Thursday, June 30, 2011

On the Current Level of Vitriol in the Education Debate

Not so bad, really.

The Way We Live Now: Progressive Education Reform

Deborah Meier:

Instead of seeing Central Park East, and the other schools that burst like genies upon the scene in the '70s and '80s, as an exemplar of what they seek, they have done the opposite. In strictly "free-market" terms, CPE, for example, has always had a long waiting list and parents eager to have CPE extend through 8th grade. But year after year the Klein department of education has turned them down. Now the department has chosen to place a charter school in the building! Instead of betting on a proven innovator, they have invited in an unproven one and squashed the hopes of CPE's families. The current CPE principal's plan to open another CPE-like school in upper Manhattan in response to that neighborhood's strong interest was simultaneously turned down in favor of still-another charter. These are examples of what the United Federation of Teachers and NAACP are fighting about in their court case—the misuse of co-locations and charters to undermine the public system. The well-orchestrated outcry against the NAACP has been amazing to witness, as though it were odd for them to stand for a level playing field, greater rather than less integration, and the importance of public institutions.

I can't believe it has come to this.

This is Utterly Delusional

Richard Whitmire:

How did that happen? For years, education politics were noteworthy mostly for their earnestness. Sure, there were flareups between "reformers" and teachers unions, but generally the tone of the discourse was civil and there was genuine curiosity in understanding opposing views. Today, that's mostly gone.

He might as well have started with "I have no idea what I'm talking about, but..."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We Will Be Marching in Washington

Jennifer and I will be at the Save Our Schools March in DC on July 30th. Not sure yet exactly how many days we'll be in town, but looking forward to seeing you there!

CCP and Sony Sitting in a Tree?

The Nosy Gamer:

With Eve News continuing to push the "Sony purchasing a share of CCP" story, now might be a good time for me to go back to my gaming roots and give a few thoughts on the situation.  I'm not too happy with their coverage so here are some facts that may or may not interest players of Eve Online.

I've been writing a long post in my head parsing CCP's motivations for recent actions, but having Sony come aboard as a major investor would be a much more straightforward explanation of what is at least a spate of internal confusion and dissent at CCP.

In particular, I seem to be much more convinced than most people that this:

Plus (a future Sony version of):

Plus vampires = an open fire hydrant of profit. A killer app for Playstation 4. So I think Sony would be interested.

This is all just rumor and speculation though. And in the meantime, EVE is exactly the kind of thorny project that ends up getting crushed by an acquisition.

Today's Headlines from Central Falls

Pregnant woman raped in Central Falls home invasion

Central Falls receiver closes public library, community center

Monday, June 27, 2011

EVE Weather Report: Stormy

The Mittani:

June has been a cruel month to CCP (the creators of EVE Online). In the sprint to push out Incarna - the controversial ‘Walking In Stations’ expansion - on June 21st, no less than four significant scandals have taken place over the course of a week and a half, sending the playerbase into a fever pitch of indignation. That’s a shame, because in May everything seemed so peachy. The CSM (the Council of Stellar Management, the CCP-sanctioned elected player representative body, of which The Mittani is chair) Summit in Reykjavik was a great success; CCP lifted up their skirts, and, for the most part, the CSM liked what they saw.

The disconnect between the ‘Happy May CSM’ and the ‘Enraged June Playerbase’ can be traced to a single cause: CCP’s terrible record with player communication. Perhaps it’s the Icelandic sensibilities; Icelanders are famously blunt, which is endearing when you’re on a drinking binge with them, but this translates poorly over the internet. Would you include the word “Monetization” in the title of a dev blog addressed to a famously anti-Microtransactions playerbase? Would you label a company newsletter “Greed Is Good” and plaster Gordon Gekko on the cover? How about describing a $99 licensing fee as a ‘token payment’? In each of these scandals, minimally competent messaging could have defused or prevented the controversies entirely. Let’s dive into the muck and find out what went wrong.

Also, Massively: The Day EVE Online Died.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On Being Incarnated

I've not been playing EVE actively for the past, oh, four months or so. There are certain tiers of grown-up stress that go well with playing technically and politically complicated massively multiplayer role-playing wargames, and I've been in the wrong space this spring.

But summer is here, a number of issues have been resolved or at least deferred, and with great emorage, the first phase of the new Incarna expansion has come out.

So now the new look Tuttle SVC (pictured above) can, when docked in a space station, walk around his own little hotel room (aka captain's quarters). Previously, of course, in EVE your avatar was only represented by a static portrait, so this is a big change, if only a precursor to actually walking around the station proper, running into other player avatars.

Mostly, however, the big DRAMA this week has been on the role of microtransactions in EVE. So as I ease back into actually playing, expect a few posts on the wacky world of EVE economics.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why is nobody talking about Canada?

