Saturday, April 30, 2011

Celebrating Providence's Literary Heritage

This Encapsulates My First and Only Reaction to the "Teacher Quality" Argument

Matthew Stewart in the Atlantic Monthly (in 2006):

Taylorism, like much of management theory to come, is at its core a collection of quasi-religious dicta on the virtue of being good at what you do, ensconced in a protective bubble of parables (otherwise known as case studies).

Read the whole thing.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Common Grounds Article on Achievement First Mayoral Academies

Me (see page 4):

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, the Providence School Board, and parents, teachers and community leaders across the city have spent the spring grappling with a reported $100 million structural deficit citywide and a crash course of school closures and reorganizations.

But while Taveras put forward a proposal to close four PPSD schools at an estimated savings of $10 million a year, at the same time Cranston Mayor Allan Fung has quietly submitted a plan to the Rhode Island Department of Education to open a five school "mayoral academy" that would, over time, serve 1300 Providence students, and, as Mayor Fung has put it, see $20 million a year "funneled into Cranston" from Providence.

My favorite line:

Mayor Fung's solution to race and income-based achievement gaps within his city's schools is to offer low income students a special school they can attend with poor children from Providence.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

PVD Board Votes to Close 5 Schools

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

Six-year-old Renee Barone said it all Thursday night.

"You let all of the kindergartners down," she told a standing-room-only crowd. "I may be small now, but one day, I'll be big and I'll remember what you did to us."

Gates and Pearson Lay Their Cards on the Table


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropy, and the foundation associated with Pearson, the giant textbook and school technology company, announced a partnership on Wednesday to create online reading and math courses aligned with the new academic standards that some 40 states have adopted in recent months.

The courses will then be marketed by Pearson.

Hopefully people will now start to understand what has been going on here, what Gates' plan has been all along.

For example, when you read something like this:

All standards are not created equal. We believe it is far more critical for teachers to help students to analyze, evaluate, and support their conclusions with evidence than it is for them to spend precious time on puzzling standards like these:

“Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style”; or

“Analyze different points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) creating such effects as suspense or humor.”

We have tested these and similar standards on many teachers. They, like us, have no idea what these mean or how they would teach them.

You know who knows how they'd teach those standards? Pearson.

You know the best way to teach those standards? Lots of incremental practice, ideally drawn from a large pool of short, engaging texts which are customized to the reader's exact interests and reading level with immediate feedback from a computer.

There will be no further revision of these standards. No addendum. No official curriculum. They're done, so if you don't like them as they are right now, you'd better start opposing them.

If Only Schools Were Required to Release Disaggregated Achievement Data

Liz Goodwin:

A new report by the non-profit Education Trust warns that the low achievement of minority and low-income students in high-achieving schools is often masked by the education world's focus on averages.

The study examined math and reading test scores over several years in nearly 2,500 schools in Indiana and Maryland. While overall scores tended to improve in most schools, minority and low-income subgroups often showed little to no improvement on the tests.

NCLB and similar earlier measures have put as much emphasis on subgroup data as is legislatively possible. This data has not been hidden. It could not be less un-hidden. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to gather and publicize it.

If this approach is not having the desired effect, and it is not the approach taken by higher performing countries, perhaps we should conclude that, while continuing to collect and disaggregate data is not a bad idea, it is far from the solution to the problem, and using the data punitively is not a solution at all.

Mayoral Academy Nitpicks

Among the many small points that didn't make the cut into my Achievement First Mayoral Academy story:

  • Is it really appropriate to write Mayor Fung personally into an application to start the school as if his authority in that context is personal and not simply a function of his role as Mayor of Cranston? Or is that the intention? Is it really just Fung's school?
  • Did the governance of Blackstone Valley Prep work according to plan? Was the ease with which the board(s) booted Democracy Prep a feature or a bug? Hard to tell since RIMA is suggesting a different board structure the second time around which will make booting the CMO much harder.
  • If you're going to make a system of urban/suburban school collaborations, you have to be crystal clear about the purpose, otherwise by the time you're proposing school number two the story has become "We'll put the poor kids from the suburbs with the poor kids from the city, brilliant!"

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Breaking the Silence on Common Core ELA

Schmoker and Graff:

Argument, in short, is the essence of thought. So, it is heartening to see that the English/language arts documents of the Common Core State Standards Initiative acknowledge the supreme and “special place” of argument among all other literacy standards. We hope that readers won’t overlook the section in the common-core research that asserts that argument is “the soul of an education” with “unique importance in college and careers.” One of us—Jerry Graff—was prominently mentioned in this section, for demonstrating that college is fundamentally an “argument culture.” To succeed, students can’t simply amass information (as important as that is); they must also weigh its value and use it to resolve conflicting opinions, offer solutions, and propose reasonable recommendations. The same could be said for the demands of citizenship and the modern workplace.

We are encouraged, then, by the common-core standards, which contain a ringing endorsement of argument as the primary mode for reading, talking, and writing about complex texts. What concerns us is that for all their merits, these standards are still overlong, redundant, and often confusing. Consequently, the most important and powerful standards are at risk of being marginalized—or overlooked entirely.

People are starting to notice that these things are just poorly executed from stem to stern. No amount of spending by Gates can hide it forever. Almost everything written about them is just nonsense -- including at least half of this critical column -- but eventually people will start seeing through the haze.

New Common Ground Article Coming Soon...

I finished a piece on the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academies for Common Ground last night.

