Monday, November 29, 2010

Going Down Swinging


Carcieri’s successor Lincoln D. Chafee has already announced his intent to keep Gallogly on as revenue director, He may not be as eager to reappoint technology entrepreneur Angus Davis to the Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public school system. Davis spent $10,545 in the final days of the campaign for governor in a failed effort to help Chafee’s Democratic opponent Frank T. Caprio.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What is "Classical Education?"

Historically, in the US we have a long lineage of classically-influenced public schools, starting with Boston Latin in 1635. What you might not be aware of, I wasn't a week ago, is that there is a contemporary "classical education movement" with a distinct history and perspective. The seminal text here is The Lost Tools of Learning by mid-20th century British author and classicist Dorothy Sayers. In particular this text is the source of the framing of the trivium as stages in the intellectual development of a child and adolescent.

These ideas, combined with some Adler and other sources, have been formed into an approach to classical education popular with Christians, conservatives, homeschoolers, and Christian conservative homeschoolers. As with all education movements, there's a lot of internal variety in theory and implementation. One of the intellectual leaders of the movement is the CiRCE Institute.

I started looking at contemporary "classical education" after reading a post over at Core Knowledge on the subject and having the distinct impression I was reading a lot of coded signs whose meaning eluded me. If you look at the CiRCE What is Classical Education page, they make a point of confirming my suspicion:

We use a different vocabulary.

Different words are used and emphasized (e.g. trivium, quadrivium, virtue, etc.), while some of the words that are common to classical and contemporary education carry significantly richer meanings (e.g. science, liberal arts, etc.).

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

On the other hand, my post-modern worldview isn't exactly sync with their pre-modern one. Nor does it seem to me like anything Jesus Christ would actually be interested in.

What all this means in practical terms, I don't know. Certainly you could conclude by looking at ed school syllabi that America's classrooms are dominated by Paulo Freire's liberation pedagogy. You'd be wrong about that. All this "trivium" stuff may be just be the consultant and administrator edubabble of the conservative world. Who knows?

I can't actually parse, say, a 9th grade literature syllabus which says:

Throughout the course, we will revisit the virtue of temperance and judge the personalities we meet based on their ability (or inability) to evince this virtue...

The poet Horace might be the greatest voice for the lessons Ridgeview purports to teach: living life to its fullest, pursuing the good life, enjoying good conversation among good friends, simultaneously realizing our mortality and striving to transcend it.

Just be aware, gentle reader, that Classical Education movement has its own discourse community, and shift your frame of reference as needed.

The Emerging ARM Ecosystem


Ergo, the whole interest around the ARM Powered devices such as the tablets, smart phones, laptops, e-readers, it’s not only a case in ARM technology providing better value, lower cost, lower power consumption, sufficient performance (for web browsing) in lesser amounts of components and more compact form factors. It is not just about the ARM ecosystems unique abilities to foster increased innovation by industry wide collaboration and differentiation. The main benefit of ARM’s business model, is that by collaborating on software such as the free Android/Chrome OS/Google TV software OS and on other common solutions, the supply chain participants can keep more of the profits to themselves all the while still lower the cost to the consumer.

The end result is more openings for low-end players, which is exactly what school computing needs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Looking for a Teleological School?

Perhaps my analysis yesterday was unnecessarily indirect.

Dr. Florian Hild on the Core Knowledge blog:

Classical education is teleological.


A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος - telos, root: τελε-, "end, purpose."

Teleology was explored by Plato and Aristotle, by Saint Anselm around 1000 A.D., and later by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgement. It was fundamental to the speculative philosophy of Hegel.

A thing, process or action is teleological when it is for the sake of an end, i.e., a telos or final cause. In general it may be said that there are two types of final causes, which may be called intrinsic finality and extrinsic finality.[citation needed]

In a sense here I'm just saying, "Jeez, these guys are really classical." However, there also seem to be some code words being sent to conservative parents in Colorado about what is and is not taught in the school that don't mean much to the rest of us.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yes You Can

Can you get some new 80's vintage Rector kneepads so that if you're going to look dorky you'll at least look "Tony Hawk at Del Mar" dorky, all at a reasonable price?

Photo on 2010-11-23 at 22.03

Yes you can.

I Don't Understand This Rhetoric

I'm not opposed to a classically informed Western liberal arts education, but the rhetoric over at Core Knowledge just doesn't make any sense to me. For example:

When students know the grammar of a subject, they can engage it with logical questions. Why do some cells’ mutations cause diseases, others benefits?

I'm supposed to use logic to derive an answer that question? e.g.:

As a logical system, too, humoralism was impressive, for Galen's logic in proceeding to his conclusions is almost impeccable, and his Arabic interpreters, not least Avicenna (AD 980-1037), had refined his arguments still further.

I just find this damned peculiar. I mean, I'm sure they actually teach science, but presumably this explanation is supposed to appeal to someone in particular, but... whom? Not anyone I've ever met.

The Fox-ization of Ed Reform


Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation took its second step into the education world this evening when it made a deal to buy Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn-based education technology company.

Murdoch took his first step nearly two weeks ago, when he acquired the chancellor of New York City’s public schools, Joel Klein. In an announcement that took most of his staff and top advisors by surprise, Klein told reporters that he was leaving the Department of Education for a job at News Corp., where he will be an executive vice president overseeing investments in digital learning companies.

After Klein resigned, News Corp. officials told The New York Times that they planned to make “seed investments” in entrepreneurial education companies. The acquisition of Wireless Generation may be the first of these investments.

