Monday, February 28, 2011

This is Actually Kind of Cocky

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Providence Teachers Union president offered the School Board another option Monday night: send out letters that include the possibility of layoffs and terminations.

PTU President Steve Smith said this would give Mayor Angel Taveras the opportunity to lay off teachers if the teachers' union is successful in blocking the terminations. The union has filed an unfair labor practice with the Rhode Island Labor Relations Board that seeks to challenge every termination. Marc Gursky, the union's lawyer, says the School Board violated the Labor Relations Act by failing to bargain in good faith before issuing the termination notices.

Indeed, the real train wreck will come if the city loses, and then they can't lay anyone off. Which seems fairly likely to me, since no justification for the terminations has been offered.

Also, they are threatening to fire everyone right at the end of a contract negotiation.

Flee! Flee!

From Notes from Providence Parent Advisory Council Meeting with Superintendent Brady, 2/24/11

Re school closings: under normal circumstances, there is a requirement to have community meetings, 6-8 month process. In this case, a shorter timeline is required since the changes are targeted for September. PPSD has a desire to have meetings and open hearings within this shorter timeframe. Persistently low achieving schools will be addressed first; these positions will be posted.

One pivotal question is whether or not this will include the latest additions to the list. The tier II schools from last year's list are:

  • The R.Y.S.E. School, Chariho ("Chariho’s RYSE School is an integrated, comprehensive school program for at-risk youth and their families. Through a unique partnership with Psychological Centers, INC. RYSE provides comprehensive educational and wrap-around mental health services to ELEMENTARY/middle/high school students. ")
  • Central High School, Providence (1160 students, 4 admin, 92 faculty)
  • Mount Pleasant High School, Providence (1400 students, 5 admin, 116 faculty)
  • Providence Academy for International Studies, Providence (400 students, 2 admin, 32 faculty)
  • R.I. School for the Deaf (RIDE)

I'm expecting the new list any day, we're already over a month past when they were announced last year. So if they do last year's and this year's, you're looking at 270 high school positions being posted. Well, perhaps minus whatever positions are actually eliminated. If they actually close a high school it'll probably be E-Cubed, since it is the smallest (31 faculty) after PAIS and Cooley are merged.

If I'm right about that, it is time for the E-Cubed teachers to FLEE! because if the turnaround jobs are all filled before they announce a closure, what openings will be left in the district?

Similar story in elementary and middle, although there the ratio of closures to reorganizations is higher.

I'm Not Sure Why I'm Only Reading This in the NY Post

NY Post:

Rhode Island's Education Commissioner Deborah Gist dispatched a memo to school district chiefs throughout her state warning that budget-related layoffs based solely on teacher seniority violates state law. She said the new edict best serves students.

Her memo comes in the wake of a state Providence school-board vote to send layoff notices to all of the district's 1,926 teachers.

Under the Ocean State's laws, there is a requirement that layoffs of teachers due to a drop in student enrollment must be done according to seniority.

But Gist insists the law "does not provide the same for reductions in the teaching force because of budgetary constraints or program reorganizations."

It's About Due Process

What's really at stake in the whole Providence teacher firing thing is still being teased out. I'd argue that it isn't about "seniority" as much as due process. Can PPSD terminate teachers with cause but without due process?

Or, can PPSD terminate teachers without cause instead of laying them off?

Or is working in a low-performing school sufficient cause for termination?

As Sneak Attacks Go...

Announcing that in four months you're planning on illegally terminating some of your employees is not very sneaky. Seems to me the requirement to announce changes on March 1 is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

The PTU's Tactical Posture

One thing about direct action, strike, and other aggressive labor tactics is that you really don't want to go down that route half-assed. You have to be organized, mobilized and ready for 100% commitment. And you need a strategy that makes sense. How is this action going to lead to your desired result?

The Providence Teachers' Union is, at this point, completely demobilized. How they got to that point is a matter of discussion and debate. As is what to do next. However, there is good reason not to try to take action right now. They aren't ready, and timing isn't of the essence. And I don't think anything they would have done last week would have made a difference.

What Happens When You Arbitrarily and Capriciously Terminate Teachers

Digging into ancient history (Washington Examiner, three weeks ago):

The first 75 teachers who former Chancellor Michelle Rhee fired must be given about $7.5 million in back wages and offered positions with D.C. Public Schools, an arbitrator ruled.

"The [termination] process used in this case was so devoid of due process as to be arbitrary and capricious," arbitrator Charles Feigenbaum said in his verdict favoring the Washington Teachers' Union, which has been fighting D.C. Public Schools officials over the July 2008 dismissals for more than two years.

Rhee fired 75 first- and second-year teachers after asking principals to recommend recent hires for dismissal. D.C. Public Schools officials told teachers that they couldn't appeal because they had yet to earn tenure, but did not disclose the reasons for their dismissals.


If Taveras wants to show he isn't trying to destroy not only the teacher's union, but the fabric of the school district, he should announce that no hires will be made this year from outside the district, including TFA and New Teacher Project, until all options within the current teacher pool have been exhausted.

I'd say it's "shared sacrifice," but I don't even think it rises to the level of a "sacrifice" by the outsiders.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Trying to Think a Few Steps Ahead

So, how might this "everybody's fired" thing going to play out? There are a few scenarios I can think of. These may play out in parallel, particularly as the elementary, middle and high school scenarios are different. I, of course, am most familiar with the high school angle.

First is everyone is unfired except closed schools and eliminated positions. If you understand that value-added research indicates that variation of teacher quality within schools is at least as high as that between them, then you know that this would have a weak effect on overall teacher quality. It would minimize disruption to the schools not closed. However it would create a powerful additional incentive to get out of lower performing schools or schools likely to be closed in the future, or to leave the district entirely.

It is also worth noting that, to my knowledge, simply firing outright the teachers who happen to be in schools that need to be closed or whose positions need to be eliminated for cost savings or performance is not considered an effective reform strategy by, well, anyone. If the teachers whose positions are not being eliminated are simply un-fired, this doesn't create any additional flexibility.

Another possibility is the big shuffle. This will probably happen to some degree because of the number of turnaround schools, maybe particularly at the high school level. In this case, you have several schools which are not being closed but in which most or all of the positions will be open because the teachers were terminated. We've spent the past two years developing and implementing "Criterion Based Hiring" where teachers are interviewed at each school by a panel of teachers and the principal. So now we're going to... what? Have the fired teachers be re-interviewed by other teachers? That's your reform strategy?

OK, maybe they will just be interviewed by the principals to... re-staff Mount Pleasant, PAIS, Cooley and probably a few others? We're not talking about starting a little charter school one year at a time, this could be re-staffing the entire school. As far as I can tell, PPSD has a pretty thin administrative bench, and weak starting lineup, for that matter. Yes, this is a chance to get rid of some sociopaths, troublemakers and hopeless cases, but the cost in disruption is likely to be high.

Maybe they'll just fire, say, all the high school math teachers, which might not be a bad idea if there were a lot of excellent urban high school math teachers looking to work in a district that has a propensity to fire all its teachers and probably zero possibility of meeting its high school match achievement targets due to the difficulty of its assessment vehicle (if you analyze the numbers).

The thing is, it is almost March already, and we don't have some kind of scary/sexy reform leader with a recruiting angle to balance her penchant for dismissal. I'm a little worried that in a panic the whole operation will just be turned over to the New Teacher Project. That could happen.

