Sunday, July 31, 2011

It is a Bizarre Omission

Beth Comery:

How about a shore dinner hall? Who reading this has not had out-of-town friends or relatives who immediately upon arrival have demanded seafood. And they never mean a fancy restaurant with forks and knives and cloth napkins — they want a plate full of fried clams and clam cakes and steamers and maybe even a lobster. There is nothing like this in the city. And the location — with the view down the bay and a new marina — would be perfect.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Heading Out To DC

Jennifer and I are leaving our forward staging position in PA to head down to DC for SOS tomorrow. Meeting Jeff Elkner for dinner at Franklin's Brewery. I don't know if we'll have to gumption to go out tonight, but I suppose I can consult The Twitter to see what the hot spots are. I'll be the guy on the Ellipse with the Ubuntu hat.

How Do You Do a Skateboard Demo in a South African Township?

Haslam knows.

Almost Chris Haslam double impact Ad 7/11 from Almost Skateboards on Vimeo.

Reducing Income Inequality is Actually Pretty Easy

John Marsh:

But my point is that if it really wanted to, the United States could reduce inequality tomorrow, in any number of ways, regardless of how many people did or did not graduate from college. As I say above, we have other income-leveling tools at our disposal. That we choose not to use them does not mean they would not work.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thank You for Your Encouraging Words

Richard Lee Colvin:

The guiding principles of the Save Our Schools organizers do not address charters directly. But they do call for an end to the resegregation of schools. As my colleague Forrest Hinton pointed out yesterday, that’s code for halting the spread of charter schools because they often enroll large numbers of low-income African American and Hispanic students. It’s true that 52 percent of students attending the nation’s 5,000 charter schools are non-white and it’s also true that more than 60 percent of the students at a majority of those schools are poor. But it is low-income parents of color who are the most dissatisfied with their schools and are choosing to send their kids to charters instead. The average charter school has a waiting list of over 200 students. Also, in many large cities the school systems themselves are almost entirely made up of children of color. So it’s no surprise that charters reflect neighborhood demographics.

The burst of critiques directed at the Save Our Schools march has been so lame as to be actively encouraging. If "desegregation is code for slowing down the spread of charters which, by the way 'we (Ed Sector) also don’t cheerlead for them or think of them as a panacea,'" is the best they can do, we're in pretty good shape. Especially since progressives have a proud 60 year tradition of opposing school segregation, led in part by some of the leaders at SOS.

Keep a Stiff Spine

Valerie Strauss:

According to leaders of the Save Our Schools March, four of them were just invited to the White House on Friday, and the Education Department is trying to work out a meeting with a major march participant and Secretary Arne Duncan.

The best way to approach this would be to focus on concrete, on the ground impact of Obama and Duncan's policies, and not get sucked into them saying that the want something completely different from that (e.g., We don't want a single-minded emphasis on testing, really!).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Line of Argument You Can Only Make Against a Mayoral Academy

Maria Armental for the ProJo:

CRANSTON — Citing the city’s struggle to “adequately fund our current public school system” and the possibility of a tax increase to fund a proposed public charter school district sponsored by Mayor Allan W. Fung, Councilman Emilio L. Navarro is asking Fung to prepare a financial-impact report “on creating and sustaining a new public charter school district in conjunction with our current public school system.”

Because this is officially the mayor's proposal, and because the schools are required to take half its students from Cranston if they have sufficient applicants from the city, this is certainly a valid question. And my back of the envelope calculations aren't too impressive. Given Cranston's already high scores, even among low income students, the highest possible increase in the Cranston district + AFMA student population attributable to AFMA is usually around 4% (plus or minus a few points depending on the specific grade/subject). In return for that, you're looking at multiple program cuts and school closures. If you could actually estimate the short and long-term impact of those cuts, the whole thing would probably be nearly a wash for Cranston -- in the best case scenario.

What Kind of People Are Willing to Play a Rigged Game?

I've refrained from saying much about the Atlanta cheating scandal for two main reasons. One, Atlanta's role -- or what Atlanta signifies -- is highly ambiguous to me. Does it implicate the "reformers" (within the district) the "status quo" players or both? I have no idea. Two, I have no sympathy for people who went along with this on the micro level, but on the macro level, I say, "Of course, what did anyone expect?"

