Saturday, May 28, 2011

They Must Have Valued Books

This afternoon, while I was shagging fly balls bare-handed at the 3rd Annual Colt Invitational in Hartford, a woman who had grown up in our house in the 1950's dropped by. She was one of thirteen foster children in the home. She described to Jennifer where everyone slept -- kids in two double beds in our bedroom, how many in Vivian's room, more on the now semi-derelict third floor, etc. But she was particularly delighted to see the beautiful shelves they had built into the family library were intact and full of books.

We're really just starting to piece together the rich history of this place.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Achievement First Mayoral Academy Public Meeting One

Well, there were a lot of people there. 150? Hard to say. Full room. Mostly anti-, most notably the pro- people weren't actually from Cranston.

Like most of these kind of things, it didn't seem like the people who would be making any decisions were actually there, so kind of a waste of time.

The main impression is the weirdness of the "mayoral academy" idea. Charters are controversial enough, connecting them to a town mayor just gives everyone someone to focus their anger on. Since the schools will only serve a small fraction of the populace, it is hard to see how it is a political winner inside the town.

The assumption is that McKee and Fung are doing this to make points for statewide runs. How this will play out when the leave is anyone's guess. These things usually don't end well.

My sense is that AFMA will probably be opened, fought over bitterly for about eight years, and then abruptly closed.

Don't Answer This Question Unless You're Canadian Or a Graduate Student

Bud the Teacher:

Specifically, he, after being a little bit mistreated by some folks who don’t understand civil dialogue, asked folks to share what they’re for, education policy-wise, as they were also sharing what they were against. That seemed like a reasonable request. Here’s my list. #

Unless you're Canadian or a grad student, this is a trap (It is not a trap if you're Canadian (or an inhabitant of most of the rest of the non-US world) because whatever problems you might have, your entire system of public education is not under imminent threat, so you can be a little adventurous or moony.).

But here in the US, he's just trying to distract you.

Some variation on this is the only thing you should say (John Merrow):

The essential message (of this report): (high performing countries) aren’t doing any of the stuff we have focused on — charter schools, alternate certification, small classes and pay for performance, to name a few of our ‘magic bullets.’ Instead, they have developed comprehensive systems: their teachers are drawn from the top of the class, are trained carefully and, if hired, are paid like other professionals. They spend more on the children who are the toughest to educate, they diagnose and intervene at the first sign of trouble, they expect their best teachers to work in the toughest schools, and they expect all students to achieve at high levels. They do not rely heavily on machine-scored multiple choice tests but are inclined to trust and respect the judgements of teachers. Their curriculum is coherent across the system, which eliminates problems created by students moving around.

My vague sense of ED Kremlinology is in line with what Merrow says:

I have been told by several people who were on hand that it was a wake-up call for Duncan and his staff to learn that no other country was doing what we are betting on.

There is really no way around it. That's our best line of attack. Message discipline, please!

Great Minds Think Alike


I guess my question is why produce one blockbuster giant budget Batman movie every 4 years when you could release 2 per year. These would be smaller movies in terms of action and special effects, but given the ability to save costs in other ways (reusing sets, marketing, etc) they wouldn't have to be that much smaller.

Probably all a dumb idea, just curious why it hasn't been tried.

I've wondered about this too.

That Would Have to Go Both Ways

John Merrow:

Two union leaders, AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA Executive Director John Wilson, were two of the four panelists, and they agreed that an essential step would be the adoption of professional behavior. They said it would be possible to write what one called a ‘slim’ contract of 6-8 pages that laid out essential provisions: due process, some say in hiring, a role in evaluation, a role in developing curricula and assessments, and other professional issues. There’s no need to specify how late a teacher can get there in the morning and how early she can leave in the afternoon, in other words.

OK... but does that mean there is no need to specify in the contract, or no need to specify at all? In practice now, what that means is that if it isn't in the contract the principal can arbitrarily specify when you arrive and leave. Is that more or less professional than having it covered by a contract?

Does that mean no time clocks?

There Are No Guarantees in School Reform

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Achievement First Mayoral Academies in the ProJo

Maria Armental for the ProJo:

CRANSTON — Even as the state’s top education official is expected to commend a Cranston middle school next week at her annual state-of-education address, city officials are sharply divided over the standing and direction of local public schools — once considered the gemstone in this middle-class city in Providence’s suburban belt.

Not a bad article. Here's the tiny bombshell:

The state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to consider the application at a June 2 work session and vote on it on June 16.

The proposal was posted online April 15 and has a 60 day public review period. Are they going to start considering it before the public comment period is over, or did they not post it at the beginning of the public comment period?

Also, I'm doing my part in the comments...

Let's Try Lying

Achievement First Mayoral Academies proposal:

There are several examples of Cranston’s intra-district inequities. One of Cranston’s three middle schools, serving over 747 students in grades 6-8 has an achievement gap of over 40 percentage points between African American students and white students. In reading, 70% of Asians and 60% of white students are proficient, while only 14% of African American students are. In math, 57% of Asians and 50% of white students are proficient, yet only 5% of African American students achieve proficiency.

I didn't even disbelieve this so much as I wanted to see how many African American students actually attend this school.