This one got a bit stressful because it became apparent as I was working on it that there are enough problems and mistakes in the proposal that there's a real chance the now friendlier Board of Regents will reject it, particularly if Taveras doesn't support it, and I don't see how he can. It is just a horrible deal for Providence and Taveras, politically and substantively, and rejecting it doesn't even mean rejecting the idea of mayoral academies in general. Just that Providence demands equal treatment in planning and executing ones that involve us.

Also, RIMA will fight back, so this is one case where you need to make sure to have your ducks in a very straight row. Luckily there is more than enough ammo in the proposal itself and exacerbated by the conflicting priorities of the various players in the overly-complex mayoral academy governance structure.

In particular, it doesn't seem like anyone from RIMA checked the enrollment assumptions built into AF's budget projections, which are nice and unambiguous and out of line with both the spirit and statutory requirements of the mayoral academy law.

That, and the governance structure is just ridiculous.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rube Goldberg Governance

A "mayoral academy" is required to have as the chair of its board the mayor or "elected town administrator" (which appears to have a specific meaning in RI, which is, essentially, "mayor-like office by another name," but I Am Not A Lawyer) of one of the involved towns. The rest of the board is to be comprised of "representatives from each included city or town." RIMA is apparently interpreting this to mean "yadda yadda nothing" because the Achivement First proposal just says:

Achievement First Mayoral Academies will be governed by a Chair, Vice Chair, and Board of Directors consisting of between seven (7) and nine (9) members. As with all mayoral academies, the board will be chaired by a mayor of one enrolling city/town. Mayor Allan Fung of Cranston will chair the proposed mayoral academy program. The remaining board members will represent various professional skill areas including academic, legal, financial, and the interests of the school and its community. The Board will provide strong academic and fiscal oversight for the mayoral academies. To maintain continuity in implementing the AF model, Achievement First Directors and staff will have significant input into board development. In addition, the board will include at least one parent of an Achievement First Mayoral Academies scholar. (...)

The board of RIMA, the mayoral academy’s non-profit parent organization, will assemble a nominating committee to appoint members to the Achievement First Mayoral Academies board. In practice, board appointments will be made based on the guidance and recommendations from both Mayor Fung and Achievement First. This strategy will ensure that all appointees understand and will uphold the mission of the school, represent the enrolling communities of the school, and provide the crucial support needed for the school to succeed and the Board to perform its duties.

So... Providence -- which they project as providing 3/4 of the student body of the school -- will be represented by people recommended by the Mayor of Cranston and a Connecticut CMO and approved by another RIMA, whose board includes no representatives of Providence or any Providence-based constituency?

Contrast that with Achievement First's treatment -- and they're a contractor in this relationship.

But that isn't even where I was going with this. Going forward, one of two people has to be chair of the board -- the mayor of Cranston or the mayor of Providence. If that doesn't happen, it's charter is invalid, right? And we've got one city that a) already has mayoral control of its own school district -- the mayor picks the board and b) was completely excluded from the planning of the school; and another city where a) only provide 25% of the students in the school (as projected by AF), b) has schools that aren't exactly urban hellholes to send kids back to and c) the new mayor may have just beaten the mayor who founded the school. And in both cases the mayoral academy is a steady and ongoing drain on the (perennially barely solvent) city budget.

If both mayors simply say "I would prefer not to," then what? Both can blame the other or their predecessors. No vote has to be taken; no specific action at all.

What a bunch of idiocy.

Nobody Could Have Predicted


Even though students are getting more credits in more advanced courses, they are not scoring any higher on standardized tests.

The reason, according to a growing body of research, is that the content of these courses is not as high-achieving as their names — the course-title equivalent of grade inflation. Algebra II is sometimes just Algebra I. And College Preparatory Biology can be just Biology.

Maybe if they change the grading scale that'll help.

Also, kids say the darndest things:

Brandi Davis, a student in Mr. Boby’s third-period class, Transitions to College Math, struggled to catch up, she said, after taking a chaotic eighth-grade math course in a neighboring district.

The course had a catchy name, she recalled: “Jungle Gym Math.”

That's funny, because that phrase didn't turn up on the internet prior to this article, and things like course names tend to turn up on school websites, posted PDF's of course handbooks, names of textbooks, etc.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Projected Annual PPSD Losses to Fung's Achievement First Mayoral Academy

That's per-year, not a running total. Total is $150 million over twelve years, $20 million a year thereafter. Not adjusted for an increase in funding numbers beyond RIMA's 2017 estimate. So this is lowball.

Achievement First Colonial Academy

I'm working on an article on the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academy, and after re-skimming the application and exhibits (over 850 pages...), I've come to realize this is even more screwed up than I thought. Basically, it would create a five school system of schools with 75% of the students from Providence but with a board headed by the Mayor of Cranston, one of PVD's suburbs.

In fact, nobody from the Providence Mayor's office was involved in the proposal at all, nor does the application guarantee any representation from Providence's municipal government (although this may be required by law).

Since they're going for this in one big lump instead of the usual sneaky piecemeal method, you can project the short and long term costs to the PPSD budget:

  • 2012-2013: about $1.8 million
  • 2013-2014: about $4.6 million (wiping out the savings of this year's proposed closures)
  • Over 10 years: north of $100 million

Yeah, how about that. Mayor Fung of Cranston has proposed to RIDE a plan that will cost PVD $100 million over 10 years. Only in Rhode Island.