But consider this: teaching in a high poverty urban school is a rigged game, and it ain't rigged in your favor. No business would ever use something like AYP to measure their own performance (e.g., we'll declare the year a failure in the annual report if we miss our projections in a single division by one point, no matter what kind of year we have in the business as a whole). So over time, you're going to lose people who are simply unwilling to put up with it, and gain whatever kind of people are willing to play a game rigged against them. What kind of people do you think willingly embrace that?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bill Stevenson Still Alive

Speaking of drummers, Bill Stevenson apparently almost died (via Carducci):

In 2009 and 2010 I was severely ill. I had four different life-threatening things trying to kill me, and I conquered each of them. I started with a brain tumor that had been slowly growing over several years that was benign, but at a certain point reached a size to where it was creating pressure on both my frontal lobes and my optic nerve. It was affecting me psychologically, mentally and physically, and it was debilitating me, so then I became unmotivated and inactive and developed a lot of other poor habits. I got up to 400 lbs. and on came the blood clot in the leg, which then shot up into my heart and almost killed me. My heart passed this Johnsonville bratwurst-sized pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot, and then into my lungs it went, and I was on oxygen for four months. On came the diabetes, and on came the sleep apnea, where I stopped breathing at night because I had gained so much weight.

Now, I've lost 160 lbs. and everything's back to normal. As soon as they took the brain tumor out, which was one year ago this week, everything just fell into place. To say that I'm back to my old self would really be to shortchange it. I feel like I'm 20 now.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Couldn't You Wait: the Story of Silkworm

Every July I think about Michael Dahlquist, who died six years ago. I remember because he died the same month as I was born. Michael was the drummer for Silkworm, the Great Rock Band of the 90's.

Poking around the internet for some memories, I find that a documentary -- Couldn't You Wait: the Story of Silkworm -- is now all but finished. Here's the trailer:

That Mayoral Academy Branding is Working Out Real Well

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

“It’s undeniable that there are forces at the federal, state and local levels that are pushing for expanded charter schools,” he said. “But I don’t think there was a grand conspiracy to get charters into the building.”

In any case, (West End parent who belongs to the Neighborhood School Stakeholder Committee) Gabor said, Trinity is a not one of the national charters, like Achievement First, looking to move into Rhode Island.

“We’re one of the mom-and-pop charter schools,” Olsen said. “We were started by people who live in the community who saw a need. We don’t have the mayors behind us.”

Mayoral Academies = Assholes + Outsiders.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Coming Ad Wars

Centre Daily Times:

Griffith and McMurtrie didn’t spell out the finances at the meeting, but school districts have to pay out a little less than $10,000 for every non-special education student who leaves the district for a charter school. So if chipping in $4,000 for the campaign convinces one student to stay, the net savings for the district equals about $6,000. If the campaign influences lawmakers, the impact could range from thousands to millions of dollars.

There are all kinds of things routinely done today that were unthinkable 10 years ago. It may be easy to get used to the idea of big ad budgets for school districts.

How Could We Possibly Measure Student Achievement without Tests?!?!?!?

David Berliner:

These were simple studies. We asked classroom teachers in grades two to six to rank order the students in their classes in terms of how they would do on the state’s No Child Left Behind accountability test. Following is some information obtained from only the two lowest grades.

In grade two, 36 teachers participated, with class sizes ranging from 17 to 30; in grade three, 30 teachers participated, with class sizes ranging between 22 to 32 students. The correlation coefficients of the teachers’ ranking of their students’ performance with the students’ rank on the state test revealed only strong positive correlation coefficients. In third grade reading and mathematics teachers’ ranks of their students correlated with the rank the student obtained on the test about .84, about as high as the reliability of the tests themselves. Many teachers exhibited correlations greater than .90, indicating that teachers are quite capable of providing the state with information about who needs help and who does not in about 10 minutes, and at the savings of millions of dollars.

In second grade, we expected lower correlations because, as described above, the test scores of children at this age are less reliable. Yet we still found correlations between the teachers ranking and the child’s rank on the test to be about .70 in both reading and mathematics. This correlation is probably as high as the test would correlate with itself a week later (its one week stability reliability), and at the extremes, the rankings by the teachers of the highest and lowest performing students were remarkably accurate.

These results once again indicate that if the state’s interest is identifying students who need help, teachers can do this as well as the test.

P.L. Thomas:

Calls for standardized testing is a indirect admission that we do not trust teachers as ethical people or as professionals. But this distrust must be based in something other than evidence because claims that objective data must be used in college entrance decisions, graduation, and scholarships, for example, because without those objective measures, teachers would just give away high grades doesn't match the evidence on standardized tests coming from the College Board itself:

The correlation of HSGPA and FYGPA is 0.36 (Adj. r = 0.54), which is slightly higher than the multiple correlation of the SAT (critical reading, math, and writing combined) with FYGPA (r = 0.35, Adj. r = 0.53). (Kobrin, et al., 2008)

And consider this, also from Kobrin, et al. (2008):