The Ed Skeptic:

The purpose of today's post is instead to point out the lack of dialogue in the United States surrounding the high achievement of Canadian high schoolers. Newsweek, Time, and/or U.S. News & World Report runs a feature article every five minutes about cultural differences between the U.S. and [insert Asian country X with high international test scores here], and how this translates into the achievement of X's students, leaving many open questions about the social health of individuals living in X, and also, whether the U.S. would want to sacrifice its ability to foster creative, business-minded individuals who can Work in Teams and Network Like Nobody's Business for higher test scores. It seems, moreover, that a bazillion American researchers go to Finland each year on Fulbrights to find out exactly what Finnish public schools are doing. (And we know the answer: high levels of resources poured into the education system, teaching is considered a prestigious occupation and pays accordingly, but Finland is a small socialist democracy with overall low levels of poverty and a highly homogeneous sociopolitical culture, and can't really be compared to the United States in the first place. Etc.)


Well, my wife was "matched" to the job she's been holding this year as a long term sub in the PPSD, so we won't be scrambling for health insurance, not to mention mortgage payments.

No Snoopy dance though, a lot of good teachers are losing their jobs today.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cradle to Grave KIPP

I'm a little baffled by the KIPP Foundation CEO and President Richard Barth's explanation to Rick Hess of what KIPP intends to do to increase college completion among KIPP alumni:

RB: The number one thing is academic rigor. We've committed to going kindergarten through twelfth grade in KIPP schools across the country. The original cohorts that we just [reported upon] only got fifth through eighth grade. So [we're going to] start with our kids earlier and stay with them longer. The second thing is we've got to do a much better job of finding the right match when it comes to college. We are sending too many of our kids off to campuses that have low graduation rates. We know that even at each level of selectivity, there are schools that have a much higher graduation rate than others. So we're convinced that one of the simplest and clearest things we can do is to form partnerships with colleges that are doing a better job of not just taking kids, but seeing that they finish. We also think we can do a better job of making sure our KIPPsters are better aware of the financial costs of college and are preparing for that. It is pretty clear that as the original KIPPsters went off to high school, they weren't sure what it was going to take from a financial standpoint to get to college. We're piloting a match savings program, so for every dollar a family commits, they can get a match dollar.

This certainly suggests that KIPP's experience is that the capacity of a middle or high school academic program to increase college completion is constrained by many external factors. That "schools alone" can only solve the problem by dramatically expanding the scope of what "schools" do. And, in turn, that focusing policy solutions on charter school networks is an incomplete strategy, and at best horribly inefficient compared to, well, what every other advanced country does.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Mayoral Academies' Fatal Flaw

Maria Armental for the ProJo:

“Parents need choice and opportunities,” said Chace Baptista, co-founder of Young Voices, a Providence public policy advocacy group. “Show me the schools in this state where black and brown students are learning … where they are reading at grade level, where they are outperforming their white” peers.

“Gladstone Elementary School. That’s where they are successful,” Kristin Hlady, principal of the Cranston elementary school, said.

Baptista is lucky I couldn't make that meeting and wasn't following his comment, since I'd have pointed out Young Voice's refusal last year (later -- actually it is good I wasn't there because I was thinking of another youth group in particular -- although Young Voices didn't speak up then either) to speak out about the closure of Feinstein High School last year, one of the few schools in Providence that did close achievement gaps and give scores of kids a direct pipeline from south Providence to college.

But anyway, the larger point here is that indeed Cranston also has lots of schools where there is little to no achievement gap.

Bringing an Acheivement First charter to Providence would be controversial, but there would be few grounds to stop it. In any other state, AF wouldn't dream of a plan that would pull half their school out of an average suburban district. It is a waste of AF's time. It does not fit their mission. It is only because of the self-indulgent statutory requirements of the mayoral academies law that they're doing it.

I hope that behind the scenes the AF administration is furious that they let themselves get dragged into this mess.

Also, it would be nice if the ProJo would categorize this as a statewide "education" story in addition to a "Cranston" one.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Grays v. Blues in the ProJo

You can briefly see me flying out and grounding out. Not shown is my home run.

There's also an article in today's Boston Globe.

The Question is How Fast

In the interest of full disclosure, some video from this morning's session in Groton:

Two comments: 1) everything is way bigger in real life than it looks on video; 2) as slow as it looks like I'm going, it feels like I'm screaming through those first two turns, which, I suppose, is what really matters.

Also, I'm playing the drums in the soundtrack.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father's Day: You're Fuckin' Going Down

My lovely wife suggested that for Father's Day we could take a trip down to the Groton Skatepark. Exciting, yet intimidating, as park creator Jeff Paprocki says in the excerpt from the Sea Level video below:

If you don't know the park, you're fuckin' going down.

The goal will be to get know the park. I will be attempting none of the maneuvers Jay Burton does in the video.

And yes Dad, I will be wearing my helmet for this one.