Even if you think a Cranston/Providence Mayoral Academy is a good idea, they should have to start over and cut a better deal for PVD.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Becoming the Status Quo

It has been annoying that accountability-driven reformers have managed to keep their downtrodden outsider revolutionary rhetoric going as long as they have, but one thing the superintendent controversies and musical chairs of the past couple weeks are demonstrating that the time is pretty much up on that game. They're all getting longer resumes, the scandals are piling up, and parents and teachers -- but especially critical parents -- in different cities are no longer isolated.

Reformers are going to have to start standing on their records.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Don't Forget South Central:

My school was successful in creating a New Teacher Support program and through very simple strategies we reduced teacher turnover from 40% yearly, to zero percent in 2009.  These simple strategies included mentorships, pizza welcome parties, new teacher photos bios placed in all the staff members’ mailboxes, bowling nights to build community, and even a new teacher welcome brunch at the Principal’s house.  Our staff was celebrating the solving of the quest to reduce turnover when the budgetary layoffs hit schools.  We lost 23 teachers that year, the year we should have lost zero.  The following year we lost 12, and this year we are slated to lose 28.  The number is higher this year because of the ACLU settlement which did not take into account the individual, unique needs of each school community.  Because of our lower turnover numbers, our school did not qualify for layoff protection, therefore we are forced to absorb even larger numbers of layoffs than other schools in the area with that had no teacher retention programs in place.  Again, an idea that seems great in theory, but poor in practice.

I Too Have Fond Memories of My Time at Princeton Review

Sujata Bhatt:

Last Friday I actually told a child who had left three questions unbubbled on a district periodic math assessment to go ahead and fill something into those circles. He looked up at me nonplussed, “But Ms. B, I don’t know how to do those problems.” And I found myself about to launch into a discourse about how some tests penalize you for guessing and others don’t and this is one of the ones that doesn’t so…

Then I saw his 9-year-old face.

One summer in the 1980s, I earned money by preparing undergrads test for the LSAT, the law school entrance exam. The field of test prep was brand new back then, and its one or two companies paid a princely rate of $30/hr. The class I taught was not about content and knowledge, but rather about how to game the system: how to analyze questions, answers, negations, distractors, etc. We were in our early twenties and gaming the system seemed pretty cool.

Now it’s 25 years later, and I can’t believe I’m teaching this stuff to little kids. New test prep companies open daily: giant corporations, boutique test prep, specialized test prep. They have come to dominate the education reform debate, and they generate ever more tests for which to prep. This is the world we have bequeathed our children?

Going for the Trifecta?

M. Klonsky:

Rahm Emanuel isn't even officially mayor yet and he's already got the city and its schools in a fine mess. His appointment of the embattled J.C. Brizard as schools CEO (that's what we call school superintendents here in Chicago) rivals only Bloomberg's pick of Cathie Black in N.Y. as most embarrassing of the year.

Former Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and a New York City schools superintendent, Cami Anderson, are the two finalists (for Newark Superintendent), according to five sources involved in the search who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly. (emphasis mine)

I think Chris Cerf is trolling me.

Too Cute By Half

Jill Davidson:

P.S.: Can't help but notice that all the big news (PPSD school calendar change to establish the last day of school, now (delay of school closure vote)) is coming directly from Facebook--useful, but not the most adequate broadcast strategy.

This is not ok.

Your Moment of Zen

Jumonji laybacks at Montauk skate park from Dante Ross on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

And who is this "Third Party Donor?"


22. Doesn’t early retirement for teachers burden an already underfunded pension system? And in that sense, isn’t a short term fix creating a longer term problem further burdening future school age children?

We did not offer an early retirement benefit. Only teachers who are already eligible for retirement (per state standards) were eligible for the incentive. These are teachers who already have enough years of service and meet retirement requirement regulations. This was an effort to reduce the number of teaching positions that needed to be eliminated through attrition. The incentive was paid for by a third party donor, not the taxpayers or through the school budget. 52 teachers and 2 administrators have taken the incentive. (emphasis mine)

So... Do We Still Have to Close All Those Schools?


PROVIDENCE –– The city’s projected operating deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30 is getting smaller.

Michel D’Amico, who heads the Financial Review Panel created by Mayor Angel Taveras, told members of the City Council’s Finance Committee Wednesday night that as a result of higher than anticipated revenues in a number of categories and reduced expenses in others, the projected deficit for this fiscal year stands to be about $12.6 million — down from the $29 million that had been projected only a few weeks ago.

D’Amico said that shortfall could be cut in half if certain things break the city’s way, such as an infusion of $2.9 million in extra state aid as proposed by Governor Chafee, the receipt of $1.5 million to $2 million in the form of health-care reimbursements that the federal government has promised the city, and a possible $1 million to $2 million extra that the city might receive from its tax-exempt institutions in lieu of taxes.

Coming Soon to a Gifted Program Near You

A Brooklyn elementary school teacher (5th grade), via jd2718:

I am a veteran public school teacher of 33 years and have taught a variety of subject areas and grades during my tenure. I began as a middle school special education teacher and am currently a licensed teacher for the Gifted and Talented Program, grade 5 . I have an exemplary record and have contributed in a positive way to many, many students most of whom I still keep in contact via that technological wonder, Facebook!

I received my Teacher Data Report on Wednesday, April 13 and was demoralized beyond words. I was rated an “average” teacher in both E.L.A. and Math and “below average” in one area of the math. I sat and stared at the computer screen reading through tears of frustration insisting that someone made a terrible mistake. I am NOT “an average/below average” teacher!