A spokeswoman for Wireless Generation would not comment on when talks began, but said the deal was finalized this evening. For $360 million in cash, News Corp. now owns 90 percent of Wireless Generation, a company with 400 employees.

We're now officially in the post-charter era of school reform. Not that charters have failed, are going away, or even shrinking, but the real action going forward is in, what do we even call the confluence of online learning tightly coupled with assessment and data analysis? This is the real privatization push.

There's not big money in running schools, especially since I don't think we're at the point yet where windfall profits from school administration is not by definition scandalous. You can get away with a sort of philanthropic patronage -- if Wendy Kopp's and Eva Moscowitz's patrons want them to make $250,000 a year, that's their problem. But from a profit standpoint, you want the public maintaining buildings, paying the staff, etc., and just taking clean profit off selling content and services.

Klein and Murdoch are homing in on where the big money may be, if they can shape the political and regulatory context to their needs. A lot hinges on the Common Core standards -- which in English at least are perfectly tailored to the School of One approach -- which WG has a big hand in, so it will be interesting to see if the party politics around this shifts with Murdoch in the business.

I am kind of glad there will be someone to go up against Pearson and the other big publishers, but it would be really nice if it wasn't Darth Murdoch and Grand Moff Klein.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Implausibly Plausible Skateboarding Plan

So there's a little ramp skate/bmx park tucked away in a corner of the Kent County YMCA, which includes a little footie halfpipe.

Which means that when, for example, Vivian is having her swimming lesson, Jennifer is erg-ing, and Julia is chilling in the brand new Active Family Center, I can do some skating -- in fact, that's what we did today. My solo session could be described as "kick turning until I got tired," but I established that I still have the rudiments down and that I need to start doing a lot of squats.

So, fun, but not too crazy, then I discovered this:

Yes Virginia, Providence does have a concrete municipal skatepark, tucked back in Silver Lake, at the Neutaconkanut Recreation Center. It has a shallow but vertical half-pool in one end and lots of tight little banks, so, challenging and just the kind of thing I've always liked to skate. Also, it is a 10 minute drive from my house, and, even better, a five minute drive from Vivian's pre-school, so quick morning sessions during schooldays when things are presumably quiet are a definite possibility. There's also a playground next to it. Skateboarding is starting to seem very convenient for the urban daddy.

So now all the long-dormant sk8 gestalt's are rushing back to the fore of my consciousness... that park may require a new deck... how do I orient myself to the skating world 20 years later? Barrier Kult!?!

I do have a space at the bottom of my driveway where I could put a Jersey barrier...

Dinner Blogging: Le TV Dinner

All parts of Thursday's dinner were frozen at some point.

Les Halles's Mignons de Porc à l’ail. Ted Fristom has a good description:

Light of my life, fired up pork tenderloin. My sin, my soul. This is the only perfect recipe I have found for pork tenderloin. Before it, tenderloin was just a serviceable piece of meat for making a quick meal. Sliced thin, it made sweet and sour pork more elegant, and pounded between sheets of wax paper it went well with nam pla and a little Thai red curry paste. But roast tenderloin was a bit trickier. Tenderloins are thin and taper at one end, so they’re easy to overcook or cook unevenly. Pork tenderloin is also fat impaired. Bourdain’s solution is as simple as it is elegant. Just tie two tenderloins together. Slather one tenderloin with roasted garlic and a slice of bacon (maybe two) and place the other tenderloin on top with the “tails” facing in opposite directions. Tie it all up with twine, and the result looks more like a loin, but is far more tender and tasty. All that bacon and garlic melts into the meat and contributes to a great pan sauce.

I portion a double tenderloin into three meals and freeze two. Slicing them into medallions before cooking is a little less risky when you're thawing them.


Pommes dauphine can best be described as crisp potato puffs: you boil and mash potatoes, combine them with pâte-à-choux (the basic batter used in cheese puffs and cream puffs) and drop spoonfuls of the mixture into hot oil. The resulting croquettes boast a thin, delicate crust that shatters against the roof of your mouth, revealing a cloudlike heart. Ask any Frenchman about the pommes dauphine of his youth, and you’ll soon realize you’ve struck quite high on the scale of French comfort food.

What I did in this case was pull some leftover Alexia frozen mashed potatoes from the fridge, make some pâte-à-choux and make Michael Symon's "Crab Tater Tots," minus the crab and with crushed Corn Chex instead of panko breadcrumbs. It is the first time I've tried this and it was a major win. They're not fussy to fry and can sit on a table a little longer than fries or chips. Fun to make.

Then just some frozen peas with a little butter. All done in under an hour.

Friday, November 19, 2010

This Doesn't End Well


Under the proposal, starting with the Class of 2012, students would be eligible to receive one of three diplomas, based on their scores on standardized tests in English and math, provided they also complete the required coursework and a portfolio or senior project.

Students take the tests, called the New England Assessment Program, in October of their junior year. The tests are challenging: Scoring proficient on the math portion, which covers algebra, geometry, statistics and probability, is roughly equivalent to scoring a B+ or better, according to state education officials.

Students who score “partially proficient” on the tests would be eligible for a “Rhode Island” diploma. Students who score “proficient” would receive a “Regents” diploma. Students who score “proficient with distinction” on the tests and do honors-level work across the board would receive an “Honors” diploma.

Students who fail to score at least partially proficient on the tests would be required to re-take the tests in their senior year. And schools would be required to offer additional supports along the way.

If a student fails to improve between junior and senior years, they would not be eligible to receive a diploma and would instead receive a “certificate.”

