Friday, September 30, 2011

Tip-Off's Someone's Making a Half-Assed "Disruptive Technology" Argument

Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire Is a Disruptive Innovation (via Stephen) as an example:

  • Red flag #1: The product is the most expensive and full featured product in its own line.
  • Red flag #2: Most potential customers of the product already own several products which can do everything the fire can (e.g., their phone, their tv, their x-box), just slightly more poorly or less flexibly.
  • Red Flag #3: There is already a slowly growing segment of their exact market which is already significantly cheaper and crappier (i.e., digital picture frames mutating into Android ebook readers available at home retailers).
  • Red Flag #4: The author can't resist throwing in praise for the quality of the product, e.g., "There is scalable technology at its core that the present-generation iPad lacks — the extensive use of the Cloud."
  • Red Flag #5: The product is being sold at cost or less.

OTOH, the Amazon Fire is cheaper and crappier than the iPad, but if that's all it takes to be a "disruptive innovation," you don't need Clayton Christensen or the Harvard Business Review to explain it to you.

I don't know if the Kindle Fire will be successful, if you think "disruptiveness" is the key here, it has to maintain a very careful balance between the slightly higher priced, higher quality iPad and its own lower end competitors.

This Should be a No Brainer

Robert Reich:

Another way to raise money would be through a tiny tax (one-half of one percent) tax on financial transactions. This would generate $200 billion a year, and hardly disturb Wall Street's casino at all. (The European Commission is about to unveil such a tax there.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Poking around the NYC 2011 Progress Reports: It's All About the Math

I thought I'd reprise a quick review I did last year of the progress report grades of a few prominent and/or relevant NYC charters (2010 > 2011):
  • Democracy Prep: A > A
  • Harlem Children's Zone/Promise Academy Charter School: B > C
  • Harlem Children's Zone/Promise Academy II: C > B
  • Harlem Success Academy 1 Charter School: A > A
  • KIPP AMP: C > B
  • KIPP Infinity: A > A
  • KIPP S.T.A.R.: B > B
  • KIPP Academy: A > A
  • Achievement First Crown Heights: C > A
  • Achievement First East NY: C > A
  • Achievement First Endeavor: C > A
  • Achievement First Bushwick: B > A
After leafing through these, the most striking thing is how unexceptional the schools' English scores are.  I'd argue that the single most important score in these reports, if you had to pick, would be growth in English, since reading is fundamental to other learning.  Only the schools in bold above exceeded the average test score growth in English among their group of 40 demographically similar charter and district schools.  That is, the non-bolded majority above in that list of high-profile charters had below average growth in English.  Pretty remarkable, really.

A particular stat that jumped out was the pass rate for specific classes at Democracy Prep (the original).  This is a new experimental stat not included in the school grade.  DP's pass rate in English was 63% and in science just 60%.  This is about 20% under their peer average.  Fortunately we don't have them to kick around anymore in RI.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Apparently Being Poor and Black Matters Less in Middle School

Following up yesterday's post on NYC's formula for elementary schools' "peer index," here's how it works for middle schools:

(Average 4th grade English and Math proficiency) -
(2 X % students with disabilities) = Peer Index

In contrast to the elementary formula, race, poverty and ELL status aren't considered. I guess the theory is race and class heavily affect your starting point in kindergarten and then have no ongoing effects? If you've caught up by 4th grade it's all good?


Neutaconkanut Skatepark, Providence, RI: an Appreciation

Me at Gone Skating:

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. This park is way too small to be the only park in a city the size of Providence. It is a neighborhood park trying to do the job of a regional one, plopped in an area where more kids have bikes than skateboards. I skate it regularly, but don’t even think of going there in the afternoon, even when school is in session.

Also, there is no tranny over 4′, and Sam Batterson put the whole thing together at under $18 a square foot. Cheap!

Having said that, I love skating this place in the morning, the earlier the better.


Amusingly, the Salon piece on clinical trials of theraputic uses of LSD specifically refers benefits to patients on 6 of the new KIPP character strengths: zest, love, hope, wisdom, appreciation of beauty, and spirituality. And you could make a good argument for several more.

On the other hand KIPP's definitions of these things are pretty lame; e.g., "Spirituality: having beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe," so maybe it is not a good fit.

If the Aging Baby Boomers Could Leave Generation X Just One Legacy...

Alexander Zaitchik:

For now, Ross is fully focused on treating existential anxiety in people like Kossut, who lies on the couch, ready for his initiation into the psychedelic mysteries. In the research jargon, Kossut is "psychedelic naive." After swallowing the pill Ross presents -- in the cap of a ceremonial ceramic mushroom -- all he can do is close his eyes, lose himself in the preselected tabla drum and sitar music, and try to remember the advice to not fight it, to move ever deeper into the light, to let go ...

"It was absolutely incredible," remembers Kossut. "The first rush was a little scary as I realized it wasn't the placebo. That passed and next I was crossing boundaries of time and space and reality. I felt this weightlessness, this sense of being close to an unspeakable beauty that was unlike anything in my experience. For the first time since my diagnosis, I was not afraid of anything. The wall of depression that was building up day by day, the fear that I was going to die soon, that my daughter is only 8 -- all those things disappeared. I wanted to stay there. I wanted it to last longer."

It did. More than one year after his psilocybin session, Kossut reports greatly improved states of emotional and psychological well-being. "I walked out of the session happy, unafraid of death," he says. "I don't know why, but a transformation took place after being in that peaceful place. I relaxed. I started enjoying food again and was able to gain weight. The session taught me to be fully in the present. I'm optimistic. Mentally and physically, just better."

