Thursday, September 30, 2010

Looking at NYC Charter Grades

Angus Davis:

Congrats to kids & teachers @ Democracy Prep on becoming top-ranked middle school in all of New York City!

Indeed congratulations. The interesting thing is that both Angus's and my earlier post on Democracy Prep's latest test scores are accurate.

That is, the charter middle school with the highest overall score of any middle school in the city which arguably has the best crop of charter middle schools in the country has ELA scores less than the city or state average.

Which is to say, it is a good school! But it isn't eliminating the ELA achievement gap, even after students spend three years in the school.

However, Democracy Prep still rates an "A," unlike some other well regarded NYC charters (just going through the ones I can think of, tbh):

  • Harlem Children's Zone/Promise Academy Charter School: B
  • Harlem Children's Zone/Promise Academy II: C
  • Harlem Success Academy 1 Charter School: A
  • KIPP Infinity: A
  • KIPP S.T.A.R.: B
  • KIPP Academy: A
  • Achievement First Crown Heights: C
  • Achievement First East NY: C
  • Achievement First Endeavor: C
  • Achievement First Bushwick: B

One thing that's peculiar about Democracy Prep's scores is the change in their relationship to other city schools. Last year their proficiency rate was about 20% above the city average, now it is about the same. The report card gives each school a somewhat cryptic percentile score compared to other schools in its "peer horizon" (similar demographics, etc.). Last year, in ELA level 3 or 4 proficiency this came out to 136.6%. This year, it is just 34.4%. That's a pretty steep drop! Compared to the whole city that went from 78.7% to 35.3%.

I have no particular insight into what that might mean...


I decided to go all retro for once and watch a network sitcom as it was broadcast over the air in real time (in HD, on my iMac via EyeTV). So I turn NBC on at 8:55 to jiggle the antenna and... 30 Rock apparently started at 8:30 tonight for some reason. I don't know why I even tried...

Given the Number of Times I've Wondered and Complained About Democrats' Inability to Explain Simple Populist Economics Clearly, I Should Post This

Reading McKinsey

Michael Martin:

The McKinsey & Company report ”Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching” claims that the three top countries in international testing - Singapore, Finland and South Korea - “recruit, develop and retain” all of their teachers from the top third of college graduates, compared to the U.S. where “23 percent of new teachers come from the top third, and just 14 percent in high poverty schools.” Despite contrary evidence in their report, they claim this accounts for their top performing status.

Indeed, in the next paragraph the report notes “Paradoxically, U.S. research on whether teachers’ academic backgrounds significantly predict classroom effectiveness is very mixed, and it suggests that merely sprinkling teachers with top-third academic credentials into our existing system will not by itself produce dramatic gains in student achievement.” Plus they note that “our market research suggests that raising the share of top-third+ new hires in high-needs schools from 14 percent to 68 percent would mean paying new teachers around $65,000 with a maximum career compensation of $150,000 per year.” In other words, to achieve the 100 percent teacher recruitment from top third college graduates in the U.S. would be prohibitively expensive and might not accomplish much anyway.

The McKinsey report conceded that the success of Singapore, Finland, and South Korea was not strictly from hiring top-third college graduates. The report stated “These countries recognize that coming from the top third of graduates does not automatically translate into classroom effectiveness, and they invest systematically in developing the skills of those they select to teach.” But the report seems oblivious to this and does not focus on what that “systematically” process entails, although in describing Singapore the report did note:

“Singapore also provides teachers with time for collaboration and professional development. A few senior and master teachers in each school observe and coach other teachers, prepare model lessons and materials, advise on teaching methods and best practices, organize training, and support newly qualified teachers and trainees, in addition to their regular course-load. All teachers have time each week for professional collaboration and receive 100 hours of paid professional development each year.”

In describing Finland they note: “Teachers have wide decision-making authority in school policy and management, textbooks, course content, student assessment policies,course offerings, and budget allocations within the school.” They note that teacher pay is “modest, starting at around 81 percent of GDP per capita, slightly above the US at 79 percent.” However they fail to translate that into actual dollars. The UNdata website shows that in 2008 dollars this corresponds to $41,641 in Finland versus $35,732 in the United States, but with national healthcare provided in Finland this difference is substantially larger in disposable income.

When describing South Korea the report notes “South Korea places great emphasis on selectivity in entering the profession for elementary” teachers and “providing the highest teacher salaries in the world” which the report states for beginning teachers is about $55,000 with maximum salaries for teachers at about $155,000 in U.S. equivalent salaries. The report also notes that South Korea’s teachers “are guaranteed a teaching position for life.” The report suggests that “the country is piloting a program for advancement to ‘master teacher’ designation, and it has introduced new annual teacher evaluations aimed at promoting professional growth after five years of piloting. Teachers will be evaluated by peer teachers, administrators, students and parents at least once a year, and will participate in professional in-service education based on the feedback.” Thus their teacher evaluations are supportive rather than punitive.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Beginning of Conversation or the End?

John Merrow:

Some critics of Education Nation are finding the silver lining, saying things like, “A national dialogue is a good thing.”

Well, I’m looking hard for signs of a dialogue, but what I am finding instead are lines hardening between two camps. Scarily, it reminds me of the abortion/choice battle. Right now it’s in the naming stage. Those who were excluded from Education Nation are calling their opponents ‘anti-teacher’ and ‘anti public education,’ while the Education Nation crowd is labeling its antagonists ‘defenders of bad education’ and ‘protectors of inept teachers’. Naturally, both groups are working hard to wrap themselves in ‘pro-children’ garments.

It’s hard to see much good coming out of this, frankly. I wish everyone would emulate the three McGraw prizewinners. I’m sure all three of them had to fight battles to triumph over complacency, inertia and hostility, but I doubt that any of them ever declared themselves to be the forces of good, battling evil. That’s what I think may be happening out there in Education Nation.

Caprio's Not Terribly Reformy Education Plan

It is worth noting that despite Frank Caprio's decision to tie himself to Race to the Top and the business model reforms of Angus Davis and Deborah Gist, his actual education platform reads more like something a Democrat married to a public school teacher might have written 10 years ago. First point:

Students need an academic environment that is conducive to learning and educators need an academic environment that is favorable to teaching. Safe and orderly schools, manageable class sizes, rigorous curricula, adequate facilities, and opportunities for parental and community involvement should be basic requirements for all of our schools. As Governor, I will make sure that all public schools in Rhode Island have this basic foundation for learning.

Or, even more retro:

In order to obtain high-quality schools in Rhode Island, we must ensure educator excellence. Rhode Island educators should matriculate through an accredited licensure program before entering the classroom.

This is the most reformy part:

I will work to provide students with options to obtain a high-quality education. One option that I will support is the implementation of high performing public charter schools or mayoral academies in areas where public schools are not meeting the needs of their students.

To be sure, the Obama administration has taught us not to base our view of an ambiguous candidate on hope. I'm just noting this for the record. It does suggest though that Caprio should be questioned on Gist's and RttT's actual plan. Should 51% of teacher evaluations be based on test scores? Will new standards and better data systems really improve education in RI? Are we dependent on out of state charter management companies to improve RI schools? etc.

"Last year, we filed a lawsuit and you did nothing. Last year, we had the moral right. This year, we have the legal right and you still do nothing."

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — Hope High School students said their fears have come true: Hope is no longer a school where students feel nurtured and teachers have the time they need to engage youth in rich instruction.

More than a dozen students, many of them familiar faces from last year’s protests, told the School Board that abolishing the so-called block schedule (four 90-minute periods) has resulted in more discipline problems, less time spent on meaningful instruction and a diminishment in the relationships between teacher and student.

No one was more eloquent than Angela Cruz, a senior who was involved in last semester’s battle to retain the school’s unique class schedule.

“Last year,” she said, “we came to all of your meetings and you did nothing. Last year, we filed a lawsuit and you did nothing. Last year, we had the moral right. This year, we have the legal right and you still do nothing. I hope you’re happy.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Looks Like We Got Us an Ed Reform Showdown!

It's the Lil' Rhody version of Gray/Fenty!

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Seeking to separate himself from his leading opponent, state treasurer and Democratic candidate for governor Frank T. Caprio declared his intent Tuesday to keep the state's high-profile Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.

In actuality, the $190,000-a year Gist has a contract with the Board of Regents that runs through June 30, 2013. The governor is only one vote on that board.