Setting aside a more substantive discussion of both tiered diplomas (which I regard as necessary in general) and the role of standardized tests in the process (which I think should be minimized), let's just look at the numbers here and think about the politics. Below is the percent of students who would be elegible for each level of diploma per test, based on the 2009 testing year data (RI=state, PVD=Providence, FHS=your favorite high performing high school closed for low performance):

Reading and writing are in the ballpark of the right spread of scores, with the idea probably being between the two. Math, not so much. Now, RI underperforms other states in math, but Vermont doesn't, and by this standard, 37% of all Vermont juniors and 56% of Vermont juniors eligible for free and reduced lunch would not qualify for a RI diploma. Whether or not this test in general is appropriate to the task, the current cut scores almost certainly are not.

And of course, if you have to pass all of them at the correct level to get credit, that cuts things down further (I can't find a detailed description of the proposal online).

I'm hard pressed to figure out who the in-state constituency for this decision is (the out of state audience is more obvious). To conservatives the multi-tier system looks like a cop-out; the direct and immediate problems are of course obvious to low income students, parents and their teachers; but beyond that, creating an "honors" diploma dependent almost entirely on a math test given at the beginning of 11th grade is likely to make many a competitive head explode in the suburbs. Your 2012 valedictorian may already have blown it.

Beyond that, while RI's large diversity of school designs serving low income students has produced a wide range of performance in the reading and writing NECAP's and other measures, nothing seems to make much of a difference in math scores, and it is difficult to imagine neighborhood schools under the best circumstances moving things more than, say, 20 points in the right direction.

Academic Advocates and Critics of Value-Added Aren't That Far Apart (Compared to Politicians)

Bruce Baker:

Many pundits out there tweeting and blogging about this new Brookings report are the same pundits who continue to argue that value-added ratings should constitute as much as 50% of teacher evaluation – and that somehow this new Brookings report validates their claim. I don’t see where the Brookings report goes anywhere near that far.

To those viewing the Brookings report in that light, implicit in the “other sectors do it” argument is that the SAT and mortality rates are considered major factors for evaluating students for admission or for evaluating hospital quality. Are they really? In an era where more and more colleges are making the SAT optional, how many are using it as 50% of admissions criteria? Yes, most highly selective colleges do still require the SAT, and it no doubt serves as a tipping factor on admissions decisions (largely out of convenience when taking the first cut at a large applicant pool). But, several have abandoned use of SAT altogether (, perhaps because it is perceived to be such a weak signal – or because of all of the perverse incentives and inequities associated with the SAT. Would anyone seriously consider using patient mortality rates alone as 50% of the value for rating hospital quality – determining hospital closures?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is This How They Make Investment Decisions at Brookings?

Whitehurst, et al:

...investors understandably prefer investment firms with above average returns in a previous year...

And I understandably regard people who use that investment strategy as complete dumbasses.

Online Banking: Double Fail

We've always tried to use Quicken for the Mac because, well, presumably it should work, and we've got our checking and savings accounts at Citizen's because it was convenient. But not only do the two not work well together at all -- in particular you can't do direct download from Citizen's into Mac Quicken -- but a little Googling reveals that Citizen's doesn't play nicely with others in general, and Mac Quicken just sucks.

So... I guess I need to change both. I need to find a reasonable, ideally socially-conscious local bank and personal finance software which just works without fiddling with any goddam import files. Any ideas?

How's that Human Capital Strategy Working Out?

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — To a standing ovation from his staff, Arthur Petrosinelli said goodbye to a school that he was instrumental in bringing back from the academic grave.

Petrosinelli announced Wednesday that he was leaving Hope High School to become the assistant superintendent in Johnston, where he will responsible for curriculum and instruction. Dec. 3 will be his last day in Providence.

“This was a really, really hard decision,” he said Wednesday. “I leave with a heavy heart. But I want to have control over my destiny.”

In an impromptu speech to his faculty Wednesday, Petrosinelli touched on Hope’s many accomplishments since the state intervened nearly six years ago: hiring a new staff, breaking the school into three smaller learning academies, introducing order to a chaotic building, revamping the entire curriculum and winning accreditation from the prestigious New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Most of all, the three principals, including Scott Sutherland and Wayne Montague (who has since left), transformed a school jokingly referred to as “Hopeless” into a model for urban school reform, one whose student advisories and individual learning plans received national recognition...

“Dr. Petrosinelli was part of the heart of this school,” said Becky Coustan, a former teacher-leader at Hope who now heads the Paul Cuffee High School. “He helped make Hope what it is.”

This entire strategy is completely dependent on charters and suburban districts not deciding to poach all the proven talent from the district, which is giving them every reason to get the hell out.

Hopping In and Out of the Uncanny Valley

Kotaku is duly impressed with the upcoming EVE character creator, now running on the test server:

I've been tracking it pretty closely too. This is the first step toward EVE pilots actually getting out of our ships and walking around in stations. As you can see, if this all works it will be a much more photo-realistic and curated affair than we're used to from WoW or Second Life, including (they hope!) integrated ambient voice chat -- that is, when you talk your avatar's lips move and are audible toe everyone in proximity to you, in stereo or surround sound space. They've already got voice fonts that, given the distortion of online chat, make me sound pretty convincingly like a woman.

And all that is really just a very elaborate beta for World of Darkness, their vampire roleplaying game, which will make a metric shit-tonne of money if they can get it out before the undead become passé.