I Don't Think Carleton Jones Knows the Technical Definition of "Broken" or "Screwed Up"

Carleton Jones, Chief Operating Officer of Providence Public Schools:

Dear Teachers Participating in Match:

First, please accept my sincere apologies for not communicating to all of you sooner. I understand this has been a stressful period of time with high-stakes outcomes. While I’m sure you’ve heard many stories about what is and is not happening, please allow me to fill you in with the current situation and next steps.

Current Status

First, the Match system is not “broken” and the data are not “screwed up.” However, it is true that many of you experienced not finding all of your rankings on the lists of Match positions. Principals experienced the same phenomena – rankings they expected to see did not appear. The reason: several hundreds of the rankings submitted did not pass the Employee Id and Last Four SSN validation step. Due to this discrepancy in Employee ID and Last Four SSN, they did not pass this security step and therefore these ranks were not included. Because we are committed to making the best matches possible, we took the time to closely inspect all of the ranks that were initially thrown out. In doing this we found that most of the failed validations appear to have been the result of simple human error on the part of the person submitting the rankings.

Fortunately, in order to ensure as many submitted teacher rankings as possible are considered for Match, we were able to resolve the errors rather than penalize teachers by not counting those rankings. As you can imagine, the task to correct the mis-matched IDs was a tedious and time consuming task. However, we feel this was time well-spent as the result is that more teachers will receive a job through the Match than would have if we hadn’t restored the rankings that were originally deemed invalid. That task is complete and we do not need to ask most of you for additional rankings or any of you to re-validate any of your rankings. Unfortunately, due to the time-intensive nature of carefully validating the previously invalid data, that process required us to extend the notification date from yesterday, June 15th until Monday or Tuesday of next week. (emphasis in original)

I've written mission-critical web applications used by teachers at the school level in Providence, and managed the development of data systems used in schools around the world, including in the developing world, where only the most minimal level of technical experience can be assumed.

If you've deployed an application where "several hundred" out of about 400 teachers cannot validly complete a seemingly straightforward task, you've got a problem with your application, not with your users. By definition, if your users cannot use your application, the problem is you, not them.

The specific problem with the MATCH application seems to stem from not being connected to the rest of the PPSD's data systems, at all. So teachers could not log into the MATCH system. To authenticate themselves the had to select, from drop downs, their employee ID and the last four digits of their social security number. It doesn't appear that the MATCH system confirmed that the person was authenticated at the time they entered this data. If the system couldn't do it, that's bad, but if could have cross-checked the ID and SSN at the time of entry, it is even worse, since then a simple confirmation step (like every web app you've ever logged into) prior to entering one's MATCH choices could have prevented the entire problem.

It is Carleton Jones, and more directly PPSD Broad Resident Spencer Dickinson's, job to recognize that this system was inadequate, and worse than simply using paper. At this point, teachers have no way to confirm that their selections were entered at all, or correctly. They received no confirmation by email or hardcopy. The only thing we know about the system at this point is that its public facing features were incompetently coded and negligently deployed, so there is no reason to trust the rest of the process or the holy algorithm.

Basically, what needs to happen at this point is that the mostly elementary school teachers affected by this process have to lose it. A sit-in in human resources on Monday; picketing; at least badgering the school board and Mayor over this circus. Everyone (and/or the union) should at least get hardcopy confirmation of their choices -- and there are anecdotal reports of mis-ranked schools -- prior to the final selection process.

And Mr. Jones and Mr. Dickinson need to stop acting like such condescending pricks when they're clearly the ones incapable of doing their jobs.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Always Nice to See Deb Gist Knocked Down a Peg

Jennifer Jordan for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE –– Against the recommendation of Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, the state’s education policy board Thursday approved a modest increase in the number of students at a nine-year-old charter school that has struggled with low math scores.

The Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6 to 1 in favor of the expansion of Blackstone Academy, a public charter high school serving at-risk youth from Central Falls and Pawtucket. Two regents were absent; only Chairman George D. Caruolo voted against the 11-student expansion, from 154 students to 165.

It’s the first time in Gist’s two-year tenure that the board has publicly voted against one of her recommendations on a policy-related issue.

I don't really have a problem with moderate expansions of community-based charters. I'm a little worried that bumping up enrollment will become like hitting the ATM, but that should be manageable.

The fact of the matter is that Gist has been remarkably hostile to most of the charter sector in RI, except the ones she considers her friends.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We Might Luck Out

John G. McDaid:

I will miss the tremendous intelligence and energy (incoming Providence interim superintendent Susan) Lusi brought to the job (of Superintendent of Portsmouth School District) for these past few years. She stepped into a district in a fiscal quagmire, endured a Tent Meeting and Caruolo action, and managed the district into fiscal health. She made key hires that stabilized finances and facilities, among others. And she thought big: she created a local Basic Education Program when the state's was still incomplete, and on her own initiative, convened 100 members of the community to map out a strategic plan for the district. She fought -- and many of the budget sessions over the past years can only be characterized in such antagonistic terms -- for the students and the teachers, for the quality of Portsmouth's schools.