Table 5
Unadjusted and Adjusted Correlations of Predictors with FYGPA Predictor(s)/ Raw R/ Adj. R
1. HSGPA/ 0.36/ 0.54
2. SAT-CR/ 0.29/ 0.48
3. SAT-M/ 0.26/ 0.47
4. SAT-W/ 0.33/ 0.51
5. SAT-M, SAT-CR/ 0.32/ 0.51
6. HSGPA, SAT-M, SAT-CR/ 0.44/ 0.61
7. SAT-CR, SAT-M, SAT-W/ 0.35/ 0.53
8. HSGPA, SAT-CR, SAT-M, SAT-W/ 0.46/ 0.62
Note: N for all correlations = 151,316. Pooled within-institution

GPA remains slightly better than the SAT at doing the single purpose the SAT is designed to do—predict freshman college success—despite GPA being entirely the product of teacher assessments. As the chart above shows, the so-called objective SAT does add to the use of data (see 6, 7, and 8 above), but the sacred test is less predictive than teacher assessment.

If Only There was an Example of an Educational System Based on Something Other than High Stakes Testing

Max Bean:

I’ve spoken to at least one reader who wondered what Ms. Ravitch wants us to do with the test data, if not hold teachers and principals accountable for the results. Well, here’s your answer, in action.

For more examples, refer to pretty much every other school system that is or has ever been.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Perhaps You Should Have Gotten a Less Indulgent Charter School Law Passed

Elisabeth Harrison:

In related news, Rhode Island chapter of Democrats for Education Reform has sent a letter to Governor Lincoln Chafee reminding him that the state could put $9.6 million in federal funding at risk if it does not pick up the pace of opening new charter schools. The grant calls for the state to double the number of charter schools over a three-year period. According to DFER, that would mean bringing four to five new charter schools on line in the 2011-2012 school year just to stay on track.

The problem is, I don't think anyone submitted a legally complete and valid application at all this year, so maybe DFER should invest in some people to help write applications. Particularly ones that fit the stupid, idiosyncratic requirements of our mayoral academy law.

But the whole idea that the state of RI could make promises about charter school formation in their RttT application never made much sense, since it is entirely dependent on RIDE getting good applications, and RIDE has no control over that. All they can do is start cheating and letting through illegal and incomplete applications, which is exactly what they're trying to do for Achievement First.

Thanks John & Gina!

Thanks to a reminder from John McDaid and a nice web interface from the Office of the General Treasurer, I discovered that we had $1,054 in unclaimed property, and the check arrived today. W00t!

Also, I should note that a couple weeks ago I managed to grab lunch, renew my driver's license in the new Cranston DMV, and make it home in less than an hour. Rhode Island: a Marvel of Efficiency!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Portable Bowl

Chris Miller designed this massive portable bowl for this year's Dew Tour.

What Cranston has to Look Forward To

Julia Sass Rubin:

By shifting funds away from traditional public schools without reducing their costs, charter schools decrease the resources available for educating the majority of a community’s children. In one New Jersey school district, for example, the additional cost of a foreign-language immersion charter school resulted in the elimination of foreign language instruction for the much larger number of children attending the traditional public schools. When allocating communal goods such as public education, can the preferences of individual parents supersede the needs of the whole?

Luckily, a RI mayoral academy is easier to kill down the road than a NJ charter.

Not the Moment for Growing Suburban Charters

This is just not a good time to be expanding suburban charter schools, for a number of reasons:

  • Ongoing and worsening budget crises. It is much easier to grab a piece of an expanding pie.
  • An increasing emphasis on charters outperforming district schools on standardized tests. This cuts against the boutique model of suburban choice. All things being equal, there is no reason to think that, say, a Mandarin-immersion charter school is going to have better value-added ELA and math scores than their sending districts. Therefore, according to the current reform model, there is no reason for that school to exist, or have its charter renewed.
  • Around here it is a bad idea because overall enrollment is declining, exacerbating funding loss and the impact on children remaining in sending districts. Also, you're essentially deliberately creating an oversupply of seats.
  • And the recent use of charter schools as a polarizing political tool makes a hard core of activist resistance more likely.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sometimes the "Joy Factor" Makes Your Five Year Old Vomit in the Morning

Michael Winerip:

Matthew is bright but can be disruptive and easily distracted. It was not a natural fit for the Success charters, which are known for discipline and long school days. From Day 1 of kindergarten, Ms. Sprowal said, he was punished for acting out.

“They kept him after school to practice walking in the hallway,” she said.

Several times, she was called to pick him up early, she said, and in his third week he was suspended three days for bothering other children.

In Matthew’s three years of preschool, Ms. Sprowal said, he had never missed time for behavior problems. “After only 12 days in your school,” she wrote the principal, “you have assessed and concluded that our son is defective and will not meet your school criteria.”