In June of each school year, parents line up outside my principal’s office begging to have their children in my class. If I was such an “average/below average” teacher, why would parents do that? Over the years many of my fifth grade students have been accepted into such prestigious middle schools as DeLaSalle Academy, Medgar Evers Prep School, Mark Twain Middle School for the Gifted and Talented, Philippa Schulyer Middle School and the Prep for Prep Program. I prepare all my students to take these entrance exams as well as introduce them to the interview process. I don’t think an “average/below average” teacher’s students would be able to pass such rigorous entrance exams.

My principal told me to rip up my Teacher Data Report as she does not give it any merit, especially in my case. As a teacher of the Gifted and Talented, many of my students enter my class with perfect E.L.A. and Math scores. Where can I move them? What if my principal leaves and I am at the mercy of some Tweed Operative who only deals with statistics?

Parents who imagine their middle-class urban schools and gifted programs are safer and more stable when decisions are made based on value-added modeling may be in for a rude surprise. Low scores may get popular veteran teachers laid off first; too many high scores may violate the BEP in RI and trigger a new round of equity lawsuits across the country.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Park Hopping in Western Maine

We were up visiting the in-laws in Farmington, ME for Julia's birthday and Passover, so I took the opportunity to check out the area skate parks. Unfortunately, Farmington filled in its park at some point during the 20 years I was not skating, but I picked out three public parks, all about an hour's drive from Farmington and a half hour from each other, in a nice line: Bethel, South Paris, Lewiston.

I drove to South Paris first, along swollen rivers and waterfalls, thinking about how the very idea of small town public skateparks makes my social democratic heart go aflutter. Well, I got a reminder of why Americans hate their government. I arrived at 2:05 on Sunday afternoon; the park is locked behind a high fence at 2:00 Sunday afternoon. Why? Who knows? It looks like they've got a nice clover pool, albeit rather tight, but it is likely to be busy considering the limited hours it is open.

So I drove over to Bethel. It's the kind of facility that drew me back into skateboarding. A low-key little concrete spot in a riverside park next to a playground, bike path, etc. The little combi-bowl is a little too mellow for its own good -- it is the kind of bowl that it is difficult to actually stay inside if you try to do lip tricks or airs at speed. But for learning and practicing pumping and carving it is perfect, and I did just that on Sunday and Monday. Quite a workout, too. Pretty much a set of shallow squats every time I did a double figure 8 around the thing. Nice locals. The only disappointment is that the prep-school kids from Gould Academy seem to be more stylish skaters than the townies.

On the way home we made a quick stop just to look at the Lewiston Park. It is serious business. It's headline feature, the big capsule pool, is "I'm going to need bigger kneepads" deep. 12 feet? 9? I don't even know. The nice thing is that while back in the day big vert meant getting the nerve up to tail drop in from the deck of someone's backyard halfpipe, ready or not, now there's a nice run of smaller connecting bowls and banks that deliver you into the bottom of the big bowl at speed. So when we return for a longer visit this summer, I can just hit the biggest backside carves I can manage on that huge roundwall without needing to plunge in from the top.

Something to look forward to.

Too Bad You Already Fired All the Teachers

Tatiana Pina for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Mayor Angel Taveras has nominated Keith A. Oliveira to serve on the Providence School Board...

While at RIDE, Oliveira was directly responsible for the $21-million construction of the Metropolitan Regional Career & Technical Center's Providence Campus. He also was Commissioner McWalter's state-appointed special monitor of Hope High School after state intervention.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When Power Asks for Civility, It Means You're Starting to Get Your Point Across

Davin McHenry:

In his first speech since being named chancellor, Dennis Walcott poured on the charm, asking everyone to “dial down the rhetoric” and giving no hints of any new reforms he’s planning.

Paul Krugman knows what I'm talking about.

Don't let up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SchoolTool in Nepal

Abhishek Singh (on IRC):

We have conducted two trainings for SchoolTool in Nepal. One of teachers of Government schools where we have deployed OLPC project, and one for a private school . Training went well, and it was basically an overview of what SchoolTool is and what it is capabale of doing, with a hands on with gradebook and journal. Teachers seemed quite interested at using it. We are planning to tailor further trainings based on the feedback which we'll receive in the coming days.

We're hoping to further strengthen our connections to the OLPC community by sending SchoolTool developer Douglas Cerna to the Project Ceibal EduJAM in Uruguay next month.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When the Law is a Fake Trend


Goldstein presents the Harrison schools as an example of what could happen nationally, but then doesn't give any evidence that it is happening or why it's likely to happen. (Slate's cranky media columnist Jack Shafer would call it a fake trend piece.)


In May, the Colorado Legislature narrowly passed Senate Bill 191, or "The Great Teachers and Leaders Bill." Taking cues from the Obama administration's education-reform agenda, a narrow bipartisan majority voted to overhaul the way Colorado's teachers are evaluated and granted tenure. Beginning in 2013, 51 percent of every teacher's annual professional evaluation score must be based on student-achievement data...

As New York, Louisiana, and other states revamp their own teacher-evaluation systems to incorporate student-achievement data, they are paying attention to how Colorado implements SB 191.

You can add Rhode Island to that list. It is no more a "fake trend" than health care reform. Maybe it'll get spiked before it is all implemented, but you can hardly write about policy based on that assumption.

And this kind of piece is important because there seems to be a lot of magical thinking about using non test-based assessment for teacher evaluation. If you've actually implemented performance based-assessment, portfolio assessment, etc. in schools, you know how hard it is to do well when you're simply trying to accurately measure student learning. Throw high stakes teacher evaluation into the mix and you may just take things from difficult to nigh impossible.