Caprio's key rival, independent Lincoln Chafee, has said he would want to sit down with Gist and "compare our education philosophies" before committing to keeping her in the job.

Chafee also said he did not support all of the "reforms'' outlined in the state's successful application for $75 million in federal funds, over four years, including possibly doubling the number of publicly-funded charter schools.

Thank god we have a reasonable independent candidate.

What's more, things could change much more quickly here than I realized thanks to this:

Another important education issue facing the next governor is the makeup of the nine-member Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. The Regents set education policy and oversee Gist and the state Department of Education.

The terms of several members, including Flanders, have technically expired. The governor nominates members, who must then be appointed by the state Senate.

Governor Carcieri, who is term-limited and cannot run for reelection, submitted the names of Flanders and Regent Angus Davis for reappointment in May and nominated two new members: Keith Stokes, executive director of the state Economic Development Corporation, and Andy Moffitt, a lawyer and business consultant who is married to Gina Raimondo, a candidate for general treasurer.

However, the Senate failed to act on the nominations and it is unclear whether they will convene this fall or wait until next year, when the General Assembly is in session, to take action.

It is really the Board of Regents which pulled off a bloodless coup to turn education in RI upside down. They're the decisive point.

I dropped off $200 at Chafee HQ this morning (on top of $50 already). Make Deb Gist sad and chip in here!

Physics First

Not much good to say about Providence's scores on the science NECAP's, which came out today (RI loves those off-peak testing discounts, apparently). On the bright side, it is impossible for scores at several PPSD high schools to go lower!

I did note this quote though:

(Top RI scorer) Portsmouth High was also acknowledged for its participation in the Physics First program (a new curriculum based on guided inquiry with a focus on atomic and molecular physics) and its involvement in the RI-TEST program (which provides educators with professional development in using technology-enhanced investigations) through a National Science Foundation grant.

Providence started phasing in Physics first in 2006. I've been told that the Mount Pleasant High School (i.e., the most neglected big one at this point) science department in particular bought in and made impressive gains in pass rates in their freshman science course. Then Brady came in 2008(?) and made everyone switch back to Bio first. Needless to say, Mt. Pleasant's presentation of their data fell on deaf ears.

Julia Steiny in 2009:

Mt. Pleasant High School was one of the six early adopters, but the Providence School Department recently withdrew from the project. Supt. Thomas Brady explained that the district is developing a K-12 curriculum that will be standardized across schools. The curriculum developers believed that Physics First is less well suited for preparing Providence students for the state’s NECAP tests than the traditional sequence.

That analysis isn't holding up so well.

"A long memory is the most radical idea in America." --Caire Sparks.

Stating One of the Underlying Themes of this Blog

John Thompson:

As "reformers" mourn the defeat of Mayor Fenty, it is becoming clear that their real issues are not about education but about control. As much as they love standardized testing, their true desire is the untrammeled power to run schools.

My Comment to Will

In response to The Wrong Conversations, I wrote:

What you’re missing is that if we lose this larger policy battle, which we might, all conversations end. It is a battle for democracy in education.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hanging Finland Around their Neck

Political and educational progressives should take ruthless advantage of the use of Finland as an example by ed reformers (of all stripes). There is no downside as long as you don't let people cherry pick in the most egregious way. Yes, they have a national curriculum, but it is not at all like anything vaguely on the table here. For example, if you look at the Finnish National Core Curriculum for Upper Secondary Schools, here's the first sections:

  • 5.3 Mother tongue and literature
  • 5.3.1 Mother tongue and literature, Finnish as the mother tongue
  • 5.3.2 Mother tongue and literature, Swedish as the mother tongue
  • 5.3.3 Mother tongue and literature, Sami as the mother tongue
  • 5.3.4 Mother tongue and literature, Romany as the mother tongue

Now, according to Wikipedia, Swedish is the native language of 5.5% of Finland's population, but according to the US census, more than 12% of US households speak Spanish. Romany is spoken by the Romani (aka gypsies), of which there are about 10,000 in Finland. There are about 7,000 indigenous Sami (out of 5 million Finns total).

Imagine bringing the equivalent to a US national curriculum. "Mother tongue and literature, Spanish as the mother tongue..." That's just one example, and you can go on and on and on. Our current slate of business model reforms is nothing like what Finland does, in just about any dimension.

I'm not saying that's going to win the argument, but if they're going to hang so much on international comparisons, they should have to retreat rhetorically to Asia.

Is this the Universe where Spock is Evil and has a Goatee?

Mike Petrelli:

But what if you really want to make a direct impact on the system, and especially on the education of low-income kids? There’s one obvious step you can take: choose a diverse public school for your own children.

Here the research is much more compelling than for charter schools or the other promising strategies outlined by the movie. Years of desegregation studies showed that African-American kids performed much better when they attended integrated schools. More recent, and more sophisticated, “peer effects” research (by the likes of Carolyn Hoxby and Eric Hanushek) finds much the same. Rick Kahlenberg has been shouting from the rooftops that poor kids do better in “middle class” schools–which is why, in Gerald Grant’s words, there are no bad schools in Raleigh.

Davis Guggenheim starts his film by driving by inner-city public schools to which he couldn’t imagine sending his offspring. But if he and his friends all made a collective decision to send their kids to such schools, they would improve overnight. This isn’t just wishful thinking; all around the country, affluent families are choosing to send their children to racially and socio-economically integrated schools, in places like Cambridge and Berkeley, but also in less likely spots such as Alexandria, Virginia; Stapleton, Colorado; and Miraloma Park, California.

This is no easy decision, to be sure. I live in Takoma Park, Maryland, a very diverse suburb of DC, and my wife and I are agonizing about whether to stay or go, mostly because of the schools. (Our oldest son is only three, so we have some time.) In fact, I’m writing a whole book about this agony, and all of the pros and cons of sending your own kids to a school with a sizable number of poor children.

But let’s face it, reformers: As long as we’re working to fix the schools of “other people’s children,” we’re only going to get so far. An Inconvenient Truth inspired people to vote for environmentally-friendly candidates, but it also motivated (some) people to ditch their cars, consume less energy, and change their lifestyles. The education corollary is simple, Davis: Stop at the closest public school, fix it up, and send your kid there.

Mega-dittos. Don't count on me to buy the book though.

Make Noise

I'm heartily in favor of the kind of online rabble-rousing Nancy Flanagan describes on her post about the NBC Teacher's Town Hall yesterday. It may feel like this accomplishes nothing, but it wasn't so long ago that Arne said this:

Mr. Duncan says he encounters no public opposition.

“Zero,” he said. “And as hard as we’re pushing everybody else to change, we’re pushing the department to change even more. There’s just an outpouring of support for the common-sense changes and the unprecedented investments we’re making.”

And a lot of media figures and politicians live even more in a bubble than Arne Duncan.

So while it may seem like a pathetic first step, just making some noise, clogging the chat room, etc. helps. It is perhaps the simplest and least effective form of protest in the long run, but it is something.

Mau-mauing works. Ask the NRA. Ask the Tea Party. Every time someone in the media thinks about cranking out another braindead ed reform story, they should mentally flinch in anticipation of the torrent of scorn and derision about to be dumped on their head.

Accentuating the Negative

Fraser Speirs (via DF):

So many people have asked me to explain the educational impact of the iPad. I simply can't yet get to grips with everything that's happening. Put simply, the iPad deployment has transformed our school. Not evenly and not everywhere yet, but it's coming.

Longtime readers will remember that when I used to focus more on educational technology, I frequently made the point that "Nobody seems to notice that this technology is shit." That is, this technology is shit. In particular the need to break out of the PC paradigm, which was clearly failing schools. I'm not ready to anoint the iPad as our saviour, for a variety of reasons, but clearly it is a big step in the right direction.

Also, if you were a "handhelds in education" person, the iPad doesn't prove you right, because I don't recall you complaining about the fact that your screen was just too damn small, when it obviously was.

Framing the Teacher Market in RI

To be sure this is not a good time to be looking for a teaching job in Rhode Island, and that, in itself, is a story in a tiny state that apparently turns out about 1,000 newly certified teachers a year. But the framing and content of Jennifer Jordan's ProJo article on the subject is puzzling in a number of ways.

For example:

Providence, the state’s largest school district, hired just 39 teachers this year, 6 of whom were from the district’s long-term substitute teacher pool. Of the 33 other “new hires,” just 9 were first-year teachers, said Providence schools spokeswoman Christina O’Reilly.

