Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fiction and Empathy

Grant Wiggins's post on Empathy today is well timed, considering that I though the best response to his anti teaching fiction post would be to point out the unique role of literature in helping students to develop empathy for different points of view.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's Missing from the ProJo's Turnaround Analysis

What's omitted ProJo's background/analysis piece, A slow, bumpy road to change at Central Falls High School, is a look at the recent high school turnarounds (and startups) in Rhode Island. Instead of getting quotes from people from out of state who would never deign to actually try to turn around a school themselves, like that asshat Justin Cohen (although it is always impressive to see that someone "spent time at Edison Schools"), perhaps Jennifer Jordan could have spoken to teachers and principals who have dedicated decades of their lives to living and working in Providence and turning around its high schools, often with a great deal of success. At least until the work is undone by administrators and politicians.

Here's a good question: What does Fran Gallo think of the Hope High School turnaround, which took place while she was a Providence administrator? What does she think about Feinstein High School, or The Met? Were they successful?

If CFHS's reading scores went up over 50 points in two years, would that be a successful turnaround (Hope Arts)? If (like FHS) they completely eliminated the race and income achievement gaps vs. the state in writing (which may be more sensitive to teacher effect)? What about if they get their graduation rate up to 75% (the Met)? Or is all other progress nullified by NECAP math?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It is Always Year Zero

Dana Goldstein:

Despite success stories like CLI's, the Newark schools have been portrayed as almost uniquely terrible since Zuckerberg's donation was announced September 24 on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In press appearances celebrating the donation, New Jersey governor and rumored GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie, who has addressed state budget deficits in part by cutting $819 million in education spending, has repeatedly called the performance of the Newark school system "an obscenity." The city needs "an entirely new plan" for education, Christie told Winfrey. Zuckerberg chimed in that Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker will be able to "implement new programs in Newark and really make a difference," thanks to the grant.

None of the men mentioned Newark's pre-existing six national Blue Ribbon schools, cited for excellence in closing the achievement gap, nor have they pledged to scale up or replicate promising reform programs already operating in the city, such as the Global Village Zone, an effort to coordinate instruction, teacher coaching and family social services in seven high-need neighborhood schools in the city's Central Ward.

The public conversation about the Zuckerberg donation—which, even with its intended matching grant, will equal only about 4 percent of the district's $940 million budget each year for five years—ignored the cyclical nature of education reform in Newark since the 1960s, when the district first experimented with "schools within schools" and, in 1971, became the site of the longest teachers union strike in an American city. "National foundations and all sorts of nonprofits and entrepreneurs and hedge-fund people have all thought, when they have an idea they think would work, Gee, let's do it in Newark," MacInnes says. "That creates one of the real problems, which is that Newark is always willing to open its bank account to receive outside funds and start projects to try out these ideas, but that is all done in a setting where there's very little coherence."

Serling on Wikileaks; The Caryatids

I freeze up when trying to blog about stuff Bruce Sterling writes. It's important, but hard to summarize without making it sound trite. At his best, Sterling's clearly producing art, because any attempt to explain it rather than experience it falls short.

Having said that, Stephen provides a good introduction to Sterling's long (and essential) piece on Wikileaks:

Bruce Sterling mixes John le Carré and Edgar Allen Poe and comes up with a sharp and insightful analysis of the Wikileaks scandal. You have to read it as Sterling the novelist speaking - it doesn't much matter whether Manning is guilty, that's just the role he plays. But as an account of the fiction that is global intelligence, it's cracking good reading, and keenly straddles the contradictions that are the grist for a novelist's mill.

I've also been completely stuck for over a year trying to say something about Sterling's novel, The Caryatids. I love the central conceit, a delineation of two poles of global techno-revolutionaries. To quote the jacket:

There is the Dispensation, centered in Los Angeles, where entertainment and capitalism have fused with the highest of high-tech. There is the Acquis, a Green-centered collective that uses invasive neurological technology to create a networked utopia.

Any quick summary doesn't quite do the ideas justice -- they need a novel to spread out. Yet as a novel, I can't help but feel the book fails. I had to make myself plow through to the end. So I can't quite recommend it... yet there are some great ideas in there. And I truly don't have time to try to write a substantive review.

If anything, the book has become more clearly relevant in terms of the politics of school reform, which has become quite clearly Dispensation in its outlook the past six months, with an ever-increasing emphasis on celebrity, spectacle and technology. In the world of The Caryatids, when Joel Klein wanted to close some schools, the combined Bloomberg/Hearst/Fox News media convergence would stage a climactic must-see-TV battle between Geoffrey Canada's and Randi Weingarten's battle mechs, which would rampage across enough of the city to coincidentally destroy most of the targeted schools. The big finish could be Oprah's titanic battle bot falling flaming from the sky to save the day, like Battlestar Galactica liberating New Caprica.

On the other hand, we only have bits and pieces of the Acquis educational agenda, particularly in the US.

The Current Situation in Central Falls High School

Martin van Creveld:

The U.S. Army, by contrast put technical and administrative efficiency at the head of its list of priorities, disregarded other considerations, and produced a system that possessed a strong inherent tendency to turn men into nervous wrecks.