I'm no expert on the Cranston School District, but I can't confirm that this school exists at all -- none of the three Cranston Middle Schools listed at as cited in the application actually serve grades 6-8. They're all 7-8. None of them have racial achievement gaps anywhere near those cited. The biggest one, Western Hills, serves 695 students and has no black/white acheivement gap in math whatsoever.

I think they copy/pasted the wrong data in the application.

Whomever Came Up With These Graphs Wouldn't Be Proficient on the 11th Grade NECAP math, and Maybe Not 4th Grade

Achievement First Mayoral Academies proposal:


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Every Time I Read Something Like This I Think of RiShawn Biddle's "Hollywood Model" for Education Reform

Roger Ebert:

Digital projectors have been force-fed to theaters by an industry hungry for the premium prices it can charge for 3D films. As I've been arguing for a long time, this amounts to charging you more for an inferior picture. The winners are the manufacturers of the expensive machines, and the film distributors. The hapless theaters still depend on concession sales to such a degree that a modern American theater can be described as a value-added popcorn stand.

"Value-added popcorn stand" may soon describe American schools as well.

A Very Accurate Explanation of the "R's in Pool" Situation in Providence

Shaun Joseph for Rhode Island Red Teacher:

In the haze of misinformation emitted by the union-busters in the debate over the Providence teachers, no issue is perhaps more hazy and misinformed than the saga of the so-called “Regulars in Pool” or “Rs in Pool.” Not only is the matter opaque to the ordinary hapless citizen, many within the school system don’t seem to understand it, and even the Providence Teachers Union (PTU) has been oddly quiet about it. Nor has Providence’s newspaper of record, the Providence Journal (“All the news that’s fit to reprint”), been much help: an extraordinarily confusing article by Linda Borg (“Providence teacher dismissals would end costly substitutes,” March 8th) starts off by repeating the Taveras administration’s claims that the “Rs in Pool” are paid “whether or not they work,” then concedes it’s never actually happened, then says it could happen next year if teachers are laid-off instead of dismissed, then quotes the city auditor saying this doesn’t happen because, well, it’s stupid to pay people who aren’t working. Clear?

Untangling the story required some hours of connecting the dots from disparate sources, some amount of inference, and a testy online exchange with Matt Jerzyk, the mayor’s evil vizier. After excavating through the administration’s layers of anti-teacher propaganda, it’s possible to reconstruct the sequence of events that resulted in the creation of the “Rs in Pool” program. Instead of finding a malicious scheme to pay teachers for nothing, we discover that the program is a creation of the very “school reform” chicanery embraced by Taveras Mission Control–and it’s been unexpectedly expensive due to the classically “consultocratic” mismanagement of the Providence Public School District (PPSD) under Superintendent Tom Brady. The PTU leadership, for its part, finds itself hoist with its own “partnership” petard, as its attempt to compromise with the PPSD over seniority rights has become a big stick with which it is beat.

Why Achievement First Mayoral Academies Doesn't Have Proposed Bylaws

AFMA proposal:

The by-laws for the Achievement First Mayoral Academies are in formation and being reviewed by legal counsel. Upon completion of a final draft, the by-laws will be forwarded to the Rhode Island Department of Education. In Exhibit 6, please find a copy of the Board by-laws for Elm City College Preparatory, which oversees three of the nine schools managed by Achievement First in the State of Connecticut. These by-laws will be adapted for Achievement First Mayoral Academies in Rhode Island. The most notable difference between Elm City Board by-laws and the ones in formation for AF Mayoral Academies is the statutory requirement that the board of mayoral academies be chaired by a mayor of one of the enrolling towns. Other differences may include, but are not limited to, the number of annual meetings and the total number of Board of Directors.

Let's be clear here: Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) is the charter holder in this relationship. Mayor Fung has no power (One vote as long as he's on the RIMA board, one vote on the AFMA board? Who knows because we don't have the bylaws?). Achievement First is a contractor.

RIMA has a set of by-laws for a Rhode Island mayoral academy that has passed muster with their lawyers and the state -- the by-laws of the Democracy Prep Mayoral Academy. They are ultimately accountable for oversight of AFMA insofar as they appoint the schools' board outside of its chair.

So clearly what's going on here is that the contractor is being allowed to write the by-laws of the board that will directly oversee them board by the non-profit that's supposed to be monitoring the whole thing.

And they couldn't get that done on time, so there are no valid by-laws in the application. Despite the fact that the applicant to hold the charter has their own set of valid by-laws in hand. And that's ok with RIDE.

I've Been Translated

SchoolTool documentation in Nepali (by OLE Nepal).

Pretty trippy.

Will Philanthropy Settle in Early Childhood?

Russo points out the Reformy Approach Spreading To Early Childhood, and while I have some of the same reservations about this that I have for the current reformy approach in K-12, at least this is relatively wide-open territory in the US.

I mean, it is bad that we don't have better access to high quality child care, but the fact remains that we don't.

