Thursday, December 29, 2011

OK, Now I'm Interested

Threat Level:

Ed Knutson’s job is to get those sites talking to each other, even though the content may be in different languages (English, Spanish, Arabic, etc.) and created with different content management systems, or CMSs, such as Drupal or Wordpress. The Global Square network will connect not through those systems but through “semantic Web” standards designed to link up disparate technologies.

One key standard has the wordy name Resource Description Framework, or RDF, a universal labeling system.

If an occupier wants to post the minutes of a meeting, for example, they might type them in the appropriate text box in the content management software running the site. That software pushes the information to an RDF database and tags it with some universal label – it could be called “minutes” or any other term that all the occupations agree on. The local occupier might also select “Group: Alternative Banking” from a dropdown list, and that label would be added as well. Using the same labels allows all the sites to trade information. So a search for minutes from an Alternative Banking group would pull up records from any occupation with that kind of group.

With RDF, sites can work together even if they run on different content management software, such as Drupal (as in the FGA) or Wordpress (as in the Spanish M15 group).

“The handoff point is that everything goes through RDF,” said Knutson. “You don’t care if they have a Drupal site or some kind of Frankenstein combination of different stuff.”

The problem the coders face will be the same one that’s faced the web for years – getting people to agree on standards and to then adopt them. One long-running attempt to do this quickly is called Microformats – a way of including markup data in HTML that’s invisible to an human visitor, but which can be understood by their browser or by a search engine. Examples include marking up contact information so that a reader can simply click contact information to add it to their address book and annotating a recipe so that search engines can let you search for recipes that include ’spinach’.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Or Imagine Them Trying to Make AYP

Steve Denning:

“Imagine an NFL coach,” writes Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, in his important new book, Fixing the Game, “holding a press conference on Wednesday to announce that he predicts a win by 9 points on Sunday, and that bettors should recognize that the current spread of 6 points is too low. Or picture the team’s quarterback standing up in the postgame press conference and apologizing for having only won by 3 points when the final betting spread was 9 points in his team’s favor. While it’s laughable to imagine coaches or quarterbacks doing so, CEOs are expected to do both of these things.”

Imagine also, to extrapolate Martin’s analogy, that the coach and his top assistants were hugely compensated, not on whether they won games, but rather by whether they covered the point spread. If they beat the point spread, they would receive massive bonuses. But if they missed covering the point spread a couple of times, the salary cap of the team could be cut and key players would have to be released, regardless of whether the team won or lost its games.

You Don't Have to Debate People Who Don't Have a Seat at the Table

At the intersection of Mathews, Russo, and Cody today, the most important point is that reformers have nothing to gain through more public debate. They've got the inside game, and that's all they need. They are strongest when policymakers and politicians are completely unaware of any alternative vision. That's why they constantly claim that no alternative vision has been articulated, when many have been, in great detail and rigor.

It is getting harder for them to keep up that stance, but as more and more data comes in showing their approaches aren't working, they'll have to double down.

Useless Foofs Society

Charlie Pierce:

Is there any doubt that, had David Brooks been writing for The New York Times in say, 1901, his columns would have been all about the quaint customs of those coal miners in Appalachia, and isn't it clever how they drink their evening libations from mason jars, and aren't they just the most religious of people, the way they all sing those lovely shape-note hymns when one of their men dies at 45 from black lung? We don't want any onerous regulations stifling all of this, do we? Is there any doubt that he would be arguing that Morgan and Carnegie and the rest of them are the engines of our "young and vibrant" economy and that LaFollette and the rest of them are standing in the way of progress. Is there any doubt where he would have lined up after Homestead? The country needs fewer lectures from people who do not understand it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Real Debate

Paul Thomas:

The real debate is not whether or not one side believes poverty matters and the other does not (this is genuinely a false dichotomy that likely does not exist). The real debate is where the source of what matters lies and how to address the impact of poverty on the lives and learning of children.

This line of thinking is overly generous. At best one side in this debate has been peddling bullshit for years. Whether they believed what they were saying is beside the point. Acting like they never said it is just more bullshit.

Meanwhile, the Broader Bolder Approach has been consistently misrepresented as being hostile to all school improvement and focused only on poverty, despite the content of their every written statement, misrepresented not only by their ideological opponents, but by the press, based apparently on a presumption of hypocrisy from the BBA's advocates.

In short, polarizing the debate was fundamental to school reformers strategy.

Further, Thomas frames the "real debate" at too high a level. There is not an agreement on ends with a disagreement on means. You cannot escape the fact that serious educational disputes always boil down the the most essential questions: What kind of world do you want to live in? How does the world work? What is most important in life? Why are we here? That is the real argument. We don't require 100% national consensus to create better schools, but that's what we're fighting about.

I'll end by repeating this Havel quote which is about the most pithy thing I've read all year:

I favor 'antipolitical politics,' politics not as the technology of power and manipulation, of cybernetic rule over humans or as the art of the utilitarian, but politics as one of the ways of seeking and achieving meaningful lives, of protecting them and serving them.

That's the issue at hand.

Meanwhile, In the Real World

Ozzie Ausband:

I looked at this overweight ill man and wondered how he became this way. After all, I knew how I turned out the way I did. I knew that I was a mess inside. I would go home from work, taking all the pain and suffering with me. I would put Keith Jarretts- ‘Invocations’ on the CD player– open a bottle of Stoli–and drown in a river of my own making. Who could I talk to of my household gods? Rage, alcohol, loneliness and despair. I shook my head sadly. I had a messed up childhood- in some ways -and a huge inferiority complex from it. I guess that I had finally stopped blaming my parents and just tortured myself with my fears. It wasn’t their fault anyway. They did the best they could. Damn! A person could go nuts with such thoughts.