But Ms. Jordan also wrote in August that:

For the first time, 34 recruits are coming to Rhode Island and at least 20 of those teachers will be hired to work in Providence’s public schools.

So... how are they counted? Aren't they "first year teachers?" What about The New Teacher Project and Providence Model Staffing Initiative? Did they add to those 9 first year teachers? Did TNTP bring in teachers from out of state?

How many of the new hires were in low-demand subjects? Several that I've heard about. Are TFA's given jobs with weird cross-disciplinary roles to make it seem like they're filling jobs that people in district can't? It sounds that way from what I hear.

What's exasperating is that it isn't like there isn't a real teacher shortage that isn't getting any better:

Rhode Island school districts are desperate for good high school math and science teachers. But fewer than 50 education students a year major in math education, and just 19 majored in biology, 4 in chemistry and 3 in physics in 2008-2009, according to data collected by the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Unfortunately, few TFA'ers have math or science backgrounds. Perhaps if TFA addressed the needs of children and communities, instead of the adults working within its bureaucratic system, they would manage to recruit a higher percentage of math and science majors.

And the RI officials quoted seem, or are made to seem, more concerned with supply glut than chronic demand issue:

“It is very likely we will continue on this demographic trend, so I think teacher training programs need to be more strategic with the labor market demands, in terms of managing their program size,” said Kenneth K. Wong, chairman of the education department at Brown University. The second priority for the state’s teacher training programs should be “quality control,” Wong says. “We need to be aggressive in making sure we are selective,” Wong said. “We have to tighten the entrance as well as introduce more rigor in our training programs so the quality is higher.”

Based on the statistics cited by the ProJo, Dr. Wong is doing a good job of managing program size. With a The New Teacher Project alum now running the history and social studies program they were apparently down to eight new teachers in that content area, which is probably less than half of what it was ten years ago (it was a boutique program even then). One might ask Dr. Wong why Brown doesn't educate teachers in high demand subjects (no math, no science other than biology apparently they've added chemistry and physics!), but in fact contributes to the trend cited by Business Week where "many of the top students (in the sciences) have been lured to careers in finance and consulting" by turning out Brown science majors with Masters in Urban Education Policy instead of teaching.

The reason Jennifer and I live in New England is that there were no teaching jobs in the Pittsburgh area when she got her MAT. We ended up in rural eastern Connecticut in a district which, thanks to its lower pay than most of the rest of the state, was a stepping stone for teachers to get their three years experience and get out before they were too expensive. And then we moved to Providence without jobs and started subbing and worked our way into the system. It wasn't that hard, even someone with a degree from Brown could figure it out.

One last point...

“For elementary teachers we have people subbing for us for five, six, seven years before they get a long-term sub assignment,” (Warwick Human Resources Director) Healey said. “You have to remember, we’ve closed three elementary schools in the past three years.

This is one major aspect of the "human capital market" in education that goes unremarked upon in the current discussion. You've got one class of people (TFA-ers) who go through this highly selective recruitment process and then are given jobs they mostly hold onto for two or three years before leaving. But you've got a much, much, much larger class of people who spend years subbing, doing their jobs, doing what they're asked to do, proving over time that they can do their job to some working definition of doing their job, with the expectation that they will eventually get a full time job. That's not necessarily a good or bad thing in itself, but it is very much the way the world works.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Test Scores Drop

Don't Forget South Central:

Today, the CA Department of Education released the Accountability reports for schools throughout the state.  Although LAAMS had received its raw scores in August, the API score released today is significant because it measures how our school has been performing over time.  After many years of positive growth, this last school year did not produce continued growth.  We went down by 5 points in the API measure.

This score is bittersweet.  We have an organized and efficient campus, one that many families flock to, and one that takes pride in serving the community.  We knew, however, that the loss of 23 teachers due to the 2009 Reduction in Force would have a terrible impact on our school community, and by extension, our test scores.  It did.

We increased the number of students who sank to the the lowest of levels, Far Below Basic.  This is not an increase that we should have.  Because California gives the most points for moving students out of this level, you also get dinged pretty hard for increasing the numbers there.

This blog has served to chronicle how our school survived the brutal dismissal of some of our most esteemed and talented colleagues.  We survived, but our test scores show our survival was bloody.  There is no other way to explain how years and years of positive growth all of a sudden came to a stop.  According to the CDE website, our school has never had negative growth since it opened its doors in 1998.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Based on All Those Examples of Successful US Urban School Districts

Mark Zuckerberg:

Well, a lot of the data on reforming school districts shows that it actually takes eight to 10 years really to turn the thing around.

Really? Like... which urban school district in the US has been turned around? Really? Like, to the extent that if you go to the Waiting for Superman website it says "You're good! Go back to worrying about global warming!"

Hey, I Know Where This Guy Went to School!

Stephen Lazar:

I was extremely lucky: my teacher preparation program started with team-teaching a summer school class, where I was observed for the full three hours everyday. The 45 hours of observation and 15 hours of feedback I received that summer is more than my colleagues who entered the profession through Teach for America or the NYC Teaching Fellows receive in the first five years of their career. Then, as a student teacher, my program limited me to teaching two classes so I could sound the rest of the day observing other teachers. These three factors have served as the foundation for my subsequent successes in the classroom.

I'm still paying for my Brown MAT. It was a great investment.

The Ed Philanthropy Bubble

If you know it is an investment bubble when mom and pop investors get involved, then you know it is a philanthropy bubble when Mark Zuckerberg gives $100 million to Newark. While I'm strongly in favor of more equitable funding of urban (and rural) education, I think the record on dumping piles of short-term money on school districts is pretty clear. It doesn't work that well. And now we're entering a unique sellers market for school reformy services. Get ready for either some crazy inflation or a drop in quality.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Your PARCC Report Card Circa 2015

Reading through the winning $170 million proposal from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, you can come up with a pretty creditable approximation of an end of year report for their design as it stands now. You can click the image above or get a pdf here.

So... four columns. First two:

ELA-1 and ELA-2. Focused Literacy Assessments: Writing from Sources. These through- course components are designed to measure the most fundamental capacity essential to achieving college and career readiness according to the CCSS: the ability to read increasingly complex texts, draw evidence from them, draw logical conclusions and present analysis in writing. These focused assessments offer opportunities early in the school year to signal whether students are on track to readiness. The prompts for these components will be modeled on the CCSS; each component will consist of one to two extended constructed-response items that require students to write in response to a text.

My reading of this is one or two essays, one at the end of first quarter, another at the end of the second quarter. You can pretty much write the prompts right now, given the specificity of the standards they're to be based on, e.g., Determine the theme or central idea of [THE TEXT] and analyze in detail its development over the course of [THE TEXT], including how it emerges and is refined and shaped by specific details; provide an objective summary of [THE TEXT]. In an essay, s'il vous plaît.

The background color refers to the focus standards (blue) and activity/assessment standards (violet) from the first half of the year Common Core Curriculum Maps for the first half of 9th grade, iirc. I really just included them as a frame of reference for myself and saw no reason to take them out.

Notes on Bogosity: The scoring system (1-4) and example scores are arbitrary and bogus. I did try to score the particular standards that would be scored for each particular assessment.

Column three, research!

ELA-3. Extended Research/Writing Assessment. The evidence is overwhelming from employers and colleges alike that research skills play a critical role in postsecondary success, and the longer performance task in ELA/literacy is designed to measure the CCSS related to research and analysis. Over several sessions, students will be asked to identify or read a variety of materials and to compose a written essay based on them. For example, the assessment could require students to research independently several sources and evaluate their credibility to compose a coherent account of a subject or to take and defend a position on a controversial topic. Students also might be asked to synthesize information from a range of text formats. Such research skills are essential for college and career readiness but are rarely assessed by current summative tests and thus are often neglected in the classroom.

This is roughly end of third quarter. I highlighted in green the research standards that would be the biggest focus of this assessment, along with the speaking and listening standards in yellow, which are supposed to be assessed as a classroom activity but not as part of the larger accountability system.

I'm pretty much assuming that the writing standards will be assessed as part of the first three here.

The big finish!