Anyhow, at this point, there's still a lot left undone before the January release, including, for example, the absence of female avatars in the current test version. Also when you turn the detail all the way up, my new iMac gets about five frames per second in the character creator. But that's when these things really pop, and you flip from feeling like you're looking at a slightly creepy overly-detailed mannequin to a captivatingly creepier synthetic person.

Once you play with this for a while and then watch tv, it also gives you a mild form of schizophrenia, where everyone's face turns like a poorly (or well) constructed assemblage of components and morphs.

A Very Important Point


Citizen Schools' Nitzan Pelman was there sporting a lovely blunt-cut 'do, as was a guy named Seth wearing a Democracy Prep baseball cap along with his suit (lost bet, I'm guessing).

Can I just say that the idea that someone who runs a chain of "sweat the small stuff", "no excuses," student uniform wearing schools preaching the importance of "discipline," "respect," and "maturity" wears a baseball hat in his schools and other clearly inappropriate times drives me up the wall.

Another Step Backwards on Teacher Education

Mary E O'Leary:

Yale University is shutting down its small, intense teacher preparation master’s degree in urban education. Similarly, its undergraduate early childhood and secondary certificate programs will be available to Yale College classes only through 2012, although noncertificate courses in education studies will still be offered.

The Urban Education Studies graduate program, launched in 2005, combined advanced courses with clinical experience designed to prepare students to teach in an urban setting and the students who went through it can't praise it enough.

"What's so tough about teaching is that it is structurally isolated. There is not a lot of professional back and forth," said Michelle Shortsleeve, 26, who came from Boston to participate in the program.

But Shortsleeve said the approach of the degree was different. From the beginning of the 14-month program, students alternated between intense three-week academic courses, followed by teaching—the initial stint in the first summer in the Yale Scholar program with local high school students.

By the time she finished, she had taught four more classes of public school teens with the help of a mentor and regular debriefings with professors who would observe. Yale covered the full cost of tuition for the master's degree...

Tara Stevens, a program graduate who teaches at Bishop Woods School, said she applied for the master's after working at Yale and teaching freshman writing at Southern Connecticut State University.

"The gulf between the sort of wealth and opportunities I saw at Yale and the preparation of my urban Southern students led me to investigate exactly what was going on in school systems, and to do my part to remedy what I could," Stevens said in a letter to the editor appearing today.

She sees the master's as a longterm solution where Yale was committing time and resources to the problem.

"Yale has made the decision to avoid getting down and dirty with the problem. Instead, the university had decided to throw money at it, as though New Haven schools were a charity just waiting for Yale's benevolence," Stevens wrote, although she sees New Haven Promise "as a wonderful opportunity for city students who are able to reach its very high standards."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Most Dangerous Idea/Study in School Reform

Guy Brandenburg flags an incredibly interesting and revealing study in the June 2010 issue of Journal of Political Economy, "Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors." From the press release:

Highly credentialed and experienced professors are better at preparing students for long-term academic success than their less-experienced counterparts, but that ability isn’t necessarily reflected in their students’ teaching evaluations. That’s according to research by a pair of economists published in this month’s Journal of Political Economy.

The study’s authors, Scott Carrell of U.C. Davis and James West of the U.S. Air Force Academy, say their results raise questions about the value of student evaluations as measures of instructor quality...

Their data come from Calculus I and follow-on classes at the U.S. Air Force Academy. All Air Force Academy students are required to take Calculus I, Calculus II, and nine math-based technical courses regardless of their majors, and professors in all sections of classes use an identical syllabus and give identical exams. That gives the researchers a chance to compare instructors on a relatively even playing field.

The study found that students’ achievement in follow-on coursework was strongly influenced by their Calculus I instructor. Students who had a seasoned Calculus I professor with a Ph.D. tended to do better in follow-on coursework than students who had less-experienced and less-credentialed Calculus I instructors. This happened despite the fact that students of seasoned professors tended to have lower grades in Calculus I. The results, the researchers say, suggest that less experienced instructors have a tendency to “teach to the test,” while more experienced teachers produce “deep learning” of the subject matter that helps students down the road. (emphasis added)

For an educational study, they've got a huge and clean dataset. It is a shame that it isn't a K-12 study, but I can't think of a reason that it isn't applicable to younger students as well.

If this phenomenon exists in K-12 as well, think of the implications for the entire teacher evaluation, data driven instruction, etc. regime.

Worse, if this phenomenon exists in K-12 as well, imagine how long it would take to prove it.


This is the wooden prototype I made for a PandaBoard case in the Advanced Laser Cutter class at AS220 Labs. I used Box-o-Tron to lay it out. Once I get the actual board, I'll get all the holes in the right place and do a final version in plexiglass.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Little Inspiration

Great speech by Jesse Martinez at the opening of the Dogtown skatepark last year, followed by some stylish old man skating:

Here in Rhode Island I have, improbably, not only located and obtained access to exactly the kind of mostly forgotten but not actually falling down mini-halfpipe I'd like to skate, but, even more improbably, it comes with on-site child care.

Details to follow, hopefully.

Being Organized is what’s Hard


Alton Brown’s voice was hoarse from three performances at Cleveland’s Fabulous Food Show Saturday and from shouting in conversation to fans in the noisy I-X center. But the white Burgundy and clams with foie gras at Greenhouse Tavern that night were going a long way in soothing the chords and the soul.

“I always say, cooking isn’t hard,” he said. “Being organized is what’s hard.” I’d been planning to write on this very subject and was glad the conversation had turned this way over dinner. “Cooking is easy, cooking is relaxing,” he went on. “It’s the not-being-organized that’s so stressful for people.”