I was out in the hallway, striding toward the supply room when I heard a call, ” I need some help in here!” The voice had that urgency and panic familiar to me. I knew that something was wrong. I rushed back into the patients room and saw my admission patient turning the wrong color. He was dusky and slipping fast. We all went into our mode. One person checked vitals, one called for more help and the machinery of life-saving quickly fell in order. I performed CPR on the man after he coded. The ‘Code Blue’ team responded with the crash cart and we -collectively- brought the man back from the darkness.

It probably wouldn’t be for long though. He was a physical wreck from years of indulgent living, sumptuous meals and neglecting his health. I pictured his home on a Friday night. The smell of good cigars, rich food, business banter and wine-inspired laughter. The families gold-laced, framed photographs in the hallways, spoke of assured destiny and old money. We brought him back to life again…

After a few weeks, he was stabilized and ready to be discharged. He would need careful monitoring and home health visits. He sent for me and I stopped in his room to see him. He was with his family at this point. He looked different…not so haughty or entitled. He spoke humbly, thanking me for my efforts and for performing CPR on him. His family said much the same to me. My fingers fluttered and I fidgeted nervously. I didn’t like this part of the job. For me, it was easier to coldy zip them into a bag.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Duty Now for the Future


For nine years, Sam Batterson ran “Breaking Ground”, a Providence, R.I. company that built skate parks. Last summer, he sold the business to a company in Joplin, Mo., he said. He got $40,000 for the sale, and as part of the deal required the company to give $10,000 to the Groton Skate Park Fund.

Batterson said he felt connected to Groton and knew his friend and former competitor, Jeff Paprocki, who also builds skate parks, would make the money go far.

There Is No Alternative (including those already implemented)

Walt Gardner takes a peculiar take on the good data from schools on military bases:

Yet there are several factors that militate against extrapolation. First, the standardized tests that are mandated by No Child Left Behind are not used at military base schools for the same purpose. Instead of judging the effectiveness of teachers, the tests are used strictly for diagnostic purposes. Second, the average class for kindergarten through third grade there has 18 students. This compares with 24 students in New York City. Third, military parents are provided health care for their children and housing. The availability means that students do not attend classes with ailments afflicting many of their counterparts in public schools. Finally, the military puts a premium on education, providing parents with time off from work to participate in their children's schools.

None of these factors applies to public schools. As a result, they'll never be able to match the success of schools on military bases.

This is an overly realistic "reality check." There is no reason all of the above can't be done nationwide, as they are in many advanced countries. Even providing parents with more time off is actually pretty easy. Just write a law to that effect. Lots of countries have laws that mandate people get more time off work.

Undoing the use of testing for teacher evaluation could be done tomorrow. Heck, it is barely implemented.

If it isn't realistic to consider those four measures, why do we bother with the pretense of democracy at all?

No Brainer: Credit Score Reform

Lynn Parramore:

Credit scoring has some predictive accuracy, but not nearly enough to justify its influence. In old-fashioned risk evaluation, a loan officer at a bank would sit down with an individual and study the typical and atypical factors that make up a person’s credit history. Then he or she would make a judgement about credit worthiness that incorporated what wasn’t in the statistical models, as well as what was. Obviously, you can’t rapidly and cheaply assess credit risk on tens of millions of people using personal interviews. And so now we have a fast, cheap, effectively hit-or-miss system that can prevent you from renting an apartment or getting a job. The motivation of the industry is now less about actually finding out if you’re credit worthy, and more about finding out how lenders can make profits off you.

I'd say one of the biggest things would be forbidding potential employers from considering credit scores. Anything that makes it difficult, or impossible, for debtors to get jobs that would allow them to work their way out of debt is deeply perverse and immoral.

This is What English Teachers Call "Code Switching"

I showed Anthony Shetler the giant bruise on my ass this evening. After being properly introduced I added that earlier in the day I'd read his interview in the current The Skateboard Mag while taking a shit.

He was duly impressed, I'm sure.

I'm kidding about the "code switching" part. I think the conversation the time I met Deborah Meier went pretty much the same way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The New Face of Financial Ruin

Kristin Rawls:

 I’m going to tell you a story. It’s the story of a good girl from a quiet town who prayed, studied hard, said no to drugs, and otherwise did everything she was told—and then went on to become Sallie Mae’s bitch and lost just about everything. This story is mine.

I grew up in an evangelical home, and was an earnest “liberal-evangelical” into my early twenties. Now I think that my former religious faith—not unlike my faith in the U.S. higher education system—gave me a warped sense of optimism about the way the world works. I believed in faith-based platitudes, plus a few secular ones. Examples:

  1. God has a plan for my life.
  2. My whole future is ahead of me.


If you feel that this is solely my fault, that I should have known better, and that the predatory lenders in question bear no responsibility, I invite you to stop calling yourself my “friend.” Which you won’t like, because evangelicals really love that word, “friendship.”

Here’s the thing: I almost never experience you as people who understand what real-world friendship is about. Friendship, true friendship, doesn’t come in the form of paternalistic charity from the powerful to the weak. I don’t want crumbs from your share of the non-profit industrial complex charity, I want you to fight with me for a world where I don’t need charity.

So stand up and join the class war, please, or get out of my way. Do not expect me to be grateful for your prayers. I have survival to worry about, literally.

Peace of Mind

Ozzie Ausband:

I have watched & waited in those white, sterile rooms, listening to their tortured breathing . I heard the oxygen machines humming, sending greatly needed air to the cancer-ridden lungs sucking feebly at the tubing. I waited & observed. In the hallway, people moved like they lost all hope. I saw the family of one patient across the hall. They were sitting on plastic chairs outside of the room; staring at their shoes. They were as silent as painted people. I turned my attention back to my patients. I medicated those poor doomed souls. My vigil. Time crawled as they prayed. In those dark dawns, I never saw anything that led me to believe that a God or any higher power held sway. It was an exercise in futility. He never came. When I watched children die of Leukemia, it made me think that God was no longer on the job. I closed the unseeing eyes with my fingertips & said a small prayer regardless. I then called the Coroners office. The life with its religious belief seemed like just another cage to me.