And she did it with a calm presence and grace under pressure that never cracked. If I had a staff of interns logging tape like the Daily Show, I would put together a montage of her saying, "With all due respect, Mr. Fitzmorris..."

Of course, I can't be objective. I began covering Portsmouth in September of 2006, and spent countless hours after meetings asking questions of Dr. Lusi. She was unfailingly helpful, patient, and candid. I worked with her on the Facilities Committee and the Future Search workshop. Throughout, I have found her to be a truly dedicated public servant and a fearless advocate for our kids.

Portsmouth is a better place because of her work, and we will miss her.

Whether or Not You Want Achievement First in the State is Irrelevant

Elizabeth Harrison:

Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is speaking out in support of Achievement First, the charter management organization whose application to enter Rhode Island has been the subject of controversy.

Gist says her staff recruited the company for the Ocean State.

“We wanted them to apply,” Gist said, pointing to a record of stellar test scores at the group’s Connecticut schools. “We sought them out, and they are a school that we would be very fortunate to have in our state.”

That's an interesting point of view, but it should be irrelevant, because the real question is whether or not the school is a good fit for Cranston and Providence. A serious case hasn't been made for AF's benefit to Cranston, and a potentially unstable partner in Cranston is a bad deal for Providence.

Today's PPSD News

Perhaps this teacher quoted at Rhode Island Red Teacher knew what he or she was talking about:

I just heard the other day that the computer program they’re supposedly going to use to match us was set up for 55 teachers, and they’re going to be using it for 370—they don’t even know if it’s going to work. They never even tried it on the 55—they set it up for the 55 R’s in Pool. They never used it on the 55 R’s in pool, and now they’re going to use it on 370 teachers, but they don’t even know if the program works. So we’ll go to this match event, and the principals will do their thing, and we’ll do our thing and whatever, and then maybe a week later, they’ll have figured out who’s going where. But maybe not, because if this program doesn’t work, then where do we go from there?

Because they missed the deadline today to announce who was "matched" to which jobs.

Also, this is when I remind you that the PPSD isn't run by hippie or mafia holdovers from the 70's, but Broadies, New Teacher Project types, etc.

Elisabeth Harrison:

Susan Lusi will take over the Providence Schools when Superintendent Tom Brady steps down next month. Lusi is currently the superintendent of the Portsmouth School Department but announced her intention to retire earlier this year. Providence officials say she is familiar with their school district, having served as chief of staff from 2001-2003.

I can't remember anything about Susan Lusi, which is, well, better than associating her name with fear and loathing. To be honest, I'd rather they'd just hired her permanently, because there are really only two kinds of people who I can imagine taking this job. A) People with a long-term connection to Providence, Rhode Island or the Mayor. B) Someone who wants to establish his or her reputation by euthanizing a small urban district, something easier to take down quickly than New Orleans, Detroit or Chicago.

I'd prefer type A.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Common Core Literacy, I Mean ELA

I'm feeling a little left out, because there is a lot being said in conference rooms all over the country about the Common Core ELA standards, but as far as I can find, very little of any substance being published on the web. So I broke down and watched this talk:

Keynote Speech from David Coleman, Contributing Author of the Common Core Standards from NYC Public Schools on Vimeo.

The most striking moment is when Coleman shifts away from talking about math and switches to talking about "literacy" standards. Literacy? They never really sorted out what the subject of these standards is. It's rather remarkable.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This is Just Not True

RIDE's ACHIEVEMENT FIRST MAYORAL ACADEMIES – Project Profile for Thursday's Regents meeting:

Student Need in Cranston. Cranston is the third-largest city in Rhode Island, with a population of nearly 80,000 people. Eleven thousand students attend Cranston public schools. 33% are low income, and 24% are a racial minority. Cranston graduation rates, according to the applicants, are perennially above the state average; however, achievement gaps between white and minority as well as poor and non-poor students are 20 percentage points at all grade levels.

Well, no. There is not a 20 point achievement gap at all levels, and in particular, the middle school gaps become pretty low. And frankly, if a district shows it closes the gaps as students progress, isn't that the point?

Now the high school gaps go back up, so there is probably an argument to be made for a hypothetical Cranston/Providence Fung/Taveras Classical High School Mayoral Academy (since they both love Classical), but I don't expect them to figure out something so obvious and potentially useful.

NPR Gives Up On CFHS

Claudio Sanchez for All Things Considered:

For the last year, Central Falls High School in Rhode Island has been under a microscope. Long considered one of the poorest-performing high schools in the state, administrators abandoned a proposal to fire all the teachers as long as they agreed to a so-called "transformation" plan.

Now, as the school year winds down, that plan is in shambles. ...