Five days later, Ms. Sprowal got an e-mail from Ms. Moskowitz that she took as a veiled message to leave. “Am not familiar with the issue,” Ms. Moskowitz wrote, “but it is extremely important that children feel successful and a nine-hour day with more than 23 children (and that’s our small class size!) where they are constantly being asked to focus and concentrate can overwhelm children and be a bad environment.”

The next week, the school psychologist evaluated Matthew and concluded he would be better suited elsewhere: “He may need a smaller classroom than his current school has available.”

By then, Matthew was throwing up most mornings and asking his mother if he was going to be fired from school. Worn down, Ms. Sprowal requested help finding her son another school, and Success officials were delighted to refer him to Public School 75 on the Upper West Side.

I've spoken to parents who pulled their children out of Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley with similar physical symptoms of stress. It isn't necessarily just the ADD kids who break down in a "no excuses" kindergarten. It can be just as hard on the quiet five year old perfectionist who gets every question right but lives in constant mortal fear of the reprimand and public shaming taking place in his or her classroom every day. And it isn't a picnic for the parent, who is desperately trying to sort out whether their child is going through normal anxiety about leaving home and starting school, or if there is something more weird and complicated going on.

There is the question of whether the "no excuses" model is appropriate for any kindergarten (to which I suspect there is no firm and final answer because it depends on the quality of the implementation). There is the question of whether it is genuinely good for children in certain demographic groups, or perhaps just a more amorphous constellation of personality types. But it should be quite clear that this is not for everyone, and the corporate school reform movement is building long-term problems for itself by downplaying that fact. Which tells you something about what they see as the ends and the means (e.g., choice vs. a test-prep monoculture).

It is Called Class Consciousness

James Boutin:

Many who participate in the education conversation are confused as to what conversation they're participating in. E4E is a prime example. They seem to believe they're participating in a discussion in which the goal of all parties is to ensure the best teacher in every classroom. Financial hardships, committed ideologies, and no-bid contracts to private tech companies will not, in reality, allow that discussion. The tenure discussion could be about amending it to practically ensure experienced educators with a track record of performance are protected from incompetent administrators (Mazzariello says he ran into hundreds or thousands of cases like that as a prosecutor). It will instead be about the degree to which it should be emasculated. Just so long as you know the conversation you're participating in...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Philanthropic Oversight: the Tony Hawk Foundation

Philanthropic oversight is a tough problem. One can make a pretty good argument at this point that, in their own hyper version of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, federal education policy in the US is now shaped with easier philanthropic oversight as the end.

Sometimes it is easier, however. For example, if you are Tony Hawk, and your foundation has "a focus on the creation of public skateboard parks in low-income communities," you can just... go skate:

After I skated (the partly Hawk Foundation funded) Lewsiton skatepark this morning, I wondered to what extent his "secret skatepark tours" are also Foundation oversight. Does Tony pass on feedback to a Foundation staffer about what's good and bad about the park?

If I was Tony Hawk, I'd be griping about the poor flow between the capsule and the snake run, but maybe that's just me.

For the record, I think the Oxford Plains cloverleaf in South Paris is the best bowl in the area.

Two Bottles of Mead, Six Pounds of Epsom Salts, and a Box of Triscuits

As I get older, my shopping lists get ever more quixotic.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

CCP's PR Woes and Agile Development

In addition to being a fun game to play on occasion, EVE is a fascinating case study to follow as a software project manager. Despite complaints from the playerbase to the contrary, as software companies go, CCP is fairly transparent, in particular about their use of Scrum, an agile development methodology.

"Agile" development is typically presented as the opposite of "waterfall" development. That is, where the buildup to a major software release is like the slow approach and uncontrolled tumble over a waterfall. In particular, there would seem to be no bigger waterfall than the release of a "sandbox" virtual world, where developers throw the switch on a whole world that players are free to manipulate (and try to break/destroy/defeat) as they see fit. This extends to the ongoing expansion of the world -- do you do big releases touching lots of parts of the game/world at once?

In opposition to the waterfall approach, agile development emphasizes constant, iterative development and small, frequent releases. There are many variations on this theme; for users of web applications, this has become accepted, particularly in the old Web 2.0 "perpetual beta" phase.

As CCP has switched to Scrum in the past couple years, they've phased out of a biannual expansion schedule, and moved to many smaller releases which still organized under the branding of two umbrella releases.

For example, the first big iteration of the Incarna release cycle dropped last month and triggered a firestorm of controversy, some of which is directly attributable to CCP's agile mindset. First off "Incarna" was the latest codeword for CCP's long-promised (since 2006) "walking in stations" feature. The thing is going from not having a body to having one implies many possibilities (e.g., going to bars, gambling, checking out strippers), most of which have been publicly entertained by CCP at one point or another in the past five years.