But, the whole Criterion Based Hiring thing is still being litigated and/or in mediation slash contract negotiation. I don't even know. But for the district to bail out of that would introduce yet another layer of complexity.

I guess another possibility is that they'll simply make a list of people they want to keep and get rid of, and only un-fire the ones they want. Then they can also pick up the good teachers from closed schools when the fired people's positions open. That sounds like a good way to lose a big lawsuit though, as just happened in DCPS. I don't think they can pull it off. On the other hand, it feels like the obvious thing that I'm missing by over-thinking. I dunno.

Of course, it also could very well be the case that the city will just lose a lawsuit outright over the validity of these firings. This is way out of my league, but frankly, if PPSD wins this, it isn't only seniority out the window, but due process. You might as well just give teachers individual annual contracts at that point.

If the city loses the lawsuit and then can't even lay anybody off (since the deadline for layoff notices will have passed), who knows what kind of fiscal crisis will result?

Whatever actually happens, I don't think the PPSD will ever recover from this. By the end of the decade, the majority of students in Providence will be attending charter schools. I never thought that before, but I do now. Not because charter schools have become more awesome, but because the fabric of the school district is being destroyed by Taveras's myopia and inexperience.

When Tautology Takes Hold

Richard Whitmire:

– The heart of the book lies in trying to explain why low income black children in D.C. are as much as two years behind similar children in several other urban areas. My conclusion, from visiting successful and unsuccessful schools in mirror neighborhoods, was that the schools making progress were those with forceful new leaders who replaced some, or even all, of their teaching staff. That lined up with what experts on D.C. schools advised me from the beginning: when Rhee arrived in D.C. in 2007, only about a third of the teachers were capable of making significant progress with their students.

To Kahlenberg: If teacher quality wasn’t the main player behind D.C.’s lapses, what was? Money spent per pupil there certainly wasn’t a player. ...

– Of course poverty and segregation matter. A lot. And don’t forget what usually gets blamed by both D.C. teachers and parents – bad parenting. Again, though, you have to explain why D.C. kids are behind kids just like them in other cities. Are D.C. parents really that much worse at parenting? Doubtful.

By the same token, what evidence is there that D.C. teachers are that much worse at teaching? In particular Whitmire is trying to make an apples to apples comparison to other urban US school districts.

Would a study of Philadelphia classroom practices compared to DCPS practices reveal the teacher quality source of a 14 point (or nearly 1.5 years if you insist on mangling the data) difference in 8th grade NAEP scores (in favor of Philly)? If Detroit and DC exchanged teaching forces would DC's eighth graders lose a year of math and Detroit's gain one? Why does Baltimore have higher teacher quality (a whole semester's worth!) than DC?

I see no reason to think DCPS's teaching force is uniquely low quality, but as a city Washington DC is clearly unique in many ways, most of which are not conducive to high test scores.

Do you think Boston would score as high if it wasn't part of Massachusetts?

Would Charlotte-Mecklenburg County score as high if it wasn't a county eight times larger than DC geographically, with twice the population and half the poverty rate? What if you just take the poorest quarter of Charlotte and segregate its students? Would teacher quality render that moot?

Washington DC has the third highest income inequality of any city in the US, a large private school sector for the wealthy, and at least some tendency toward higher transience among higher-income earners, thus less personal investment in long-term community resources like public schools.

Also, this may make me sound ignorant, I have no idea why poor people ever moved to Washington DC in the first place. I know why poor people moved to Detroit, or Pittsburgh, or Boston, or even Baltimore, but as far as I know there was never any industry in DC. So yes, I can see that there was a natural tendency to use education and other public works as employment programs, but we don't know the counterfactual. How else was this supposed to play out?

So yes, you can look at all this and say "See, that's what I mean, because of all of the above and more, DC has low teacher quality, which is exactly what I'm saying." But it doesn't answer the question of "Why?" Washington DC is a uniquely mal-designed, badly governed, historically burdened city and school district; it will tend to under perform other US cities for that reason.

In case it is not clear, I think equating NAEP scores to grade levels is bogus.

And Now, Your Moment of Zen

The Providence Plan

OK, so yes, all Providence teachers are slated to be fired at the end of the school year. Just as much as if your boss told you, "As of next Tuesday, you don't need to come to work anymore." Just as much as the Central Falls High School teachers last year. Except for everyone in the district.


Speaker after speaker demanded to know why they were being fired. Didn't the teachers' union sign the federal Race to the Top initiative? Hasn't the union collaborated with Supt. Tom Brady on new curricula? Isn't the union working on a new teacher evaluation with the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers?

So, basically, at this point the plan at at least some of the schools in the district is to fire everyone, then rehire people using the Criterion Based Hiring panels which are predominantly made of teachers they just fired, to work at schools which are managed by a collaborative board of administrators and the teacher's union, of which all the members have been fired.

That should work out really well.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Takeaways from Today's PPSD/PTU Meeting

OK, so the teachers assembled today for a report from Supt. Brady and PTU head Steve Smith on the matter of their all being fired. Basically, they blame the new mayor, Angel Taveras for this scheme. The biggest factor seems to be trying to get around the (in NYC parlance) "ATR" problem. That is, having to retain displaced teachers who don't get new jobs as subs at full pay. If the teachers are fired instead of laid off, they don't have to add them to the sub pool. This'll let them close a few schools, and get all the hiring and firing for the various mandated turnarounds done; teacher at the rest of the schools will not be affected.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is still only a recommendation to the school board, which is appointed by the mayor, but as far as I know, they're all holdovers from the Cicilline administration. So it is not necessarily a done deal. Both the union and the PPSD believe they have other options.

Oddly, the famous Brady/Smith relationship seems to be intact for the moment.

For the Sake of Clarity

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

In years past, the School Department has issued layoff notices, with the understanding that most jobs would be restored. This week, however, the department sent out notices of possible dismissal.

“Dismissal doesn’t have any recall provisions,” said Carlton Jones, the district’s chief operating officer. “If they are [laid off], they can come back on the recall list. We can’t afford to do that this year.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Being Laid-Off and Being Terminated

One thing that will flag you as a PPSD noob is freaking out over getting a layoff notice in February. Get over it dude. Even when enrollment was growing you might get one every year for your first five or ten years of teaching. It is mostly a formality. So to the long-time PPSD observer, sending "layoff notices" to everyone this year at sounds like some kind of extravagant posturing by administration.

I tried to stick to this calmly jaded perspective until I actually read the letter sent out by the district, which says (in part):

...on Thursday, February 24, 2011, the School Board will consider a recommendation for a resolution terminating your employment in the Providence school District...

You are hereby notified that, if this resolution passes, you will be dismissed effective as the last day of the 2010-2011 school year unless the district rescinds your dismissal notice or you secure a position via the district's Criterion Based Hiring process. (emphasis added)

If there is a posting for a vacant position or positions in the Providence School District for the 2011-2012 school year for which you are properly certified, we hope that you will apply pursuant to the Providence Public School Department's 2011-2012 Criterion Based Hiring process.

Let's put it this way... there is nothing inconsistent here with "you're fired, you're all fired, and you may reapply for your jobs, or, perhaps, any job in the district." I do not actually have a copy of a previous layoff letter handy for comparison, but clearly I'm not the only one thinking something is up here because the PTU sent out an email this evening telling teachers that they


I still find myself shocked by this, but on the other hand, we've been anticipating a mass reshuffling of all PPSD high schools, since it is likely that all of them but Classical will be either formally on the "lowest performing" list, at best a year from being added to it, or have some other significant and obvious flaw or liability. Thanks in part to the current administration's mismanagement, of course.