Gist says the school could eventually be shut down or turned into a charter school.

Also, Jennifer Jordan for the ProJo:

This year, about 750 Central Falls students attended alternative public schools.

And when the students leave the traditional district schools, so does a chunk of state financing for the district. Central Falls, a $41-million-a-year district paid for entirely by state and federal funds, is facing at least a $3-million cut for the 2011-2012 school year, according to preliminary budget estimates.

The problem is that there are a lot fewer good charter high school operators than elementary and middle, so even if they could come up with a plan to shrink down and split up the district's K-8 components over the next five years or so, the high school situation will continue to be much tougher. Which is why out of all the schools in the state, CFHS's turnaround should have been approached with care and caution, not haste. But that's what happens when you've got an out of state commissioner trying to establish her national rep.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Old Man Mission Statement

Meanwhile, my skating comeback has been progressing. If you're wondering what the heck I'm hoping to accomplish, it is pretty much this:

Bob Lake At Pacifica: April 13, 2010 from solitary arts on Vimeo.

Not that I'll ever be that smooth, but it gives you an idea what a 42-year old can hope to accomplish in a modern flow park.

AFMA Vote Delayed

Elisabeth Harrison:

The Board of Regents appears to have rescheduled a vote on a controversial new charter school proposal. ...

The regents were expected to vote on the proposal at their meeting this week, but a recently released agenda has the proposal as a discussion item, not an approval item.

Can't be a bad sign.

Also, I couldn't make the meeting anyway without skipping Vivian's last day of pre-school (for the year).

Science as a Means of Improving Reading Comprehension

Robert Pondiscio:

Again, did they “read easily?” Or did they decode easily? And I’m not as confident as Merrow that they “drew inferences correctly.” Here’s what viewers saw Monday night on the Newshour:

JOHN MERROW: I wondered how the fourth-grade class might perform on the state test this year, and asked Ms. Cartagena to send me two of her students who were reading below great level.

Jeannette, who is 9, came first.

STUDENT: So far, I have hoped to find many new species.

JOHN MERROW: I asked her to read a passage about dragonflies from last year’s state test.

STUDENT: About 5,500 dragonfly species buzz around the world. Who doesn’t like — like looking at these amazing insects?

JOHN MERROW: What are species?


JOHN MERROW: Kinds. It’s kinds of species. Right. Exactly. Yes.

Exactly right? It is impossible to know, based on this exchange, if the child understands “species” as well as Merrow assumes or if she has a sufficient grasp of what a dragonfly is to apply the concept. As a teacher, I’d want to probe more for understanding, “if you’re looking at two dragonflies, how can you tell if they are different species?” you might ask. If she said they might be different colors or have different shaped wings, I’d feel reasonably confident that she understands the basic idea. If she says “one’s male and one’s female” or can’t explain the difference at all, then the concept is still shaky, or she might not know enough about dragonflies to apply it. Either way it would impact her ability to draw inferences and make meaning from the passage.

I'm no expert on dragonfly taxonomy, but this: "If she said they might be different colors or have different shaped wings, I’d feel reasonably confident that she understands the basic idea," didn't seem right to me. A little quick Googling confirms that the difference between wing shapes within the order Odonata is fairly subtle -- there is more variation in venation. Color can vary within a species by sex within a species, by stage in life cycle, temperature or death.

More pointedly, wing shape would be a better way to tell dragonflies from other orders of insects, more than distinguishing among them.

Of course I'm being pedantic, but so was Robert. But he was being pedantic with no real interest in the facts he was being pedantic about. How do you tell dragonfly species apart? It is a hard question. As is "What is a species?" There's a big gap between "kinds" of dragonflies and understanding speciation, and I'm quite sure a fourth grader doesn't have to bridge that gap to understand whatever passage she was reading.

Anyhow, I just thought that was a damned peculiar and unpersuasive example.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What I Didn't Have the Time to Write on "Bourgeois Norms"

"Matt" commenting at Rachel Levy's:

The problem is, (Matt Yglesias) never really defines what he means by "bourgeois norms" and that strikes me as an intentionally evasive thing to do. Are sitting up straight, listening, respecting authority figures, and minimizing conflict with your peers "bourgeois habits"?

If so, then Matt needs to spend more time in an actual urban public school because he'll find that many of those habits are present at levels greater than you find in middle class settings. I'm the product of an upper middle class white family. I also went to urban public schools my whole life and found that many of my non-white peers had far stricter parents than I did and were allowed to get away with far less than me, particularly when it came to classroom behavior and respecting the teacher. At the risk of generalizing about cultures, I find this to be true especially of kids who come from the West Indies. For the past few years I've been volunteering as a tutor at a middle school West Indian population and the idea that middle class white kids are better behaved than these kids is laughable. I would've been kicked out of the house by age 12 in many of those households (did I mention I went on to an elite university and graduate program?) It kinda reminds me of this Eddie Murphy stand up bit:


The best example I have (or corporal punishment in a KIPP school) was visiting a KIPP school a few years ago in Chicago and watching them force a kid to stand in the corner and face the wall for an entire class because he had spoken out of turn. Now, I know that we traditionally think of corporal punishment as hitting a kid, but I have a hard time imagining many people observing this and seeing it very differently than I did. The kid was clearly physically uncomfortable standing for so long and when he tried to say something about it, his teacher immediately silenced him and warned that one more word would result in being sent to the principal's office where surely "the punishment would be a whole lot worse" (those were the actual words of the teacher.) When you combine that with the obvious psychological effects of such clear public shaming, I think its pretty obviously abuse.