However, in true agile fashion, Incarna 1.0 just lets the player walk around a hotel room, by him or herself, overlooking his docked spacecraft. From an agile point of view, this is exactly the right thing to do, because it lets them test the basic technology behind the avatars and their environment in a very limited, controllable context. Once that works to their satisfaction in the wild, they can add more complex environments, interactions, etc.

The only problem with this is the vocal minority of the players screaming "You've been working on this for five years and all I can do is walk around a room by myself!?!?!?!?!?"

A larger controversy was around the introduction of the "Noble Exchange," the mechanism currently used for selling clothing for your avatar, and generally regarded as the future "cash shop" for EVE Online. The initial rollout of the shop featured a small, seemingly random selection of overpriced virtual clothes. It was not very attractive.

Players were horrified, and clearly it was a botched rollout, but it makes sense to the agile developer. Players think "They should put a bunch of cheap things in there to let everyone try it out." Developers think "We just want to know if the store works," and the game designers are thinking "We want to make sure we aren't breaking the economy," so they don't want everyone using the new store and its new currency all at once. From the developers' and designers' point of view, a store with a small selection of unpopular products is just right for a soft launch, really a public beta.

The problem with all this is that when the more uppity segment of the EVE playerbase runs into these situations where CCP's actions become opaque, they tend to assume that CCP is moving to rip them off in the short term and essentially cash out EVE by extracting as much profit as they can before the game collapses. It is quite clear to me that CCP's plan for maximizing shareholder income revolves around keeping the EVE universe healthy and happy for years if not decades to come. Their mistakes, and they've made their share lately, tend to spring from being a bunch of Icelandic computer programmers and sci-fi geeks. They aren't the kind of mistakes that business-people make. They are remote volcanic island-bound nerd mistakes.

Mayoral Overdose, part II

Rhode Island Red:

The response is quite interesting. School Committee president Cathy Crain publicly resigned last night, following the example of Philip Gould a few weeks ago, and apparently, Supt. Tom Brady. I think we should not make heroes out of people who drank the Kool-Aid and realized only too late what was in it. Personally, I think it’s great that Crain and Gould resigned, and I’d like to see ALL of the School Committee members do the same. I was happy to hear Crain state, paraphrased in the Journal, that “she hopes parents will take control of their children’s education because it’s clear that the politicians will not.” What a realization! Of course, I think the politicians already have taken control, backed up by their billionaire buddies and with the help of “reform-minded” individuals like Crain herself. Maybe she should read that Diane Ravitch book…

But it’s notable that Crain and Gould did not apologize for the actions they took while on the School Committee. Crain did not apologize for the school closings, the teacher firings, etc. Instead, she clearly felt herself to have been used as a tool by the Mayor (which is true), but then believes herself to be a martyr. Gould’s statement was along the same lines. These are people who believed the wrong things about education reform, and now realize they’ve been had—but are still unclear about whom they’ve been had by, and for what reason. Are they our allies? I’d hardly trust them!

It opens up a larger question that I’ve been pondering for some time now. In brief, it seems like Taveras has been trying to out-Broad the Broadies. For all that the Broad Academy trains bureaucrats in draconianism, it still preserves some veneer of being about education; in contrast, Taveras seems to have pulled a number of maneuvers that the Broadies have gone along with, but that are even faster and more destructive than they’re used to. Now the rats are abandoning the ship! But it begs the question: what’s really going on?

Most simply, I'd guess Taveras thinks he's playing catch up to a successful model from New York. If I believed the Bloomberg-era reforms in NYC were an unmitigated success, I'd make the kind of moves he has.

But more generally, Rhode Island school reform is currently distinguished by a self-destructive over-emphasis on mayoral control. If Rhode Island had passed a normal charter school reform bill a couple years ago, instead of that self-indulgent Mayoral Academies law, Achievement First would be shopping for space in Providence already.

What's happening in City Hall looks like a big power play, but I don't understand how in helps Taveras, or any other PVD mayor, in the long run. The next three years are going to be extremely rough for the PPSD, no matter who is running the show. Choosing this moment to pile the authority and responsibility onto one Mayor is just... strange.

Monday, July 11, 2011

School A and School B

Imagine two schools serving the same grade levels in the same community. School A and School B, such that:

  • School B has a school day two hours longer than School A.
  • School B has a school year two weeks longer than School A.
  • All students in the community can automatically attend School A, under any circumstances.
  • Students must explicitly apply to School B at the beginning of the single entry year of School B. If more students apply to School B than there are places, students are selected by lottery.
  • Students always have the right to leave School B to attend School A, but not vice versa.
  • School B reserves the right to replace, or not replace, students who leave School B.