Also, multiple measures sounds good, but it may just mean that all your measures are corrupted instead of just one.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Real Reasons Education Reform Will Become "Deadlocked" (v.2)

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook:

Cyber charters for example, were much less successful than “brick and mortar” charters. The study found that in 100 percent of (PA) cyber charters, students performed “significantly worse” in math and reading than students at traditional public schools.

If Schools REALLY Worked Like Businesses

Ryan Kim (via):

Cisco is giving up on its barely two-year-old $590 million purchase of Pure Digital Technologies, announcing today that it is closing its Flip business unit and cutting 550 employees as part of a larger restructuring. The move comes after clear signs that the outsized deal was not paying off for the technology giant, which is in the midst of refocusing its business on its core networking business.

School districts wouldn't compete with charters, they'd buy them and run them into the ground.

Reality Check

From Providence's RttT Scope of Work:

The major adaptive challenges in implementing instructional improvement systems include inadequate infrastructure, insufficient end-user hardware and inadequate staffing resources. The average age of the district's buildings is 75 years. Despite the district's best attempts to update its technology infrastructure, significant challenges still remain. Infrastructure issues include an outdated network infrastructure, including switches, routers and wireless access points; issues with electricity, including insufficient electrical wiring, insufficient number of power sources, outlets in classrooms, etc. In terms of hardware, the district's technology plan calls for a student to computer ratio of 3:1. However, the actual ratio remains well above this 3:1 goal. The district is also grappling with inadequate numbers of smart boards, sound enhancement systems and projectors. Lastly, current IT staffing does not include sufficient numbers nor the requisite specialized skill set to fully support the technological needs of the district. The IT staff would need to be doubled (from 9 to 18), and the types of positions reconfigured to provide adequate support for the district's data warehouse system, network support, software deployment, and the provision of technical assistance and training to end-users.

RttT does not directly fund any of the above.

Learning in the Theatre

Mark Guzdial:

I mentioned a while ago that I decided to be part of a play, inspired in part by Seymour Papert’s recommendation to always go learn something new. I have been meaning to report back on some of what I learned...

Meanwhile, this is exactly the kind of thing we've stopped doing in urban public schools. A couple weeks ago my wife and another teacher organized their new high school's first talent show. The following Monday Jennifer had an interesting conversation with some of her students which went roughly like this:

What was that timeout in the middle of the show, Miss?

What, the intermission?

Yeah, it was nice to have a break. Where'd you get that idea?

So basically, these high school students had never been to a performance of any kind with an intermission. Which means they've probably never seen a play, or a classical music concert, a ballet, etc., period. And in 2011, there's a pretty good chance they'll graduate without that happening, because it isn't in the budget (probably of the schools or the arts organizations), and it isn't in the curriculum.

It wasn't always this way.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Real Reasons Education Reform Will Become "Deadlocked"

Anna Martin:

Many of the teachers placed here have made what TFA terms “significant gains”—moving students who were significantly behind grade level more than one year’s worth of growth in reading or math on standardized tests.

However, our rotating door of new TFA teachers, who spend on average one to two years figuring out how to manage and then teach 30-35 middle schoolers, and then begin to demonstrate gains for a year or two before leaving for bigger and better things, has not made a statistically significant dent in our students’ state test scores for the last four to five years—we have continued to hover at around 30-40% proficient in math and reading.

In an unrelated note from Portsmouth, RI:

By the way, the last two "teachers of the year" have resigned this school year.

"Literacies" Make You Stupid

I'm afraid this post by Bob Sprankle, via Stephen, demonstrates that a) teaching all disciplines well is difficult for an elementary school teacher, and b) replacing disciplines with "literacies" makes you stupid. You cannot simply replace "science" with "literacy in science" or "information literacy;" reading about science is not the same as thinking and acting scientifically. It is too easy for teachers to forget what science is, or realize they've forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place.

A math example is perhaps a bit clearer. If an elementary school student asks his teacher "How can I figure out how many bags of sand do we need to fill the new sandbox in the playground?" and the teacher thinks to him or herself, "Let's look up the answer on the internet and use this as a teachable moment in information literacy," I think just about everyone would agree that the teacher is marching down the wrong trail.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Do You Love the Planets? And Chocolate Chips?

Watching a four-year old learn how to make conversation with other kids is quite amusing.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Explaining the Obvious: Fastest Growing Occupations

The Perimeter Primate:

Occupational growth can be considered in two ways: by the rate of growth and by the number of new jobs created by growth. Some occupations both have a fast growth rate and create a large number of new jobs. However, an occupation that employs few workers may experience rapid growth, although the resulting number of new jobs may be small. For example, a small occupation that employs just 1,000 workers and is projected to grow 50 percent over a 10-year period will add only 500 jobs. By contrast, a large occupation that employs 1.5 million workers may experience only 10 percent growth, but will add 150,000 jobs. As a result, in order to get a complete picture of employment growth, both measures must be considered.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Why Obama's Education Policies Put Providence's High Schools in an Irreversible Death Spiral

Dr. Baker provides a couple helpful graphs:

Here’s Rhode Island:

Here's Connecticut:

Now, say each state has to turnaround 5% of its lowest performing schools every year, and both % of ELL and % receiving free and reduced lunch strongly influence school performance. In Connecticut, there are between 5 and 10 districts, mostly small cities, from which these low-performing schools are likely to come. In the city-state of Rhode Island, you've got the aberration of the city-neighborhood of Central Falls, whose schools will probably be tiny enough to drown in a bathtub within the decade, and then Providence. Virtually all the lowest-performing schools will always come from Providence, and, at the high school level at least, they will fail to meet all their growth targets, which, particularly in math, are absurdly unrealistic.