To think about it another way: imagine the outrage and horror by parents if a suburban school did that to a middle class white kid.

The Inside Game

Last night's only Providence meeting on the Acheivement First Mayoral Academies was, unfortunately, still dominated by people not from Providence. This is not surprising since Providence, including its mayor, are still almost completely in the dark about this proposal and its long term implications. Achievement First did haul some parents up from Brooklyn, which might have been at least useful inside the room if it wasn't full of middle class white people from Cranston, for whom the New Yorkers' presence mostly just emphasized how alien AF is to a suburban community.

I am, more broadly, surprised that AF & RIMA seem to have made no attempt whatsoever to simply round up a half-dozen regular low-income Providence residents who would be happy to send their kids to an AF charter. It might be tricky in Cranston, but here? Send a couple people door to door or get in touch with a few community groups. Apparently they didn't think it would be worth the bother -- or the risk of alerting more people here to the plan.

My other comment is, boy that guy from DfER is a real standout jackass. I felt like it was 2006, and he was pushing an option ARM on us.

Nobody Could Have Predicted

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook:

Only slightly more than half of students in the School District’s six current Promise Academies participate in one of the schools’ most significant – and expensive – interventions.

According to month-by-month reports released by the District this week, the median student attendance figure for the six schools’ Saturday school programming was 54 percent. The schools are open for two four-hour Saturday sessions a month, which are used for both academics and enrichment activities.

In year-to-date figures provided by the District for each school, student attendance in the Saturday programming ranged from a high of 64 percent (at Dunbar Elementary, which is the smallest of the Promise Academies, with 170 students) to a low of 48 percent (at University City High, the second largest of the Promise Academies, with 638 students.)

For several of the schools, the District data show tremendous variation from month to month. At Clemente Middle School, for example, 71 percent of students attended the first Saturday session, last October. By May, however, that figure had dropped to 41 percent.

“The kids who have been coming are the ones who are your better students, but it’s the kids who aren’t there who need the extra help,” said a Clemente teacher, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

In particular, it should have been clear all along that trying to force low-performing high school students to go to school on Saturday would be especially difficult.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Nobody Gives a Crap About Turkey

Someone via Whitney Tilson via Russo:

I was surprised in some way to find this in the NY Times: a very long article with only a brief mention of academic achievement and no mention of their long waiting lists. Substitute "Canadian" for "Turkish" and "Christian" for "Islam" and if you read it again no one would care. This is another article more focused on jobs for adults and not outcomes for kids with a little xenophobia thrown in. These schools don't cost the taxpayer any more money than another charter school (and less than a public school) and 16 of 19 carry the state's highest rating with above average SAT scores.

Really? Nobody would care if a Canadian Christian sect had quietly established the largest charter school network in the country and was importing teachers on dubious work visas, funneling money to Canadian contractors and requiring kids to lipsync Cowboy Junkies and New Pornographers songs? I bet that would have made the news a lot more quickly, because then Americans would find the story at least slightly comprehensible.

To the extent that Americans know anything at all about Turkey, we have a positive opinion:

An April 2009 CNN poll2 found that, despite past tensions between Turkey and the George W. Bush administration over the Iraq war, a solid majority of Americans have a positive view of Turkey. 61 percent of Americans “looked favourably upon Turkey,” while 34 percent had an unfavourable opinion.

But if a group of people from one country quietly start a bunch of schools in another country -- that's news, period.

More importantly, however, is the fact that the Gulen group may just have been the first to exploit the political economy of charter schools, and there may be many more to come. This is and will continue to be a serious issue for charter advocates. Are they really ok with any kind of school that raises test scores at a low price?

This story has been under-reported because it doesn't fit anyone's preconceived storyline, but as it comes out, it isn't going to go away.

Newsflash: This is a Giant Waste of Time and Money

Uncle Jay (via a particularly rich Five Best Blogs):

School districts, particularly in the Washington area, are now spending much time and money building complicated systems to identify the worst and best teachers, and some gradations in between. They are finding this hard to do. I am beginning to wonder if it’s worth so much effort.

Likewise, the problem with all these pie charts with different percentages of this or that in some formula to calculate teacher quality is that that kind of overly complex technocratic bullshit never works, not the particulars of whats in the chart.