Outside of the context of the contemporary US charter debate, I don't think anyone would argue that School A and School B would contain equivalent populations of students, just based on the above rules. This is a trivial prediction.

The interesting question is how did we get to the point where this would be a controversial assertion?

Being Run Down Doesn't Sound So Bad

Jonathan Alter via Whitney Tilson:

My point was to keep steady improvement as part of the conversation and to raise a tonal question: Should the reward for tripling proficiency over three years be the chance to see your improvements, insufficient as they are, run down in the NY Times?

There are plenty of rapidly improving schools that would love to be run down in the NY Times if it would have meant they would have stayed open, or have not been named "persistently low-performing," had their principals and teachers fired, their successful reforms undone, their budgets slashed, etc. etc.

Neither Alter nor Tilson have the slightest idea what's actually happening on the ground all over the country.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Birthday Bowl

I began my 42nd birthday by fulfilling a longtime ambition and skating a pool -- not literally a backyard pool, but the Nashua (NH) skatepark version, which would be a nice backyard kidney for a race of giants with its 6 foot deep shallow end, but lots of vert and real pool coping, so yeah, a legit pool (as pictured above with someone else skating).

When you're just trying to get the feel for this kind of pool -- and specifically not ready to drop in for a fast start -- it is pretty much like riding a roller coaster powered by a squat machine. Exhilarating, but exhausting. I was figuring out the pump and getting about 3/4 of the way up the 10' deep end when I ran out of gas. Playing a very long 19th century base ball game the day before against the NH Granite in which probably 50 runs were scored didn't help my skating stamina.

It is unbelievable how much great skateboarding terrain has been built in the past ten years. I'm glad I suddenly realized what has been hiding in plain sight.


Friday, July 08, 2011

The Hypocritical Part of the Argument

Bruce Baker:

I am quite convinced that many of the policy makers who choose elite private schools for their own and advocate for scaling back the public system, really don’t understand the difference. They really don’t know that their private schools outspend nearby traditional public schools – by a lot – despite serving more advantaged student populations. Heck, I’ve talked to administrators in private independent schools who feel that their own budgets are tight (legitimately so), and assume that the public schools around them spend much more per child. But they are simply na├»ve in this regard (while wise in many other ways). No intent to harm. They’ve simply bought into the misguided rhetoric that private schools spend less and get more and they’ve never double-checked the facts. But even a few minutes of pondering their own budgets and looking up local public school spending brings them around. (Part of this perception is likely driven by differences in access to funding for capital projects, where heads of private schools recognize the heavy lifting of major fundraising campaigns, and envy the taxing authority of public school districts for these purposes).

In my view, the hypocrisy lies in what those who choose elite private schools for their own argue are the best solutions for public education for the children of others. If the preferences are the same, there is no hypocrisy. The problem is when those preferences are vastly different – completely at odds – as they tend to be in the present “ed reform” and “new normal” debate.

What the Education Debate is About

Dana Goldstein:

I spoke to The Nation's summer interns this afternoon, and someone asked me why the education policy debate is so nasty. It's a war among friends, I explained--a debate between people who share broad commitments to civil rights, economic mobility, and meritocracy, yet who disagree stridently about what path to take to get there. 

Here are some of the most contentious binaries I see:

-- School choice vs. the right to a high-quality education

-- career prep/workforce development/vocational education vs. "college for all"

-- teacher/school accountability vs. teacher/school autonomy

-- management/labor/HR reform vs. curricular/instructional reform

When I'm out reporting in successful schools, I often find that the fertile gound lies between the poles of these debates. A school like Aviation High School, for example, prepares kids for college while also making sure they earn an occupational certificate that will allow them to pursue full-time employment after graduation. 

Paul's piece is really worth a close read. Education reform shouldn't be an "either/or" debate, but more about "and." Kids--especially poor kids--need far more academic, vocational, social, and psychological interventions, provided by well-trained adults and institutions. 

What's at stake is much more fundamental than the issues Dana raises.

At the local level, this is about:

  • People's own children.
  • People's property values (which often represents the bulk of a family's wealth in a dangerously illiquid and unstable form).
  • The health and stability, and self-determination of people's own neighborhoods.
  • Taxes.

So yes, at the local level, people get heated.

Transcending all levels of the debate you have Lakoff's frames, which can be over-applied and maybe are just a pretentious cliche, but apply pretty directly to education debates:

  • "Strict father" vs.
  • "nurturant parent."

That is, about 95% of the time, the specific policy someone is talking about in education (at a dinner party, etc.) is just a proxy for their preferred parenting model. Which means nobody is going to be changing their mind.

All of the above is more or less permanent in US politics (less so in Europe, I'd think, as education is less a local issue).