There is a union meeting at 1:00 tomorrow and the board meeting at 6:00. It should be the craziest day in the district since the strikes of the 70's. It is going to be another insane year.

Personally, since my wife doesn't have a permanent position in the district right now, this probably helps us, since there'll probably be a lot more jobs to apply for.

I'm concerned that the worst thing that could happen for the district is to get everything they want. They don't have the capacity to pull off a mass-scale reshuffle. I'm not sure if anyone ever has, but this crew certainly doesn't. Especially at the high school level, they may not realize that Things. Could. Get. Much. Worse.


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Mayor Angel Taveras says an undetermined number of city schools will be closed next year in an effort to help the school department close a $40 million budget deficit for the coming fiscal year.

"Are there going to be less teachers? Yes," Taveras said Wednesday. "Will there be less schools open next year? Yes. Do I know which teachers and which schools? No."

TFA is Giving Illinois a Million Dollars?

Michele McNeil:

In Illinois, which had hoped for up to $400 million in Race to the Top funds, state leaders and education advocates are turning to outside funders. As part of the state’s application, which put in writing many of the efforts already under way, officials wanted to invest in improving college preparation programs for teachers and school leaders, especially those who will work in high-need schools. The state has now secured $1 million each in pledges from the Chicago Community Trust and New York City-based Teach For America.

Holy keiretsu!

Reality Diverging from the Planned Narrative

Claudio Gatti - Il Sole 24 Ore (Italy):

Il Sole 24 Ore has been able to determine that for months, the FBI, Department of Justice and Department of Education have been investigating the possible illegal use of these education funds, a criminal conspiracy, extortion, and violation of immigration laws. "The suspicion is that, behind an educational effort, there is a giant conspiracy" a federal officer, requesting anonymity, explained to our newspaper. "The plan is as simple as it is brilliant: to use public funding for schools to educate a new generation of Americans favorably inclined to Turkey and thus indirectly to the Gulen movement, and also to spend some of that money to fund foundations and cultural centers."

Federal authorities have identified at least 120 schools opened in recent years by the movement in some twenty U.S. states, all charter schools, which are outside the loop of public education but financed by states and the federal government. Since each of these schools receives from 1.5 to 3 million dollars each year in public funds, it is a matter of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

It'll be interesting to see how long we all can stick our fingers in our ears and pretend this isn't happening.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE — The school district plans to send out dismissal notices to every one of its 1,926 teachers, an unprecedented move that has union leaders up in arms.

In a letter sent to all teachers Tuesday, Supt. Tom Brady wrote that the Providence School Board on Thursday will vote on a resolution to dismiss every teacher, effective the last day of school.

In an e-mail sent to all teachers and School Department staff, Brady said, “We are forced to take this precautionary action by the March 1 deadline given the dire budget outline for the 2011-2012 school year in which we are projecting a near $40 million deficit for the district,” Brady wrote. “Since the full extent of the potential cuts to the school budget have yet to be determined, issuing a dismissal letter to all teachers was necessary to give the mayor, the School Board and the district maximum flexibility to consider every cost savings option, including reductions in staff.” State law requires that teachers be notified about potential changes to their employment status by March 1.

I can't even sort out the levels and directions of gamesmanship going on here.

General Strike

Wisconsin State Journal:

The 97-union South Central Federation of Labor voted Monday night to prepare for a general strike that would take place if Gov. Scott Walker succeeds in enacting his budget repair bill, which would strip most bargaining rights from most public employee unions.

The strike would call for union and non-union workers in large swaths of the workforce to stop working, said Carl Aniel, labor federation delegate from AFSCME Local 171.

I didn't want to sound like a romantic undergraduate socialist by bringing this up myself, but since they -- and the South Central Federation of Labor includes several AFT locals -- have gone there, I will too. If this bill cannot be stopped indefinitely, a general strike is the next move. General strikes are, of course, illegal in the US, but then again, if this bill passes, regular strikes and lots of other just and reasonable union activity will be too. So why not? US labor law has made our unions tame, lazy and bureaucratic and overwhelmingly bought labor peace for generations. Throw it away and you just might get chaos as your reward. Probably not. But maybe.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On Wisconsin

Don't read anything into my lack of comment on the Wisconsin situation -- it is hugely important, but I haven't felt like I had anything particularly insightful to say about it, and in particular, I don't really trust my own judgement as a labor strategist or tactician. We do plan on attending the rally here in Providence tomorrow, however.

Waiting on the Pandaboard

In case you were wondering, my Pandaboard seems to be still backordered. This seems to be fairly typical in the world of developer hardware references (i.e., bare systems put together to encourage companies to adopt an embedded platform for their products). In the meantime, someone else has made a case like I was planning to, although they're also out of stock. So... I guess I'm waiting.

Another Grays Historical First

For 19th century baseball loyalists in Syracuse, a June afternoon in 1885 guaranteed a slice of history. The Syracuse Stars, a minor league power, were hosting the Providence Grays, world champions of baseball’s major leagues. Three thousand fans packed Star Park, while hundreds more climbed trees or searched for vantage points outside the stadium.

While the fans were right — it was profoundly historic — it was hardly because the Grays won a meaningless exhibition by a score of 4-1.

It mattered because the man calling balls and strikes was an African-American.

The real question is how he interpreted and called the 1885 pitching rules, which require the pitcher to keep both feet on the ground throughout the pitching motion, which is pretty much impossible.

Friday, February 18, 2011

SchoolTool to Rwanda via Nepal

I got word this week from Abhishek Singh at OLE Nepal that during a recent visit to Rwanda to help them plan their own OLPC deployment, he turned them onto the SchoolTool packages for Fedora he created. I've subsequently exchanged a few emails with Tony Anderson about how to best configure SchoolTool for Rwandan schools. Tony also has a very sensible post today on OLPC News.

This is getting exciting.

SchoolTool 2013 Mind Map

I've cleaned up the planning Freemind mind map we created at the meeting in Portugal. This is roughly the scope of work for the next two years.

A few notes:

  • The level of granularity is inconsistent and some things (parent access) will bloom into their own complex trees at a later date.
  • The numbers don't indicate priority but which task is assigned towhich developer.
  • Tasks with numbers are targeted for the October 2011 release.
  • Tasks with "!" are either already underway or next on the list.

This is still more an ongoing brainstorm than a final, formal document.

The source for this will be kept in bzr at:

The Wisconsin Labor Fight: An Attack on Women, Too

Dana Goldstein:

The Wisconsin GOP's war on public sector unions--except those representing police officers, firefighters, and state troopers--is not only a craven attack on the Democratic base, but sexist, too, since predominantly male professions are deliberately protected while female ones are targeted. 

Time to Put on Your Big Girl Pants and Enter the Belly of the Beast

Seattle Education 2010 reviews, at delicious length, a recent public forum with district administrators:

So Korsmo and Morris can’t say they didn’t have allies in the audience. But the night didn’t go their way. Instead, common sense prevailed. The truth, the data and public sentiment are not with the corporate reforms and their privatizing, teacher-bashing, standardizing, top-heavy agenda.