Actually, I don't really know what's going on up there, other than they've clearly created a system which has turned the staff into nervous wrecks.

From my voluminous archives.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gratuitous Doyle Post

Stacy Peralta interviewed by Jamie Brisick:

“This was back in the heyday of skateboarding and we’d found this pool somewhere in the hills of Anaheim and there was a burned out house at the very top of this mountain. And there’s like fifty kids in the backyard, and I’m there, and Alva’s there, and Jay Adams, and all these kids sitting around the pool, and there’s about ten cars. And we’re skating and I notice there’s these really rare cactuses and I start eyeing them, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh man, I’m going to take those before we leave.’ So we’re skating and having this good time and all of a sudden some kid yells out, ‘Cooops!’ So we hear these sirens coming up this hill and all these kids are spreading out like ants, like with Raid spray, and I head right for the plants. And I’m stuffing plants into my skate bag while kids are being arrested. And I’m aware of this at the time, going, ‘This is the most absurd thing I could possibly be doing in my lifetime. I can’t leave this place without taking this rare plant ‘cause I know it’s going to be sabotaged because a bulldozer is going to knock this place down.’ So I took the plants, I avoided arrest, I got ‘em to my car, and I made it out of there.”

Stacy Peralta is an award-winning film director, former Z-Boy, and lifelong surfer. He’s also an avid collector of rare succulents and aloes. That this fetishistic hobby of his can be traced back to the days of empty pools and raffish Dogtowners seems either terribly ironic, or totally obvious. Southern California backyard pools were often surrounded by cactus and succulent gardens, and Stacy was always looking beyond the coping.

“Something about these plants struck my interest. I realize now what it is. They remind me of being underwater. When I look at them, I feel the ocean.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Steve Olson on Unschooling

Skateboarding legend Steve Olson, and his son Alex, talk about unschooling. The part with Steve starts around 7:00, the unschooling part around 10:30. You may have to watch a clever ad about washing your testicles before the actual video starts.

What The Gates Foundation Says When It Talks To Itself

Gates' Met Project (my comments inline):

For students in grades 1 through 3, the improvement in mean reading scores between October and April were larger than differences between April of one grade and October of the subsequent grade. Because students generally spend more time in school between October and April than between April and October, such a finding implies youth are improving their reading comprehension more during the months when they are in school.

However, beginning in fourth grade, that is no longer true! The norm sample results imply that students improve their reading comprehension scores just as much (or more) between April and October as between October and April in the following grade. Scores may be rising as kids mature and get more practice outside of school. However, the above pattern implies that schooling itself may have little impact on standard reading comprehension assessments after 3rd grade (Is that really the best explanation they can think of?).

But literacy involves more than reading comprehension. As the Common Core State Standards recently adopted in many states remind us, it includes writing as well. (Who needs to be reminded, by the CCSS no less, that literacy includes writing? English teachers? No. Anyone who ever wrote or read a set of ELA standards? No. Normal humans? No. Legislators, wonks, and people at Gates? Apparently.) In fact, English teachers after grade 4 generally focus more on writing than teaching children to read. (Do they? If so, it is despite a decade of federal regulations and reforms pushing against it.). That is one of the reasons why we supplemented the state ELA tests by administering the Stanford 9 Open-Ended assessment, which provided students with reading passages and then asked students to provide written responses (Were these questions designed to evaluate reading and writing separately?). The implied standard deviation in teacher effects on that alternative assessment Stanford 9 performance was somewhat larger, in fact, than in math. In future analyses, we will be investigating whether teachers have a stronger influence on writing skills than they do on reading comprehension, by analyzing the writing prompts in some state assessments separately from the multiple choice reading comprehension questions (And really, who cares? What are you going to do about it?).

Gates real agenda in English is to figure out how to shape the discipline to be amenable to value-added assessment.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Elephant in the Value-Added Room

Linda Perlstein:

So how much credit, or blame, for these kids’ scores on the test should be attributed to the classroom teacher? This, in a nutshell, is the “teacher of record” problem, and chances are HUGE that your state or district has not solved it, even if it is about to make (or already makes) high-stakes decisions about teachers based on those scores. 

When I went to a Vanderbilt conference on performance incentives this fall, TOR issues were the elephant in the room. In presentation after presentation, they were quietly acknowledged and just as easily dismissed. “We have not quite worked that out yet, but we’re confident in our data” was how one district official put it.

According to those in the know, it has become clear as states try to make good on their Race to the Top promises that they have no solutions to the TOR problem, if they have even considered it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Skull Skates on Morning TV...

I've been happy to find one of my favorite skateboard companies from the 80's is still thriving, as you can see from this slightly surreal new video clip:

Friday, December 17, 2010

When you look into the Farmville, the Farmville looks also into you

Tycho:

In Chris Kohler's review of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (which Erika refers to as "AssBro"), he laments the Farmvillian substrate everything seems to be jammed into. I'd caution anyone about a wide application of this analysis, because you get onto some Nietzsche shit pretty quick. When you look into the Farmville, the Farmville looks also into you. Our games are studded with manipulative tendrils and barbs which resist their removal. He and I disagree on Brotherhood, but if he were to swivel that weapon toward World of Warcraft, I suspect we may find some common ground.

