electing at what point to begin or end a story) shape the meaning of the text.
  • Refer to core elements of stories, plays, and myths, including characters, settings, and plots, when writing or speaking about a specific text.
  • Explain major differences between drama and prose stories, and refer to the structural elements of drama (e.g., casts of characters, setting descriptions, dialogue, stage directions, acts, scenes) when writing or speaking about specific works of dramatic literature.
  • Demonstrate understanding of common features of legends, myths, and folk- and fairytales (e.g., heroes and villains; quests or challenges) when writing or speaking about classic stories from around the world.
  • Describe how any given sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the plot or themes.
  • Compare a poem with a conventional structure, such as a sonnet, to a poem without a proscribed structure, such as a free verse poem.
  • Recognize common types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems).
  • Analyze how an author structures a text, orders events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulates time (e.g., pacing) to create mystery, tension, or surprise.

Your assignment is to put them in order from K to College and Career Ready. I'll post the answers in a comment in a few days.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What We've Been Up To

SchoolTool for Cambodia Demo from Tom Hoffman on Vimeo.

Rotten in the Core

Digging in does not serve well.

Reading, Standard 9, Grade 9 - 10:

Analyze a wide range of 19th- and early-twentieth century foundational works of American literature, comparing and contrasting aproaches to similar ideas or themes in two or more texts from the same period.

Exemplar texts, grade 9 - 10 ("19th- and early-twentieth century foundational works of American literature" in bold):

Stories: Homer. The Odyssey; Gogol, Nikolai. “The Nose;” Henry, O. “The Gift of the Magi;” Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath; Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451; Olsen, Tillie. “I Stand Here Ironing;” Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels; Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club; Álvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies; Zusak, Marcus. The Book Thief. Drama: Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet; Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie; Ionesco, Eugene, “Rhinoceros;” Fugard, Athol. “Master Harold.” Poetry: Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 73,” Donne, John. “Song,” Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “Ozymandias;” Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Raven;” Dickinson, Emily. “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark;” Houseman, A. E. “Loveliest of Trees;” Johnson, James Weldon. “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

I don't know how one is supposed to seriously evaluate something so carelessly slapped together.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Standards Mashup

I think this standard typifies the current state of the Common Core draft:

Analyze a wide range of 19th- and early-twentieth century foundational works of American literature, comparing and contrasting aproaches to similar ideas or themes in two or more texts from the same period.

They've mashed some "content" into their specification for an assessment item.

Progress, I guess.

How "Common" are these Standards?

It is going to take a while to digest the new draft Common Core English standards, but one strong first impression is that they are noticeably different than any other standards in use anywhere in the world. There is no way to know what the result of this entire process will be. It is a leap into the dark.

Wacky Alignment

Reading, standard 4, Grade 6:

Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including technical, figurative and connotative meanings, and analyze how the author's choice of specific words in a text contributes to understanding the ideas or concepts.

Reading, standard 4, Grade 9-10:

Evaluate how an author's use of language, including formality and type of diction, shapes meaning and tone in a text (e.g., the formality of a court opinion or a newspaper).

Reading, standard 4, "college and career ready:"

Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and explain how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Standards or Tasks?

Common Core K-12, Reading 9-10, #7:

Compare and contrast the representation of a subject or key scene in two different artistic mediums (e.e., Auden's “Musée de Beaux Arts" and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).

Nice assignment! But is it a standard?

Also, why does that sound much more demanding than the capstone "College and Career Readiness" standard?

Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Looking for Data-Intensive Critiques of Ed "Reform?"

SchoolFinance101, where have you been all my life? Start with Some statistical context for Central Falls and take a troll through the archives for instant classics like Why do states with the “best” data systems have the worst schools? You'll be glad you did!

Also for more RI school reform analysis, check out Bottom Up Education. I'm not sure who the author is, but with a handle like "antiarne," you know where he or she is coming from.

Monday, March 08, 2010

It would not be hard at all to make higher education completely free in the USA

Doug Henwood:

It would not be hard at all to make higher education completely free in the USA. It accounts for not quite 2% of GDP. The personal share, about 1% of GDP, is a third of the income of the richest 10,000 households in the U.S., or three months of Pentagon spending. It’s less than four months of what we waste on administrative costs by not having a single-payer health care finance system. But introduce such a proposal into an election campaign and you would be regarded as suicidally insane.

Data-Driven for Thee But Not for Me

Mike Klonsky:

The larger questions raised by Urban Prep's success have to to do with test scores, the cornerstone of Arne Duncan's school closing and turnaround policies under RTTT. Urban Prep's are nothing to write home about (I don't think test score in general are anything to write home about, but that's me). According to the Sun-Times:
The average ACT score of Urban Prep's all-black male student body -- 16.1 -- is below the Chicago Public Schools average of 17 but above the CPS black male average of 15.4. On state tests, Urban Prep kids fell below even the CPS black male average, with only 15.3 percent of juniors passing last year.
It's interesting that the school's entire graduating class has been accepted to four-year universities even though only 12% of them met the college readiness benchmark in reading and on 36% met the benchmark in English on the ACT exam. And while UP's composite ACT score is a few (3) points higher than nearby high schools, it's important to remember that UP ISN'T a neighborhood school. It draws its students from 31 different zip-codes in the city.

If Urban Prep was a neighborhood school with scores like these, instead of being heralded by the mayor, Arne Duncan, and CEO Huberman, the school would likely be facing sanctions under NCLB or worse ones under RTTP. It's possible that King would be fired along with his entire dedicated faculty, and the school hit with turnaround, since current policy relies almost entirely on standardized test scores as an indicator of school success. And you can forget about so-called merit pay which is tied directly to student test scores.