Despite all their money, connections, media access, fake organizations, push-polls, lengthy mailing lists with access to thousands of unwitting parents and community members, they did not win the argument or the hearts and minds of the majority in the audience that night. In fact, Korsmo’s outburst may have done some damage.

Her accusation (which she fleshed out in her “round-up” post on the LEV blog) about those of us in the audience — “person after person said we can’t get kids ready because they’re poor, black, brown, abused, homeless, the kid sitting next to them didn’t do his homework”-- is a misconception at the very least, a downright lie at the worst. No one there said any child couldn’t learn. In fact, the very reason many of us were at the forum that night is because we are deeply concerned about how poorly this district is treating all our children, including the poor kids of color Korsmo apparently believes to have a monopoly on supporting.

But many said that poor kids and English Language Learners often need more help to be able to learn well. And teachers alone can’t give these kids everything they need. Many in the audience that night agreed that changing a teacher without changing everything else that affects a struggling child’s life will not alone make enough of a difference for that child.

The ed reformers seem to think they alone care about poor kids of color. That’s not true. What’s more, the reforms they push are actually doing harm.

This compliments my Joel Klein Doesn't Mean What You Think He Means post and the Wisconsin situation in general.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chuck Dukowski on Charter Schools

From Juice Magazine, #68 -- OUT NOW:

What's a charter school?

It's public funded, but operating independently. Our older kids went to public school until junior high, and they were kind of sad about it. Milo went to high school in public school and he quit that and went to independent and then he just quit altogether. In the younger grades, they went to these charter schools. It was all kinds of crazy people, from hippies to punkers. It was like freak land. It was cool, but they shut that school down because it was cool. The kids really came out of it self-motivated and able to do so much more. My experience with public school was that it tried really hard to beat me down.

My daughter said, "I'm going to go to the local public school." So she left the charter school and went to this public school for a year, and that was a hellish thing. She had a lot of courage to deal with the lining up and the punishing. It's intense. The thing I remember in school was that I lived for recess and the time before school when we could all play. They don't let them do that now.

There's no mixing from class to class at all. It's all very controlled. There's no free play recess. Your best friends could be going to school, but you're only going to see them when you march from one room to another in a line.

... My daughter toughed it out and now she gets to go to a new nice and friendly charter school. There's one thing I've got to say. The hippie thing brought us some positive things. Those schools that are dominated by hippie people are good. They have them all over. You just got to seek them out.

Bass, lyric - Dukowski.


Last week's SchoolTool meetings in Coimbra, Portugal were quite successful. Four SchoolTool developers and I settled into the Critical Links "war room" for a series of meetings with CL personnel as well as the main SchoolTool planning session for 2011.

View from the CL "war room."

One important thing I learned was that the creation of CL's Education Appliance was driven by Intel's need for a server to accompany Classmate installations. I knew the two often went together, but I didn't realize how deep the connection is. So basically a new Classmate deployment = a new SchoolTool deployment. The proper branding for the whole package is Intel Learning Series.

They've subsequently been working on a larger marketing push, including in the US, but the sequence was the opposite of what I thought.

Douglas in Coimbra.

They gave us patches for all the changes they've made to SchoolTool, some enhancements and some bugfixes, as well as a dump of all the bugs they've had reported on SchoolTool. Going forward we'll have the policies in place to manage these issues in real time.

Church, fountain, geeks.

CL also arranged for us to spend Thursday meeting with their design and usability consultant, Vitor Carvalhinho of Tangivel. Consultants may be people you pay to tell you what you already know and just kick your butt a little bit to do it (or maybe you pay them more to do it themselves), but that's pretty much what I and SchoolTool needed in the user interface department. When I was lying in bed with jetlag at 3:00 AM before the meeting, I realized that while I was passable at graphic design -- at least better than you'd think from looking at SchoolTool currently -- what I really didn't understand was how to manage the development of a design. Obviously I didn't learn that in a day, but I did find that the professional advice was similar to the design we sketched out the last time we revised the UI, and we know the problem is execution, not concept.

Menisis, Plants.

Overall, we left having made a new set of friends at Critical Links and feeling very confident about their professionalism and competency.


Also, the weather was a welcome break. We spent Friday morning sightseeing, and it was sunny and in the 60's. And the food... I had some Leitão which was at least the tastiest meat I've encountered in my life, and virtually everything else was delicious. Worth a trip just for the food.

Random Gazebo

"the sort of book that can ruin reading -- the very idea of reading"

Fred Clark:

So the older daughter is eligible for honors English next year. Bravo!

I respond with enthusiasm and what I hope comes across as encouragement without too much pressure.

"I'd have to do the summer reading."

"You like summer reading."

"Yeah, but there's like this 900-page book that she makes every class read."

"War and Peace?"


"The Brothers Karamazov?" (I suppose these guesses don't really count as "English" literature, but I'm thinking 900 pages has to be Russian.)

"No, it's like 'Fountain ...' or 'Fountainhead,' something like that."

And suddenly this conversation has taken an unwelcome turn. I like the idea of my daughter taking honors English. I do not like the idea of my daughter taking honors English from someone who regards The Fountainhead as worthwhile. I do not like the idea of her studying literature with a teacher who doesn't like literature and who seems intent on infecting students with her distaste for it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Joel Klein Doesn't Mean What You Think He Means

Jon Becker, first quoting Joel Klein:

“This is a game about power, and I think you have a vacuum on one side…She’s concluded — and I think with some wisdom — that there’s really no countervailing force that is well-funded, is well-organized. What I think she wants to build is an organization that can really step up and amass political support and play hardball.”

-Joel Klein, on the Political Education of Michelle Rhee

There is very little about educational policy on which Joel Klein and I agree. But, Klein’s point about Michelle Rhee and her Students First organization is spot on. There is a particular policy agenda that is carrying the day in education, and Michelle Rhee is quickly becoming the face and voice of that agenda. The early $uce$$ of her “movement” is unsurprising because it *is* the dominant agenda. Furthermore, as Klein points out, there is no organized counternarrative.

Um... yeah, but reading both these quotes in context I'm pretty certain Klein isn't saying what Becker thinks he's saying. That is, Klein doesn't think Rhee needs to build a $1 billion organization because there is no countervailing force against their side, that is, the "reformers." If they had no opposition, why would they need a billion dollars?

Klein's saying that there is no well-funded, well-organized force on the side of business-model reform. It is understandable that this is easy to misinterpret, since it is crazy-talk.

As Thomas Frank quotes Michelle Goldberg in the new Harpers

It's really common for the right to adopt paranoid versions of the legitimate complaints of the left...

And beyond that, both ed reporters and many progressive advocates have some kind of mental block about simply acknowledging that we can and do articulate our own agenda.

Also, you have to think about this from Joel Klein's point of view. Teachers unions are on their heels, but not actually dead. Reformers lose elections and legislative votes all the time. And when you try to, say, close 20 schools, a bunch of angry people show up. He knows how expensive it is to bus all those charter school people in, so someone must be shelling out a lot of money to bring the rest of those people in, right?

The fact remains that among actual humans (i.e., not hedge fund billionaires, editorial boards, the Center for American Progress, Democratic politiicans and reform (non-)profiteers), the agenda Parents Across America lays out remains the conventional wisdom:

Proven Reforms: We support the expansion of sensible, research-based reforms, such as small classes, parent involvement, strong, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.

Sufficient and Equitable Funding: Resources do matter, especially when invested in programs that have been proven to work.

Diversity: We support creating diverse, inclusive schools and classrooms whenever possible.