You now ask me, “What does this have to do with skateboarding?” Well, it seems to me that its a simple study in the human condition. We can obtain our peace of mind in many ways. We can play piano, worship in churches, raise our children, paint, draw, skate pools or experience the raw essence of life by caring for those close to death. However, anytime we close ourselves to another person & their humanity, we ultimately cage ourselves. Thanks to Jim Goodrich for the image. Go skate…and be kind.

Wise Words

Václav Havel:

I favor 'antipolitical politics,' politics not as the technology of power and manipulation, of cybernetic rule over humans or as the art of the utilitarian, but politics as one of the ways of seeking and achieving meaningful lives, of protecting them and serving them.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Correction or Over-Reach?

Maja Wilson & Thomas Newkirk:

This model of reading (used by the Common Core standards) seems to have two stages—first, a close reading in which the reader withholds judgment or comparison with other texts, focusing solely on what is happening within the four corners of a piece. Only then may readers pay attention to prior knowledge and personal association or engage in interpretation and critique.

This is a good critical commentary on Edweek, but it may be too soft. There's really nothing in the Common Core that requires attention to prior knowledge at all, interpretation is highly circumscribed, and depending on your definition, critique may not be included at all.

Robert Pondiscio refers to this as a "an overdue market correction," and it certainly seems like David Coleman sees it that way too, but the biggest risk to these standards is oversteering, that the correction is more extreme than the problem. This is attributable to a few factors:

  • Standards in 2011 have a much stronger impact on classrooms than ever before. In how many English classrooms will teachers be evaluated (retained, paid) in part on whether they've got a standard written on the board that is clearly and directly related to what is going on in the classroom (to a non-English teacher)? 60%? 75%? These standards come with a compliance mechanism unlike anything we've seen before.
  • The real decisions weren't based on New Criticism vs reader response or any ideas about literature or reading, but what kinds of standards yield assessment tasks are objective and computer scoreable.
  • The pushback (which the authors probably expected) from English teachers and other interested parties which would have pushed these standards into a more well-rounded compromise never happened because NCTE and and everyone else decided to sell out to Gates and/or hope that they'd somehow win in the long run through the "seat at the table" strategy.

The thing is, it isn't easy to modify standards. They tend to just fail and be replaced frequently, so the over-reach here is not likely to pay off for Common Core advocates in the long run.

Time for the second half...

Wishful Thinking about Curriculum

Jay Matthews:

(Bruce Friedrich) thought it was odd that despite the forward-looking reputation of the Baltimore district and Teach for America, beginning teachers had to construct their lessons from scratch, as they have done for centuries. They were shown samples of the state tests their students would have to take. They were told where they might find good material. But as rookies, they had little idea which of a million possible options would work. ...

Jeff Wetzler, Teach for America’s executive vice president of teacher preparation, support and development, showed me a 2010 survey of the organization’s beginning teachers in 30 states. Forty-one percent said they were provided with low-quality instructional tools such as lesson plans or none at all. Twenty-seven percent were provided with tools they were required to use and an additional 7 percent got tools they used because their colleagues used them. Only 15 percent said they were provided tools that they used freely because they were of such high quality. ...

I asked Friedrich if textbooks filled the gap. His school had them, he said, “but there was no requirement that they be used and no guidance regarding how to use them.”

Mark Anderson:

Why is this proverbial teacher alone? Why doesn’t he have the guidance of other experts in that content area to guide his task analysis, aside from some glossy multi-colored binders of biblical proportions with large fonts and tons of sidebars (“teacher-friendly”) that came along with his district’s purchased curriculum? Why isn’t this teacher sitting with other educators during a scheduled, paid time of his day?

The thing I notice here is that both teachers complain about not having a curriculum, but then admit they have a textbook, which in 2011 usually is intended to be sold and purchased as a full curriculum assembled by experts, aligned to standards and approved by administrators, but they don't like it. The TFA survey unhelpfully lumps together (as 41%) those who have no curriculum and those who regard it as "low quality."

There is a world of difference between "there is nothing" and "I don't really like what they gave me, and they don't require I use it."

I can completely relate to the feeling of a new teacher rummaging around a basement classroom in late August trying to figure out what he is supposed to be spending the next nine months teaching a bunch of 12 year olds (after being trained to teach 14 to 18 year olds). I was that guy too, and it was just as absurd then. But a little historical context is in order. I knew, for example, that a complete English curriculum had just been written in the preceding years as part of a multi-year, intensive union-management collaboration. And then tossed away by the new superintendent when the old "outcomes" became the New Standards.

The problem, in short, is not that nobody thought of curriculum before. The structure and implementation of American education turns out to be incredibly hostile to developing and maintaining stable curriculum. It is a cause of lower student performance, but not a root one. Lack of curriculum is a symptom of deeper problems.

  • Instability, inconsistency, trendiness and reform churn: (see example above).
  • Hyper-politicization of curriculum: I'll be the first to say that all curriculum is political, but this has really been taken to an extreme in the US today, particularly in terms of the modes of basic reading and math instruction. To, say, 25% of the population, essentially every curricular decision connotes a political stance in a highly polarized environment. That's not going to work.