Also.

Last Mayoral Academy Comment (For Now)

One thing I noticed reading the original report/proposal for the Mayoral Academies is that it was first conceived as a set of regional organizations. That is, you might have four or five towns and cities collaborating on, over time, two or three schools. This makes a lot more sense than what they're trying to do now, with a statewide network.

The combinatorics of a statewide organization don't work. There are too many districts and too many parallel configurations. Imagine a network of seven schools representing 20 "mayors." It might kinda make sense if you were looking at it from the point of view of a suburb bordered on two sides by Massachusetts, but if you're the urban hub, not really.

And And And And And And And And And And

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

(In addition to the proposed NECAP test requirements) The graduation requirements also call for students to earn at least 20 credits and complete two of the following measures of proficiency: a senior project, a portfolio of class work, end-of-course exams or a Certificate of Initial Mastery, which is similar to a senior project.

What's the argument for all those things and 20 Carnegie units?

And "We're in a hurry," is not an acceptable answer.

A Note on Central Falls Teacher Absences

One reason there is relatively high absenteeism at Central Falls High, combined with people going on long-term medical leave or just resigning abruptly, is the unique nature of the district. There's only one high school, you can't transfer out, you're stuck there unless you can get a job in another district. Apparently a few people were able to pull that off, which is amazing considering the job market. If CFHS was in Providence, the worst case scenario would be that you were booted out of your job in a reconstitution and ended up in the sub pool making the same salary with fewer responsibilities and a fresh environment.

Basically, if you trap people in a stressful situation, some will crack, and in this case, crack at the beginning of the school year. Your job as an administrator is to understand the local conditions, anticipate and prevent that kind of situation.

Unless you prefer management strategies which ignore human behavior.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Story of Issac

Leonard Cohen:

You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.
You who stand above them now,
Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
You were not there before,
When I lay upon a mountain
And my father’s hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word.

Colonizing Cumberland

Boosting Performance & Containing Costs through Mayoral Academies: A Nationally Unique Model for Public Education, Prepared by Public Impact for Mayor Daniel McKee, Cumberland, Rhode Island:

Introduction

In 2007, Mayor Daniel McKee of Cumberland, Rhode Island approached Public Impact with a challenge. From his perspective as mayor of a diverse town on the edge of Rhode Island’s urban concentration...

This is already bullshit by the second sentence of the report. Cumberland isn't diverse. In 2000, it was 97% white with 3.1% of those under 18 living below the poverty line. What's interesting about this mayoral academy experiment is seeing what happens when some suburban mayors get it in their head that they want to apply the "no excuses" model of schooling to kids from their own towns. The mayoral academies are required to draw student from both urban and suburban districts.

This is going to play out differently in sites driven by subruban mayors compared to the usual purely inner city settings. Already, it took less than two years for the first mayoral academy to say, "Screw it, we can do this ourselves," and kick out their charter operator. It seems to me that part of this is just the difference between urban politics and thrifty New England town politics, where every year the town cranks drag out discussion of every line item in the school budget.

Also, while "Trust me, I went to Brown," may not be the best approach to impress people in the 'hood, it is probably worse in the suburbs.

I'd be that in the long run (if there is one) the mayoral academies will settle on looser school models better suited for heterogeneous populations, like the Core Knowledge curriculum or High Tech High.

Like Throwing a Drowning Man an Anchor

ProJo:

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. -- The best way to fix the city's massive municipal deficit is to merge it with the city of Pawtucket, have the state take over the Wyatt detention facility and convince the legislature to enact laws that would change how municipal contracts and pensions statewide are handled, the retired judge appointed to fix Central Falls budget problems said in a report issued Thursday...

A merger with Pawtucket would put Central Falls in a municipality with similar demographics and issues, Pfeiffer said. At first, Pawtucket's own distressed budget situation might argue against such a move, but he suggested the state could provide incentives for Pawtucket, like extra state aid, to help with the transition.

The lower income population of Central Falls would make it easier for Pawtucket to attract government grants, he said, and the increased population would make the new combined entity the second biggest city in the state, enhancing its legislative clout.

When asked about Pfeiffer's merger recommendation, Central Falls City Council President William Benson Jr. said, "That's not going to happen. I don't see that."

We Have Hackers

Walter Bender:

2. Plan Ceibal, the one-laptop-per-child program in Uruguay, held an international conference in Montevideo on 30 November – 1 December. It was a great opportunity to catch up with some old friends from across the region (Gonzalo, Cecilia, Antonio, Laura, Patricia, et al.) and to spend time with many of the teachers and volunteers who have been participating in the program. I finally met Rosamel!! And I got reacquainted with the Ceibal Jam team; the students and faculty at Universidad Católica del Uruguay, where I gave a talk; and the Butiá project team, who uses a combination of Turtle Blocks and an Arduino board to turn the XO laptop into a robot — very cool. (A favorite demo was when they used one laptop to control the robot, one to be the robot, and one to display the video from the robot’s webcam — a great use of the network and the plurality of laptops in Uruguay.) It is also worth noting that a number of commercial software companies are now participating in the project, offering Sugar activities (under FOSS licenses) to the children.