Then you have the "peculiar institution:"

  • Racism;
  • the political failure of de-segregation;
  • colonialism.

Moving on to the current "reform" movement, it is really a mopping up action in the great battles of the 20th century:

Considering what's really at stake, this is has all been pretty mellow.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Mayoral Overdose

With the Board of Regents continuing to discuss the Achievement First Mayoral Academies proposal, it is worth noting that the entire scenario has only gotten weirder since the General Assembly stripped the Providence School Board (and only Providence's) of its authority to negotiate and sign contracts with the PTU. The Mayor's Office does that directly now. Also, the Mayor appoints the board.

We're heading toward a system where a future Mayor of Providence may inherit various levels of control of several competing school systems, each one with a set of shifting power relationships between the city, state, federal government, foundations and non-profits. Future mayors will have to juggle the PPSD, and a variety of Mayoral Academies, with each shrinking, growing, and lapsing into crisis as students and money shifts among them. This is similar to what's going on in different cities throughout the US, but with our own unique spin, since all the options are being piled onto the Mayor.

As far as I know, nobody has ever explicitly advanced an argument that this particular style of administration is a good idea, but it seems to be what we're going to end up with. I guess it is kind of like if Eva Moskowitz was elected Mayor of New York. And it the long run it is probably as big a threat to reformers plans as it is to the PPSD, since the obvious thing to do will be re-consolidate this into one system for the sake of efficiency.

And you have to wonder whether all this is a result of Ken Wong's influence.

This Might be a Good Idea in a Different Context

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — Mayor Angel Taveras has nominated Natalia Rosa-Sosa to serve on the Providence School Board.

The nomination was submitted to the City Council for consideration this week.

Rosa-Sosa, who recently served as a program associate for Global Partnership Schools and a research assistant at the Roger Williams University Latino Policy Institute, is a dedicated community servant and education advocate, Taveras said in a news release. ...

Rosa-Sosa attended Mary E. Fogarty and Martin Luther King Elementary, Nathan Bishop Middle School and Hope High School before entering the University of Rhode Island, where she is currently finishing a bachelor’s degree in English and economics.

In the abstract, I like the idea of nominating a college student who is a recent PPSD grad (or maybe not recent, who knows?), but doing so precisely in the middle of a bitter power struggle between the mayor's office and the (mayorally appointed) board is kind of insulting.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

"No Excuses" is Not About Enrichment

David Brooks:

As the education blogger Whitney Tilson has pointed out, the schools that best represent the reform movement, like the KIPP academies or the Harlem Success schools, put tremendous emphasis on testing. But these schools are also the places where students are most likely to participate in chess and dance. They are the places where they are most likely to read Shakespeare and argue about philosophy and physics.

Without sinking too deeply into this, I'd refer to Caroline Hoxby's New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project, which Brooks also references. In the section where Hoxby looks at 30 specific polices implemented by NYC charters to see which are associated with achievement effects, the kind of enrichment and curricular policies Brooks refers to were not considered by Hoxby, with the exception of the use of a Core Knowledge curriculum. If the NYC charter community considered these policies to be fundamental to their model, I'm sure Hoxby would have included them in the study. As a whole, they don't.

Various kinds of enrichment do happen in some no excuses charters, but no excuses charters are not defined by enrichment.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Post-Summit Statements from CCP and the CSM

Read them here, also watch:

A lot of people looked at CCP's recent moves and poor surrounding communication and saw "greed," when they should have read "geeks." Icelandic sci-fi geeks, at that.

If Only Real World Politicians Could Be This Candid

The Mittani, chair of the Council of Stellar Management:

Arrived (in Iceland) Tuesday at 2am, got Nonnis, went to bed.

Wednesday I had all to myself, so I did some summit prep and then hit up Islenskibarrin, which is where all the expat CCPers drink, and proceeded to get drunk and gather intel. This is pretty much how real summit work goes - most of how you find out about undercurrents of what's taking place within CCP, as an outsider, is to damage your liver and develop contacts over beer. If you don't develop contacts, you don't find out where the rot really is coming from, if there really is rot or not, etc. You have to be a social guy with a tough liver. The rest of the CSM arrived at 2am around mid drinking binge/political rampage.

Obviously, I'm not saying what I learned from who, but I spent until 2am or 3am doing that, then passed out for a few hours, woke up Thursday morning for Serious Summit Day with the rest of the CSM.

Thursday morning we saw crap like the unsub metrics, dealt with Incarna/CQ stuff. Relatively simple issues to understand and deal with. After lunch was NeX store discussion, which was contentious if not hostile - not because of ZOMG GOLD AMMO but because the CSM was broadly furious with how botched and prevantable the NeX rollout fuckups could have been avoided, etc. There will be much more detail of this in the CSM statement. Around this point I'm gritting my teeth, everyone in the room is angry, and I tweet when I get home that things are 'grim' but 'making progress', which is true.