    See also Charlie Pierce today:

    There is a dangerous viral lunacy afflicting our politics even at the most basic level, and a lot of somebodies are making a lot of dough in the business of making people angry and stupid. These are our airwaves, dammit. They also belong to the oyster farmer, who I imagine could use a break right now.
  • Lack of professional respect for teachers: This manifests itself in an inability to maintain an appropriate level of flexibility, variation, continuous improvement, and consistency. I guess this is in part the cause of the instability mentioned above and in part a result of the over-politicization of everything.

All this isn't to say that you shouldn't try to improve the curricular situation at your school; more to explain why what you're doing probably won't work any better than the last twenty attempts in your district over the past thirty years.

This is How Everyone Agreed Mayoral Academies Work

Mayor Fung, August 11, 2011:

By state law, mayoral academies must offer urban and non-urban communities “an equal number of enrollments” (RIGL §16-77.4-1) though actual enrollment will depend on the number of applicants from each community.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Everything is Riding on New Orleans

Gary Rubinstein:

New Orleans is definitely the ‘ground zero’ for education reform. The corporate reform model is conducting their ‘great’ experiment there as 80% of the schools in the ‘Recovery School District’ are charters.

If the experiment works it will be replicated throughout the country. Already, Memphis is starting to copy it. If the experiment fails, the whole corporate reform movement could fail too. Everything seems to be riding on New Orleans.

It is all they've got left, really.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Statement from Last Thursday's AF Hearing

The most important point about the Achievement First Mayoral Academy application is that its due date is still two and a half months in the future. The first Achievement First school would open in the 2013-2014 school year. Applications for 2013-2014 charters are not due until March 1 of next year.

Yet, here we all are, taking an evening out of the busy holiday season. You might think, "Well, at least since this is the second time this application has been submitted to and accepted by RIDE at least it should be thorough and complete."

Unfortunately, it is not in several key areas, and as such should be sent back by the Board of Regents for further revision before the March 1 deadline. This can be done with no change in the implementation timeline.

This application makes no serious attempt to show need from each community. It offers some data concerning Providence, but no data whatsoever demonstrating need from Warwick, Cranston, or North Providence individually, or data from any individual school in those districts. They provide a single table of aggregated numbers from the three districts. It took them more work to hide the individual district data than it would have taken them to simply present it.

A regional school should demonstrate need in each community.

This application does not describe the schools' proposed enrollment process. I began asking Mayor Taveras's office about whether enrollments would be offered to each district equally as is done at Blackstone Valley Prep and is required by Rhode Island law.

Mayor Taveras's education advisor, Angela Romans, could not answer that question, about the Mayor's own application, and instead referred the question to RIDE, who provided an initial, vaguely worded response.

This is remarkable. Why is the department receiving this application answering questions on behalf of the applicant? What was their answer based on? Certainly not the application I have a copy of. I followed up with Ms. Romans and emailed an inquiry to RIDE las night. I have received no clarification.

But no further explanation should be necessary. The enrollment process is fundamental to the very idea of charter schools. It should be clearly explained in this application. It cannot be evaluated otherwise.

This is a Potemkin application. It is a facade. It is not the real plan. The public doesn't know what RIDE knows. We cannot comment on secrets. The Board of Regents must enforce real transparency and honesty and send this application back.

Rainy Day Fun with your GoPro Camera Collection

So... What Was that Broader/Bolder vs. EEP Thing About Again?

Whitney Tilson via Russo:

There is a difference between recognizing the impact of race and class in America vs. using that impact as an excuse not to educate kids. We are not going to be taken seriously if we somehow get contorted into a position of arguing the being homeless and sleeping in a car doesn’t impact your readiness and/or your capacity to learn.

We cannot do what the protectors of the status quo do: begin with talking about poverty and end with talking about poverty. NO! We must begin with our unequivocal stance that poor children can accomplish great things in spite of the cards they have been dealt. But, to act as if we do not understand the difficulties of overcoming the odds of not having the level of resources that are needed to be productive participants in our society makes no sense. We must fight a two-pronged battle, but we can never cede the point some try to make: that we must eliminate poverty before we can have good schools. But nor can we be oblivious to the negative impact on our kids when they lack the minimal resources needed to prepare them to come to school.

Look, the entire premise of the "achievement gap" frame is that homeless kids sleeping in a car can achieve at the same level as middle and upper class kids. It doesn't take any contorting to see that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

RIDE Distributes Disinformation at AF Hearings

The Department of Education provided a handy "Achievement First Charter School Application Overview" at the December 7/8 hearings, including this "Quick Fact:"

3. AF's catchment area will include Providence, North Providence, Cranston and Warwick. In accordance with the statute, all students in application pool will have an equal opportunity to enroll.

This is incorrect in two ways. First, the statue says nothing about equal opportunity to enroll. I can't prove that with a quote, because there is none. This is not how the law has been interpreted in the past by RIDE, for example, Blackstone Valley Prep has a preference for siblings in their lottery.

It is also not true that the AF application offers "equal opportunity to enroll," because it also says nothing specific on the subject, and does call for a preference for low-income students.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Example Even Closer than Canada

Michael Winerip:

On the NAEP reading test, black fourth graders in public schools scored an average of 205 out of 500, compared with a 231 score for white public school students, a 26-point gap. Black fourth graders at the military base schools averaged 222 in reading, compared with 233 for whites, an 11-point gap.

In fact, the black fourth graders at the military base schools scored better in reading than public school students as a whole, whose average score was 221.

How to explain the difference?

It has become fashionable for American educators to fly off to Helsinki to investigate how schools there produce such high-achieving Finns. But for just $69.95 a night, they can stay at the Days Inn in Jacksonville, N.C., and investigate how the schools here on the Camp Lejeune Marine base produce such high-achieving Americans — both black and white.

They would find that the schools on base are not subject to former President George W. Bush’s signature education program, No Child Left Behind, or to President Obama’s Race to the Top. They would find that standardized tests do not dominate and are not used to rate teachers, principals or schools.