I spent some time at Ceibal discussing Sugar and future directions for the project. Emiliano Pastorino showed me an activity he is developing that uses an RFID-tag reader to help children use their laptops to inventory cattle. I was so intrigued that I decided to add an RFID block to Turtle Blocks so that the children can use RFID in their programs. (The code is in git and will be part of Release 105.)

One mission I had for my trip to Uruguay was to bring an ‘unlocked’ laptop to ChristoferR, a twelve-year-old, who has been writing Sugar activities. He was at the point where he needed root access in order to dig deeper into Sugar and the system. Thanks to Gabriel, Christofer now was a laptop that can be used for experimentation outside of the context of his school work. I discussed with Miguel Brechner the need to provide a scalable mechanism for unlocking machines in Uruguay — today there are perhaps one dozen “Christofers” in Uruguay. Next year, there will be 100; in two years, 1000. Fiorella Haim, the technical lead for Ceibal, assured me that they have a plan in place to address this issue as part of the Sugar refresh scheduled for this summer.

After our discussion, Miguel happened to have a conversation with President José Mujica. He mentioned Christofer to the president, who in reply, smiled and said with pride in his voice, “We have hackers.” Congratulations Uruguay.

This stuff doesn't happen overnight.

What Skateboarding in Sweden Tells Us About US Schools

Thomas Hatch:

It wasn’t until I lived in Norway (with my wife and daughters in kindergarten, fourth grade and sixth grade) that I took explicit notice of the fact that Norway, with many commonalities with Finland – consistently one of the highest performers on PISA – actually scores about as poorly as the United States How could this be?

When my fourth grader, who didn’t start school until 9 a.m.,got home shortly after 1:30 p.m. (when school got out), I began to see some possible issues... In fact, over the course of that year, I noted many aspects of the Norwegian educational system that might explain those low test scores: a more limited emphasis on early education in comparison to many other countries along with low levels of instructional time, very few tests, little homework, and the lack of any marks, grades or formal feedback before the end of 7th grade.

But as I thought about it, and as I saw how happy my children were going off to school (on their own, on the subway…), I realized that I could use the PISA scores to argue that the Norwegian system wasn’t doing as badly as the U.S. In fact, I started to tell my Norwegian colleagues that they should say that Norway was doing as well as the U.S. (and almost the OECD average) without even trying.

If you watch Skate Europe, Season 2: Sweden, you'll similarly learn that in at least one Swedish city, you can attend a skateboarding-centric high school -- and again, end up matching the US's test scores while having a lot more fun.

You'll also get a reminder of what powerful cultural exports the US has enjoyed -- in particular the global reach of a few kids in Portland, Oregon who started messing around with bags of concrete under a bridge.

Burnside Skatepark's 20th Birthday Halloween Celebration from Bryce Kanights on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Central Falls Back in the News

With Central Falls back in the news, including Claudio Sanchez's striking NPR piece, I don't have any particular insight, but it is probably worth repeating some points about the unique status of Central Falls.

We managed to get through the whole first wave of this scandal without the governance structure of the district being explained anywhere I could find it:

The Central Falls School District Board of Trustees was established by state statute in 2002, to govern the city’s schools, which are financed entirely by state and federal funds.

The seven members of the board are appointed by the state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education, which also designates the chairperson.

According to the law, four trustees must be residents of the city and parents of current or former Central Falls public school students. The remaining three shall be appointed at large.

The trustees receive no compensation for their service and must meet at least monthly.

The state education commissioner and the Regents provide recommendations about the district budget, the selection of the superintendent and they must sign off on the teachers contract that is negotiated by the Central Falls Teachers Union and the Board of Trustees.

Glad the ProJo finally cleared that up. Kind of relevant, don't you think?

Also from the ProJo:

“Our protocol gives districts a chance to intervene and turn the school around,” Gist said. “If that is not successful, the next step is reconstitution … and that could include closing the school.”

It isn't clear to me what this threat means or who it is aimed at. It is kind of like if you threatened to shoot someone, backed down, and then came back and threatened to shoot them with a bigger gun. My understanding is that all the teachers will have to reapply for their jobs regardless at the end of this year. Last year's principal was already fired. The teachers who resigned this year can't resign again next year. The board is already appointed by the state and has veto power over the teacher contract. The whole city is in receivership. You can't take any more power away from Central Falls.

An even better metaphor would be that when you come back with the bigger gun, you don't notice someone else has already shot the person.

So I don't really know what RIDE is considering. Is this their way of setting the table to merge the district into the surrounding ones (plus charters)? To be honest it is the only thing that makes sense, but I don't think they're in any position to do it, particularly with a new governor coming in and a lame-duck Board of Regents. Regardless, Chafee is being handed a real bag of shit.

Also, from this morning:

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. -- About 20 Central Falls High School students started a low-key protest Wednesday morning, refusing to go to class, instead standing across the street in frigid weather eating homemade cookies.

The group eventually increased to about 50 before the students decided to end their outdoor protest. When the students tried getting into the school at about 9:30 a.m., they found that the doors were locked.

"We're protesting against the administration. They don't talk to us. They don't tell us what's going on," said Julie Perez, a junior, said earlier.