ELA-4. End-of-Year Literacy Assessment. This component will be a computer-scored assessment that leverages advances in computer-enhanced item types. It will build on high- quality, authentic texts at the appropriate level of complexity; meaningful distractors for any selected-response items developed by content experts; and computer-enhanced items such as ones enabling students to view or listen to digital media. The assessment will draw on higher order skills such as critical thinking and analysis, measure language use and vocabulary, and use digital technologies to assess hard-to-measure skills (for example, by asking students to listen to a poem or a view scene from a play). Items will sample a range of cognitive demand and be designed to tap deeper into student depth of knowledge. As with the focused and longer through- course components, the end-of-year ELA/literacy component will model the prompts as closely as possible on the CCSS. The aim is for students to demonstrate command by reading unexpected text independently and proficiently.

This is end of year and is the more traditional "standardized test."

All of the above is to be munged together into one weighted annual combined score for the year.

This example is for 9th grade, but the strangest thing about this plan is that this is the shape of every year of English class from grades 3 to 11. As in any art or design task, in curriculum design you have to balance repetition and variation, and there is no proof to show you've hit that balance in any given case. But man, I don't think these folks have given much thought to what it'll feel like to belly up to the fake research paper test for the sixth time, never mind starting January for the sixth straight year by prepping for the fake research paper. Each year prepping for four essay questions that you feel like haven't changed since elementary school, with four new ones that are slight variations on the old ones.

And it is not clear to me that the first two focused essay questions are the right idea at all. Wouldn't you want your formative assessments to be broader and more closely aligned with the final assessment? How much weight is a test given at the end of the first quarter going to have in the final grade, or, in particular, the assessment of the teacher?

Anyhow, hopefully this little exercise has made this process seem a little more concrete to you. I couldn't log onto EVE tonight for some reason, so I figured I might as well get it off my chest and desktop.

"Teachers unions need to become social justice unions."

Dana Goldstein:

In 1990 (Alex) Caputo-Pearl graduated from Brown and became part of the first class of TFA recruits. Since then, his opinions on school reform have diverged significantly from those of TFA and many of its alums. He believes that teaching is a kind of community organizing and has worked with parents, for example, to bring more computers into high-poverty Crenshaw High School and to advocate for a more culturally relevant curriculum for students of color. (As a reward for his efforts, the district branded him a troublemaker in 2006 and transferred him to a school across town. Students and parents protested, and he was reinstated. Without tenure, he might have been fired.)

Caputo-Pearl sees unionization as key to this work. "What we're promoting is the idea that teachers unions need to become social justice unions," he says. "There certainly are parts of the union leadership and bureaucracy across the country that would argue the public schools are basically doing what they need to do right now and there's not a need for basic reform within the system, other than more funding. PEAC has never believed that is the case, especially in communities of color, and has been in the lead of trying to promote reform models, whether it be around small learning communities or around schools partnering with trusted outside organizations to have more autonomy."

For Caputo-Pearl, the Los Angeles Times teacher rankings are a distraction from what he calls "real school reform." "Data! There's a good term out there," he says with a laugh. "There are all sorts of problems with standardized tests, but that doesn't mean you don't look at them as one small tool to inform instruction. You do. The problem with value-added, on top of its severe lack of reliability and validity, is that if you use it in a high-stakes way where teachers are constantly thinking about it in relationship to their evaluations, you will smother a lot of the beautiful instincts that drive the inside of a school, with teachers talking to each other, collaborating and teaming up to support students."

Medium Raw

Michael Ruhlman:

But the facts are these. In the same way that great food writing is about more than just the food, so to is Medium Raw commentary on matters well beyond the incestuous world of restaurants and cooks. This book of memoir, travel writing, food writing and reportage is entertaining, informative, thought provoking, and genuinely artful in its structure and satisfactions. He would surely lose what little respect he has for me were I to say this to his face, but Bourdain proves himself here to be the most insightful commentator on food and restaurants and chefs writing today. By far. By a mile. I seriously hope this is the last book he writes. He’s a freak of nature, and somehow it’s just best that way, that he remain untouchable.

Message from the Stone Age

Matthew Miller, The Two Percent Solution, 2003:

A serious plan would be do launch a new program that we could think of as "Title I for Teachers." The federal government would raise salaries for every teacher in poor schools in America by 50 percent. But this offer would be conditioned on two fundamental reforms. First the teachers unions would have to let us raise the top half of performers in the teacher corps another 50 percent on average. Second, the unions would have to streamline the dismissal process for poor-performing teachers to a fair, swift, four-to-six-month period.

Whether or not that would have been a good deal is open to question, but it is pretty clear how this idea has evolved over the subsequent years -- the offer of substantial extra money has gone away. Ironically, Michelle Rhee might have gotten closest to this deal, but was hindered by her own deficiencies as a leader and administrator, an overemphasis on speed of implementatoin, by the fact that you can't simply substitute private for public funding in this case, and by the historical weakness and corruption in the Washington Teacher's Union.

Regardless, I bring this up to frame the revisionist analyses of the Nashville merit pay experiment:

The second school of thought, and the one that interests serious people, is the proposition that rethinking teacher pay can help us reshape the profession to make it more attractive to talented candidates, more adept at using specialization, more rewarding for accomplished professionals, and a better fit for the twenty-first century labor force. And, whether or not bonuses linked to test scores had any effect on measured achievement tells me absolutely nothing on this score.

OK, I can buy that, as long as we're clear about how teaching is going to become more "attractive" and "rewarding." There are lots of things other than money that make a given teaching job more appealing -- professional autonomy, collaboration, support from administration. But these aren't rewards, everyone needs them. They are, in my book, preconditions to success.

If you're talking about rewarding teachers, and making the job more enticing to extrinsically motivated people, you're going to have to put some cash on the barrelhead, and you're going to have to lay the political groundwork for paying teachers more. I don't see that happening today, and if, in the end, we're not talking about raising salaries, we aren't really going to improve the status or quality of teachers.

Also, if the market becomes more efficient -- there is a more direct relationship between the quality of teachers and their cost -- this will have a negative effect on schools that are exploiting current inefficiencies. That is, schools which are dependent on young teachers who are under-compensated in the current system. If every school becomes more expensive to run as it becomes more successful, we'll need a different financing system, to be sure.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

CANADA: Write Your Governor to Demand World Class Standards!

The funniest part of the Waiting for Superman website is probably the CANADA page, which features this quote at top-left:

Canada has consistently performed well in international achievement assessments and is a top performer internationally in Reading, Math and Science.

Indeed! Without using the strategies you advocate, including national standards! If you follow the GET THE FACTS button you can find out exciting things like how in Canada:

Whole system reform means that every vital part of the system – school, community, district, and government – contributes individually and in concert to forward movement and success, using practice, not research, as the driver of reform.


...reducing class size can make a positive difference to teaching and learning particularly when combined with other policies that support effective classroom practice.


The Boston page is less funny but still puzzling. It says:

In 2006, Boston Public Schools received the Broad Prize for the best school district in the nation, but scores have since slipped.

OK... first off, what does that say about the Broad Prize? Perhaps their "criteria... grounded in research-based school and district practices found to be effective in three key areas: teaching and learning, district leadership, and operations and support systems" are flawed. Except, of course, that Boston's scores have not significantly slipped since 2006. They also cite this statistic:

6.4% of (Boston "traditional" public school students) will drop out.
Which sounds pretty good to me, particularly since I'm used to hearing cohort on-time graduation rates now, not annual dropout rates (which are much lower by nature). I think they're a little confused too, because the Chicago page says "42.5% of them will drop out," so while Chicago is worse regardless, this is not an apples to apples comparison.

And, in what seems to be the standard "Get Involved" option they encourage you to write the governor and encourage him to support the Common Core standards, which, of course, he already does in Massachusetts. They don't try to explain why you should prefer the Common Core standards either. They couldn't have chosen a less engaging way to get people involved.

This is a mess, really. I'm not quaking in my boots.

Angry Parents

Frank Murphy:

It is difficult to create a safe and orderly school when there are adults in the school community who are acting out in an angry and scary manner. The presences of several of these parents in a school would impede the success of any school reform effort. This is an obstacle that is often ignored by the reformers who proclaim the slogan of “Make No Excuses.”

Indeed, how are these parents handled in a "no excuses" school?

I Heart Atrios


I admit to not following education reform debates very closely, not because I don't think it's important but because, well, limited time and all that. But I gather the basic narrative that is out there is that well-meaning school administrators are thwarted at every step due to the overwhelming power of teachers unions. Now I'm sure there are bad teachers who are difficult to fire, but when I follow school news locally it seems to me that it's the administration who are incompetent at best and corrupt at worst.