Meaningful Parent Involvement: Parents must have a significant voice in policies at the school, district, state and national levels. We are not just “consumers” or “customers” but knowledgeable, necessary partners in any effective reform effort.

It didn't take a billion dollars to get people to believe those things, and frankly, a billion dollars won't change people's minds either.

Critical Ed Reform Forum in Bristol

Former Providence Grays captain Kevin Faria, aka the Bristol Bullraker:

What’s the meaning of education reform in the US? And what might it mean for Bristol-Warren schools? Find out at a public forum featuring Brian Jones, a Harlem public school teacher and commentator for the Huffington Post. The event will be held at the Rogers Free Library community room at 3 PM on Saturday, March 5. Sponsored by the Bristol-Warren Parents’ Alliance (BWPA).

Cutting the towns' state ed funding by $808,561 a year every year for 10 years tends to get people pissed off. Nice that they're trying to tie it into the larger ed reform context.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Where the FHS Students Ended Up

When Feinstein High School was closed, most of the students were sent to other south Providence neighborhood high schools. According to federal regulations, all students from schools closed as part of the federal SIG grants were supposed to be sent to higher performing schools. Here's the latest NECAP proficiency rates of south and central Providence high schools, showing students attending the school in the 2009-2010 school year (with the test administered in October 2010).

Yep, FHS is still on top of that list, even after its own death. E-Cubed and Hope Arts are a point or two higher, but on the other side of town -- and can't really be considered to be significantly higher performing in the most recent data.

And, yes, I'm ready to give this a rest.

Turnaround High Schools in 2010

Reprising an analysis from a year ago, here are the first batch of RI turnaround high schools a "year" later. Actually, they were named in January 2010 and tested in October, so essentially this reflects no real intervention other than the politics. Well, it also reflects Feinstein's school design and curriculum being stripped in the 2009-1010 school year.

This is the "teaching year" data, which means students who attended these schools in the 2009-2010 school year. Which explains how a closed school has data. Also, this is reading plus math, so the theoretical ceiling is 200.

I don't really have anything insightful to say about this. Falling behind the steady increase in the state averages is bad.

Monday, February 14, 2011

PVD 11th Grade NECAP Reading Scores

Not good. High school reading scores down across the board except for the Cooley, the surviving turnaround school, which went up 21 points before the actual "turnaround" has even been started. This is, by the way, not considered a statistically significant increase for a school of its size (small), which really makes you wonder about this whole process.

The district proficiency rate for the past three years: 55%, 61%, 57%.

Here's a quick and dirty graph of the individual schools:

Unfortunately RIDE's spreadsheet doesn't go back to 2007, or you'd see most of these school had three years of increases, probably attributed to the steady inflation following the introduction of a new test, but still, these are supposed to at worst level off, not go down.

Math continued to bump along the bottom of the scale.

Breaking It Down

Ben Muth:

A lot of people (most notably, Peter King) felt that the Mendenhall fumble was the biggest play in the game. I disagree with this sentiment, but it certainly was the biggest play of the fourth quarter. Now, there's never any excuse for fumbling the ball, but Mendenhall wasn't put in a very good position by the play. It was a weird play that I hadn't seen the Steelers run before, and it certainly made the comeback a lot more difficult.

Figure 1: Mendenhall's fumble

Green Bay came out in 4-4 personnel and lined up in what was basically a 5-3. The three-technique was to the tight end side (the offense's left). The basic scheme was a down/down/kick scheme (everyone blocks down, and you kick out the end man on the line of scrimmage), which is a variation of Power. This play was unique because the center was the puller, and therefore, he was the kick-out man as opposed to the backside guard.

I have two theories on this particular blocking scheme. It was either a change in scheme made at the line of scrimmage because Legursky wasn't sure he could block back on the three-technique to his left, or it was a poorly designed play. The former means that Kemoeatu was supposed to pull, but they kept him back to block the defensive tackle, which meant the center had to pull. Because I think the Steelers are well-coached, I'm going to believe the former.

Anyway, both down blocks went fine, but Legursky got wrong-armed on the kick-out by Ryan Pickett. Getting wrong-armed means that the defender is able to rip through you with his far arm and get inside leverage. This usually bows the blocker back and makes the runner bounce outside. Here, it meant that Legursky got in the way of the fullback and prevented him from getting a block on Clay Matthews. This wall of humanity met Mendenhall, and he lost the ball when Matthews put his helmet right on it.

If the decision to have the center pull was made at the line of scrimmage, I still wouldn't blame Legursky entirely. Certain plays just don't work against certain fronts. Asking your center to snap the ball, pull, and kick out a 300-pound five-technique is just too much. He's never going to get much of a block on this play. I wonder if, after the safety they gave up to the Jets in the regular season, they changed their scheme to allow the center to pull. Against New York, they pulled the guard against a similar look, and Jason Taylor knifed in for the deciding defensive points. Here they tried to pull the center to shore up the backside, and it was just as disastrous. You have to wonder if there was a way to get out of this play once they saw the defensive front.

Also, some great comments, too:

JJ Cooper:


The reason they changed up the blocking scheme on the Mendenhall fumble was because Kemoeatu wasn't in the game. He was on the bench with Trai Essex playing left guard (one of three positions he played during the game). With Essex in there, the Steelers didn't feel comfortable asking him to pull (at least that's my supposition), so they instead had the more mobile Legursky pull. It didn't work out, and Legursky was driven back, but that's the reason as best as I can tell.

Trulee Pist:

Anonymously Social (#7 above) has it right. It was all about preparation.

At 2:08 here, Clay Matthews said that with two weeks to prepare, he'd seen this play on film and the Pack had a plan for it.

At 1:20 and again at 3:30 here, he says he told his defensive lineman what to do--"scrape" or blow up the play inside, and then Matthews intended to come around the fullback (really a TE playing fullback, right?) and in that way, Pickett and Matthews were able to meet at the runner and pop the ball out. Or as it actually played out, Pickett, the center, the tackle, the fullback and Matthews all met at Mendenhall, with Matthews loading up and slamming Mendenhall's ball-carrying arm and ribs with his shoulder.

Of course, (as techvet #9 notes above), the other part of the story is here. Watch the first minute of this video, which starts with GB OLB Coach Greene telling Matthews: "Everybody looks up to Wood(son) for leadership, he's gone. Nobody is f__ing standing up. It is time."

Then Matthews goes on the field, tells Raji and Peprah, "They are pulling this way, I've got a feeling," then shouting to Pickett as the play starts, "Spill it, Pickett, spill it!" On the sidelines, Pickett credits Matthews with a good call on that play, leading to the fumble.

Watching the Alpha Geeks

Jeff Shell:

So as this next tech conference comes up, I'm seriously considering leaving the laptop behind and just using good old pen and paper. Maybe my personal era of the laptop is officially over. Weird.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Stupid Common Core Tricks

One additional note on my little run through the Common Core standards for reading informational text. The point is not that those eight questions could be somewhat better, and the problem is not that other standards have eight better tasks. While this is a continuation of the way US academic standards have been trending over the past decade or so, most high-quality standards here and abroad don't have this pattern of "X tasks to perform on each text type" at all. The fundamental organization is different and intended to define the discipline as a whole in an intellectually coherent way, not as a thinly wrapped test specification.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Common Core on Steiny on Common Core

1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

In "Fiction still holds real-life benefits for students," Julia Steiny contends that studying fiction, as she did in her youth, is essential to a complete education. She writes:

My teachers, in the ancient, pre-electronic, pre-politically-correct past, were explicit with us about the high value of classical fiction. Studying authors’ different styles and narrative strategies would teach us to master the English language for ourselves. Becoming articulate would help us to get what we wanted.