Friday, December 09, 2011

See You in April?

Elisabeth Harrison:

The Providence City Council’s Education Subcommittee has released draft findings after a series of meetings on Achievement First, the charter operator looking to open two elementary schools in the capitol city.

The report finds that Achievement First would have a negative financial impact on Providence schools, to the tune of between $6 million and $9 million. That’s even after a projected $1 million savings from teacher layoffs due to a reduction in student body.

“Under this scenario, we would expect Providence to have to close an elementary school as a result of the opening of the proposed pair of Mayoral academies,” the report says. “This would be particularly difficult after the experience the District had last Spring of closing four schools and repurposing two others.”

Despite this, the group is recommending that Achievement First get a green light for one elementary school, but not two as their application currently envisions.

“While supporting the opening of the first AF school on schedule, we also recommend postponing the opening of the second school for an additional three years,” the report states. “During that time, the AF school can win the support of parents and provide the Providence Public Schools with a better opportunity to prepare for the changes that the opening might bring.”

This would be a big improvement, particularly if the enrollment was divided equally between districts. I suppose the regents can probably do whatever they want, but there is nothing in the statute suggesting that the proposal can be modified so extensively at this point. Luckily there is plenty of time to resubmit it before March 1.

Having Fun Yet?

My overriding impression from the last two days of public meetings on the AF Mayoral Academy proposal is that its backers are really not having fun anymore. Bill Fischer just gets some sullen kid to get there early and sign up first to speak for DfER while Fischer glowers next to the exit. None of the mayors show up and only Taveras bothers to send an aide to speak for him. Most supporters seem more interested in "choice" in general than excited about the particular one in question. Even Jeremy Chiappetta's statement Wednesday night contained a rambling interlude on his dissatisfaction with the PPSD's choice system, under which his child was not guaranteed a seat in his closest neighborhood school. The only thing that made this an argument in favor of a mayoral academy only insofar as it was coming out of Chiappetta's mouth. It could be copy/pasted into the middle of a Parents Across America press release.

All you need is a few shark-eyed bureaucrats and political appointees to close a school, but this isn't sufficient to create one. I don't have to guess what it is like trying to create a new school in Providence; I helped do it and have many friends who have done it too. And believe me, at this point in the process, you should be full of energy, passionate to explain your plans to whomever will listen. Yet, what struck me Wednesday night is that we've been at this for almost a year and two separate proposals, and there has never, never been a single presentation by the backers of these schools to the general public. Not one. Nor has there been a public forum where parents and citizens can ask questions and get answers in the open. I was glad someone pointed out last night that if advocates for these proposals are unhappy about what they perceive to be misinformation, perhaps they should provide more information. Angela Romans called for a conversation about teaching and learning. OK! We're ready! Let's schedule it.

These people are arrogant, but they are not confident, and they are under a lot of pressure. There is a reason they tweet inspiring quotes at each other all the time. Deborah Gist doesn't get a "Champions for Charters" award because she's actually opened a lot of charters; it is to keep her spirits up.

I think we can oppose this proposal from a point of strength and confidence and simply insist that there be a period of public discussion, disclosure and information regarding this proposal, including the Mayors, RIMA, AF and RIDE, prior to a re-submission in March. There are so many fundamental questions that have never been asked, and which have no good answers, starting with "Why is this a mayoral academy at all?" Even if they refuse to do it, humiliating them and exposing their cowardice is worth the effort.

It Isn't That Strong an Ethic

Inside Higher Ed:

"There’s a very strong ethic and philosophy at Khan Academy about openness," says Kohlmeier, who works for Khan Academy pro bono, having left a lucrative post as president and co-founder of a proprietary trading firm that employed 30 people. “That’s the M.O. that I intend to follow," he says. "I would not be at Khan Academy if Khan Academy were not a nonprofit.”

Where can I download the source?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Kindergarten Visits

OK, today was the big school visit day. Jennifer, Vivian and I went to four PPSD South Providence elementary schools. None had any sort of formal tours for Open Elementary Schools week, but we got personal tours from the principal at all but Broad Street, where I'd met the principal on Tuesday (as he would be out today, so we just met with a teacher). So, basically, here's the working list in order of tentative selection rank:

  • 1a. Reservoir: They've got the flashy test scores now and dynamic administration. An actual playground, evidence of parents pitching in, community involvement etc. It is in a more middle class neighborhood (the triangle). The free and reduced lunch numbers are in the 80's, but I bet it is more "reduced" than the other schools we looked at. Very small, which is nice, but also a relative longshot to get into.
  • 1b. Fortes: Right now I have Fortes after Reservoir only because Fortes is just way easier to get into. If we started at Reservoir and changed our mind and wanted to move into Fortes, that would probably be possible, but transferring into Reservoir would be much harder. We all like the vibe at Fortes, I did some work there years ago and spent a lot of time with their longtime principal and a number of faculty who are still around. The building still looks great inside and the classrooms seemed particularly well supplied. The other issue there is that it is only K-1 (as of this year), so I need to look into what's going on in the 2-5 side of the building (in addition to an apparently nasty mold problem...).
  • Broad Street: I will not lose any sleep if that is where Vivian ends up.
  • Sackett Street: This is the closest PPSD elementary to us and a turnaround school. This to me seems like a well-run bad fit at this point. All data, reading, writing and remediation. If Vivian ended up there we would be working on options, but not panicking. Not a bad place, but not for us.

Highlander (charter) would be in the mix with Reservoir and Fortes, with proximity being its trump card. Cuffee will probably be spammed with an application, and we'll worry about it if we win the lottery.

The above is highly idiosyncratic, incompletely informed, and based on things like proximity, personal relationships, extra-curricular opportunities, and political prognostication as much as any evaluation of the objective quality of any of the above schools. Also, no wagering, please.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Plus, Also, Too...