Green Lantern Theory of Education Reform

Freddie deBoer (via Russo):

One of the things that interests me about Matt Yglesias's writing on education is that he is the man who coined the term "Green Lantern Theory"of geopolitics, where pundits and politicians insist that our foreign policy problems are the result of a lack of will, that if only we cared enough, were committed enough, etc., our problems will be solved. It's a classic post, and you should read it if you haven't. What is so interesting to me is that Yglesias's attitude towards education perfectly represents Green Lantern thinking: educational problems are bad, and we need to fix them, therefore solutions must exist. (And, as corollary, people who oppose whatever educational reform scheme that is currently en vogue are likely shills for unions or mere obstructionists.) We can because we ought to.

I read Matt daily from when he was still in college until about three months ago, when his ill-informed edu-bs became intolerable.


As someone who spends a lot of time talking shit on the Internet, let me say with minimal malice and genuine respect (really) that talking shit on the Internet is easy. Educating is hard. Doing responsible social science is hard. This debate is desperately in need of modesty. Adjusting your expectations downward is not nihilism, and it's not despair. It is reacting to decade upon decade of discouraging data.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tom Sgouros on AFMA


The way charter schools are funded under Rhode Island law is that the funding follows the student. A Providence student in a Cranston charter school will result in the City of Providence paying the school the average cost of educating a child in Providence, or around $14,000.

Sounds fair, doesn't it?

It does sound fair, but it's not fair at all, because the loss of a student won't save that district the average cost of an education, but only the marginal cost of a student, which is much less. If I drive three passengers on a trip from Hopkinton to Providence, we will spend an average of a quart of gas per person. However, if one of us decides not to go, and takes his quart of gas with him, the rest of us aren't going to get there on only three quarts. We don't save a quart of gas by not taking one passenger. We save the marginal cost, maybe an ounce or two of gas, if that.

An average is an interesting number, and good way to make a comparisons to other cars or between cars and buses, but it's not always useful for predicting how much gas we'll need. In exactly the same way, it may cost an average of $14,000 per year to educate a child in Providence, but that doesn't mean the system will be $14,000 cheaper with one fewer student. More likely it will be about ten cents cheaper -- and $14,000 poorer. This is a pretty basic point of business economics so I find it surprising that so many people who claim vast business acumen fail to see it.

Discovered: Geek Attack Sticker Cache

You might not be surprised to learn that one of my favorite things in high school was the GEEK ATTACK skate 'zine, since the geek and skate culture Venn diagrams don't have a very big overlap. So I was giddy last night after accidentally discovering a folder full of silk screened GA stickers and even a spray paint stencil. Based on the enclosed note that was my award for successfully answering all the questions on the previous issue's "geek quiz."

This Point Cannot Be Made Enough

Diane Ravitch:

None of these schools made adequate yearly progress, and under our punitive federal No Child Left Behind system might have been slated for closure, not for celebration. This system, I think we can agree, makes no sense.

This has happened over and over again in Rhode Island in recent years. It is the kind of thing you'd just assume wasn't possible as a distant observer, but from close up you see it all the time.

And the implication in the long run is that no urban school is or will ever be safe from shame, censure and closure based on the quality of their results. It is all power politics. Only power politics. And money.

The Libertarian View of Philanthropy

I don't really understand why Cato did this study of whether or not philanthropists are giving money to charter schools the government rates highly according to the government's tests. Shouldn't Cato's position be that people can and should give their money to whomever they please for whatever reason they want regardless of the state's opinions, tests, etc.?

Monday, June 06, 2011

Email from the Mayor's Office

Angela Romans, Senior Advisor on Education:

Mayor Taveras has not been directly briefed on the Achievement First Mayoral Academy proposal by Mayor Fung or RIMA. As the Mayor’s Education Advisor, I have met with Mayor Fung and RIMA recently to ask some general questions about the proposal.

The administration has not yet had an opportunity to do an analysis of the costs of the proposal and possible resultant effects on Providence, positive or otherwise. As such, Mayor Taveras does not have an official position on this application. If the application moves forward in the approval process by the Regents, all of the above will need to happen and then Mayor Taveras can take a position.

I'm unclear at this point on what a favored CMO would have to do to not have their charter proposal approved.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Providence Meeting Time and Date


A third public hearing on the (Achievement First Mayoral Academy) application has been scheduled for June 9 at 6 p.m. in the Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, located on 375 Adelaide Ave. in Providence.

OK, Providence, time to step it up and be heard, or we'll be arguing about school closures for the next decade. Mayor Taveras?

Turning Your Learning Device Into a Secure Testing Environment


Cupp Computing is now launching as a product their module to replace the hard drive in any Laptop, add an SSD, up to 2 MicroSD cards (one for the ARM Powered OS of your choice), and with a keyboard shortcut you instantly go from the ARM Powered OS to the x86 OS, and back while the x86 goes to sleep.