However, she feels this approach is becoming obselete, a process accelerated by adoption of the Common Core State Standards:

Ah but, silly me. The new Common Core standards that most states are adopting, thanks to pressure by the Race to the Top grant, will require students to read considerably less fiction.

She recently re-read a book she had read in 9th grade, James Agee's A Death in the Family and felt:

The book, by the way, was lovely. Gentle, elegant prose that captured strong feeling.

But it would never be assigned today. It was far more challenging than most of what high schools now ask of their kids.

As far as inferences, like most short informational texts, there is not much of importance to infer. One can infer that re-reading James Agee's novel inspired this column. One can infer from her leading question about whether or not novels like the Harry Potter and Twilight books are "books that prepare young people for college and career, never mind the slings and arrows of their personally uncertain futures?" that she thinks the answer is "no."

2. Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

In "Fiction still holds real-life benefits for students," Julia Steiny contends that studying fiction, as she did, is both essential to a complete education and under threat. She begins with a reminiscence of her own high school English teachers who stressed the importance of reading great works of literature to master the language, gain wisdom and perspective on life, and to appear educated. In particular she cites her reading James Agee's A Death in the Family in 9th grade.

However, she feels this approach is becoming obsolete, a process accelerated by adoption of the Common Core State Standards, which place a much greater emphasis on informational texts. She attributes this to the perceived need for "preparation for harsh economic realities, not character building."

She then returns to A Death in the Family, which she recently re-read, "The book... was lovely. Gentle, elegant prose that captured strong feeling." However, she believes the book would never be assigned today. The next part of her column develops her personal relationship to Agee's novel, including how it affected her view of a childhood friend, "Penny Marshall," whose own father had died.

The column then shifts to a long paragraph citing Sandra Stotsky's decision to not endores the Common Core Standards and Stotsky's research on reading practices in high school curricula nationwide, which seem to emphasize contemporary popular literature.

She concludes by considering what her own high school teachers would think of both the Common Core and lightweight popular reading:

My teachers would have considered such assignments akin to studying Nancy Drew, “Peyton Place,” or other leisure-time prose not worthy of a professional teacher’s attention. But then, they were imparting Wisdom...

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m thinking the Common Core has let itself become a bit too common. And not in a good way.

3. Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.

Oh, God, didn't I already answer this question?

In "Fiction still holds real-life benefits for students," Julia Steiny contends that studying fiction, as she did, is both essential to a complete education and under threat. She begins with a reminiscence of her own high school English teachers who stressed the importance of reading great works of literature to master the language, gain wisdom and perspective on life, and to appear educated. In particular she cites her reading James Agee's A Death in the Family in 9th grade.

However, she feels this approach is becoming obsolete, a process accelerated by adoption of the Common Core State Standards, which place a much greater emphasis on informational texts. She attributes this to the perceived need for "preparation for harsh economic realities, not character building."

She then returns to A Death in the Family, which she recently re-read, "The book... was lovely. Gentle, elegant prose that captured strong feeling." However, she believes the book would never be assigned today.

The emotional center of Ms. Steiny's column is this sentence:

I certainly looked at my friend Penny Marshall differently, since I knew her dad had died. So my world did get more nuanced, if not exactly wise.

This indicates how her teacher's lofty goals for literature instruction were met within her in a direct, timeless way. It makes the abstract emotionally concrete, in particular by citing an individual friend's name (although the fact that it is the name of a beloved actress is perhaps a little confusing). It gives a visceral weight to her subsequent policy arguments.

The column then shifts to a long paragraph citing Sandra Stotsky's decision to not endores the Common Core Standards and Stotsky's research on reading practices in high school curricula nationwide, which seem to emphasize contemporary popular literature.

She concludes by considering what her own high school teachers would think of both the Common Core and lightweight popular reading

My teachers would have considered such assignments akin to studying Nancy Drew, “Peyton Place,” or other leisure-time prose not worthy of a professional teacher’s attention. But then, they were imparting Wisdom...

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m thinking the Common Core has let itself become a bit too common. And not in a good way.

4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).

For a newspaper column on education policy, particularly one extolling the importance of teaching great works of literature, it slips into an informal, chatty tone in places. For example: "Ah but, silly me," "Really?" "Call me old-fashioned." She also uses a first person perspective, and "I," throughout. But while these would be inappropriate in a news article, they are acceptable, and not unusual, for a columnist. She certainly is not limited to this style, as evidenced by complex passages like "Inevitably, she asserted, every one of us would experience deep sadness in our lives. Of course, she was not wrong."

Rhetorically, the main affect of this style is to prevent this column from being too overbearingly schoolmarmish and scolding, and keep it seeming down-to-earth and commonsensical.

5. Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).

The emotional center of Ms. Steiny's column is this sentence:

I certainly looked at my friend Penny Marshall differently, since I knew her dad had died. So my world did get more nuanced, if not exactly wise.

This indicates how her teacher's lofty goals for literature instruction were met within her in a direct, timeless way. It makes the abstract emotionally concrete, in particular by citing an individual friend's name (although the fact that it is the name of a beloved actress is perhaps a little confusing). It gives a visceral weight to her subsequent policy arguments.

6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

According to the ProJo website, Ms. Steiny is a regular education columnist, an education consultant and a former member of the Providence School Board. Her purpose is in part to make a buck; she had to write something to keep her job. Beyond that, she seeks to promote the value of teaching literature and raise questions about its diminishing role in education, including the Common Core State Standards.

For a newspaper column on education policy, particularly one extolling the importance of teaching great works of literature, it slips into an informal, chatty tone in places. For example: "Ah but, silly me," "Really?" "Call me old-fashioned." She also uses a first person perspective, and "I," throughout. But while these would be inappropriate in a news article, they are acceptable, and not unusual, for a columnist. She certainly is not limited to this style, as evidenced by complex passages like "Inevitably, she asserted, every one of us would experience deep sadness in our lives. Of course, she was not wrong."

Rhetorically, the main affect of this style is to prevent this column from being too overbearingly schoolmarmish and scolding, and keep it seeming down-to-earth and commonsensical.

The emotional center of Ms. Steiny's column is this sentence:

I certainly looked at my friend Penny Marshall differently, since I knew her dad had died. So my world did get more nuanced, if not exactly wise.

This indicates how her teacher's lofty goals for literature instruction were met within her in a direct, timeless way. It makes the abstract emotionally concrete, in particular by citing an individual friend's name (although the fact that it is the name of a beloved actress is perhaps a little confusing). It gives a visceral weight to her subsequent policy arguments.

7. Not applicable.

8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.