"I want them to talk to us and ask us what we think is best for the school," Perez said. "We have no say in what's going on."

We'll see if Young Voices tries sticking its nose in again.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Notes on the Democracy Prep Fiasco

Jennifer Jordan for the ProJo:

(Democracy Prep NYC/Democracy Builders head Seth) Andrew’s spokeswoman said Friday that Andrew was caught off guard by news that the mayoral academies board had voted his organization out. Spokeswoman Kerri Lyon said that Andrew had planned to come to Rhode Island Friday “in good faith” for a mediation session at the state Department of Education between the groups, but canceled the trip when he learned of the split...

In a news release issued Friday morning, Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, who chairs the Mayoral Academies board, said the school would operate under the leadership of Jeremy Chiappetta, who has served as the elementary school’s principal.

In an interview, Mayoral Academies spokesman Bill Fischer said the sides were unable to agree to terms after Andrew requested more money to manage the school. Under the terms of the first agreement, Andrew’s organization received 10 percent of the school’s operational budget. For the school’s second year, he was seeking a higher percentage, Fischer said.

“The [school] board did not think the request was reasonable or justifiable,” Fischer said.

Andrew and his management team earned about $120,000 last year to run the school. Andrew’s payment would have increased to at least $200,000 for the current school year — at the 10-percent rate — because of enrollment growth.

According to Fischer, the sides had been negotiating over money since the first contract expired June 30.

The school’s board includes McKee, Lincoln Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond, state Rep. Kenneth A. Vaudreuil, D-Central Falls, and Dr. John Morton, who represents Pawtucket...

“[Mayoral Academies] has asked the department … to clarify several matters regarding the charter … and other issues regarding the operation and financing for the school,” Gist said. “These matters are currently under legal review, and we will not comment on these matters at this time.”

“We are confident we are in possession of the charter,” Fischer said.

Nobody does a good job here of explaining the role of Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) is in this governance structure. Here's my current understanding, from the top down:

  • Rhode Island Board of Regents: charter authorizer. Nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the legislature.
  • Rhode Island Department of Education: executes the policies of and advises the Regents. The Commissioner is hired by the Board of Regents.
  • Rhode Island Mayoral Academies: a non-profit holding the charter for Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley (DPBV) and potentially other RI schools. The 11 member board includes one representative of the towns served by DPBV, only one other RI mayor, but does include Joe Williams from DfER and Ellen Winn from the Educational Equality Project.
  • DPBV Board: This is made up of representatives of the four feeder cities and towns. Note that Central Fall's representative Ken Vaudreuil was suppored by DfER in the last election and lost. Also, Central Falls is under receivership, and its mayor has been removed from office and is under an ethics investigation. Exactly what the role and powers of the school's board are is impossible to tell from a distance. Presumably it is in the charter, which doesn't seem to be available online. DPBV has no independent website, and finding anything on the RIDE website other than Deb Gist's smile is difficult. Do they have public meetings?
  • School administration and staff: necessary (unfortunately to some).
  • Democracy Builders: the charter management organization. Where do they fit in here? The first thing on the "What We Do" list for RIMA is "Attract great school operators." But it looks like the DPBV board kicked Democracy Prep out.

Who is RIMA accountable to and for what? They rated a prominent place in our Race to the Top application, based on successfully opening DPBV with a class of kindergarteners. Now we see one of their key roles in that process was a complete failure -- the operator they attracted is already leaving the school.

This to me looks like a great political structure as long as everyone at every level is already in agreement. I don't see how it will work over time. What if RIMA and the board of one of the schools whose charter they hold are in disagreement? How will that be resolved? Who is accountable for what? It seems to me that RIMA's real role is as a conduit for money, particularly from outside the state.

However, Andrew indicated the rift at least a couple of weeks ago, when he petitioned the state Education Department for an expedited review for a new school, called Democracy Prep Hope, he wants to open in Providence for the 2011-12 school year, serving students from Providence and Kent counties. The Hope school would open with 325 students in kindergarten through second grade and in sixth grade, eventually expanding to 875 students.

This application should be rejected for the insensitivity of the name alone. Hope High School's history in Providence is way to long, troubled and contested for this kind of appropriation. I'm not easily offended, and this offends me.

Also, would this be a non-RIMA mayoral academy or a regular charter?

Andrew submitted the application by the Dec. 1 deadline. The document states that since Democracy Prep would be ending its relationship with the Blackstone Valley school, Andrew wanted to offer those students the choice to attend his new school next year...

“There are a host of issues we will have to look at during this transition, including the actual name of the school, and we are in day one of that transition,” Fischer said. “We have thought, in particular, about a number of issues, including legal overtones.

“What we want to have is a clean and positive separation with Seth. And Seth will dictate the tone about whether we can separate in clean, positive manner.”

Pass the popcorn. Actually, the best part about this is that there is no particular reason to think the students will be affected one way or another by it. It's all about the adults.