And, no, of course not saying that about all people in school administration, just that it's remarkable that the people who run the show, and can more freely speak to the media, are blameless.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say they are blameless until the exact moment they move on to a new job, at which point their record at the old job will be seamlessly absorbed into the failed status quo, and their reform march continues afresh in a new venue.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Test Scores and Criminality

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

We can all agree on the substance of that statement--eight percent of eighth graders doing math at grade level is criminal.

Whether or not we'd ever literally agree with that, figuratively it is still dependent on a number of factors, including how do you define grade level?

In this case, the 8% figure is based on the level at proficient or above accorting to NAEP.

But, as Gerald Bracey wrote:

The National Academy of Sciences put it this way: “NAEP’s current achievement-setting procedures remain fundamentally flawed. The judgment tasks are difficult and confusing; raters’ judgments of different item types are internally inconsistent; appropriate validity evidence for the cut scores is lacking; and the process has produced unreasonable results.”

The academy recommended use of the levels on a “developmental” basis (whatever that means) until something better could be developed. In 1996, the National Academy of Education recommended the current achievement levels “be abandoned by the end of the century and replaced by new standards … .”

Thanks to GFBrandenburg for a little help with this.

DfER Hot List Results in RI

OK, how'd the Democrats for Education Reform "Hot List" candidates do in Rhode Island?

  • Angel 
of Providence, 
make that 

    Taveras registered a strong win citywide with around half the vote, with the "old guard" candidates splitting the rest. This probably means more charters, but it is rather unclear what it might mean for the PPSD (other than closing schools due to losing students to charters...). I'm not sure in what sense we're less a "hotbed for education reform" than the rest of the state. What'll probably really happen is a maintenance of the reformy status quo.
  • Rep.
 Ken Vaudreuil
 - These
in trouble 
a tremendous 

    To be honest, I know nothing about either of these guys except that they lost.

In a somewhat related note, I wouldn't bet on Deborah Gist replacing Michelle Rhee, but it is worth noting that RI's next governor will either be independent Linc Chafee, who immediately spoke out against the Central Falls firings and is generally sane, or Democrat Frank Caprio, who is generally not my kind of Democrat, but his wife is a Providence teacher. So the worm will slowly turn on the makeup of the RI Board of Regents, among other things, moderating RI's reformy direction and giving Gist an excuse to leave if she wanted to.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Against All Authorities Under Assault

I finally got my act together enough to participate in a fleet battle last night, which was summarized on the Damu'Khonde forums thusly:

some TCU (enemy Territorial Claim Unit) shooting, frantic battle on the TCU, kinda like having sex the first time, very fast, uncoordinated, ending in someone running away

Also, I died in the process (and awoke in a fresh clone), which may or may not stretch the metaphor.

The strategic situation in Providence has changed considerably in the last month, while I've continued to be more or less on hiatus. Ushra'Khan's achievement of our primary strategic goals -- driving CVA and the allied Holders from Providence -- hinged on our relationship with Against All Authorities (AAA), the strongest power in Eve's "south" over the past year. Since CVA's collapse, Providence has been split up among many alliances, including Damu'Khonde (nee Ushra'Khan), with a mutual non-invasion pact (NIP) guaranteed by AAA.

To make a long story short, AAA has undergone a change in leadership, and one of the main partners in the "Southern Coalition," Atlas, collapsed on their flank. Sensing weakness, AAA is now buckling under full-scale assault. In the meantime, the NIP has fallen apart, and Damu'Khonde's key gateway system of KBP7-G fell to a force including elements of Pandemic Legion, a potent mercenary alliance who have one the last three Eve Alliance Tournaments.

It remains to be seen how this will play out. Providence is both well fortified and resource poor, so it is possible that major operations will swirl around rather than through our systems. In the meantime, Damu'Khonde will be backing AAA, even in a losing effort. Ushra'Khan thrived more on vengeance than holding territory, so a forced return to our roots won't kill us.

Also, it is worth noting that fleet tactics have changed considerably in the past couple months, mostly due to some innovation by Pandemic Legion. This is the kind of thing you play giant sandbox wargames for...

Worlds Collide

John45 is a reporter for EveNews24 covering news from the "south" of the Eve cluster and a "student from CHS (Central High School, presumably), Philadelphia, PA."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Common Core Math at EduCon 2.3?

I'm probably going to propose a session on Common Core ELA for EduCon, and it would be cool if there was an accompanying session on Math. Anyone interested in taking that up?

Watch Out for the Stronger Tea

Rick Hess:

Third, a fascinating twist to all of this may be that Rhee's defeat--and the defeat of three like-minded reformers running for the New York legislature--may start to convince a larger number of would-be reformers that no one can really change dysfunctional school systems as they exist. They may figure, "If Rhee couldn't do it, we need a whole new playbook." This will ramp up efforts by outfits like ConnCAN to get serious about the political ground game. With any luck, it may also start to wean more than a few would-be reformers from their affection for weak brews like mayoral control and merit pay and towards more muscular efforts to dismantle, rethink, or bypass familiar schools and systems.

Indeed. mayoral control and merit pay are stupid, half-assed strategies that won't work, and I've always thought this was transparently obvious. I agree that the interpretation of the setbacks for mayoral control and the inevitable disappointments of merit pay and other lame aspects of these reform plans will be to drive reformers even more to push outside the traditional public school system, just like Gates' failures in small school reform within districts didn't humble them, but just drove them to charters and national policy.

You're Welcome

For the sake of completeness, I should mention that, while the poor condition of the facilities at FHS was the overriding argument for the school's closure, the Paul Cuffee charter school's high school has moved into the building. I don't really think that was the grand conspiracy all along, and, to be sure, the building is in lousy shape, but for better or worse, it is good enough for a charter.

Image from Wilson, by Dan Clowes.

Who Ran That Data Warehouse Project Off the Track?

Bill Turque:

Fenty appointed Briggs, a former Bush-era Education Dept. official, to replace Deborah A. Gist in April 2009. She helped shepherd the District's Race to the Top application to acceptance and moved to put a badly off-track effort to build central education data warehouse back on its feet.

Maybe it'll go better in Rhode Island.

I Wouldn't Call it "Ironic"

City School Stories (Philly):

The implementation of Promise Academies is barely under way and it is already clear that few highly experienced teachers are being employed at these schools. For years, the school district’s leadership has argued that it was a high priority to redeploy its best teachers to the schools that most needed them. Now when they finally have the ability to do so, they chose to primarily employ new or relatively inexperienced teachers.

Why Am I Not Surprised?


“Unfortunately, the Providence School District has told us … that it has no intention of making the schedule changes as directed by the Commissioner of Education,” Weizenbaum said. “Instead, they intend to appeal the commissioner’s decision, triggering a legal process that routinely takes months and months.”

In the meantime, students and teachers must deal with the shorter planning times, she said.

“While we intend to press vigorously for enforcement of the common planning time regulation, we urge the district to work with us to enforce the law so we can all move forward.”

Not like Gist doesn't have any tools in her shed (from August 2009):

WOONSOCKET — Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist has warned School Committee members that they could be sued and Supt. Robert J. Gerardi could have his superintendent’s certification questioned if the committee follows through on its threat to defy state rulings on hiring new staff for its literacy program.

In a letter she wrote “In my capacity as the chief law enforcement officer for public education in Rhode Island,” Gist offered to confer with the committee about meeting state education standards in the face of more than $3 million in state aid cuts. But she added she had a legal obligation to make sure the laws concerning education were enforced.

“I will not fail in this responsibility,” she said.

I'm waiting for Tom Brady to get a version of that letter... but not holding my breath.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Making the Standards Fit the Technology

Diana Senechal:

Now, what would “mass personalization” look like in education?

We already have an example in the the School of One, piloted in New York City and now undergoing expansion. In this system, teachers receive computer-generated lesson plans based on computerized analyses of student skill mastery. Instruction is modular and ever-changing; one day a teacher may teach three topics to three groups, and the next day the groups and topics may be shuffled.

The new assessments based on the Common Core State Standards may end up resembling this model. According to Resnick and Berger, the American Examination System would “mass customize a much wider range of formative assessments at the student and class level.” The technology would figure out “which formative assessment to give and when”—thus relieving teachers of the burden of such decisions.

Moreover, each assessment will be personalized “so that the enhanced resolution it provides is targeted to an individual student’s current learning level as well as to appropriate standards of reliability and validity.”