There's a nice 105 year old Unitarian church sitting vacant across the street. If Gates or Broad or Walton or Angus Davis would fix it up, endow an early child care center, lobby for state and federal funding to support it going forward, staff it with painstakingly recruited Brown grads doing two year stints... that would be awesome. Yeah, I might quibble about the curriculum, this or that, but on the whole everyone here would appreciate it. That's the way philanthropy has always worked.

On the flip side, I think it is extremely important to be very hard on philanthropy's destructive tendencies in K-12, and very personal. At some point these guys have to look at a poll and see that the result of their billions in giving that 10% of the people think they're awesome and (at least) 10% think they're a malignant plutocratic bastard -- because of their philanthropy. At that point they'll start to wonder if there isn't a better way to create a legacy.

Like, say, opening pre-schools for poor kids.

Ravitch Backs Down Gracefully

Diane Ravitch:

I was indeed moved by my exposure to Siena. And when I came home, I reflected on a blog I wrote recently about my visit to Rhode Island. In that blog, I wrote harsh words about state Commissioner Deborah Gist. On reflection, I concluded that I had written in anger and that I was unkind. For that, I am deeply sorry.

Like every other human being, I have my frailties; I am far from perfect. I despair of the spirit of meanness that now permeates so much of our public discourse. One sees it on television, hears it on radio talk shows, reads it in comments on blogs, where some attack in personal terms using the cover of anonymity or even their own name, taking some sort of perverse pleasure in maligning or ridiculing others.

I don't want to be part of that spirit. Those of us who truly care about children and the future of our society should find ways to share our ideas, to discuss our differences amicably, and to model the behavior that we want the young to emulate. I want to advance the ideals and values that are so central to the Siena community: compassion, responsibility, integrity, empathy, and standing up against injustice. When Father Mullen presented me with my degree, he said that I am "now and forevermore a daughter of Siena." Although I am Jewish, not Catholic, I will strive to live up to that charge.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Write Letters

Dear Ms. Gist, Ms. Smith and Mr. Jones,

I wrote to Mr. Jones on May 3rd requesting clarification on the application for the Achievement First Mayoral Academies:

> Achievement First Mayoral Academies have a pending application that, if approved by the Board of Regents, would result in the granting of a preliminary charter.

> The BOARD OF REGENTS’ REGULATIONS GOVERNING RHODE ISLAND PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS states "In the case of a proposed Mayoral Academy, the proposed Charter submitted to the Commissioner shall include all the material required by R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-2."

> R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-2 (17) states "Provide a copy of the proposed bylaws of the mayoral academy."

> AFMA have not provided a copy of the proposed bylaws of the mayoral academy.

Mr Jones replied on May 5th:

> The lack of bylaws is one thing that we flagged in our initial review of the application. We requested that they either submit bylaws or bylaws from existing schools. We felt that the latter was an appropriate substitute at this stage in the review process because their Board has not yet been fully formed and their organization has not yet fully taken shape.

Is there a legal basis for this other than your "feelings?" The Board of Regents' regulations are quite clear on this requirement. Without bylaws that address the very specific, unique, and carefully crafted governance structure of a Rhode Island Mayoral Academy, how can the public or RIDE assess this proposal?

As a member of the public I must at least request a written copy of the decision to accept and move to public comment this incomplete application.

Mr. Jones went on:

> The founding group, however, will be submitting amendments within the next few weeks that will include a draft of the proposed bylaws.

He did not respond to my further query:

> How is the public supposed to comment on something so incomplete? Are you going to reset the public comment period when they actually finish their application?

Mel Ochoa, Director of Marketing & Communications at Achievement First, also informed me in an email that they inteded to submit revisions to their proposal after the beginning of the public comment period.

I have serious concerns that the application under public review will not be the one evaluated by RIDE, the Commissioner and the Board of Regents. RIDE, RIMA, and all concerned parties had an opportunity to make sure the application was complete under the procedure laid out in R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-3 (a). As that phase in the process has passed, I see no justification for Mr. Jones or Mr. Ochoa to be talking about amendments, additions, commentary or other changes to the application.

Do I have your assurance that this application will be evaluated as submitted, approved and posted?

Tom Hoffman

Providence, RI

Achievement First Mayoral Academies Public Meetings Scheduled

Apparently last Wednesday RIDE quietly posted the public meeting dates for the Achievement First Mayoral Academies, which would create five schools serving almost two thousand students in Providence and Cranston. The meetings are:

  • 6:00 pm on Thursday, May 26
  • 6:00 PM on Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Both at Cranston City Hall, Council Chambers, 869 Park Avenue, Cranston, RI.

I couldn't find an announcement anywhere else on the RIDE site, including the calendar, nor on the Cranston City calendar, nor on RIMA's site, nor the Cranston Herald or ProJo.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pro-Tec Pool Party: This Saturday

Hosoi vs. Hawk, back in the Combi.

PPSD "Match" Hiring Process Delayed

I don't have the email with the exact quotes/dates yet, but the "match" job fair thingy scheduled for next week has been delayed. The available jobs haven't been posted, thus there is nothing to apply for. What jobs have been posted online are probably actually ones that would have to go through criterion based hiring (at turnaround schools) anyhow. Mass confusion reigns.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Again, I'm Being Trolled

St. Petersburg Times:

“Interestingly, there has been almost no buzz about the Florida commissioner of education position in recent months,” Patrick Riccards, who runs the Eduflack blog, said in an e-mail. Riccards expected the ultimate choice will be surprising in a different way.