This has been the main progression in my own cooking in the past year or so, and a lot of it is knowing where to lower your expectations and reduce the need for too much planning. I make more things in double batches now and freeze -- swedish meatballs, pasta sauce, stock. I also buy less, and throw away fewer, fresh vegetables. Also, things like buying frozen french fries but actually deep frying them make for tastier dinners without too much deep prep. Now I just need a bigger freezer.

I've simplified things things enough that, in combination with more experience, I pretty much know what we're having for dinner for the next four days at all times (veal loin chops, pasta and meatballs, quesadillas with chorizo and roasted squash, Mignons de Porc à l’ail, Bob and Timmy's, btw).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nice to Whom?

Frederick Hess:

The nice thing about these ventures is that they "own" their reforms and are solely committed to executing them--not to meeting every need of every child in a given geography.

Well, yes, it is nice for them!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nobody Knows What's Best for their Own Children

Amanda Ripley:

These days, the theory Hanushek hears most often is what we might call the diversity excuse. When he runs into his neighbors at Palo Alto coffee shops, they lament the condition of public schools overall, but are quick to exempt the schools their own kids attend. “In the litany of excuses, one explanation is always, ‘We’re a very heterogeneous society—all these immigrants are dragging us down. But our kids are doing fine,’” Hanushek says. This latest study was designed, in part, to test the diversity excuse...

As it turned out, even these relatively privileged students do not compete favorably with average students in other well-off countries. On a percentage basis, New York state has fewer high performers among white kids than Poland has among kids overall. In Illinois, the percentage of kids with a college-educated parent who are highly skilled at math is lower than the percentage of such kids among all students in Iceland, France, Estonia, and Sweden.

Parents in Palo Alto will always insist that their kids are the exception, of course. And researchers cannot compare small cities and towns around the globe—not yet, anyway. But Hanushek thinks the study significantly undercuts the diversity excuse. “People will find it quite shocking,” he says, “that even our most-advantaged students are not all that competitive.”

Using Palo Alto as the focus of this anecdotal argument is not very persuasive, if you give it some thought. If the people Hanushek runs into in Palo Alto, that is, likely people working in Stanford, Silicon Valley tech companies, or somewhere in the orbit of the two, both of whom are far more likely to have frequent interactions with well educated foreigners than the average person, if their judgement isn't sufficient to judge the adequacy of primary and secondary math instruction, even compared to kids in other countries, whose is?

The Social Compact is Clear

Tim Furman:

I have been wrong before, and I might be wrong now, but I believe this is the academic calendar at the school where Cathie Black's children went to school. It's curious how there's not a date for the CAPT, nor is there a page for the value-added data that this school compiles. You know, the data that tells how effective its teachers are based on predictions made by people who look at test scores.

Oh, wait. Almost forgot. Wealthy people can opt out of testing. In fact, they can opt in to  entire schools that opt out of standardized testing. Standardized testing and the regimentation that accompanies it, and all of the crazy conclusions that are derived from it--- that's all for poor people and for middle class people who will soon be poor. The social compact is clear.

Occam's Razor

Alex Pareene:

There's no "evidence" here beyond a rich man's conviction that things would be better if only everyone in charge of everything were more like him.

This is the simplest way to explain the many moving parts of business-model school reform. It is 21st century patronage, but using undertaxed windfall profits instead of the public coffers, and benefiting the already privileged class, instead of an aspiring ethnic group.

And yes, my current job fits this description too. Less obtrusively though.

Sorry, You're All Part of The Blob Now

Dana Goldstein:

...with a new generation of aggressive education reformers reaching maturity—folks like Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp and New Leaders for New Schools co-founder and CEO John Schnur—one wonders why it is necessary for someone with Mayor Bloomberg’s policy priorities to turn to the corporate world to fill an education executive position.

If only some kind-hearted billionaire would use his management expertise start an academy to train successful leaders in other fields to be school administrators.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Dinner Blogging: Pot Pie

Tonight was pot pie night -- once the weather cools off I like to do a pot pie or meat pie once a week. So I did a pot pie with leftover chicken from Sunday riffing from Kenny Shopsin's recipe, which is a cream-oriented (as opposed to a béchamel or for that matter my mother's pot pie which I've decided is really derived from a Scottish stovie). He has you add leftover mashed or baked potatoes early on as an additional thickener. I had some nice soft carmelized roasted butternut squash languishing in the fridge, so that went in instead. So squash, onions, carrots, some leftover corn, homemade stock, it was pretty sweet and rich before I even added the cream. Then I remembered those spice and wine-steeped raisins sitting in the back of the fridge since the last time I made the Ad Hoc rainbow chard. I threw those in too, which made this a downright decadent pot pie.

For 70's cred (and an overall manageable size so my leftovers don't create still more leftovers) I used Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells instead of my usual frozen pie crust.

Anyhow, it was good, but the girls wouldn't touch it.

It's just great when you're cooking a lot from scratch and the quality of crap cluttering up your refrigerator goes up, particularly when you've developed enough of a coherent style that most of the stuff goes together easily. Also, a big step is just remembering what's actually in there. Throwing stuff out regularly is key to that -- you need to try to get to the point where you perpetually have your fridge contents memorized.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dinner Blogging: Chicken with Lemons

I try to roast a chicken once a week when it is not grilling season, as I did yesterday. I have to admit this was a pretty touch and go proposition most of last year until I got the tip on the Chicken with Lemons from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking via the Matablog. Haven't served a rare or dried out chicken since!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

That's Just a Few Blocks from Our House!