In most other states, the pain will at least be spread among several cities. And even when there is one big city, it will often be bigger than Providence. We are quickly going to run out of high schools to turn around. We're already half-way through them.

And it is worth mentioning that the existence of Classical High School makes the situation even worse. Among districts in Rhode Island, only Providence siphons its highest-scoring students off into a single school, depressing the scores of every other school. This has been an equity issue for years, but now it virtually guarantees that the rest of the district's high schools, if Obama gets his way, will spend the next five years or so in a painful sham "turnaround" before being turned over to private management.

And even then, many of those schools will predictably fail, be restarted, etc. ad nauseum.

In other states, there may at least be some hope that poor cities can compete among each other to avoid the worst of this process, but Providence's (and Central Fall's) fate is effectively sealed by geography and demography.

Why Charter-Friendly Funding Formulas Focus on "Free and Reduced Lunch" Rates

Bruce Baker:

In each proposal (ConnCAN’s Spend Smart & The Tab, or Rhode Island’s new formula [albeit laced with other problems unique to RI-see post]), among a variety of other major overlooked factors, arbitrary and unfounded recommendations, exists a seemingly innocuous proposal regarding how to target aid for variations in student needs across districts.

As the authors of ConnCan’s recent Spend Smart brief explain deeply embedded in a footnote… you really only need to use a single factor to get state aid targeted to the right schools and that factor is the share of children qualifying for FREE OR REDUCED PRICED LUNCH. There’s no need for a special factor for limited English proficient/English language learner populations, or anything else. It’s all pretty much correlated to free and reduced lunch. (Hassel’s previous report for ConnCan, The Tab, included a trivially small LEP/ELL weight instead of none at all).

First, this assumption is patently wrong to begin with and is never actually validated by the authors of these proposals. But let’s set that aside for the moment. I’ll have a future post where I use actual data to show just how freakin’ wrong the assumption is.

But why would they propose this anyway? Well, it turns out to be really simple. If a state has a fixed sum of money to distribute (generally how it works), the CAN game is to figure out on what basis might charter schools get the maximum share of that money – regardless of who really needs it most. That is, what measures CAN they choose for weightings which will drive money to charters. Charter schools do tend to operate in poorer communities (relative to state averages), but a) serve the less poor among the poor, b) serve few or no LEP/ELL children, and c) incidentally, also serve few or no children with disabilities (as has been addressed on my blog regarding NY and NJ charter schools, and will be addressed soon regarding CT charters – numbers already run, charts forthcoming). I’ll set aside c) for now.

So, the way to maximize charter funding, is to give a single weight for children qualified for free OR REDUCED PRICE LUNCH, and to negate any weight for LEP/ELL children (or make it as small as possible). That way, charters will get the same weight for kids whose family income falls between the 130% poverty level and 185% poverty level as neighborhood schools get for children below the 130% poverty level (This distinction is NOT TRIVIAL), where neighborhood schools have far more of the lower-income children. Any money that would have gone to LEP/ELL children can be rolled into a bigger weight for free/reduced lunch children, channeling a larger share of the total funding available to charter schools.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

...the School Board has abandoned plans to create a separate labor-management organization that was supposed to oversee profound reforms at the schools identified last year by state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist as among the state’s lowest-performing.

That pact, called an “education management organization,” fell apart, the victim of too little time, too much legal complexity and, according to Smith, distrust among the School Board, the union and Brady over the district’s acceptance of a larger role for the union in shaping educational changes.

Smith claims that the School Board didn’t want to cede any of its authority to a separate labor-management nonprofit organization, called United Providence.

This is the problem with people wagging their fingers at the unions and telling them they have to remake their role to be "relevant." It by definition requires that unions be given more power in certain areas, and that ain't the way the wind is blowing.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Now I Understand What RiShawn Biddle Means When He Talks About Bringing the "Hollywood Model" to Education Reform

Matt Zoller Seitz:

If you've ever asked yourself why so many TV shows and movies glorify people who strut around growling orders and insulting underlings and barking, "Think, people! Think!" and otherwise acting like insufferable jerks, you've never spent any time in Los Angeles. Hollywood is a dream factory run mostly by and for raging narcissists with power and money. Its mass-produced dreams are overseen by people who want to be constantly reassured that they're talented, sexy, charismatic warrior-poet visionaries, and that you can absorb such invaluable knowledge by being around them that the abuse they heap on you is totally worth it. That's why the preferred dramatic configuration of ensemble TV shows is the ragtag band of eccentric professionals (read as: creative people), led by a well-dressed, middle-aged boss who reflexively needles and insults people and throws temper tantrums and sometimes puts on an expensive jacket and sunglasses, hops in his expensive car or on his expensive motorcycle, and take off for parts unknown without warning, forcing his underlings to wonder where the hell he is and talk about him nonstop until he reappears unannounced and provides them with the final piece of whatever puzzle they were trying to solve in his absence. These shows exist to kiss the asses of people who approve shows.

"I'm glad you're back, boss," the underling will say. "There's no time for that!" the boss will say, cutting him off, firing up one of those gigantic wall-mounted display screens that are all the rage on crime shows these days, and pointing to a crucial detail the rest of the team overlooked because they're not as awesome as he is. "Hah! I knew it! 'Tribal nil' is an anagram for 'brilliant'!"