“My top choice would be Gist,” he said. “But if you are looking for a few names that would be ‘interesting,’ I’d add The New Teacher Project’s Tim Daly (a Rhee protégé), Bill Evers (former assistant secretary of education under George W. Bush), or a large urban school district superintendent, such as Paul Vallas, who just left New Orleans.”

Urban Renewal Philanthropy


Sure I'd love to see the internal evaluations foundations do on their programs (and would love for more humility and better policy choices from education philanthropies in general) but I don't really believe that that there's more transparency and accountability and opportunity for public input (aka democracy) in school districts and government agencies than among funders and the nonprofits who receive grants from them. Nor do I really believe that the richest people in America have free rein to impose any extreme or cockamamie idea they feel like on American schoolchildren. They choose from among ideas that education experts (including academics and practitioners) present to them, from the political mainstream, and have to maintain credibility with districts and elected officials in order to maintain access to public systems -- even as distressed and desperate as many are.

What's changed even in the past couple years here in Providence is not simply that there is philanthropic influence on education policy -- in fact philanthropically funded projects attracted me here (and I work for a philanthropist, but not on a local project). The character of the influence has radically changed.

Lobbying, marketing, directly training and funding the placement of ideologically sympathetic administrators have blurred the line between philanthropy and public administration.

But perhaps most importantly, an "urban renewal" mindset has become acceptable. It is no longer necessary to try to strengthen existing schools, just let them rot and close them. It is possible to create schools that substantially improve the lot of low-income and otherwise marginalized youth, but it is very difficult, and it requires everyone pulling in the same direction. If philanthropy is promoting ambivalence within government and district administration, it is simply impossible. Yet in the medium term, philanthropy is not discredited, because their prophecies are being fulfilled. How many years will it take to "prove" the cost of their cure?

The Un-Ideological Soup

Richard Elmore:

As I read the collected entries in the Futures of School Reform Blog, they seem bright, energetic, combative, and optimistic about the future of the enterprise of American public schooling. I wonder, as I read them, whether the writers are aware of what classrooms in American secondary schools actually look like--the dismal, glacial, adult-centered, congenially authoritarian, mindless soup in which our children spend the bulk of their days.

Our kids are soaking in it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recovered Comments

Some interesting commentary on Michael Marder's math achievement analysis was almost lost in The Great Blogger Outage of '11.

Stuart "Acting White" Buck:

Marder's analysis of charter schools is amateurish and simplistic, as much as if I were to make a video about physics.

He is simply comparing passing scores and the like. But as anyone familiar with public policy and social science would know, you can't thereby tell anything whatsoever about the performance of charter schools. In order to make such claims, you'd have to have information on a student-by-student basis about how they were doing before entering the charter school and how they did afterwards. Perhaps charter schools in Texas are serving kids who would have done even worse somewhere else.

Someone more familiar with charter schools would know that Texas law historically favored charter schools for "at risk" children. Right now, charter schools that serve predominantly students identified as “at risk” can be rated under an alternative accountability system. In 2007-08, 43.3% of charter schools in Texas qualified to be rated under that system, compared to a mere 3.3% of public school district campuses in Texas.

As the New York Times recently pointed out, "Recovery charter schools in Texas serve about 18,000 students who have performed poorly at traditional public schools, according to state data from the 2009-10 school year. Many have skipped too many classes or used too many drugs to graduate on time. Others have gotten pregnant or have emotional problems or learning disabilities. Recovery charters offer a second chance."

Any social scientist would know that you can't simply plot school-level passing rates by poverty and think that this is a fair comparison when so many charter schools are specifically designated for potential dropouts who are pregnant or on drugs, etc.

Any legitimate analysis would also take into account the fact that Texas charter schools receive thousands of dollars less per pupil than other public schools (see

My reply:

Marder's analysis is no more simplistic than that used to close schools, fire teachers and make other high stakes decisions about high schools here in Rhode Island and around the country.

Anyone familiar with public policy can tell you that, and a social scientist can tell you we don't have the longitudinal data you call for.

I'm certainly sympathetic to the view that alternative high schools can improve the lives of at-risk students without necessarily getting them ready to take college level math. Perhaps you'd like to encourage the charter community to change their rhetoric to promote that feature.

What is a "School?"

Considering how important school-level accountability, I'm amazed at how flexible the definition of a school is to the PPSD.

Asa Messer Elementary and Annex are being moved into one building, and apparently will become a single completely new entity but nobody has to re-apply for their jobs?

Fortes and Lima Elementaries are being completely rearranged by grade level and partially moved, but will still be the same schools, and about half the teachers in each have lost their jobs?

Hope High went from one school to three to two (depressing the two remaining schools' test scores)?

Are PAIS and Cooley high schools and Woods and Young elementaries are merging.

Which of these will be considered new schools for accountability purposes?

I don't know whether this is all being done ad hoc or whether it is a carefully constructed plan to game the system.