But here’s the catch. If a test is so closely tailored to a student’s needs, what happens to the subject itself? What would happen to a course on lyric poetry? How could a teacher focus on Tennyson when required to give five different formative assessments—none of which have anything to do with Tennyson—to five groups of students? How would teachers teach complex topics in mathematics or history, topics that require time, thought, and struggle? How would students learn to strive for things beyond their immediate grasp?

Customized assessments are likely to fragment instruction. With different students in the same class taking different tests, and all the pressure on teachers to raise scores on these tests, there will be little room for literature courses at all—or for anything that requires sustained instruction and study.

Students will likely receive profiles of their abilities, progress, learning styles, learner types, and more. Their assignments and class work will be matched to their profiles. Schools may even go further; in an effort to motivate students, they may purchase “relevance engines” that match reading passages to students on the basis of their interests and moods. Students will expect the passages to appeal to them immediately.

I share Diana's general concerns, but would focus the blame on the new standards, not the technology. As a technology, I'm actually kind of bullish about School of One, as long as you don't tell me it is "disruptive."

My concern is that we've adopted educational goals that are so limited that a School of One type model could encompass the entire English Language Arts curriculum. And that, in fact, the peculiar organization of the standards (e.g., recapitulating the full set of reading standards for both History/SS and Science/Technology) either intentionally or purposefully advantages a strong online component.

For example, the Über School of One system will, in the future, be able to seamlessly blend evaluation of the science literacy standards into its science instruction, and vice versa, adapting both the content and difficulty level to the student's level. Given the de-emphasis of the more human parts of the humanities, it will be difficult for humans to compete with that.

On the other hand, I can envision a nirvana where the computers pick up the more mundane, rote parts of education and leave the best parts for teachers. Right now, we're instead taking the approach of just defining the less assessable parts out of the educational process.

UK Cooling on SIF?

UK Department for Education:

Effective interoperable systems are those which can exchange information with one or more systems efficiently, using an open, standardised approach. This reduces the burden on front-line providers and helps to lower costs.

To achieve a coherent approach, the DfE commissioned an 'Interoperability Review' to look at the data exchange approaches, standards and interaction models being used by organisations and information systems within, and outside, the sector. The review was completed in the first quarter of 2010, and is based on desk study, market analysis and a series of interviews with a range of people including: representatives from government bodies (central and local), non-departmental public bodies and education service providers.

The research and analysis also includes a review of the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF), an open standard defined by SIF group for the exchange of information between IT systems used in schools. It summarises the analysis of the research carried out, and recommends the most appropriate approach to achieve effective interoperability based on the current landscape.

While SIF has made some inroads in the UK in recent years, this report is rather negative:

In summary, SIF was not designed for the UK education skills and children’s services system, and requires substantial vendor specific workarounds to meet requirements in key areas such as security. These workarounds are being developed in the absence of enterprise wide architecture standards. This will inhibit the extensibility, scalability, openness and flexibility needed in order for SIF to be considered as a viable approach for regional and national interoperability (Tiers 2 and 3). SIF could be considered as a viable solution for local interoperability (Tier 1) if a local authority so chooses, as long as it complies with the framework of national standards outlined above.

This is, frankly a good think in my book -- we all badly need an alternative to SIF, which has blocked innovation in educational data systems for over a decade.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Providence Model Staffing Initiative

I'd love to know more about the "Providence Model Staffing Initiative," which is apparently some kind of partnership between RIDE, PPSD, and The New Teacher Project. There is a site manager, Nora Meah, and an old job description in Google cache:

  • Managing on-site, day-to-day operations, including maintaining the teacher applicant database, scheduling interviews between candidates and principals, and responding to candidate communications in a timely manner
  • Managing a targeted recruitment campaign
  • Using PPSD school specific and TNTP selection criteria to select high quality teacher candidates for the district applicant pool
  • Providing outstanding customer service to and communicating regularly with candidates and principals
  • Maintaining data management systems for the initiative
  • Collecting and analyzing teacher hiring data to benchmark progress against goals
  • Generating innovative solutions to program challenges and differentiating support services as needed
  • Working with principals to identify vacancies and refer potential candidates
  • Answering questions and helping principals solve problems related to teacher hiring
  • Planning, organizing, and managing the logistics of regular principal meetings, site visits, and hiring events
  • Working with the client and TNTP Site Manager on additional projects as necessary

I bring this up because the performance of HR in the PPSD was horrible this year, even in comparison to their previous low standards. Complete lack of communication and coordination within the department. It was so bad that the union had a special meeting to explain to affected teachers that they shouldn't take the department's behavior personally and that it was due more to incompetence than malice. Cold comfort to be sure.

The best way to make progress toward resolving a specific issue seemed to be to get the union's executive director to personally contact the superintendent, or otherwise go kiss somebody's ring in administration high enough to get on the phone and yell at human resources.

The specific competent people at HR who in past years could be relied upon to sort out typical snafus and catch errors now are demoralized and seemingly under orders not to resolve problems themselves.

Just imagine a new season of the Wire where Daniels is trying to get his people back together, and he runs into some kid on a non-profit's payroll and a Harvard MBA explaining why he can't have McNulty and Lester back. It was kind of like that.

A couple larger issues:

  1. unity of command - I'm afraid the PPSD is going to get harder to run (if you can imagine that) due to RIDE and these NGO's (that's really what they are, aren't they?) getting more and more deeply entwined in district operations. Who's in charge? Who's responsible?
  2. To whom is a New Teacher Project employee embedded in a government office accountable to? Can Providence fire her? Who evaluates her?
  3. You know what would be awesome? If The Broad Foundation and friends could actually get us people to work in human resources who, you know, had experience running human resources in large enterprises. It is not that helpful to give us kids with Peace Corps and Brown Urban Ed. Master's.

Finally... for you ed reform organization completists, here's one I hadn't seen before: Education Pioneers, which seems to be oriented towards creating just this kind of highly-educated but not-really-qualified staffers for your organization.

The Heisenberg Principle Rocks!

Joe Carducci:

In the late seventies I used to look up the album and singles charts to see how the first punk releases on Sire or Elektra were doing. Often you’d see that the first Television album or the second Ramones album were stalling in the second hundred. Successes like Patti Smith or Talking Heads were stalling in the nineties. (We were told in late 1981 that BF’s “Damaged” was under the “bubbling unders”, meaning something like #240.) When Billboard began their Dance chart sometime circa 1980 it was the one end-run around radio’s airplay blockade and Rolling Stone’s rear-guard defense of its platinum gods against the barbarians at the gate (see once again both Lee Abrams, and Jan Wenner). The Dance chart was in part assembled by sales, but it also took play list reports from hip gay clubs in major cities who were playing stuff like The Contortions, Magazine, PiL, Liquid Liquid, etc. Because these kinds of records showed up on that chart the buying policy of mainstream shops and chains would kick in. Depending on their customers they might buy just the top ten from the chart, or the whole list.

Before you knew it all kinds of British bands as well as big city bands were moving their music toward that Dance chart! It was the only break in the dam of the American music Industry, but still it was odd to have former noise bands like Throbbing Gristle, D.A.F., and SPK looking for booty action. I remember being surprised when Chicagoans I knew (Jim Nash, Al Jourgenson, and the Sport of Kings guys) talked about cutting test lacquers of their stuff to play over the best club DJ systems to gauge response. It seemed like some kind of revenge of the audiophile via the gay underground.

Anyway that Dance chart did some damage. We couldn’t get The Minutemen with their grubby ear-surgery funk onto that chart, and though SST triggered the need for new rock charts, these weren’t added until it was too late to help us. The CMJ charts which collated college radio and other non-commercial station airplay were becoming real enough that eventually Billboard added a dozen new Modern Rock-type charts so as to provide information on airplay and sales at the level of independent distribution and non-commercial radio. Actually these charts too were quickly filled up with wannabes and actual major label “indie” styled hopefuls. But again lazy, poorly run record stores and chains used these charts to buy so instead of collecting information they created it. Don’t worry, Timothy White might have said, the Heisenberg Principle rocks!

One thing we know about the web and 3G networks is that they change everything in a content-version of Moore’s Law which together yield faster and faster delivery of smellier and smellier garbage to you the former listener of music, now consumer of media. Maybe the new Billboard service instead of playing both sides (established stars and unknowns) against the middle will finally dissolve the stars in an acid bath of amateurs leaving no money at all to collect for anyone who tries to locate the middle and stand there with an open basket, whether its an old trade mag founded in 1894 to track billboard advertising in Cincinnati, New York, and Chicago, or last year’s flavor of social network.