The autocratic mentor boss with no time for pleasantries is a masturbation fantasy of super-rich producers and directors, studio executives, and network suits. The archetype keeps showing up onscreen because it's an easy way to stroke the ego of a boss who's not very smart or self-aware. ("See, the FBI team is headed by this handsome, mysterious, brilliant guy in his forties with this young, hot girlfriend..." "I like it!") Roughly a third of CBS' primetime lineup and a lot of Fox's has a Hollywood boss surrogate as its hero, and pretty much every other network and cable channel has its own versions scattered throughout the schedule. Laurence Fishburne on "CSI," Gary Sinise on "CSI: New York," David Caruso on "CSI: Miami," Forest Whitaker on "Criminal Intent: Suspect Behavior," Tim Roth on "Lie to Me," Hugh Laurie on "House" -- the list of examples is endless. Some of these guys have three dimensions (House is an especially well-drawn character), while others have maybe one-and-a-half.

Anecdotally, we seem to be making a lot of progress towards adopting this model in school administration.

The Ongoing Attack on Teacher Collective Bargaining in RI

Jennifer Jordan lays it out:

A spate of cases in recent years indicates that some judges are inclined to side with management on issues that support “the educational mission,” even if those issues go against language in teacher contracts.

Many of the new rules are laid out in a document called the Basic Education Program, which establishes the bare minimum schools must provide to students.

The state Department of Education rewrote the three-decades-old document to reflect current expectations and shortened it from several hundred pages to 45.

The new BEP took effect last July 1, but its impact will really be felt in this year’s local contract negotiations.

Gist has sought to clarify the ramifications of these new rules by sending out “guidance memos” to districts. No longer will seniority –– the long-held practice of seasoned teachers being allowed to “bump” newer colleagues out of their jobs –– be the sole factor in determining teacher assignments, Gist says.

The new BEP aims to ensure “that highly effective educators work with classrooms of students who have significant achievement gaps,” Gist wrote in an October 2009 memo. “In my view, no system that bases teacher assignment solely on seniority can comply with this regulation.”

In my view, neither does criterion-based hiring. Once we've got an evaluation system that shows that, I'll be happy to sign onto a lawsuit.

Something Every High School Student Should Learn

Matt Yglesias:

When unemployment drops beneath 5 percent, the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates until a recession pushes it back up. This is deemed necessary to prevent inflationary wage increases.

That's why, without a labor movement, workers in the US will never get a raise again (in aggregate).

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Juice #68

Jocko Weyland, The Answer is Never:

Thrasher was an unexpected beacon that lit up the darkness of no national skate magazine. I had no idea of what a voice and vision Thrasher was going to be, and how, in its first few years, it would define and be skateboarding. I subscribed right away and would repeatedly ride my bike the mile down to the mailbox at the beginning of each month to check in vain. When it finally did arrive, I scrutinized the photographs, read every word and studied each issue with the fervor of a Jewish mystic reading the kabala.

That certainly describes me circa 1986. Thrasher is still very much alive, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. I've made part of my regular news rotation lately, but I can't say I approach the mag with the same fervor I once did.

On the other hand, when I heard that Juice Magazine #68 was ready to ship, I started keeping an anxious eye on the mail slot, feeling that old giddy anticipation. The mag did not disappoint.

The Juice Magazine website doesn't give much insight into how often it actually comes out -- if at all, so I waited until they announced #68 was actually shipping to place a subscription. I had semi-randomly picked up #56 back in 2003 and was impressed despite being totally out of skateboarding at the time. Based on the amount of time that has passed between #56 and #68, I'd guess it's coming out about once a year.

So #68 is a year's worth of awesome in one mag. Let's put it this way: the last interview is with Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the inspiration for Gidget, done by fucking Jeff Ho; the second to last interview is with Chuck Dukoswki of Black Flag and SST. If that doesn't blow your mind, you don't know your history. You need to get with the program.

Actually, I'm kidding there. If you don't get that already, you never will. There is no hope for you.

Juice #68 is essentially entirely comprised of transcribed, Playboy-style interviews. It has a nice conceptual clarity. On the contents page, "Skate Editor" Jim Murphy writes: "Here at Juice, the pride we take in documenting these people never dies..." Juice circa 2011 is about documenting people. Reading Juice, I found myself thinking about my professor and sort of advisory back at CMU, Dave Demarest, His bio is actually a better description of Juice's themes than I could come up with myself:

I am interested in a variety of subjects that have to do with labor/industry/workplace politics and the ways these subjects have been and are represented. My teaching includes such topics as journalism, working-class literature, reading of the built landscape (in which, through photos and field trips, we look at how social and work places, public and private space, have changed/are changing), interviewing (which looks at a number of structures built from electronic interviews, in film, video, and literature).

That's what Juice is interested in, too. Well, in relation to skateboarding, punk rock, New York, LA, and New Jersey.

Technically, Interview magazine is probably a key reference point too, but I never actually read it, so I don't know for sure.

The heart of the magazine is interviews done by Jim Murphy and Steve Olson. I have a special place in my heart for Jim Murphy because I saw him skate at a contest at George Dragun's backyard ramp in State College, PA back in the day. He was clearly the best skater I ever saw in person at the time when skating meant the most to me. So yeah, fucking Jim Murphy. 80's East Coast Pro on Alva and Zorlac. Doesn't get any more hardcore than that. And perhaps the opposite of Steve Olson, as much of an LA fashion icon as a skater could be in the early 80's, but does it get any realer than a slalom champ for three decades? Somehow the union between the two is seamless, to the reader at least.