Chopping up Fortes & Lima

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — About 119 students from Flynn Elementary School, one of five schools closing this fall, are moving to the Fortes and Lima elementary school complex, a school official said.

Most of the Fortes teachers will be displaced and will have to re-apply for their jobs.

Here’s the way the schools are being reorganized:

  • Fortes, currently a second-grade through sixth-grade school, will house students in pre-kindergarten and first grade.
  • The Fortes students will go to Lima, which will continue to serve students in second grade through fifth grade.
  • The Fortes/Lima annex will house the existing bilingual education program.
  • And Fortes’ sixth graders will be moved to a middle school.

Faced with this churning, Fortes teachers are upset and several of them expressed their unhappiness at Monday night’s School Board hearing.

Teachers said they felt frustrated because there have been no public hearings on the changes at Fortes. Faculty members want to know why they couldn’t be relocated to Lima, noting that Asa Messer Elementary School teachers will be moved as a group to Bridgham Middle School next year.

“Three hundred students from Fortes will be moving to a new school,” said Patty Landry, a Fortes teacher. “Yet, the teachers aren’t moving with them. Isn’t this completely disruptive?”

Fortes and Lima are two relatively strong elementary schools in the end of town that has had seven schools named "persistently low performing" in the past two years.

That is, of course, the end of town I live in, and by "relatively high performing" I mean I would be happy to send my children to either.

When I first read about this I thought it might not be as disruptive as it sounds now. I'm still confused... my understanding of Lima was that it was it was a whole school bilingual model, so I don't know what it means to move the bilingual program into the annex. They may have moved away from the whole school bilingual thing six years ago for all I know.

Regardless, this is a big risk, and another reason not to plan on sending your child to a PPSD school outside of the East Side or that serves East Side kids.

Doc Rivers on "The Widget Effect"

Michael Goldstein:

The Boston Celtics lost tonight. Until mid-season they were the top team in the East. What happened?

The Celtics made a trade. At the time of the trade, my favorite NBA commentator, David Berri, imagined the following conversation:

Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge: Sam, what can I do for you?

Thunder General Manager Sam Presti: Danny, how about you take the two worst players on my team? And in return give me a big man that can help me contend for a title?

That’s in fact what happened. The Celtics traded a slightly above average center, Kendrick Perkins. In return, the main attraction was supposed to be Jeff Green, pictured above.

Berri has always had a very simple but profound notion about the NBA. People overvalue scorers. People undervalue many other things. And not just fans. Even famous general managers like Danny Ainge, who has spent his life playing, coaching, and now evaluating the game.

Berri is an economist and a fan. He has zero special knowledge of the game of basketball. Instead, he has complicated mathematical regressions. The formulae tell him things which experts may overlook. In this case, he knew that Jeff Green, the guy the Celtics got, was a terrible rebounder for a man of his size (6’9″). He is also a very inefficient scorer. As a result, he harms his team every minute he plays.

This leads into a riff on recent thinking on teacher evaluation.

A few points from down 95.

  • The Berri post cited isn't as unequivocal as Goldstein suggests:

    So this move probably didn’t help the Celtics much. After all, Krstic is still not a very good center (but not much worse than Semih Erdan who the team shipped out today). But this move probably doesn’t hurt as much as one might think if they didn’t consider where Green will probably play in Boston.

  • Berri cannot "predict the future" with stats as well as Goldstein suggests:

    Given the talents of Durant, Westbrook, Sefolosha, Ibaka, and Harden, the Thunder might finally be contenders in the West. And that means, Danny and Sam might be meeting again in June... Of course, Miami, Chicago, San Antonio, and the LA Lakers might have something to say about this potential meeting.

    Yes, San Antonio and the Lakers! The problem with using sports prognosticators as your metaphor is that they aren't that reliable. Obvious, but true.

  • After watching the Celtics/Heat series, the more obvious explanation is that the Celtics are too old. Berri also wrote about that as an explanation for their quick start and regular season decline last year. Ending, reasonably, with:

    The big question is whether or not these players can briefly return to form in the playoffs. If they can, Boston may still be able to win a title in 2010. If not, it seems likely Boston’s decline will continue into the future (a future where everyone will be even older).

    This was right, insofar as Berri knew what he didn't know. If only we had this kind of analysis in education!

  • Celtics Coach Doc Rivers put in his own two cents on the trade recently (via Charles Pierce):

    Rivers told the station that he wishes the Celtics had waited until the end of the regular season to make a decision on Perkins instead of pulling off that February trade.

    "Well, it was more not that the trust went away, the know-how went away," Rivers said. "The continuity went away. That’s what the trade affected more than anything. Obviously, Perk was great to our team and all that. But it was more that you have new guys playing different positions and you had a guy who could literally reach back into a playbook and throw out something that was three or four years old and they all knew it, when Perk was there.

    "When you lose Perk, you take that one guy out of that starting lineup, now there’s the fifth guy who doesn’t know your offense three years ago; he only knows what he knows since he’s been there. And that limited our group. With Rondo, because the way teams guard him, you need a massive playbook. That took more away from it than we thought."