There would be no strong grounds for stopping an Achievement First "independent charter" in Providence. It would breeze through.

A Warwick/W. Warwick/Cranston/Providence "High Tech High" would be easy to pass and people would really like it.

I'm just sayin'.

Why are you Hung Up on this Technical Argument?

Kevin asks in comments what is probably on many of your minds, essentially "Why are you so hung up on this narrow argument about mayoral academy enrollment?"

This isn't a peripheral point however. What is at stake is whether or not mayoral academies will be diverse regional schools or just another vehicle for creating urban charters -- perhaps even more segregated urban charters than RI's current independent charters.

None of the CMO's that RIDE and RIMA want to bring to Rhode Island have any interest in creating a diverse regional school. It is not what they do. It is not what they want to do. This in itself limits the growth of CMO-based charters in RI. The "equal enrollment" clause in the mayoral academy law is a gift to charter opponents. Embrace it. Don't give it up without a fight.

Beyond that, it mitigates the negative effects of these schools in innumerable ways. It is harder to show need and demand if there is an actual enrollment target from each community. It potentially imposes much higher costs on smaller communities, discouraging their participation in combination with big ones.

Perhaps most importantly to me, it makes the schools much more accountable, because middle class parents and towns have much more firepower in that regard. This has been illustrated in virtually every important event the existing academy and the proposals: Democracy Prep being kicked out, Cumberland blocking co-location, Cranston torpedoing the first AF proposal, BPV having to expand into Pawtucket, AF having to site in Providence, etc., etc. If you are concerned about harsh discipline in "no excuses" schools, the solution is just more middle class kids and parents in the schools. They'll moderate things over time.

What I find most offensive about the current proposal is it allows a mayor to sign up his town and then the town to simply wash its hands of the whole affair. If North Providence elementary school parents applied to the proposed AF academy in Providence at the same rate as the other three towns, seven percent of the school will be from North Providence. If there is a preference for low-income students, that might knock it down a couple more points. But nobody really believes there is as much demand for this school among North Providence parents as there would be for parents in Providence, so North Providence's participation could drop down into the low single digits. Yet they still get equal say in the school's governance and their mayor could be chairman of the board. Heck, they could start another one next year and sign North Providence again too. They don't care if they lose four low income students a year to a charter in Providence. Throw in Little Compton and Chariho while you're at it. It's a great resume builder for an up and coming mayor!

I'm probably burying the lede in this rant, but finally, this is an actual legal reason to stop the application. Unpopularity is not. Nor should it be. A charter school has to show need and demand, not overall political opinion. It is, in fact, the original point of charters -- innovation and approaches that the mass of schools are not ready for or interested in. You have to win the politics, but there also needs to be some legal rationale for the regents to cite.

And just the stupidity of the whole thing offends me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

This is Headed Straight for a Lawsuit

RIDE, via Angela Romans (in email):

In conducting a lottery for students from more than one city or town, the same number of enrollments must be offered to each of those students. The AF application posits a proportion of students from each community based on population solely for sample budget projections and does not/will not establish limits or caps on any given community. The lottery will be open to all four communities with equal opportunity to be chosen by lottery.

OK, let's refresh our memory on the statute:

"A 'mayoral academy' means a charter school created by a mayor of any city or town within the State of Rhode Island, acting by or through a nonprofit organization established for said purpose... which enrolls students from more than one city or town including both urban and non-urban communities and which offers an equal number of enrollments to students on a lottery basis..."

Most importantly, RIDE's new interpretation is in direct contradiction to the way the first mayoral academy was implemented at Democracy/Blackstone Valley Prep. At that school, each community gets an equal number of enrollments. Is RIDE arguing that Blackstone Valley Prep has operated in violation of RI charter school law for two and a half years under their supervision?

The "equal number per community" interpretation was not in question until this application was submitted. For example, On May 2, 2011, AF's Director of Marketing and Communications, Mel Ochoa, emailed the following to me regarding the Cranston Application:

"I have an update on numbers in recent posts related to the 75% of students coming from Providence and 25% from Cranston. I believe you got these numbers from the budget document submitted in the exhibits -- I don't think we specified a ratio in the narrative of the application. Each mayoral academy must offer seats on an equal basis (equal enrollment) from the cities and towns that it serves, as stated in the mayoral academy statute. I don’t say this to be argumentative … more to share the context. For example, Blackstone Valley Prep offers 25% enrollment from each community.

We are going to resubmit the appropriate language to make sure it is reflected in the budget -- 50% from Providence and 50% from Cranston."

Further, RIDE, RIMA and AF all thought the issue was important enough in May to go ahead with an extraordinary revision to the Cranston application after it had been approved by RIDE and the public comment period had begun.

The rest of the current AF proposal is not consistent with RIDE's "same number of enrollments must be offered to each of those students" and " equal opportunity to be chosen by lottery" interpretation because the application also states in Part XII:


RIDE's response does duck the issue somewhat -- nobody would propose community caps or limits -- the question is whether each community is reserved an equal number of seats, which at BVP are filled by students from other towns if there aren't enough applicants.

RIDE also seems to be claiming that the entire "equal number of enrollments" clause has no real significance and reflects no legislative intent, because they are in effect arguing that the admissions policy of a mayoral academy is no different than that of an independent charter school, whose definition contains no similar "equal number" clause.

I am not a lawyer but I am a former English teacher, so I'll continue with some textual analysis, but the above should be sufficient to win the argument, especially if backed up by a round of Public Records Act requests and/or subpoenas.