I was just thinking that devices like that would help us survive the coming collision between the technical and security requirements of year-round online high-stakes testing and, well, all other use of technology in schools. Basically, you'd have your device, pc, whatever that you use normally, install software on, completely screw up, whatever, but when you take a test, you'd be given an inexpensive hardware module that would hijack the screen, keyboard, etc. and turn it into a secure testing environment.

Of course this is the kind of thing that takes long-term planning and a more assertive relationship to industry, so there is little chance it could happen here.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

10 Reasons the Board of Regents Should Not Approve the Achievement First Mayoral Academies' Application

OK, here's the pdf: 10 Reasons the Board of Regents Should Not Approve the Achievement First Mayoral Academies' Application:

1) The application is incomplete according to RI law and regulation.

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

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

Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) have not provided a copy of the proposed bylaws of the mayoral academy. They have, instead, provided the bylaws of another charter school which has substantially different governance requirements than a Rhode Island mayoral academy.

This application is incomplete according to Rhode Island law and regulation. It should never have been moved to public comment. If Commissioner Gist recommends the approval of a preliminary charter based on this incomplete application she will be contradicting her role as the chief law enforcement officer for public education in Rhode Island.

There are nine more. I read #1 to Deb Gist and the Board of Regents at their meeting this afternoon in East Greenwich. I also went to the second meeting in Cranston on Tuesday and spent three minutes pretty much mocking Mayors Fung and Taveras.

The main takeaway from Tuesday is that 90% of Cranston will probably hate their mayoral academy forever until they kill it. The main takeaway from today it that the Board of Regents isn't used to that many public comments. I think they'd better get used to it.

Actually, the thing that sticks with me today is the comment by the guy from DfER, who used the occasion to point out the threat of loss of RttT money if they don't expand charters immediately. More comically, he talked about how they'd worked hard to pass a more charter-friendly law. I truly don't understand why they think this mayoral academy law is charter-friendly. Virtually every problem they're having with this application is directly attributable to the mayoral academy law. It has to be driving Achievement First up the wall.

Oh, and consider the pdf licensed CC BY 2.0, so feel free to reuse and remix with attribution.

Variflex Vectra!

I was stoked to see my first deck, a Variflex Vectra, as the first selection in SFGate's photo essay on 40 years of skateboarding.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Hostility is an End in Itself

Rhode Island Red Teacher:

Secondly, I think we need to be quite careful about how we frame the issue between communities, who we exclude and what it means for the justification of our opponents. It sounded like a certain Cranston city councilman (I don’t remember who and I’m not super-familiar with Cranston politics) talked at the last forum about how hard Cranston had tried to keep Providence kids out of their system. This is a narrow-minded approach that unfairly labels the Providence kids as “a problem” and sets up a barrier between two communities that have a lot more in common than they have in differences. And it provides grounds for charter school supporters to accuse our side of wanting to condemn a certain section of the student population to a sub-standard education. It makes the problem one of “I want this for my community, everyone else be damned” instead of attacking the charter movement for what it is: a movement to siphon public money into the private sector while parents become “consumers” and lose any control whatsoever over their children’s schools, and teachers are stripped of their union rights. It’s the same sort of pedantic local opportunism that I heard from Bristol folks when Gist came to our district to defend the funding formula, and it’s a losing strategy. It makes their side look reasonable and justified, when they are not.

Actually, it is not necessary that Cranston collectively and uniformly takes the high road in this debate. Cranston's general hostility to the Achievement First Mayoral Academies is an issue regardless of the specific merits of each reason.

Let's be clear here: basing a charter school for low-income black and latino students in a predominantly white, middle-class suburb that does not want them there is a terrible idea. It is such a bad idea that I've never even heard it suggested anywhere in the country before, and certainly nobody knows if it will work.

For that matter, basing a charter school in the city that will aim to pull 20% of the low-income students from of a white, middle-class suburb, along with 8-10% of the suburban district's budget, is a terrible idea too, since the rest of the suburb will only ever see their money pouring out to educate those kids. They'll fight that school until they cripple or kill it, and the mayoral academy law gives them unique tools to do so.

These are reasons I'm so opposed to this proposal. The mayoral academy law forces Achievement First into a whole set of decisions that they would never entertain for a second otherwise. If Rhode Island had managed to write a straightforward anti-union charter school revision, Cranston would be, at most, a minor afterthought in their plans.

Regardless, there is no reason to think mayoral academies advocates are justified in taking the moral high ground here. The Civil Rights Movement fought for integration. I am in favor of giving Providence students the right to attend the excellent schools already in Cranston. Martin Luther King did not fight for "separate but equal," or even "separate but better," which is what Achievement First Mayoral Academy is shooting for. If you want to wear the mantle of the Civil Rights Movement, you must fight for integration.