    Rivers continued on Perkins:

    "Well, I would wait until after the year is over. I’ll put it that way. I do think Jeff Green has a chance to be a starter for us in the future and a hell of a basketball player. And Krstic can help. But making that trade at the time we made that trade, that made it very tough for us. And not only that, we added other pieces as well that we tried to fit in.

    "It was just a lot of moving parts to a team that the advantage that we had was that we had continuity, everybody else was new. Chicago was new and the Heat were new. They couldn’t fall back on what we could fall back on with our starting five. Once we made that trade, we took that advantage away."

    Hm. I wonder if evaluating teachers and managing schools could be that complicated too? Maybe attaching numbers to individuals doesn't tell us everything we need to know about basketball or education.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The (Lack of) Data on Data

Larry Cuban:

In 2009, the federal government published a report ( IES Expert Panel) that examined 490 studies where data was used by school staffs to make instructional decisions. Of these studies, the expert panel found 64 that used experimental or quasi-experimental designs and only six–yes, six–met the Institute of Education Sciences standard for making causal claims about data-driven decisions improving student achievement. When reviewing these six studies, however, the panel found “low evidence” (rather than “moderate” or “strong” evidence) to support data-driven instruction. In short, the assumption that data-driven instructional decisions improve student test scores is, well, still an assumption not a fact.

Do you know what happens when Arne Duncan assumes?

In and Out of School

Left Business Observer:

It’s remarkable how similar the U.S. educational system is to our health care system: by world standards, we spend gobs of money on both, and both yield underwhelming outcomes. With health, we’re in a class by ourselves, spending a two-thirds higher share of GDP than the OECD average (a share bigger than any country in the world, by a long shot) to produce some of the worst health indicators in the First World. We’re not so egregious on education. We spend just a third more than the OECD average, the second-highest of any country, to produce merely mediocre scores on internationally comparable tests. But there’s a pattern there, don’t you think?

We’ll take a close look at educational outcomes in the next issue of LBO. For this first pass, let’s examine the dimensions of spending, and the enrollment and attainment numbers.

If nothing else, this article should make you appreciate the complexity and spinnability of international comparisons.

Graph of the Day

Bruce Baker:

What this illustrates is the correlation of the size of the gap between the income of families above and below the cutoff for reduced lunches and the size of the corresponding achievement gap. Rhode Island is high in both categories, although slightly below trend (i.e., smaller achievement gap).

Perhaps What Works in Harlem Won't Work in Suburban Rhode Island

The Valley Breeze:

CUMBERLAND – Passionate and persuasive, parents of B.F. Norton students prevailed at Thursday night's School Committee meeting.

On a motion by John Gibbons, members voted 4 to 3 to cease exploration of a proposal to lease the top floor to the Blackstone Valley Prep's middle school for one year. ...

The B.F. Norton vote followed a couple of hours of testimony by parents and Principal Paula Mahoney that focused on the school's inability to accommodate the charter school's short-term needs without harming their own educational programming.

There was plenty of resentment, too, over the idea of making room for a school that also serves Central Falls, Pawtucket and Lincoln students.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mentoring and Differentiated Compensation

This is a minor nitpick, but I think it is worth pointing out that when you're talking about differentiating teacher roles and, in particular, how it relates to compensation, you don't really need to pay teachers a higher salary to take on leadership and mentoring roles in most cases. If you're asking them to work more hours, sure, pay them more.

But, for example, to switch one period a day from teaching 25 12-year olds to mentoring one or two grown-ups is probably its own reward. Unless you really don't like mentoring grown-ups, in which case you probably just shouldn't be doing it.

Being a (good) principal is way harder than being a teacher, with heavier responsibilities, but being an experienced teacher participating in the leadership and development of a school is not harder than teaching kids all day uninterrupted. It is, in fact, much better for your mental health and happiness.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Order of Battle

Jay Greene:

...the U.S. Department of Education-Gates-AFT-Fordham coalition pushing nationalization.

I guess that is the coalition, although I'd put Gates first, and throw Pearson, ACT and the College Board in for good measure.

And beyond that everyone who stands to collect consulting fees from the transition, the Dana Center, NCTE, etc. The good news is that the consultants will also profit from dropping the Common Core and moving onto the next thing, so they're inherently feckless allies.

That's Our Deb!

Diane Ravitch:

Last week, I went to Providence, R.I., to give a lecture. Before my arrival, I was invited by Gov. Lincoln Chafee to meet privately with him. Thirty minutes before my hour with Gov. Chafee, I learned that state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Gist would join our meeting. As it turned out, I had 10 minutes of private time with the governor, then 50 minutes with Gist and leaders of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers.

I mention all this because of what happened during the 50 minutes. Gist is clearly a very smart, articulate woman. But she dominated the conversation, interrupted me whenever I spoke, and filibustered to use up the limited time. Whenever I raised an issue, she would interrupt to say, "That isn't happening here." She came to talk, not to listen. It became so difficult for me to complete a sentence that at one point, I said, "Hey, guys, you live here all the time, I'm only here for a few hours. Please let me speak." But Gist continued to cut me off. In many years of meeting with public officials, I have never encountered such rudeness and incivility. I am waiting for an apology.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Enveloping Common Core on the Right

Bunch of People:

We, the undersigned, representing viewpoints from across the political and educational spectrum, oppose the call for a nationalized curriculum in the Albert Shanker Institute Manifesto “A Call for Common Content.”1 We also oppose the ongoing effort by the U.S. Department of Education to have two federally funded testing consortia develop national curriculum guidelines, national curriculum models, national instructional materials, and national assessments using Common Core's national standards as a basis for these efforts.