The Karl Hendricks Trio peaked around 60 on the CMJ charts.

Better Late Than Never

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — Hundreds of Hope High School students protested. They marched. They walked out of school. And Tuesday, they prevailed.

State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist ruled that the Providence School Department must maintain the original amount of time dedicated to teacher planning at Hope by restoring 84 minutes of “common planning time.”

“After some hard disappointments, after not being listened to, it’s really important that they experienced success,” said the students’ lawyer, Miriam Weizenbaum. “They wanted to make a difference. They are committed to their education and they used the process really well.”

“This shows you can be from an urban school and do something big,” said Jose Velasquez, a Hope senior and one of the organizers of the protest. “I’m really proud of Hope High School students. It taught me that change comes with numbers and that you need to be involved. It’s been an unforgettable experience.”

The School Department says it will appeal the commissioner’s ruling and has no further comment.

In their petition to the state Department of Education, several Hope students and their parents argued that the district violated a regulation adopted in 2008 by the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

Gist agreed. The Board of Regents’ regulation says that school districts “shall not reduce the number of sessions or the amount of time allotted to common planning time [as] currently practiced.” In its brief, the School Board acknowledged that common planning time at Hope would be reduced this fall from 87 minutes twice a week to one 90-minute period.

Based on the PPSD's reaction and RIDE's delay of this decision until three weeks into the new school year, it isn't over, but it is another round in the student's favor.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Exactly This and No More

Lucas Hilderbrand:

The most common complaints I hear from other university-level teachers is that students don’t read and can’t write. Having grown up with the internet, they tend to skim readings as onscreen PDFs but have difficulty finding the central argument or supporting evidence of an essay.

The writing that students do is almost universally formulaic, and I find that students are uncomfortable breaking out of the generalizing and banal template they’ve been taught. Schools are embracing digital learning tools, but now students assume everything they need to know can be Googled. They learn how to write without a voice. This reflects the lack of deep thinking. But I don’t blame the students. This is a systemic problem. We need to stop teaching how to pass a test and begin teaching our K-12 students how to think.

The effect of the testing regime can also be found in the student query I dislike the most: “What do I have to do to get an A?” This question demonstrates a commitment to achieving a certain mark but no engagement with thinking. And it leads many students to challenge their final grades, displaying a strong sense of entitlement as if they were customers. There has always been a degree of entitlement, particularly at elite schools, and even public universities are privatizing and connected to the market. But to see learning approached like shopping is worrisome. It always disappoints me when students don’t care as much about learning as I do about teaching.

If the Common Core works as designed, in, um... six years? all arriving freshmen should be much better at "finding the central argument or supporting evidence of an essay." Whether or not that'll take care of the rest of these concern remains to be seen.

Also, expect things to take a weird turn once all high school graduates are officially "college ready" and the pressure is on to increase college grad rates. A whole new kind of entitlement.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Inverse Relationship Between "Reform" and "Performance"

George Wood:

The recent headline in the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press was sent to me by my good friend Carl Glickman: “Low-income Vt. students rank No. 1: Report faults state on education reform.”

It seems that despite the gains made by the kids in Vermont, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) gave the state an “F” for education reform. Incredulous, I decided to check out ALEC’s web site for verification. Guess what, while they give Vermont their #1 “performance ranking” they actually give Vermont a grade of “D”, dead last, on education reform.

I have often thought that debates about public education go on in an ‘evidence-free’ zone, but this takes the cake!

To understand how this first to last phenomenon occurs, you have to see how the smart guys and gals at ALEC come up with their ratings. The performance rating, the one that puts Vermont on top, comes from student gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fourth- and eighth-grade reading and mathematics exams over the period of 2003 to 2009. In particular, they look to see what states help low-income children increase their scores the most. Like tests or not, congratulations to Vermont and its teachers for their good work.

But when it comes to rating education reform, ideology, not data, raises its ugly head.

John Lombardi for Mayor of Providence

For what it's worth, I'm supporting John Lombardi for Providence mayor. The most trenchant part of his education platform is this:

Providence Public School administrators must be held accountable for the performance of our schools. The connection between the mayoral administrative hires and the skills required to perform the duties expected of them is crucial to the success of our schools. We must have the right administrators, with the right capabilities and skills, with the right resources, in the right job.

I'm more than a bit creeped out by three local Rhode Island candidates appearing on DfER's "Hot List," including Providence mayoral candidate Angel Taveras. Sorry, I don't want our own version of Adrian Fenty.

I think one problem with being a small state is you look too much like a convenient petri dish.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Is There a Connection Here?

ProJo, last Saturday:

PROVIDENCE — The state Department of Education is expected to issue a decision on Hope High School next week, or at least rule on students’ motion to restore teachers’ common planning time.

Miriam Weizenbaum, the lawyer for several Hope students who filed the appeal, said Friday’s Superior Court hearing was called off after Weizenbaum agreed to give the department a few more days to issue a ruling.

Projo, this Thursday:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- As promised, $33 million to protect teacher jobs has been awarded to Rhode Island, making the state one of the first to receive federal "education jobs" money. But state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist is cautioning districts to not be too hasty in spending it.

Providence is slated for $8.7 million. That should cover enough teachers to run a block schedule for two more years and stay in compliance with the BEP. Presumably we'll find out tomorrow. I don't know what else they're waiting for.

Wait, How Many Standards Are There?

PARCC Race to the Top Assessment Application:

Collectively, the ELA/literacy assessment components will assess the 10 core standards in reading and writing and the six core standards in speaking and listening and language in each grade from 3–11. (See Appendix (A)(3)-A for example items.)

Are there 10 standards in reading and writing or 40 in reading and 20 in writing? Because I see forty (ok, 39 technically) and twenty. Or is this like the three-in-one God thing? The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost?

But really, this is not a small issue. Which standards actually count?

But NOT Style

PARCC Race to the Top Assessment Application:

In alignment with the standards, the through-course components will require students to draw pieces of textual evidence from the given texts and read texts of appropriate complexity independently and proficiently. In addition, the components may also ask students about a theme, character development, setting, organizational structure or point of view within a text(s).

They mean exactly what they say, and no more.

Lest There Be Any Doubt

PARCC Race to the Top Assessment Application:

As with the focused and longer through course components, the end-of-year ELA/literacy component will model the prompts as closely as possible on the CCSS.

You should be able to come up with a very close approximation of the ultimate form of these tests with about 45 minutes work. Or less.

When Common Sense Meets the Common Core

One thing I need to emphasize in my crabbing about the Common Core ELA standards (in high school) is simply that people are eventually going to realize that they are drawn in such a way that classic, straightforward, common sense activities in the English Language Arts classroom are now not aligned with our national standards.

Since I've not actually taught English for quite a while now, rather than try to generate examples out of thin air, I'm probably going to jump on examples I come across in my general reading. This is a general disclaimer that these analyses are not meant as critiques of the teacher. The point is, in fact, that the teacher is doing something completely normal and fine, but the standards are tweaked.

That out of the way, I just read this over at Relentless Pursuit of Acronyms:

Kate: Sure. Just a few weeks ago, my students were wrapping up a unit on protest poetry (I teach English 10). The standard I was gearing at was an understanding and ability to analyze an author’s style. I had then analyzing a variety of poems about protest for style, which they were doing well with. The culminating project for the unit was to create their own example of a protest writing and to create and defend their style in the writing. It was the first time I had really upped the level of Blooms skills I was requiring of my students, but they completely soared at the challenge.

Here's the breakdown:


  • Reading poems (as part of the range of reading).
  • Making an argument (to defend their own choices).
  • Presenting information.

Not Aligned

  • Analyzing an author's style.
  • Writing a poem.
  • Writing a "protest" other than an argument based on logos.

See how this works?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Love Theme to The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I need to be warned before the next Crow Flies reunion. I'll totally fly back to PGH for it.

Open Source and Interoperability in New Assessment Systems

PARCC Race to the Top Assessment Application:

The Partnership will select one or more technology development partner(s) through a competitive bidding process, and that partner(s) will be subject to strict intellectual property agreements that require all of the technology created with the support of federal grant resources to be open source. These agreements will also ensure that any pre-existing technology employed in the system is either open source or documented in a fully transparent way to make clear the process for system integration. In this way, prospective technology partners will know in advance the exact specifications of what they need to build to be well-positioned to deliver the assessment delivery and reporting platform to states in time for the start of field testing in 2012–13 and for full operational administration in 2014–15. They will also be able to use any technology components created with federal funding as part of their own systems.