Sheila Lennon on the 50th Anniversary of JFK speaking at PVD City Hall:

Providence Journal files

Above, Kennedy rides in an open car in a motorcade on Elmwood Avenue on his trip from T.F. Green Airport. Below, he shakes hands as he gets into his car to head to the airport and his next stop in Springfield, Mass.

Nice street lights.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Nobody Could Have Predicted


Central Falls High School is a fractured and unhappy place.

It's a lost year at Central Falls High. The idea that "You're fired, ok maybe not," is a effective tactic in handling teachers is not going to hold up very well over time. The hole that has been dug the past year may be deeper than anyone thought, and the "turnaround" may amount to hoping to get back to status quo ante, at least test score wise.

Look at it this way, according to the article the, "sophomore class is a particularly challenging group," so it is a pretty good guess that when the NECAP scores for that group come out in January 2012, they'll suck. If the freshman are getting off to a bad start, it means a disappointing result in January 2013. Are any of the people responsible for this mess going to still be around in 2014?

The hasty decisions of 2010 will take a long time to undo.

By the way, the ProJo is consistently pro-reform as much as possible. When you read an article like this which essentially says "There are discipline and climate problems" and then skirts around details about exactly what they are, I think the proper reading is "We talked to many teachers who told us things that would curl your hair, but we're not going to pass them on because, a) the stories can't be corroborated, b) student privacy, c) we don't really want to let teachers off the hook, editorially."

Why Would We Expect Teaching to be Any Different?

Steve McConnell in Making Software:

This degree of variation (in productivity and quality) isn't unique to software. A study by norm Augustine found that in a variety of professions -- writing, football, invention, police work, and other occupations -- the top 20% of the people produced about 50% of the output, whether the output is touchdowns, patents, solved cases or software [Augustine 1979]. When you think about it, this just makes sense. We've all known people who are exceptional students, exceptional athletes, exceptional artists, exceptional parents. These differences are just part of the human experience, and why would we expect software development to be any different?

How many millions of dollars has the Gates Foundation spent in an effort to get everyone to mis-interpret this phenomenon in respect to teaching?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Tell Us What You Really Think, David

David Sirota:

In the past, I may have contributed to some sort of organized pushback. But not this year. No, this time I can muster only one Cheney-esque response to the whole grotesque kabuki theater surrounding the inane "Future of the Democratic Party" debate: Go fuck yourself.

Evan Bayh and Third Way and The Democratic Strategist and the DLC and all the professional pundits and cable-TV zombies and D.C. spokesholes - all of you soul-raping corpses and shit-eating poindexters paid to appear on my television screen and scream at me about liberals ruining everything, please, I beg you on behalf of the silent irritated majority: Just go fuck yourself.

Go fuck yourself because all of your arguments are about what policies should be pursued to rescue Democratic politicians' electoral future, rather than about what policies are needed to rescue, say, the fucking country's future. Additionally, go fuck yourself because if you know so much about winning elections and if you are so sure conservadem-ism/Blue Dog-ism is the way to win said elections, how come it was the conservadems/Blue Dog candidates - not liberal candidates - who lost the most elections this year?

Also, go fuck yourself because the fact that you are even trying to create the same old bash-the-liberals debate exposes you not just as substantively wrong, but as professionally employed to despoil our culture with bullshit -- and specifically, with bullshit that you know is bullshit. That, really, everyone knows is bullshit.

The facts are painfully apparent. Though hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people in D.C. are professionally paid to pretend these facts require debate and analysis and parsing and speculation and press releases and pithy Tweets and Sunday Show roundtables and C-SPAN symposia and to-camera cable-TV rants and lengthy thousand-page books, they don't require any of that. The facts are simple. The facts are obvious. The facts are undeniable to anyone not paid fistfulls of sweaty money  to lie or sensationalize:

1. The Democratic Party shit on its base with its policies, as noted above.

2. This demoralized the Democratic base, which responded by not turning out to vote. As CBS News notes, "Hispanics, African Americans, union members and young people were among the many core Democratic groups that turned out in large numbers in the 2008 elections (but) turnout among these groups dropped off substantially, even below their previous midterm levels."

3. In cause-and-effect style, the result of all this was, as the Washington Post reports, a freshman congressional class that is primarily made up of angry, white, lunatic-conservative assholes.

So yes, all of you who are wasting all of our time pretending this isn't the basic point-A-to-point-B story of the election -- and there are a lot of you out there -- please, if not for me, then for everyone else: Go fuck yourself.

We've got lives to lead, we've got struggles to struggle through, we've got bills to pay - in short, we've got to get through the shit you've created and continue to create. And as you now incessantly bitch about the alleged scourge of those evil election-losing liberals, as you whine and wail and cry from the cocktail and hors d'oeuvre paradise of TV studios and green rooms and congressional offices and party fundraising events, you've made quite clear you don't give a shit about the harsh reality we all face - the harsh reality we all face thanks to you.

Knowing all of that, I'll end just reiterate my one succinct request: All I ask is that as you continue your hard work to prop up the kleptocracy, as you continue to clog our last remaining democratic conduits with your viscous rhetorical shit bombs, please, do us all a favor and for the love of whatever god you worship - please just stop wasting our damn time and go fuck yourself.

Dinner Blogging: Chimichurri

I'm trying to do a little more food blogging here, to keep readership down, and because I cook dinner five days a week, at least partly from scratch.