  • Ms. Steiny presents her perceptions of her own high school teacher's beliefs about the value of the study of literature. This cannot be proven, but is consistent with the doctrine of the period and quite plausible.
  • She also presents her own views on the value of education. These are stated as beliefs, and her assertion that believes those things is convincing.
  • The her assertion that "The new Common Core standards... will require students to read considerably less fiction," is, based on my own background knowledge, somewhat overstated, and certainly unprovable. Also, the comparison point is important. Less compared to when Ms. Steiny was in school or less compared to contemporary schools. As is explained later in this piece, the volume of reading in classrooms today may already be much lower than in the past.
  • Ms. Steiny's description of the effect of A Death in the Family on her is unprovable but plausible and convincing. It would be resonant with any reader with an appreciation of literature.
  • Ms. Steiny's presentation of Sandra Stotsky's views and research are, based on my background knowledge, accurate. I'm somewhat dubious of Stotsky's survey methodology, but I have neither the time nor the expertise to evaluate it.
  • Her leading question about whether or not novels like the Harry Potter and Twilight books are "books that prepare young people for college and career, never mind the slings and arrows of their personally uncertain futures?" is unprovable, but clearly she thinks the answer is "no." This is unprovable.
  • Ms. Steiny's statement that "My teachers would have considered such assignments akin to studying Nancy Drew, 'Peyton Place,' or other leisure-time prose not worthy of a professional teacher’s attention." is unprovable but likely true based on the doctrine of the period.
  • Same goes for "And they certainly would have had no patience with supplanting great works to make room for “informational texts.”
  • The statement "I’m thinking the Common Core has let itself become a bit too common. And not in a good way," is unprovable but likely represents her true belief.

This is an argument based on traditional values warning of possible -- and genuinely likely -- changes in the future detrimental to those values. It is not significantly misleading in its presentation of the situation, which is regardless inherently unprovable (what here teachers were thinking in the past, what Ms. Steiny thinks and thought, what will happen in the future).

The only real weakness is the emphasis on the quantity of fiction reading dictated by the Common Core Standards. This is a mistake in argument because it is in strictest terms not true, although likely, especially if the comparison point is her past, not the present. But it is also completely unnecessary, because she's making an argument not based on evidence at all, but values, and the Common Core is extremely weak on the subject of values. Even more than the raw quantity of fiction, the deeper problem is that in the Common Core Standards there is no reason to read fiction other than using it as grist for the academic mill, as source material for the set of eight textual analysis tasks defined by the standards.


A slightly annoying and redundant exercise, but not awful in itself. Except that those are The Questions You Can Ask About Informational Text under the English Language Arts standards. The standards are specific tasks; only those tasks validly assess the standards, albeit with some variation for form -- discussion, essay, multiple choice.

These are the grade 9-10 standards. The 11-12 version is the same but a little over-wrought. The middle school versions a little simpler. But essentially, that's what one does with informational text for at least seven years. Which will suck.

Unless you sell an integrated automated scoring system and content library, in which case it will rule.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Heading out the Door...

I'm heading to Portugal for the week. Before I go I'll quickly note that R.I. education commissioner seeks delay in new high school graduation requirements, in particular the tiered diploma system is gone. That part was an undisciplined indulgence of RIDE's inexperienced wonks, which muddied their message considerably.

In possibly related news, New Hampshire has released their 2010 NECAP results, which inch up about a point in hs math. I'd love to know how early RIDE knows what the RI scores look like. They seem to make a lot of decisions right before they announce them.

Isn't It Funny That Businesspeople Never Say This?

Roger Schank:

President Obama is on a science kick lately. I really don't know why. If he wants the country to become more competitive, we might think about teaching kids about business...

Maybe we need more alternative MBA programs.

Friday, February 04, 2011

You Don't Need to Stop the Signal

Doug Henwood:

... one of the more curious features of American life is that we have an excellent statistical apparatus that tells us reams about this society, a lot of it disgraceful, but almost no one seems to care.

I Really Don't Need to Pick on Democracy Prep Anymore (for the moment, at least)

The Brooklyn Rail:

The report, released January 4, details the observations of investigators from the Office of Charter Schools on six of the city’s charter schools, and its recommendations to the Regents (all of which were followed). The report shows that most of the schools are neglecting basic elements of decent education, yet in no case were they punished for this, or pressured to change their ways.

One thing is clear from this document: the Office of Charter Schools knows what good education looks like, but just doesn’t think poor, black kids need to have it.

Take critical thinking, for example. It’s hard to think of a skill that more people—from CEOs to anti-war activists—would agree is essential to both success and citizenship. Investigators from the Office of Charter Schools found that critical thinking was missing from several schools, none of which were penalized or closed down. One of these was Achievement First Endeavor in Clinton Hill, a middle school that has nonetheless been allowed to expand into elementary school grades (even though the neighborhood already has several decent public elementary schools). At Democracy Prep, a Harlem charter school where students have been acing standardized tests, “few lessons required higher-order thinking skills or deep analysis of concepts.” Yet Democracy Prep’s charter was renewed unconditionally.

Poor kids apparently don’t need to learn how to have an intellectual discussion. Or any kind of discussion, for that matter. At Democracy Prep, the Office of Charter Schools reports,

All class discussions took the form of the teacher asking questions and the students responding. Students were not observed participating in a discussion or responding directly to each other.

Along similar lines, at Achievement First, investigators observed that in some classes students had no opportunity to express their ideas. At International Leadership Charter School in the Bronx, which the Office of Charter Schools characterized as “academically successful,” the investigators nonetheless reported:

Teachers’ questions asked mainly for recall of information…with minimal questions that required explanation. Students’ responses were generally one or two words. In classrooms observed students did not respond to each other’s comments. Students sat in rows and did not interact with each other except for two instances in which students sat in pairs. Students did not discuss or share their ideas…There was no evidence of analysis, evaluation, or providing students with the opportunity to create a new product or defend a point of view.

Be Open from Day One

Karl Fogel:

At each step in a project, programmers face a choice: to do that step in a manner compatible with the future open-sourcing, or do it in a manner not compatible with the future open-sourcing. And every time they choose the latter, the project gets just a little bit harder to open source.

The crucial thing is, they can’t help choosing the latter occasionally — all the pressures of development propel them that way. It’s very difficult to give a future event the same present-day consequences as, say, fixing the incoming bugs reported by the testers, or finishing that feature the customer just added to the spec. Also, programmers struggling to stay on budget will inevitably cut corners here and there (in Ward Cunningham’s phrase, they will incur “technical debt”), with the intention of cleaning it up later.

Thus when it’s time to open source, you’ll suddenly find there are:

  • Customer-specific configurations and passwords checked into the code repository;
  • Sample data constructed from live (and confidential) information;
  • Bug reports containing sensitive information that cannot be made public;
  • Comments in the code expressing perhaps overly-honest reactions to the customer’s latest urgent request;
  • Correspondence among the developer team in which useful technical information is interleaved with personal opinions not intended for strangers;
  • Licensing issues with dependency libraries whose conditions might have been fine for internal deployment (or not even that), but aren’t compatible with open source distribution;
  • Documentation written in the wrong format (e.g., that proprietary internal wiki your department uses), with no easy translation tool available to get it into formats appropriate for public distribution;
  • Non-portable build dependencies that only become apparent when you try to move the software out of your internal build environment;
  • Modularity violations that everyone knows need cleaning up, but that there just hasn’t been time to take care of yet;
  • Need I go on? Do some of these sound familiar?


“In the open” means the following things are publicly accessible, in standard formats, from the first day of the project: the code repository, bug tracker, design documents, user documentation, wiki, and developer discussion forums. It also means the code and documentation are placed under an open source license, of course. It also means your team’s day-to-day work takes place in the publicly visible area (except for sensitive configuration data and the like — that of course stays behind your firewall).