OK, "which offers an equal number of enrollments to students on a lottery basis" could be clearer, but I would argue that "an equal number of enrollments to students (from each community) on a lottery basis" is the only one that makes sense. As described above, it has already been used, everyone agreed on the meaning. In a school with 176 kindergarten spots for 4 communities, there would be 44 offered to the students of each town, selected by lottery if necessary. Regardless of who wins the lottery, the town has 44 spots.

RIDE is arguing that the statue really means "an equal number of enrollments to (each of those) students on a lottery basis." Fair enough. I have a daughter that will be starting kindergarten in a few years. How many enrollments will she be offered? 176? Can she enroll 176 times? One enrollment? Are we to believe that the legislature inserted that clause to remind us that each student can only be enrolled once? Except if you don't win the lottery, in which case you are offered an enrollment of 0? Which is equal to 1?

One could also argue that it means "an equal number of enrollments to (all eligible students) on a lottery basis" but that doesn't make much sense either. Equal to what?

Beyond the semantic analysis, the most pertinent immediate argument is this: both this proposal and BVP cannot both be valid mayoral academies. It has to be one or the other.

Tactical PPSD School Choice

The salient points in the PPSD school choice process are:

  • You can apply for any school in the district.
  • 80% of the seats in the school are reserved for children for whom it is a "neighborhood" school.
  • A school is a neighborhood school for a child if it is within 1 mile of the home or is one of the two closest (if there aren't two within a mile).
  • If a school is oversubscribed, placements are determined by lottery.
  • The placement algorithm is that in the first round they attempt to place everyone in their first choice. They then attempt to put the remaining students in their second choices, etc.

The upshot of this is that there is no point in choosing two oversubscribed schools. You have 0% chance of getting an oversubscribed school as anything other than your first choice. There is no point in our putting, say Gregorian as #1, and Reservoir #2, because that just makes it more likely that we wouldn't get our #3, #4, #5 choices with zero chance of getting into the perpetually oversubscribed Reservoir (with a max of 27 regular ed kindergarten seats a year) as a #2.

This is going to get tricky.

So It Begins...

Kicked off my career as the parent of a student by visiting Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School at Broad Street (as seen on this morning. It is 1.3 miles from our house, which means it is not a neighborhood school for us -- tougher to get in if it is oversubscribed, which I forgot to ask about -- but we could probably have the option of a short bus ride, which would be good. A short walk is an option around here, but not a long one.

Overall, it seemed... acceptable. As in, it would be acceptable to leave my child in the care of these people, which is a pretty high bar. It was my first look at the new-look more academic kindergartens I've been hearing about. Everything seemed pleasant and orderly. I liked the new principal, Mr. Bacon. It was evident from his interaction with the teachers and students that he is not a sociopathic asshole, which is basically the first thing on my School Visit Checklist. The 1898 auditorium is striking and in pretty good shape.

My Achievement First Comment

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras's application to create two Achievement First Mayoral Academies (AFMA) in Providence, accepted as complete by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) on October 31, 2011, represents a clear attempt to undermine the letter and intent of Rhode Island's charter school law by Taveras, RIDE, Achievement First (AF), the proposed management contractor, and Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA), the proposed charter holder.

Mayor Taveras's application does not satisfy the basic legal definition of a mayoral academy, and as such should never have been accepted as complete by RIDE.

The definition of a Mayoral Academy is laid out in R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1(a):

A 'mayoral academy' means a charter school created by a mayor of any city or town within the State of Rhode Island, acting by or through a nonprofit organization established for said purpose... which enrolls students from more than one city or town including both urban and non-urban communities and which offers an equal number of enrollments to students on a lottery basis...

The AFMA application states in Part XVI:

It is important to note that this application does not have a set number of seats per community...  It seems reasonable to assume that 50% of the students will come from Providence, 20% will come from Warwick, 20% will come from Cranston, and 10% will come from North Providence.

This is in direct contradiction to the legal definition of a Mayoral Academy.  It is not plausibly a simple oversight by RIMA, AF or RIDE because the same problem existed in last spring's application for an AFMA in Cranston, which targeted 75% of its students from Providence.

When this issue was pointed out among a larger set of potential legal problems in the application, the enrollment target was the only issue that RIDE thought important enough to allow an extraordinary revision to that application after it had been accepted as complete and moved to public comment.

On May 2, 2011, AF's Director of Marketing and Communications, Mel Ochoa, emailed the following to me regarding the Cranston Application:

I have an update on numbers in recent posts related to the 75% of students coming from Providence and 25% from Cranston. I believe you got these numbers from the budget document submitted in the exhibits -- I don't think we specified a ratio in the narrative of the application.  Each mayoral academy must offer seats on an equal basis (equal enrollment) from the cities and towns that it serves, as stated in the mayoral academy statute. I don’t say this to be argumentative … more to share the context. For example, Blackstone Valley Prep offers 25% enrollment from each community.

We are going to resubmit the appropriate language to make sure it is reflected in the budget -- 50% from Providence and 50% from Cranston.

RIDE has accepted Mayor Taveras's application four full months ahead of the deadline for schools aiming to open in the fall of 2013 (as this one does).  There is ample time for this proposal to be withdrawn, brought into compliance with Rhode Island law, and resubmitted.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Was This the Whole Idea, or are they Surprised by This?

Maria Armental:

NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Town Council on Monday night is scheduled to consider a resolution opposing a charter school proposal sponsored by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

The mayoral academy idea has politicized the RI charter school scene more than anywhere else in the country. Was this the idea?