I bought too much fresh oregano for the batch of pasta sauce I cooked and froze last weekend (more on that at a later date), so I made some chimichurri from the recipe in Francis Mallmann's Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, and served it on some New York strip tonight. It was definitely a "where have you been all my life" moment.

So yes, you should try this.

The TFA Tax

Seattle Education 2010 looks at the paperwork:

Cash-strapped SPS would get to pay more money for less experience! TFA, Inc. demands an extra $4,000 per year from Seattle Public Schools for each TFA-er

Another interesting item: TFA-ers are not free. They aren’t even a bargain. In fact, they cost more than fully trained teachers. In addition to paying them the starting salary of a regularly credentialed teacher ( I wonder how regular teachers will feel about TFA’s special treatment) , the district must pony up another $4,000 per TFAer per year for the honor of harboring these short-term fast-tracked grads. Where is the economy of that when we already have a pool of qualified teachers here in Seattle looking for work who don’t cost an extra $4,000 a year?

From the proposal:

ii. With respect to each Teacher whose employment by Seattle Public Schools is to commence in the 2011-2012 academic year, Seattle Public Schools shall pay Teach For America an annual amount of $4,000 for each year in which such Teacher is employed by Seattle Public Schools, up to two years [from the date such employment is to commence]; and
iii. With respect to each Teacher whose employment by Seattle Public Schools is to commence in the 2012-2013 academic year, Seattle Public Schools shall pay Teach For America an annual amount of $4,000 for each year in which such Teacher is employed by Seattle Public Schools, up to two years [from the date such employment is to commence].

iv. With respect to each Teacher whose employment by Seattle Public Schools is to commence in the 2013-2014 academic year, Seattle Public Schools shall pay Teach For America an annual amount of $4,000 for each year in which such Teacher is employed by Seattle Public Schools, up to two years [from the date such employment is to commence].

(Not to worry, though, we’re being told by the district: the Gates Foundation will pay for it. Good old Bill — always ready to foot the bill for his reformite friends, thus avoiding a possibly uncomfortable public discussion about the cost and value of bringing another reformite agenda item to town. What a nuisance is that thing called democracy!)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

I've Thought This All Along


"The worst thing in many respects that happened to [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan was the stimulus," says (Republican education aide and lobbyist) Klatt. Why? Because it gave Duncan's team, Klatt contends, "the sense that you can snap your fingers, money falls from heaven, and you do what you want with it."


The Republican Party doesn't get enough credit for the strategic brilliance of NCLB. You know you've lost strategically when every option at your disposal is a bad one; conversely, if every move is a good one, you won big.

The Republicans can join hands with Obama and pass a bipartisan bill with Obama, since he's already more or less embraced their agenda. But he's done that in the past on other subjects, at least at a micro level, and the Republicans have had no qualms about vilifying aspects of health care reform and other Democrat-backed measures that originated as conservative ideas just a few years earlier.

But what would the Republicans lose by walking away from federal intervention in school accountability? Just walk away from it in rural and suburban schools and make urban education the Democrat's problem. Look: the Republican Party does not give a shit about cities anyhow. That's why, relatively speaking, the Bush area was not as hard on urban education as the first two years of Obama.

Also, as important as it is to follow the money, we're not talking about defense contracting here, we're not even talking about the prison industry. To the extent that there's big money to be made in education, it will go to people like Pearson, regardless of who's actually managing schools. And this entire edifice hasn't been created to produce mid-six figure incomes for people like Geoffrey Canada, Eva Moscowitz and Wendy Kopp. That's nothing in the big picture, and they are all probably voting Democrat anyhow.

So picture this: Republicans start channeling Diane Ravitch, reject the Common Core as a pinko plot, push hard for loosening accountability in the schools their constituents attend, and let the Democrats fight to continue screwing over their own urban base, letting the Democrats completely own an urban reform strategy doomed to hang around its neck like an albatross and split the Democratic Party indefinitely.

And it is not like the Republicans would have to stop beating up on the teacher's union.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Chafee Wins RI Gov.

For the first time since I've moved to Rhode Island, we don't have a dumbass Republican governor. Chafee won a narrow victory in the three way race with a coalition of urban voters. It was quite a pleasant experience voting for an independent to the left of the Democrat and seeing him actually win.

Exactly what this means for RI education depends a bit on how aggressively Chafee handles his Board of Regents appointments, but what we do know now is that Commissioner Gist can't just bring the crazy, secure in the knowledge that the Governor will back her up.

Nationally, it looks like we'll be returning to Republican education policies without the technocratic Democratic mania, which is a significant improvement.

Following the Money

I generally avoid reading things that use "$"'s in place of "S"'s in the title, but Ultimate $uperpower: Supersized dollars drive “Waiting for Superman” agenda by Barbara Miner manages to sum up the disparate motivations of the business-model reformers:

There is no single reason why charter schools have become the must-be-involved cause among the hedge fund and finance capital crowd.

Real estate obviously plays a role, as Harlem and the South Bronx are the poor neighborhoods most ripe for gentrification now that so much of Brooklyn has come under the reach of condos, trendy restaurants, Trader Joe’s and Ikea. (In New York City, no deal ever goes down that doesn’t involve real estate.) And, just as clearly, there’s old-fashioned altruism and missionary zeal at work. “What you’re seeing is for the under-40 set, education reform is what feeding kids in Africa was in 1980,” an education reformer said in explaining Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark public schools in September.

Another explanation is that the hedge fund crowd is comfortable with the charter way of doing business—overwhelmingly non-union, which means that management gets to call all the shots; a guaranteed cash flow in the form of public dollars per student; minimal public oversight; lots of data and test scores; and an educational ideology based on a free-market model of schooling.