I'll take it.

You've got the left and right wing cavalry enveloping the Common Core phalanx on the wings, but ultimately, this is going to be won by weight in the center of the line. People will have to start noticing that these standards, and the tests and materials they spawn, just aren't very good (at least in ELA). Basically, a whole block of people have to stop discussing whether or not these standards are good in theory and look at how they'll impact practice. We'll see how hard the Gates-funded mercenaries fight against real resistance.

How Newcomers See the Debate

Jesse Miksic:

One side is the reformer's side, identifying themselves as economic realists, clear-eyed critics, and advocates for the students, even if that puts them at odds with the entrenched traditional educational system. This is the Michelle Rhee and "Waiting For Superman" camp. The other side is the pro-teachers' side, which views itself as a liberal, open-minded lot, advocating equally for both the teachers and the students, defending traditional liberal-arts education against the callous forces of excessive structure and bureaucracy. This is the position of the Teachers Union and Curriculum Development students. ...

...And in the case of a problem like this one, where there are measurable effects and identifiable goals, I see scientific tools — assessment, analysis, redistribution, application of social and economic pressures — as the most valuable route to solutions. I'm a big fan of information, which is available in ever greater abundance, and of organization, which allows us to understand and act upon that information. Cybernetics. Information technology. Social and economic mechanisms, sanctions, stimulus. The reformers are offering a fairly uniform, goal-oriented solution using these tools, as opposed to the pro-teachers' side, which are offering... well, I'm not exactly sure what.

Eventually, of course, you get to some graphs comparing US educational performance and efficiency to other countries.

The thing is, the "pro-teachers'" argument is essentially, "We should be doing what those other countries are doing." For example:

  • Less poverty and inequality.
  • Universal health care.
  • Longer maternity and paternity leave, public daycare and preschool, shorter work day, more vacations.
  • Equitable school funding -- not by local property taxes.
  • More coherent, less politicized standards and curriculum.
  • Less emphasis on constant standarized testing.
  • Educators in charge of education.
  • Respect for teachers.
  • Well educated, professional, career teachers.
  • Less classtime for teachers, more planning and collaboration time.
  • Strong teacher unions.
  • Emphasis on human development, not strictly college and career readiness.

On the other hand, the "reformers" want us to keep the parts of our system that are outliers and than add new "innovations" that aren't used in the high performing countries we're jealous of. There is no evidence that this will work. It is a flight of fancy.

Apparently We're Starting to Win the Rhetorical War

Whitney Tilson via Core Knowledge Blog:

I challenge anyone to show me even one quote from one leading reformer who says that reforming the schools is all that is needed or who believes that great teachers and improved teaching methods are all that’s required to improve student performance.

Robert Pondiscio does some quick shotgun barrel fishing in the rest of the post. I would simply point out the mission statement of EEP:

The Education Equality Project is leading a civil rights movement to eliminate the racial and ethnic achievement gap in public education by working to create an effective school for every child.

If Whitney Tilson doesn't want us to point that out, we should. Maybe he paid for a focus group or something.

Never Miss a Chance to Confuse and Anger Your Employees

Providence Schools is looking for highly effective teachers for the 2011-2012 school year to fill teaching positions to begin September 1st, 2011.
Qualified applicants in the following areas are encouraged to apply.

  • Middle School Endorsement + Bilingual Endorsement + Content Area Certification
  • Middle School Endorsement + Content Area Certification
  • Elementary Certification + Bilingual Endorsement
  • Elementary Certification + ESL Endorsement
  • Elementary Special Education Certification
  • Early Childhood Special Education Certification
  • Early Childhood Special Education + ESL Endorsement
  • Secondary Science Certification
  • Secondary Math Certification
  • Secondary Special Education Certification + Content Area Certification
  • Library Certification
  • Art Certification
  • Music Certification
  • Dual Secondary Science Certifications

So... these are positions not open to the process passed last week? What jobs are these? Turnaround schools? TFA workaround? What?

Keep an Eye Out for This One

Dana Goldstein:

To address this shortcoming, economists who study education have created a complex statistical tool called value-added measurement, which attempts to quantify the impact teachers have on their students' academic growth while controlling for factors such as poverty, race, class size, and even how many years the teacher has been on the job (emphasis mine).

If you don't control for inexperience, layoffs, etc. based on value added will still fall predominantly on teachers in their first couple years, thus defeating the political goal of the policy.

True About Education Reform, Too


I’ve noted before that these days policy orthodoxy seems, all too often, to be derived from highly heterodox models — or to put it more clearly, perhaps, the “radicals” are people like me who basically want to apply texbook macro, while Very Serious People are seizing on all sort of odd ideas about expansionary austerity and such to justify their views.