Sounds About Right

Stephen Sawchuck:

Teachers in high-poverty schools in Florida and North Carolina are on average only slightly less effective than those in low-poverty schools. However, within schools, there's a broader talent spread in high-poverty schools, and the poorest-performing teachers in such schools are are generally worse than the least-effective ones in low-poverty schools, according to a new analysis from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, or CALDER.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Public Comment

Seattle Education 2010:

I’ve been asked about the aspect of the Broad training received by school board members regarding comments and opinions from the public and how they should be handled. My source on this information has chosen to remain anonymous but this is the information that I received, “…at the Broad training they were told, as board members, they would get thousands and thousands of ideas from the public but the only ideas they should pursue were those from “professionals” at national conferences and at Broad meetings”.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some Michael Symon's Live to Cook Notes

I've been making a lot of things from Michael Symon's Live to Cook -- I can relate to its midwestern perspective. The degree of difficulty is just right for me, the food is tasty, and it's a Ruhlman project (that's why I bought it), so the writing is excellent too.

When I made the Italian Braised Beef with Root Vegetables, which Symon credits to his Italian mother and grandmother, Carol, the Italian grandmother who babysits for Vivian and Julia during the week, said it was exactly like what she makes -- and delicious. So score 1 point for authenticity. Carol has since made several recipes from the book, including the Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup and Thanksgiving Turkey, that she was happy with. This is relevant because I often cook things that I've never eaten, particularly prepared well, so I'm not the most valid cookbook reviewer.

Anyhow, here are a few recent observations:

  • The Crab Tater Tots yesterday were a little disappointing. I botched the proportions and ended up with too much potato, so there wasn't enough crab to stand out as an appetizer. Also, if you're serving them that way, you really need a sauce, which I didn't have. The good news is that I don't really think ppommes dauphine, the basis of the dish, really need crab to be good, which is, of course, much cheaper anyhow!
  • I made the Butter-Poached Wild (farmed in this case) Salmon with Shallots and Thyme this week. I grill Salmon medium-rare over charcoal, and I'm paranoid about drying it out in the oven, and I just avoid cooking it inside. But Jennifer and the girls like it so I need to find a technique I like in cold months. This is a bit of a commitment because you have to dedicate two pounds of butter to the cause. The upside is you can strain, refrigerate and re-use the butter, both for more salmon and as a quick sauce for veg, etc. The title is a little misleading because you also add the juice of four oranges and a lemon to the poaching medium, so citrus is the main compliment to the butter flavor.

    Overall it is fairly easy, slightly time consuming and comes out pretty much as you'd expect. The butter is a particularly delicious sauce. My various thermometers gave me a wide variety of readings during the poaching process, which wasn't helpful. I think this was just because there was a wide range of temperatures from the top to the bottom of the saucepan. I think I overcooked the fish just a little but the appeal of this method is a high margin for error. I've still got the butter so I'll be trying this a few more times in the next month or so!

  • I'm trying to avoid stunt deep frying, and it feels like Fried Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Capers is getting close to the line. At first, at least, but it doesn't seem that weird when you actually do it. It isn't like you're coating them in batter or anything. In this case I decided that a little chimichurri was close enough to the sauce, and didn't worry about the walnuts or parsley. So it was pretty much Fried Brussels Sprouts with Chimichurri and Capers. I'd recommend deep fried brussels sprouts if you're going for a serious steak house style dinner. If you want to go a little over the top, this is a good route.

Friday, December 10, 2010

SchoolTool on Fedora, in Nepal

Abhishek Singh at OLE Nepal:

In our continual effort of improving our systems and providing tools to support digital education, we were presented with a new requirement — providing schools a software based tool for classroom management and grading. After evaluating a few available tools, we encountered SchoolTool which was the foremost candidate meeting most of our criteria:

  • Web based
  • Different user levels: admins, teachers, students
  • Student information system
  • Calendars
  • Attendance
  • Grading
  • Localizable
  • Open Source

Though being the right candidate, SchoolTool had a few of the shortcomings for us — the tools is readily available (as a set of installable package) for Ubuntu only and had a lot of dependencies. As our plan to integrate the tool in the NEXS (School Server software based on Fedora Linux) infrastructure, a lot of packaging work had to be done...

Now we are ready to pilot SchoolTool (localized in Nepali) in a few of the OLPC deployed schools.

We have built binary RPM packages for Fedora 13 and Fedora 9, for both 32 and 64 bit architectures. Additionally to encourage developers to test their own builds and to contribute in porting the tool to Fedora based distributions, we have made the packaging sources available under non-restrictive license. If you would like to test my builds, the RPM repository is hosted at http://ftp.schooltool.org/rpms/.

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Elizabeth Harrison:

Rhode Island Mayoral Academies announced today that Democracy Prep is pulling out of the Blackstone Valley charter school it helped to start...

Democracy Prep was founded by Brown Graduate Seth Andrew and operates a middle school in Harlem. Cumberland Mayor and RIMA Board Chair Daniel McKee says he was unable to reach an agreement on a new contract with the organization to continue working with the Blackstone Valley campus.

Hilarious! All along I've been puzzling over how the Mayoral Academies baroque management hack would possibly work over time. I guess we now know.

In particular you might ask yourself why the "mayoral academy" was not represented by itself, its board, or the constituent mayors, but by the RIMA organization. Conveniently, RIMA is now at least headed by one of the relevant mayors, but that wouldn't necessarily be true in the future.