This approach will allow the Partnership to leverage its work with technology development partners to develop a next-generation, open-source system while also creating a dynamic marketplace in which technology providers must compete for state business once the assessment system is fully implemented in all Partnership states; in this way, the Partnership will ensure its technology approach is and remains state-of-the-art.

Interoperability. The architecture for the assessment system will include several integrated open-source technology tools. Partnership states anticipate that those tools and the data they provide can be incorporated by states and districts into their existing systems and in their future technology plans. To support the vision of interoperability, the Partnership will work with member states, the U.S. Department of Education and national foundations focused on developing an education technology platform approach to coordinate work.


My Ambivalence About Online Learning

The "disruptive innovation," cost-cutting and productivity arguments for online learning have made me skeptical if not hostile to the concept, but it isn't really my natural state at all. In particular, even with limited technological tools at my disposal (and a relatively brief period as a classroom teacher), I saw this sort of thing several times:

I think often of one of my students, a 17-year-old whose charge was serious enough to keep him detained at Youth Services Center for close to four months. He, like many other DC kids his age, struggled mightily to read aloud. When I first got to know him, he outwardly refused to participate, trying to disguise his ignorance with fake bravado, eschewing my encouragement, directing anger toward me when I would approach him with a worksheet, or a question, or simply a handshake. The times I heard him say, "You know I ain't working, mo!" were countless. ("Mo" is the local kids' way of saying "dude," or "man," or "bro.") But I tried different ways of talking to him, offering little incentives here and there, and he gradually responded to the positivity.

Within a month he was writing—copying other students' papers mostly, but it was a start. Every time he would copy, I would give him a fist bump and say, "Tomorrow, you're going to write more." And he would nod.

Soon he was constructing short sentences on his own. The reading barrier seemed insurmountable, though. He had no confidence at all in his ability to read in front of others. When I would ask him to read a paragraph, a sentence, even a word on a flash card, the response was usually the same: "You know I can't fuckin' read, mo! Stop asking me!"

But we kept trying. After a few months, he agreed to try a software program in which he could read words that popped onto a computer screen and say them into a microphone. He took a liking to it, locking in on the words and staying busy on the computer for up to 20 minutes at a time. But whenever I would walk behind him to try and hear him speak, he would freeze up. Sometimes he would rip off his headphones and glare at me.

We kept trying. In a one-on-one setting, he would say the words on the page out loud, in a soft mumble, and I could barely hear him.

Every day, in front of the class, I kept asking him to read. Nothing, except the same predictable outburst.

For older kids "with absolutely no positive associations in a classroom; and a local dialect driven by what the kids call 'joning'—ribbing, busting one's chops, giving people a hard time," just giving them a break from the social context and a computer to work with privately can be transformative. Even if it is not the whole answer (it isn't), it should be a part of the toolkit.

2010 RIDE Commissioner's Review of Providence Central Office

ProJo, August 19:

Democratic congressional candidate Anthony P. Gemma on Wednesday attacked Mayor David N. Cicilline, one of his Democratic opponents, blaming the mayor for low student performance and high administrator costs in the city public schools.

Gemma’s criticism focused on a report issued in late February by the state commissioner of education’s office reviewing the school district’s central office, which said that the school district demonstrates little to no evidence of compliance with some state standards for course alignment, student proficiency, and graduation requirements.

I couldn't find a copy of this report on the RIDE website, so I contacted the Gemma campaign, and they sent me a copy of the Commissioner's Review Executive Summary - 2010 criteria, Central Office 02-22-2010. It is just a pdf of a scan, so it isn't searchable. 11 pages.

It is a deeply, deeply depressing document on every level.

I guess we'll just start at the beginning and go until I get tired of this.

a. Complete alignment of all courses and assessments to the reading, writing, oral communication and math GSE's and subsequent gap analysis

Basically, despite a singleminded focus on curriculum alignment and consistency throughout the district to the exclusion of all other considerations since the beginning of the Brady administration, the state still gave the PPSD low marks in this area. RIDE's paperwork requirements here are a bit extreme ("Evidence of cross-curricular alignment should be provided if available in all content areas."), based on alignment to standards the state is going to drop in favor of the Common Core at the earliest possible moment, and, in the end, of dubious value in actually improving outcomes.

There's lots of complicated data analysis of dubious value that PPSD hasn't provided:

b. Analysis of disaggregated course taking patterns to ensure that all students, regardless of their pathway or high school, have access and opportunity to achieve proficiency.

I don't understand what their fishing for in what would be a rather complicated data analysis. Schools or "pathways" that on paper don't provide even access or opportunity for proficiency? What would that school even look like?

c. Full implementation of personalization structures across the district

Yes, you must be completely aligned, cross-aligned, and standardized, and fully personalized. Look, running a school district is inherently about balancing these issues; simply demanding that the district be totally standard and totally personalized is magical thinking.

d. Common planning time for all teachers in the district

If this is so blasted important, why has RIDE still not ruled on the Hope student's appeal to retain the common planning time in their schedule, in the second week of the new school year? Also, a reform trap, "A variety of achievement data in addition to NECAP must be used to plan CPT." Yet, only NECAP is used to evaluate the school.

You get the idea...

I'm afraid at this point anyone trying to run the PPSD will be hopelessly hamstrung by RIDE, whose lack of experience successfully running an urban school district is showing in this document. I'm almost feeling sympathetic to the PPSD central office.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Ten Years and a Day Ago... Where Are They Today?

City of Providence Press Release, September 6, 2000:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -The Providence School District, Coventry School District and The Big Picture Company will receive grants totaling $20 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the creation of smaller, personalized learning environments that help all students achieve. The three grants will be the first in a series of education grants announced by the Foundation this week.

The grants will be announced today at the Charles N. Fortes Magnet Academy in Providence. Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci, Jr., schools Superintendent Diana Lam, Coventry superintendent John Deasy, The Big Picture Company's co-directors Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky, will join Ronald V. Gallo, President of the Rhode Island Foundation and Tom Vander Ark, Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at the event. The Rhode Island Foundation, the oldest community foundation in America, will administer the grants for both Providence School District and Coventry School District.

Then and now...


Clear goals and improvement plans, as well as a commitment to meet the seven criteria of high-achievement school districts identified by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, made Coventry and Providence strong applicants, noted Vander Ark. Both districts will use their five-year grants to create smaller learning communities that help all students excel. Specifically, funds will help improve leadership and instruction, raise standards, strengthen assessment and accountability, and infuse technology into the classroom. The major part of the grants (80 percent) will go to the districts' schools, allowing each school to build its own improvement plan.

Under current Superintendent Tom Brady, Providence has merged or closed the bulk of its small learning communities. Exactly why is difficult to say, as this strategy was not consistently explained in advance of its implementation, but the majority of the new small high schools outperformed their larger peers. Uniformity is the new watchword, and Providence seems to have forgotten this grant ever happened.

The third grant to be announced will go to The Big Picture Company, a non-profit organization, which designed and created two public schools in Providence - The Metropolitan High School and Highlander K-8 Charter School. The organization will receive $3,450,000 to open 12 similar small schools of fewer than 300 students across the country over the next five years. The new schools would form a network of like-minded schools offering focused learning environments where students and staff are motivated, expectations are high, and achievement levels reflect this dedication. The first school will open in Detroit this September, with schools in Seattle and Massachusetts opening next year.

Big Picture now has an international network of over 40 schools and is the premiere progressive high school "brand." Highlander Charter School is no longer affiliated with Big Picture and was threatened with closure by RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist in the spring of 2010 in a particularly shameless bit of political posturing.

Coventry High School will open this fall as an "America's Choice" model high school, where every student is expected to achieve at high levels, the curriculum is focused around core academic standards, all students leave prepared for college and community partnerships provide strong links at all levels.

I found is no sign that there is any remaining connection between America's Choice and Coventry High School. America's Choice was spun off in 2004 by the non-profit National Center on Education and the Economy as a for-profit company. It has recently been acquired by Pearson. Like the Gates Foundation, it is a major supporter of the Common Core Standards Initiative.

See you in ten for Race to the Top Where Are They Now?