Thursday dinner we skip booze and hoover down coffee to prep for more drinking and intelligence gathering and backchanneling. I make a couple of really cool new friends and end up chilling with them until fuck, almost 5am. Again, you don't get details - that's how backchannels and politics works. So I crash out again for maybe 3.5 hours of sleep.

By this point my liver is beginning to adjust to the constant barrage of coffee, alcohol, and no sleep. I have no real hangover going into Friday. Friday morning we discuss microtransaction policy/future plans - the takeaway is, ofc, no gold ammo, nothing really new from the May summit, just a whole pile of terrible messaging mostly as a consequence of the NeX fuckups + the Fearless leaks. ...

I don't expect the other mysterious ongoing negotiation affecting my life -- who is in charge of the Providence School District -- to sort itself out so easily.

Friday, July 01, 2011

If Anyone has the Slightest Idea What This is About, I'd Love to Know

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The entire Providence School Board has indicated it will not ratify a teachers' contract because of the board's lack of involvement with negotiations.

In a letter to Mayor Angel Taveras, the School Board wrote that it voted 9-0 to request that no negotiation of the contract continue without the prior consent and involvement of the board.

"The board believes that the PTU collective bargaining agreement contains provisions that are essential to the essence of our educational mission and therefore are to be considered management rights that cannot be assigned, transferred or given away by the School Board."

Accordingly, the board wrote, negotiations fit squarely within the rights, duties and obligations of the board pursuant to the state law.

"Please note our opposition to any agreements, written or otherwise, resulting from any negotiation sessions that are not approved or attended by the board shall be considered non-binding upon the board."


PROVIDENCE — A bill that strips the Providence School Board of its authority to sign contracts with any of the unions with which it negotiates — most notably the teachers union — passed the House of Representatives at 10 p.m. Thursday with little debate and appeared poised for passage in the Senate (it passed -TEH).

The bill was quietly submitted in the last days of the legislative session and underwent some last minute changes Thursday to ensure it applied only to Providence.

Sen. Paul V. Jabour, a Providence Democrat, introduced the bill that would give the mayor of Providence, not the School Board, the authority to sign all collective-bargaining agreements.

Rebutting and Prebutting Brooks

Sherman Dorn:

One should also note that Brooks chose to highlight charter schools as examples of how one can respond to accountability without test-prep. It is as if he could not find a single example of a school overseen by a single regular school district that has escaped the pressures to engage in test prep. Or that he along with other pundits have a severe availability bias in favor of charter schools. It is an unfortunate bit of hype; while some charter schools do very well compared with local public schools (as would any random sample of schools), a good portion fall near or below the recorded achievement of local public schools. Yet Brooks and others continue to hype charter schools, much to the detriment of public debate. In the real world, meanwhile, silver bullets continue to be a rare commodity: Jacksonville's KIPP school fell in the lowest rating band in Florida this year. I take any state rating system with a few pounds of salt, but there will always be a consistency problem for overhyping school reformers and their fans: test score results are fragile. Maybe the Jacksonville KIPP school didn't engage in enough test-prep?

Deborah Meier:

Empowering schools, one of Joel Klein's favorite claims for his New York City reforms, means only that principals have more power over teachers (and less power in relationship to city and state).

Another Idealistic Brown Grad Leaves the PPSD Classroom After a Too Short Tenure

East Bay RI:

Michael L. Ras, 63, of Westport, died Wednesday, June 29, 2011, at St Luke’s Hospital after a three-month battle with cancer. He was the husband of Pamela J. (Sullivan) Ras for the past for 42 years.

Born in New Bedford, the son of the late Henry and Helen (Koczerga) Ras, he spent his youth in New Bedford moving to Westport in 1971. A graduate of New Bedford High School, Class of 1965, Brown University, 1969, he also earned his masters in mathematics from the University of Rhode Island.

Mr. Ras retired from the New Bedford Public School System after 35 years in 2004. He began there as a mathematics teacher at Normandin Jr. High School and continued to teach math at New Bedford High School for the mainstay of his career. He served as the assistant principal of Roosevelt Middle School for the remaining years, where, upon retirement, the Cafetorium was named in his honor. After retirement he continued to teach and was the lead math teacher first at the Feinstein High School and then William B. Cooley Health and Science Technology High School, both in Providence. He had been a member and past president of the New Bedford Educators Association and on the Board of Directors and Executive Board of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

After a distinguished 40 year career in education, Mike was fired by the Providence School District, without cause, two weeks before his death.

Rest in peace, Mike.