Buy a Funnel!

Francis Lam:

With all this talk of French fries and turkey confit and other oil-submerged delights lately, it's time to address an age-old question: Can you reuse oils and fats? I mean, the stuff isn't cheap when you're using quarts of it at a time and just tossing it.

And the answer is: Yes! Or no! It's complicated (a little). The keys lie in how much you abused it to begin with, how you treat and store it, and what you plan on doing with it afterward.

As you may have noticed, I've been deep frying stuff lately. When you do it yourself is enough of a pain in the ass that you're unlikely to do it enough to seriously damage your health. On the other hand, once a week is fun. People in America aren't fat because they eat one serving of fried food a week.

Anyhow, you don't need a special appliance. You just need:

  • A big heavy pot. The bigger the better, because it gives you a nice margin for error. I use my 16-quart stockpot. You've got a giant stockpot right? You know, the one you use to make stock, because you need stock.
  • A gallon jug of peanut oil. This can be surprisingly difficult to find. I've only used peanut oil and have no complaints. Optimally, you might use more oil, but 1 gallon will do, particularly if you're patient enough to work in batches.
  • A powerful burner. If you can't bring the temperature of the oil back up after the food goes in, you're kinda sunk. If you have a wimpy stovetop, this probably doesn't work.
  • An "Asian" circular wire skimmer. For scooping things out. You don't need any sort of basket contraption.
  • A thermometer that clips on your pot so you know how hot the oil is at all times. Necessary for debugging.
  • A funnel for getting used oil back in the jug. The cleanup is surprisingly easy. You just need to find someone to hold the funnel.

I'm making Michael Symon's Crab Tater Tots for a party tonight. I expect them to be delicious.

Alien Invasion

Charlie Stross:

We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals, which use their media reach to distract attention from threats to their own security. Individual atomized humans are either co-opted by these entities (you can live very nicely as a CEO or a politician, as long as you don't bite the feeding hand) or are steamrollered if they try to resist.

In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Living in the Future

Jeff Mao and Bob McIntire:

Curate metadata, don’t stockpile resources.

Via OLDaily.

What's the Total Cost of Ownership of Flash?

Doug Johnson:

What schools can do is clearly outline the capacities Student Connectivity Device. need to have in order for students to participate fully in instructional activities and use school-provided instructional materials. Here might be a start on a short list of those capabilities...

Included under "recommended" (as opposed to "required") is "ability to run Flash." What's the cost of this? Having Flash might mean the difference between kids getting through the whole day on one battery charge and crapping out in the middle of 5th period. Flash on mobile devices is likely to degrade the overall performance and lead to more crashes and instability, more problems, and more support costs.

Now, you may need Flash for specific software the school is already using, but then it is a requirement. But if you don't need it, I wouldn't recommend it, and I wouldn't leave it hanging around on the big committee criteria checklist.

Also, who needs anti-virus software? And we really should be shooting for 8 hour battery life, not 4.

Negotiator-in-Chief

I think the bigger point about this tax cut compromise is that Obama needs to stop acting as legislative negotiator in chief. It is not his job, and he's not very good at it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Making the Grades

Dan DiMaggio's article in the Monthly Review, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Test Scorer, is good, but more importantly a reminder that I never wrote a review of Todd Farley's book Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry.

Unfortunately, writing decent book reviews takes too much time for this blog, but this is a good read. It is breezy and particularly funny if you've actually done your time doing low-end office temp work yourself and know the array of freaks, losers and weirdos who inhabit in that world. I also scored essays as part of Rhode Island's old writing assessment program, and spent a bit of time with data and assessment wonks in state and local government, so I've got direct experience in the milieu, and everything Farley says rings true.

It isn't very sticky in terms of policy rhetoric because the comeback is "and that's why we're spending $350 million dollars to design new computer-scored tests." The one clear takeaway is that human-scored constructed response question are not inherently better than multiple choice. They just introduce a different, more opaque set of problems.

As it turned out, I read Making the Grades just as one of the first Common Core Standards drafts came out, and it really shaped my response to them. In every case, the Common Core ELA standards were idiosyncratically different from the international standards they were supposedly benchmarked to. In every case, the Common Core version was simpler, narrower, and be easier to explain to addle-headed temps inhabiting Farley's book or a computer than the international comparisons. Given that the process was driven by the testing companies, I don't think it is complicated or secret enough to bother calling it a conspiracy.

Rhee First

Mike Klonsky:

She's named her new group, Students First, but a look at her website will tell you that it should have been called Rhee First.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Skating is Reality Therapy

The skate plan has gone flawlessly so far. After dropping Vivian off at pre-school Tue/Thurs, each day was 40 degrees and sunny at 9:15 AM, with nobody at all there today and a couple guys trickling in as I skated Tuesday.

Did some very low intensity carving in the shallow-end half-bowl Tuesday, got a wheel out backside today. Most importantly successfully fell a few times from coping height onto my kneepads. The key to not hurting yourself isn't skating well, it is falling well.

It looks like the weather will be good for Sunday, and I'll work on dropping in on the mellow Y footie.

Title by C. R. Stecyk III.