The Teacher Quality Catch 22

LA Times:

As before, effective teachers were spread more or less evenly throughout the district. But there were often large disparities among instructors who taught similar students in similar schools — even within the same schools. The differences among teachers were more than three times as great as those among schools.

It seems to me that at the school level there are a handful of possible outcomes of this value-added fad:

  1. We find, as above, that teacher quality is actually fairly evenly distributed -- thus it cannot be the source of the achievement gap.
  2. We find that teacher quality is unequally distributed with lower-poverty schools getting the best teachers. This cannot be resolved politically. Deadlock.
  3. VAM finds that the best teachers, are in higher poverty schools. This would be seen as a flaw in VAM.

Friday, May 06, 2011

An Ed Reform Metaphor More Idiotic than RiShawn Biddle's "Hollywood Model"

Guy Brandenburg (responding to):

Having lived in various lower-income regions and mostly-black ghettoes in Boston, DC, Manhattan, and Chicago, as well as in poor rural areas of VT, NH, MO, and MD, as well as in nicer parts of various cities, towns and suburbs, I can say that yes, American supermarkets ARE a lot like our public schools.

When I lived in those low-income, segregated regions of some of our great American cities and countryside, and I would walk or drive to the local supermarket, guess what: I found that they sucked. There were rats, roaches, and mice; the tiles on the floor were coming up; the shopping carts wouldn’t work; the refrigeration often was broken; you risked getting robbed walking home with your bags in your arms; the food was old, of poor quality, and almost guaranteed to give you high blood pressureand to make you obese. Plus, numerous studies showed that the prices for this crappy merchandise was often higher than at fancy supermarkets in more well-to-do neighborhoods. Any laws to prevent this sort of nasty racial and economic discrimination are and were toothless and/or gutted by business interests.

And yes, that’s very comparable to the situation with our public schools.

Also, Scocca.

Max Schaaf on Growing Up in Oakland

The part about the Pine Street Mob'll break your heart.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Big Data, Visualizations of Texas Student Achievement

The Texas Tribune:

Gotta get this guy on the O'Reilly Radar.

Also, he's interested in high schools, which really shows the limits of current charters.

This is what happens when physicists look at the numbers instead of douchebag economists.



Passing legislation is the easy part.

Coming Soon to a (East Side) School Near You


At minimum, the DOE’s Teacher Data Reports are biased against teachers who work with high-performing students.

And the DOE seems to be doing everything it can to make sure that teachers and the public never find that out.

The bias is (to my eyes, anyway) huge. In elementary schools, for example, teachers who work with high-performing math students are 40 times more likely to fall in the bottom 5% of all teachers than in the top. Those findings come from information found on last year’s Teacher Data Reports, [1] but with an apparent eye to a possible public release and with clear contempt for the teachers they are supposed to support, this year the DOE decided to simply leave it out. [2]

Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

My Query to RIDE


Tell me if I have this right:

Achievement First Mayoral Academies have a pending application that, if approved by the Board of Regents, would result in the granting of a preliminary charter.

The BOARD OF REGENTS’ REGULATIONS GOVERNING RHODE ISLAND PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS states "In the case of a proposed Mayoral Academy, the proposed Charter submitted to the Commissioner shall include all the material required by R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-2."

R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-2 (17) states "Provide a copy of the proposed bylaws of the mayoral academy."

AFMA have not provided a copy of the proposed bylaws of the mayoral academy.

What am I missing?

I can't figure out how the new charter application form RIDE just wrote (and AFMA used) actually covers the regulations which RIDE also just wrote. But maybe I'm missing something.

Perhaps Someone Should Explain the Mayoral Academy to the Mayor

I asked Mayor Taveras for his position on the Achievement First Mayoral Academies last night at a community forum at WBNA. He was noncommittal, but in particular said that while he was aware that Fung had proposed a mayoral academy, he hadn't heard that it was for five schools.

This is, unfortunately, believable, as the proponents of this proposal have done a good job so far of obscuring its true scope.

The Mayor did mention, however, that he and Mayor Fung are old friends from Classical High School. Perhaps they'll sort this out between the two of them.

Regardless, it was good to see that there are more than a few people in Providence who are alerted to the overall national reform agenda and see where this is all pointed in the longer run.

Sneak attacks are going to get more difficult.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Providence School Board: Rescission of Teacher Dismissals

The plan is here.

Quick reax:

  • As expected, this plan concentrates the pain on people in schools being closed or reorganized. Hard to argue this is less arbitrary than seniority, and it highly discourages working in at risk schools.
  • Teachers from Asa Messer and its Annex are automatically getting placements at the new "Used to Be Bridgham" Elementary School. If nothing else, I don't know why they ever said they were closing those schools instead of moving them.
  • Placements of displaced teachers will be done by an accelerated matching process rather than Criterion Bullshit Hiring.
  • No outside hires until after the in-house matching process is resolved.

Based on past experience, this plan will start to sound worse the more I think about it.

Monday, May 02, 2011


Nancy Flanagan:

Well, gee, Mr. Hess. Speaking as a person who spent the last decade wearing out a series of pants from Target while sitting on the floor in my portable, teaching music, I'm not feeling the profligacy.