If we ever achieve data nirvana where everyone is using the same "college and career ready standards" and aligned assessments, I'm afraid cross-school comparisons will be get even crazier as people try to explain and legislate away the inconsistencies (here's an idea: sanctioning colleges who don't retain officially "college ready" students, then using college retention rates to demonstrate the efficacy of "college ready" strategies).

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Why Race to the Middle?

Ze'ev Wurman and Sandra Stotsky:

National English language arts standards must be rooted in recognized literary, linguistic, and rhetorical scholarship and be compatible with the grade-by-grade progression of standards in the best sets of English language arts standards in this country. A document purporting to present a set of English language arts standards must do much more than claim it is based on research that supports its details on reading instruction. It also must indicate the linguistic, rhetorical, and literary scholarship that justifies its organization, its literature strands, and its composition strands. For example, the page on “Definitions of Key Writing Types,” close to the end of this Draft, has not one quotation or scholarly reference to support what this draft claims are the three “key writing types.” What body of scholarship in rhetoric suggests that Narrative, Informative/ Explanatory, and Argument are the three key writing types?

All English teachers care about the standards or benchmarks on which their state tests have been based. They are not apt to respect or teach to a document that shows no cognizance of the literary, rhetorical, and linguistic scholarship they studied as English majors, or offers as standards statements that read like caricatures of the English language.

Finally the CCSSI standards (math and ELA) get the rough treatment they deserve in a 30 page white paper. The new draft is out this week. I'm sure it will be the best one yet, but the foundation is rotten, so I'm not expecting much.

Mid-Life Crisis

Cheaper than a motorcycle, and more useful while Vivian rides her tricycle around the basketball court.

Friday, March 05, 2010

About that 11th Grade NECAP Math Test...

Central Falls' 7% proficiency rate on the NECAP math test has now been widely quoted in the national media. What hasn't also been mentioned is how poorly low-income students do on the math portion of the NECAP overall. Here are some proficiency rates for economically disadvantaged students:

  • Vermont: 18%
  • New Hampshire: 17%
  • RI: 12%
  • Providence: 9%

Classical boosts Providence's overall score. Central Falls actually outscores all of PPSD's open enrollment high schools.

Vermont and New Hampshire both do well on 8th grade NAEP math, including relatively well among low-income students. They're doing better than RI, but two out of ten is not that much better than one out of ten.

Perhaps most striking to me is that the Times2 Academy, a math/science oriented charter in Providence, which has had many if not most of its 35 11th graders since kindergarten, and sports a 94% pass rate in reading, only got 28% of its juniors over the bar.

So anyhow, I finally looked at the latest released items from the test, which is administered to 11th graders in October, and, um... it is pretty hard. I should just spare you the cliches, point out some more relevant info, and suggest that if my more math-oriented readers want to take a look and let me know what they think, I'm certainly curious at this point.

The one thing I was thinking was perhaps the curriculum is so mis-aligned that kids taking the test just haven't even been exposed to enough geometry. That's certainly possible, but the poor scores seem to be uniform across all topics, so it isn't only that.

Blah Blah Turnaround


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan chose to fire teachers en masse when he headed Chicago's public school system.

He was confronted with lagging test scores at Sherman Elementary School in Chicago's South Side, where students are overwhelmingly poor and black. Before it was revamped, 29 percent of students were meeting academic expectations, according to statewide tests.

The city allowed the Academy for Urban School Leadership to take over the school in September 2006. It hired a new leadership team and installed a large number of AUSL teachers, mostly people who decided to become teachers after working in other fields. The school's original staff had to reapply for their jobs; many simply left.

Test scores have improved. During the last school year, 51 percent of Sherman students tested proficient on the same academic test, although they still lag students in the rest of the district. More recently, scores for students in some grades have slipped in reading and mathematics.

A spokeswoman for Duncan cites the school as an example of where replacing the staff — which he calls a turnaround — worked. It's one of four strategies that states can use to improve low-performing schools while competing for millions of dollars in stimulus funds.


  • Duncan-approved successful turnaround, Sherman 2007 - 2009: 29% > 51%
  • Duncan-rejected failing school, Central Falls 2007 - 2009 (reading, teaching year): 33% > 56%


Besides new staff and better leadership, (William Gunther, president of the Boston-based Mass Insight Education and Research Institute) said troubled schools generally need to partner with outside groups that can help them and create a cluster of elementary and middle schools that feed better-prepared students to high school.

In addition to all my other frustrations about this ongoing process, I'm disappointed about the lack of ambition and vision showed thus far concerning the five schools within a mile of my house subject to intervention. In her comments about Central Falls, Commissioner Gist has made it clear that the mode of turnaround is 100% the local superintendent's call, and while I can't comment on the quality of discussions going on around the individual schools (I simply don't know), I've heard not a peep about taking advantage of the opportunities for clustering or collaboration within this group of schools, which even includes an elementary, middle and high school within the same 1 block complex.

The Brady administration is probably completely incapable of doing anything interesting with these schools, since it has spent the last two years on a uniformity jihad and are still implementing their baseline reforms. They can't reform the reforms they've not even completely deployed yet. And they certainly aren't going to do anything that would create a stronger neighborhood power base in Elmwood. It is the one place they don't have to worry about organized opposition. They're not going to change that.