“In the open” does not have to mean: allowing strangers to check code into your repository (they’re free to copy it into their own repository, if they want, and work with it there); allowing anyone to file bug reports in your tracker (you’re free to choose your own QA process, and if allowing reports from strangers doesn’t help you, you don’t have to do it); reading and responding to every bug report filed, even if you do allow strangers to file; responding to every question people ask in the forums (even if you moderate them through); reviewing every patch or suggestion posted, when doing so may cost valuable development time; etc.

Think of it this way: you’re open sourcing the code, not your developers’ time. One of those resources is infinite, the other is not. You’ll have to determine whether engaging with outside users and developers makes sense for your project or not. In the long run it usually does, and later posts here will talk about how to do that. But the important thing is, it’s all under your control. Developing in the open does not change your degree of control over the project, it just ensures that everything you do is, by definition, done in a way that’s compatible with being open source. And you get that for free.

At Least People are Starting to Talk About Common Core Finally

My comment over at The Answer Sheet:

One problem with the Common Core English Language Arts standards in middle and high school is that they are essentially disciplinary literacy standards. That is, they define the textual skills students need for their college English, history and social studies, and science classes. They should not be conflated with a set of history and social studies standards, as Mr. Farrell does, science standards, or even a complete set of English Language Arts standards. For example, there is no concept of literary genre analysis in the Common Core standards, at all. There is no rhetorical analysis beyond logos. The range of writing is strictly academic.

High achieving countries like Finland and Canada do not conceptualize the goals of discipline of Language Arts as simply "college-level literacy" as the Common Core does. Their standards and outcomes reflect the full range of the discipline, which is why the Common Core ELA standards have not been internationally benchmarked, and why they cannot be.

And of course, California's current ELA standards certainly do contain standards similar to the ones Mr. Farrell cites, involving direct textual analysis, e.g. (from 8th grade):

1.1 Analyze idioms, analogies, metaphors, and similes to infer the literal and figurative meanings of phrases.

2.4 Compare the original text to a summary to determine whether the summary accurately captures the main ideas, includes critical details, and conveys the underlying meaning.

I can understand the argument that students need to do more reading of complex texts, but we have been giving every middle school student in the country a high stakes reading comprehension tests for at least a decade. This is not a new idea. Perhaps it will be new that social studies and science teachers are also evaluated by reading tests, but nobody knows how that is really supposed to work.

And I do agree with Mr. Farrell that the Common Core reduces the role of the teacher in the ELA classroom, but I'm not convinced it will do so in a positive way. The whole scope of the ELA curriculum is collapsed into reading texts and performing some or all of eight narrow textual analysis tasks which are repeated across grade level and subject. It will be now easy to write computer programs to administer such a narrow curriculum.

Checks and Balances

We haven't really experienced unified federal government -- including a solidly filibuster-proof senate majority -- in a long time. In fact, it's probably almost impossible based on current senate rules. But the thing about education policy in Providence is we just went through a brief period of unusually unified, activist governance at the federal and state levels and more or less local level as well (although what PPSD really thinks is hard to discern). There was pretty much a year there where there was literally no way to stop, check, slow down, or even really comment on a whole series of rushed, poorly-thought out reforms. Just knowing that there will be people at the state level willing to listen and consider rational arguments makes a huge difference.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Haslam En Espana

Who, you may be wondering, is Tom's favorite contemporary skateboarder? Why Chris Haslam, of course.

Gist Bound

I don't expect Governor Chafee or his new Board of Regents to expend political capital actively firing or pushing Commissioner Gist out. I suspect she'll leave on her own when she's offered the right job. I don't have a lot of insight into the internal employment politics of the reform keiretsu, but clearly, losing politically is not necessarily bad for your career; it just proves how hardcore you really are.

One thing for sure is that this whole graduation requirements fiasco was well timed to diminish hand-wringing about the departure of the current board or, by extension, Gist. There are thousands of Rhode Islanders who distrust them today who'd never given the matter much thought as recently as a month ago.

Plus, it is hard to say how she'll respond to the new board. Up to now, but the Regents and the feds marching orders for her could be summarized as "Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!." It isn't like she's been freelancing, or even coming up with original ideas. She might just adapt to a more moderate context. I don't know.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Another "Schools Alone" Success Story

Michael Goldstein:

Another MATCH alum had a fabulous City Year experience. I won’t use his name here, but I’m just as proud of him.

As a MATCH student, he struggled with what seemed to be depression, sometimes even becoming borderline catatonic during class. Teachers spent extra time with him; we hooked him up with an amazing mentor; arranged for some cool summer programs; sometimes I’d help him with homework at the Barnes & Noble down the street.

For months, though, we struggled with the underlying issue. Dad had died of a drug overdose, and partly as a result, mom was strongly averse to psychiatry (in part because she feared medication). Pru and I worked it and finally got him admitted to Children’s Hospital with mom’s consent, and then hooked him up with the best social worker I’ve ever met. He decided to drop out and do a GED, but he stabilized medically.

I didn’t hear from him for a while. But he walked up to me at our high school graduation last June, wearing a red City Year red jacket and a big grin. He confidently looked me in the eye, and told me that City Year was the best thing that ever happened to him. No joke — exact words. He’d mostly tutored 3rd and 4th graders at one of the struggling elementary schools in Boston, and had grown a lot as a young man.

Of course, this is a good story, but it is worth noting that MATCH considers itself a "no excuses" charter school, the kind of school loved by people who believe "schools alone" can solve our educational problems. Yet, when you look inside, you see the role of social workers and other advocates, public mental health infrastructure, negotiating parental beliefs and dispositions, and ultimately finding an alternate route which proved successful for the student.

The right thing to do, just not the story we're being sold.

I Don't Know Who Any Of These People Are

Jennifer Jordan for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Governor Chafee announced his picks for the state's chief education policy-setting board, selecting former House Majority Leader George D. Caruolo as chairman of the state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

At a 1 p.m. press conference at the State House, Chafee announced his picks.

His nominations must be approved by the Senate.

New nominees include:

Robert L. Carothers, former president of the University of Rhode Island.

Carolina B. Bernal, an East Providence parent who works at the Institute for Labor Studies and Research in Warwick.

And Mathies J. Santos, an outreach associate for Rhode Island at the Boston Veteran Affairs Research Institute.

The following members will remain on the board:

Colleen Callahan, director of professional development for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, a Regent since 2003.

Patrick Guida, a lawyer and vice-president Barrington School Committee; Regent since 2001.

Betsy Shimberg, an East Greenwich parent; term expires Jan. 31, 2012.

Karin L. Forbes, a retired math teacher who has served on the Regents since 2004.

The new chairperson of the Board of Governors for Higher Education also serves on Board of Regents. Chafee said he will appoint that board later this winter.

This is a much more powerful body than it was two years ago, thanks to the outgoing board. I wonder what the new board will do with that power.

SLA is not a Backsliding Hippie School

My annual post-EduCon chill-out-about-SLA post, in the form of a comment at Ira Socol's:

SLA is pretty much what it says it is and what it thinks it is, an educationally-progressive science magnet school in the Philadelphia School District. The hype around EduCon tends to get ramped up even more by people for whom a successful progressive high school is a novelty.

On the other hand, it is not a Summerhill model free school, nor does it think it is. The structure of the school is a self-conscious compromise to fit into the existing, treacherous political structure.

What sets SLA apart is the quality of the implementation. To be honest, "innovation" is a red herring. Everything that can be done in education already has been done, many times. What matters is how well you do it.