At the local level, real estate is almost always part of the equation.

Baltimore City Paper on the Local History of Community Schools

Some excellent reporting from the Baltimore City Paper:

One wouldn’t know it now, but Baltimore embraced the community schools strategy years ago. (If you want to raise the hackles of an advocate, refer to community schools as a “project” or a “program.” Proponents like to emphasize that community schools are a whole new way of looking at the function of school, not simply a new component tacked on to an existing structure.) In 2000, a group of volunteers formed the Baltimore Coalition for Community Schools and took to lobbying city administrators, nonprofits, and other local power brokers. Interest gradually built, and in 2003, advocates created Baltimore Community School Connections (BCSC), an organization that provided technical assistance to developing community schools. By 2005, Baltimore was sending a delegation of 40 people—including then-City Council President Sheila Dixon—to the national community schools conference in Chicago. That same year, then-Mayor Martin O’Malley created the first official community schools in Baltimore. There were 46 of them, at least on paper.

In most other cities, community schools had emerged slowly, school by school. But Baltimore decided to go for broke and create many community schools at once, primarily by transforming existing schools that already had some outside partnerships. Partly as a result, the city was briefly in the national spotlight. “Everybody came to Baltimore because we were like trailblazers,” says Jessica Strauss, one of the chief catalysts behind the coalition and the community schools movement in Baltimore. “We were considered national leaders in this work,” agrees Lisa Bleich, who worked for BCSC for three years, starting in 2005. “We were asked to give Community Schools 101.”

Now, 10 years after the formation of the coalition, Baltimore’s pioneering community schools initiative is, by many estimates, nearly deflated. The BCSC is defunct and city funding for the initiative has dropped substantially since the early years. Only 20 schools in the city are officially community schools, and early champions of the effort say that few of these truly fit the model. Many community school coordinators—the on-site air-traffic controllers who make sure the services in a community school mesh and address student needs—agree that the initiative has not lived up to the dream. Even as the term is becoming a buzzword in education circles, some supporters fear that the community schools movement in Baltimore may have outlived its glory days.

And you could probably write another article about the deflated advocates of whatever initiative community schools displaced, and a dozen other similar sidebars. Just for Baltimore. And do the same thing in every big city in America.

That's what working in an urban school district feels like.

What's an Appropriate Goal for Evaluating High Charter Density Cities?

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:

The "Top 10" highest percentages of public charter school students are in these 12 districts: New Orleans Public School System (61 percent), District of Columbia Public Schools, (38 percent), Detroit Public Schools (36 percent), Kansas City, Mo. (32 percent), Dayton Public Schools, Ohio (29 percent), Flint Community Schools, Mich. (29 percent), Gary Community School Corporation, Ind. (28 percent), DeSoto Independent School District, Texas (27 percent), St. Louis Public Schools, Mo. (27 percent), Central Dauphin School District, Pa. (26 percent), Albany City School District (24, percent) and West Chester Area School District, Pa. (23 percent).

How will we know if they've succeeded in "significantly improving public education?" Do they have to close the achievement gap and turn around the local economy? Or just bump scores up a few points? 'Cause you know the rhetoric points to the former.

Another Open Source Success Story

James Turner:

So far this year, Oracle has sued Google over Java on the Android and pretty much killed off OpenSolaris. So what's next for Larry & Co.?

The answer came when 33 contributors from the OpenOffice project jumped ship for LibreOffice. Evidently, Oracle appeared to have little interest in putting much effort into OpenOffice. Decoding the corporate-speak from Oracle's PR department, the reaction to the defections so far might best be summed up as "Don't let the door hit your butt on the way out."

Of course, if OpenOffice was not open source, that'd just be the end of it.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Bob Healey for Lieutenant Governor

Bob Healey has been running for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of RI on the Cool Moose Party ticket since before I moved here. Lt. Gov. of this tiny state is the perfect post for a somewhat absurdist protest candidate, since it is pretty much unnecessary. His platform?

If elected, I will serve as the Lt. Governor without pay or staff, returning $1 million to the taxpayers. I will perform all the constitutional duties of the Lt. Governor’s office.

Given the overall tenor of this cycle, Healey is within striking distance of Democrat Elizabeth Roberts. He's got my vote.

Advanced Tapecraft


I just want to reiterate the protip I found on the internet: Thomas the Tank Engine is the exact color of blue masking tape. Not necessarily cheaper or quicker than spraypaint, but you can do it on the living room carpet. One roll of 2" tape did the version above, with colored electrical tape for the trim.

I'm going to say Percy is the same color as green masking tape too...

School Rankings in the Age of Value Added

I'm not pointing this out as a major gotcha, just something to be conscious of when you're reading claims about schools.

That said, here's Joanne Jacobs:

I met the dynamic Ali when she was recruiting students for KIPP Heartwood Academy, a public charter school in San Jose that ranks in the top 10 percent of California schools, despite its low-income, minority enrollment.

The rankings Jacobs refers to are based on growth, so in theory there is no particular disadvantage to starting with a low-income population and a potential advantage, as there is more space for growth if you start out behind. In practice, I'd guess that there is a very wide range of growth in low-income schools, moreso than in higher income schools. But overall, I'd expect the best low-income schools to look best overall in those rankings. Saying that they are highly ranked "despite" the population is a bit misleading.

People aren't used to thinking of "top ranked schools" in this way. Measured in terms of growth, the "best" school still might not be one that middle class parents would want to send their students to.