Occupy Church

Chris Hedges:

The Occupy movement is the force that will revitalize traditional Christianity in the United States or signal its moral, social and political irrelevance. The mainstream church, battered by declining numbers and a failure to defiantly condemn the crimes and cruelty of the corporate state, as well as a refusal to vigorously attack the charlatans of the Christian right, whose misuse of the Gospel to champion unfettered capitalism, bigotry and imperialism is heretical, has become a marginal force in the life of most Americans, especially the young. Outside the doors of churches, many of which have trouble filling a quarter of the pews on Sundays, struggles a movement, driven largely by young men and women, which has as its unofficial credo the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It was the church in Latin America, especially in Central American and Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, which provided the physical space, moral support and direction for the opposition to dictatorship. It was the church in East Germany that organized the peaceful opposition marches in Leipzig that would bring down the communist regime in that country. It was the church in Czechoslovakia, and its 90-year-old cardinal, that blessed and defended the Velvet Revolution. It was the church, and especially the African-American church, that made possible the civil rights movements. And it is the church, especially Trinity Church in New York City with its open park space at Canal and 6th, which can make manifest its commitment to the Gospel and nonviolent social change by permitting the Occupy movement to use this empty space, just as churches in other cities that hold unused physical space have a moral imperative to turn them over to Occupy movements. If this nonviolent movement fails, it will eventually be replaced by one that will employ violence. And if it fails it will fail in part because good men and women, especially those in the church, did nothing.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Serving Suggestion: Tuesday Fishballs

Kristján Guðmundsson:

Tuesday fishballs are served on their own, with no apertif, hors d'oeuvre or dessert. This has the advantage that no one will light up a cigarette between courses. Soft drinks do not go well with this dish, and the same applies to wine and other alcoholic drinks. The best beverage to accompany the fishballs is water or skimmed milk, although beer is also good. A wedge of tomato can be served on each dish, but more for the eye than the stomach. Neither wedges of lemon nor fresh green salad are normally served with this dish. Tuesday fishballs are eaten with boiled potatoes -- preferably small red ones -- and melted butter. Rye bread and butter can also be served. In wintertime, the fishballs should be eaten at about 7 o'clock in the evening, under bright electric light. Coffee should follow.

As found this afternoon at the Knight Memorial Library booksale.

Friday, December 02, 2011

RI's Odd Charter School Law

I'm more and more confused about how RI ended up with our current charter school law. The law was amended in 2010 to be more "charter-friendly," to help with Race to the Top, and was generally considered a victory for reformers. I've blogged ad nauseum about the idiosyncrasies of the mayoral academy model already. I've certainly wondered if some of its signature provisions -- particularly requiring equal enrollment for each sending town or city -- were actually put in there as compromises with the unions. At this point I think they weren't, based on the difficulty I've had getting people in opposition to the Achievement First proposal to take advantage of these quirks when AF and RIMA try to avoid them.

It would be much easier for AF to start an "independent charter" as defined by RI law. There are two disadvantages to this. First, mayoral academies don't have to pay the prevailing wage, participate in the state retirement system (which was just "reformed" anyhow), working at a mayoral academy does not count as years of service as a teacher, and generally employees are not treated as public employees. Doesn't seem like a big deal to me, particularly if the whole thing is regulated by a cooperative Board of Education, but apparently it is a poison pill to AF.

The second requirement, added in 2010, is that "Persons or entities eligible to submit an application to establish an independent charter school" are limited to existing non-profits that exist for a reason other than running schools or colleges and universities. I haven't heard of other states doing this (have you?), and I have no idea what the logic is. In particular it doesn't seem to encourage the creation of schools. The relationship between the applying non-profit and the school isn't defined in the statute, but it suggests that while the school will have its own governance structure, the actual charter is held by the non-profit. Either that or once the school starts, the applying non-profit has a peripheral role. But if the charter is held by the non-profit, what happens if the non-profit decides it doesn't want to run a school anymore, or simply dissolves? Then what?

Beyond that, it would seem to discourage independent charters from scaling up significantly. You can imagine Providence College or Progreso Latino starting an independent charter, but five? It would be weird.

I just find the whole thing puzzling.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

What Grownups Do While the Kids are Still in Bed

This new video from Solitary Arts is the perfect 10 minute illustration of why I'm skating parks at 42 and loving it:

Bob Lake (the guy with the beard doing most of the cackling) is my idol.

The Effects of Intentional Turmoil on Schools

Anthony Cody:

School closures, the ability to hire and fire at will, the use of high-turnover interns - all these strategies have resulted in turmoil in our schools. They have succeeded in making teaching a much riskier, less rewarding profession. They have made teachers feel insecure, since they have made them vulnerable to poor evaluations and pay cuts based on student test scores that may be beyond their control. And they have subjected vulnerable students to even more inexperienced, poorly trained teachers.

There were things that were working in our schools that have been destroyed by this turmoil. I know, because I was part of a team at my school that had done some wonderful things over the course of a decade. We had dramatically increased teacher retention, and student performance was improving. We had a lively community of teachers engaged in teacher research and collaboration. We were leading efforts to strengthen the science curriculum on a district-wide basis, and shared our experience with scores of teachers from other schools. This school-based community became impossible to maintain after NCLB came along, and year after year labeled us as "failing."

Unlike the salesmen promoting education "reform", we never promised we would eradicate the effects of poverty.
I do not believe a school alone can do this. We just said we could do better, and we gathered resources and supported one another to do so. We invested in strong relationships with one another, and found ways to support the newer teachers on the staff by pairing them with experienced colleagues. We found resources to buy hands on materials. And when we had strengthened our own school, we reached out to others to help them as well.

When we evaluate proposals for improving our schools, we need to consider stability as a core value. It takes time to develop the relationships and institutional memory that can sustain a community of educators. Just because a school is not at the top of the test score pile does not mean there are not great teachers there, or things worth preserving and strengthening. Turmoil may occasionally result in creative innovations, but it is certain to destroy whatever might have been working as well. Unfortunately we are finding that it is a lot easier to tear down a school than it is to build one.

Nailed it.