The One Reason for Optimism on 10th Grade NECAP Scores

Ken Mortland:

For graduation purposes, the WASL would be administered in 10th grade. That started in the Northshore District in 98-99, and 70.0% of the 10th graders passed the reading WASL, 63.6% passed the writing WASL, and 54.9% passed the math WASL. The science WASL began for 10th graders in 02-03, when 52.3% passed the science WASL. In 05-06, the 10th graders who would have to pass the WASL to graduate took it for the first time and the scores jumped up. This was now serious business and could be blown off no more. In 05-06, 93.8% of NSSD's 10th graders passed the reading WASL, 92% passed the writing WASL, 73.6% passed the math WASL, and 53.7% passed the science WASL. In 09-10, 91.6% of 10th graders passed the reading WASL, 95% passed the writing WASL, 66.4% passed the math WASL, and 66.9% passed the science WASL.

This is the first year the NECAP's count for graduation in RI.

Need a Buzzword? "Aligned Ambitions"

Good comment over at Michael Goldstein's blog:

I get this – but I will offer, as a first generation college student, that 1. every major can be hard if your aim is too excel and that 2. perhaps being supported in setting your own goals and identifying your own strengths is also critical to your success, even if you are low-income or minority.

Put more personally, I entered college young, without much of a clue about how it worked – it wasn’t a goal for my family – and with chronic health problems as well. My brother entered older, healthier, and with considerably more support from my family. I studied something I loved and was committed to mastering; he studied what he thought would help him earn more money. I have a degree now, and he dropped out and returned to the $11 an hour job that he enjoys.

I think you need to respect that kids have their own passions, skills and strengths and teach them to be people who work hard for the things they want – not bribe them with “golden tickets” ie, if you just study what I tell you to, you’ll be rich. College is hard, especially when it’s not part of your family’s experience and you don’t have connections. For me, what allowed me to do well is that I loved what I was learning and worked harder than everyone else because of it. I can’t say I would have done that if someone else had told me what to study and the things I loved and was good at, better than other people, were dismissed as “easy.”

Teachers Talking About the Union

Some nice quotes in this Philly Notebook piece:

Denise (Dee) Rogers: Let’s face it – my teaching conditions are your kids’ learning conditions. The temperature in my classroom is the temperature your kids have to sit in all day. If there’s 38 kids crammed in there with 30 desks, that’s your children sitting on this desk, on the radiator, anywhere. So when we’re fighting for school staff … those things benefit children. …

Trey Smith: I don’t want to malign the [District] school I was in because I worked with some wonderful, wonderful, teachers…and especially a great union rep. But if I’m organizing an event in my school, like field day, and it requires teachers to maybe come outside during lunch, the first concern is, “What does the union have to say about us losing our lunch?”

I know none of the particulars in the second case, but I'd guess the issue was that the teachers just didn't want to do it (for whatever reason) and were just using the union as an excuse.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Taking a Fresh Look at "The Lost Tools of Learning"

I've taken a little closer look at Dorothy Sayer's 1947 essay The Lost Tools of Learning, which subsequently became a touchstone for "Classical," "Christian Classical" or really it should be "Neo-Classical" or something, and conservative school design after being reprinted in The National Review in the early seventies. The essay is typical of its era, when public intellectuals of all stripes were engaged in a question of immediate, visceral urgency: Can we educate our children in such a way to avoid the next Hitler, Stalin, Mao, World War III? And while it does seem like the kind of thing William F. Buckley would have liked back in the day, the appeal to contemporary American conservatives is more of a stretch.

Here's how Sayer frames the problem:

Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And, if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected), but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves? Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly, and properly documented, and one that is, to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?

Do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a "subject" remains a "subject," divided by watertight bulkheads from all other "subjects," so that they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon--or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art?

Or, more pithily:

I am concerned only with the proper training of the mind to encounter and deal with the formidable mass of undigested problems presented to it by the modern world.

That is exactly on point. That's the best mission statement for a school I've ever read.

  • Sayers is not making a moral or ethical argument at all.
  • Sayers is rather indifferent about what content is taught.
  • The true purpose of education is "learning to learn," today we might even call it "learning strategies."

Indeed, according to Sayers, by high school, students should have a high degree of autonomy:

...a certain freedom is demanded. In literature, appreciation should be again allowed to take the lead over destructive criticism; and self-expression in writing can go forward, with its tools now sharpened to cut clean and observe proportion. Any child who already shows a disposition to specialize should be given his head: for, when the use of the tools has been well and truly learned, it is available for any study whatever. It would be well, I think, that each pupil should learn to do one, or two, subjects really well, while taking a few classes in subsidiary subjects so as to keep his mind open to the inter-relations of all knowledge.

From what I can tell, a lot of Sayers message has been sanitized and domesticated by those today who cite it as an inspiration -- although I'd love to see an example of this more anarchic vision of "Classical" education. I can imagine Stephen Downes in the middle of one of those schools. Unfortunately, what's mostly been taken away is the use of the trivium to represent stages of development, which is the weakest, least interesting part of the essay. We've learned enough in the past fifty years about child development and cognitive psychology to not lean on this commonsensical simplification.