While I think, truly, in all honesty, that Juice #68 is one of the finest magazines I've read in my 41 years, it also would not be of particular interest to non-skaters. Beyond that, I'm not sure that it would have the same impact on people who don't have a "personal relationship with" Jim Murphy and/or Steve Olson. At least insofar as they have a clear mental model of who these guys are.

Because a remarkably high percentage of these interviews end with some sort of declaration of mutual love and respect between the interviewer and interviewee, particularly Murphy and Olson.

For example:

Harry Jumonji:...Let's be real, right? Listen. I love you.

Steve Olson: Listen, I love you too. Don't you ever forget that.

Dave "Shaggy" Palmer: ... We're going to be the motherfuckers on the front of this shit, dude. I'm serious. It's our fuckin' job. Murph, you and me barely know each other, but I know you had cancer and you fuckin' beat that shit and it means you are here for a reason. You give strength to this Earth, dude. That's what we have to do, is give back to this Earth.

Jim Murphy: It's a blessing. That's what I'm here for, in the right way.

Jim Murphy: Mr. G., I tell everybody about you growing up. Thanks for all you've done. You're the man. I'm proud of you.

Bob Groholski: I'm proud of you. I hear what you're doing with Wounded Knee and I really appreciate it.

Jim Murphy: Oh, thanks.

To fully appreciate Juice, you may need to have a Personal Relationship with Murph and/or Steve Olson, at least in your imagination, to provide some grounding for this love-fest. Otherwise this Personal Learning Community may be incomprehensible.

Beyond Olson/Murphy, the criterion for doing an interview in Juice seems to be having been interviewed in Juice previously, so some of the non-Murphy/Olson interviews just fail (like surfer Christian Fletcher interviewing Dukowski), and again, some context for the mutual love is necessary:

Christian Hosoi interviewing Arto Saari: I can't wait to see this interview in Juice to people can hear your heart, because you have a great heart

I started to think, "You wouldn't see this kind of interview in any other sport." It would be like Terry Bradshaw interviewing Aaron Rodgers... oh wait... Terry Bradshaw would interview Aaron Rodgers. But that's not quite right. Steve Olson interviewing Harry Jumonji is really like Terry Bradshaw doing a candid interview with Mike Webster six months before Webster died.

Maybe not quite extreme, but about the time Olson was screwing Melanie Griffith, Jumonji was in Rikers. So that's an interesting interview. Conversely, when (interviewee) Arto Sari was receiving Thrasher's award for 2001 Skater of the Year, interviewer Christian Hosoi was in federal prison for trafficking meth. So... look... this is a weird magazine.

Any true depiction of 21st century American society should confront the issue of incarceration, because, let's be honest here, by any reasonable global or historical standard, we incarcerate a ridiculous percentage of our citizenship. But how many magazines have you read where you know some of the interviewers have been in prison. Some of the interviewees have been in prison, and some of whom (Jason Jessee) imply they're conducting the interview from prison, but the reader can't really tell?

How often do you read the inspiring story of the kid who escaped from drugs and prison by doing "X" cheek by jowl with the story of the guy who did "X" but still ended up going to fucking prison?

That is the God Damned story of twenty-first century America.

And that's what Juice is about, but you know what else Juice is about, it is about Love, it is full of Love (see above quotes).

And Juice makes me think of the things I most value, beyond skateboarding per se. Like what I learned from Dave Demarest's Working Class Culture class at CMU. And it makes me think of Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd, and Goodman's arugments about the fundamental alienation of young people (men) from meaningful work. By accident or design, Juice interviews tend toward what the interviewee actually does.

What does a professional street skater do in 2010? What did a hip-hop A&R man do in 1989? Juice #68 interviewers, particularly Murphy and Olson, have an explicit interest in the nature of work in the 21st century, most obvious in Murphy's Duty Now for the Future series on skatepark builders.

And let's be honest here. I've read the high-end Christopher Alexander architectural theory, I've got the signed first edition of The Phenomenon of Life, and I know that 90% of the work which refers to it is just bullshit, and everyone else just runs in terror, but these assholes insisting on skater-designed, skater-built, guerilla skateparks are getting it exactly right, and it isn't even because they're some kind of lucky savages, but they're just smarter than you are. They know exactly what they're doing.

So... that's it for now, but I've got few more specific Juice #68 posts in mind to fill this out...

Friday, April 01, 2011

Almost Like Journalism

About the time I was growing dissatisfied with my #edusolidarity post, Common Ground, a RI labor newspaper, asked me to write a piece on the whole Providence teacher situation. So I did. I think it came out pretty well, but if I'd known it would be the lead story I might have done more than one draft.

Anyway, right now, you can read it here, and eventually it will be archived somewhere else.Had I known it would be on the front page above the fold I might have done more than one draft and started writing before 10:30 PM.

This was almost like real journalism because I actually placed a phone call (to the PTU) to check some facts. I eventually ended up talking to PTU President Steve Smith, and at that point I realized that I should probably have something to ask him other than the one very specific factual question I had. So once that was resolved we had a nice chat but I guess I didn't take advantage of it the way a real journalist would. He offered up a few comments that were exactly concurrent with my analysis, and I told him I thought he was right.

This was all a reminder of why I did not become a professional journalist... not only do I hate calling people on the phone and not know what to say when I get them, I hate reading my own writing in print. Hate it!