This glowing report -- based on a single dose of a naturally occurring, non-addictive, low-toxicity substance -- sounds impossible. Surely one pill can't succeed where months of traditional psychotherapy and antidepressants usually fail. According to science, that's not how drugs work. It's foreign to the model. But high success rates in ongoing concurrent studies at NYU and Johns Hopkins strongly suggest that Kossut's psilocybin-assisted psychological rebound is no fluke. So do the findings of a pilot project conducted by Dr. Charles Grob at UCLA. Between 2004 and 2008, Grob administered psilocybin to 12 cancer patients suffering fear, anxiety and depression. His data, published last year in the Archives of General Psychiatry, showed long-term diminished anxiety and improved mood in every subject. The NYU and Johns Hopkins studies build on Grob's pilot program with more subjects and higher doses. Midway through the research, their results are just as strong, signaling larger, multi-site trials to come.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"choice for some and top down coercion for most"

John Thompson:

When "reformers" are wearing their choice hat, they can adopt any imaginative form of instruction they want in order to provide holistic learning opportunities to their students. When wearing their accountability hat, they can impose a counter-productive policy of narrowed curriculum and nonstop test prep on regular schools.

This is perhaps the most important point to understand about the realities of contemporary urban school reform.

Calculating a School's Peer Group in NYC

Here's the formula that NYC uses to define similar elementary schools demographically in their progress reports:

( % eligible for free lunch x 30 ) + ( % students with disabilities x 30 ) +
( % Black/Hispanic x 30 ) + ( % English language learners x 10 ) = PEER INDEX

So, for example, a school with 65% poverty and 95% black/hispanic is considered to have equivalently "high needs" as a school with 95% poverty and 65% black/hispanic. I know which one I think would be easier to get high test scores out of. To take a less realistic example (the first is based on Harlem Success Academy 1 and its closest peer) I'd take 100% black/hispanic with 0% poverty over the inverse any day of the week.

Or what about 60% black/hispanic and 0% ELL vs 40% black/hispanic and 60% ELL? Equivalent?

Of course there is no right answer and the main point that all these scientific numbers involve quite a bit of guesswork. Embedded in here, however, is a strong statement about the extent of the presumed disadvantage of race. It is, the NYC school district is telling us, as powerful a force as poverty, a diagnosed learning disability, and much worse than not speaking the language well.

Later... it would be interesting to see how the ratings would change if you multiplied these instead of adding.

It is About Knowing the World We Live In

Mark Guzdial:

Another powerful reason for universal computing literacy is that it’s about knowing the world we live in. Why do we teach students the periodic table and the difference between meiosis and mitosis? It’s mostly not because of job skills. It’s because people live in a world where chemistry and biology matter. Today, we all live in a world where computing matters. Knowing about the inherent limitations of digital representations is more important to most people’s daily lives than knowing about meiosis and mitosis.

Setting aside the Javascript vs. DNA aspect of this, it is always worth noting that our discourse about education tends to dance around this basic goal of students becoming able to know and understand the world they live in. It is a better frame than most.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What if a Lack of Grit is Really a Lack of a Stable Identity?

Madeline Levine:

The popular press has devoted rivers of ink to chronicling the "epidemic" of narcissistic, overinvolved parents producing spoiled, entitled children with poor values. But my experience leads me to a very different conclusion. Most of my patients are deeply troubled, not spoiled; most of their parents are not narcissistic but are struggling, often quite alone, with their own problems. The suffering felt by parents and children alike is genuine, and not trivial. The kids I see have been given all kinds of material advantages, yet feel that they have nothing genuine to anchor their lives. They lack spontaneity, creativity, enthusiasm and, most disturbingly, the capacity for pleasure. As their problems become more evident, their parents become confused and worried sick. As they either withdraw or ratchet up their involvement, their children seem less and less able to accomplish the tasks of childhood and adolescence -- developing friendships, interests, self-control and independence.

The traditional trajectory of adolescence -- withdrawal, irritability, defiance, rejection of parental values, the trying on and discarding of different identities, and, finally, the development of a stable identity -- seems to have given way to a far less successful trajectory. Fewer and fewer affluent teens are able to resist the constant pressure to excel. Between accelerated academic courses, multiple extracurricular activities, premature preparation for high school or college, special coaches and tutors engaged to wring the last bit of performance out of them, many kids find themselves scheduled to within an inch of their lives. Criticism and even rejection become commonplace as competitive parents continue to push their children toward higher levels of accomplishment. As a result, kids can't find the time, both literal and psychological, to linger in internal exploration; a necessary precursor to a well developed sense of self. Fantasies, daydreaming, thinking about oneself and one's future, even just "chilling" are critical processes in self-development and cannot be hurried. Every child has a different timetable, and most are ahead of the pack in some areas and behind in others. We would do well to remember "late bloomers" like Albert Einstein, John Steinbeck, Benjamin Franklin and J.R.R. Tolkein. Sometimes a nudge is helpful, but a shove rarely is.

What looks like healthy assimilation into the family and community -- getting high grades, conforming to parents' and community standards, and being receptive to the interests and activities valued by others -- can be deceptive. Kids can present as models of competence and still lack a fundamental sense of who they are. Psychologists call this the "false self," and it is highly correlated with a number of emotional problems, most notably depression.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Grit and Middle-Class Messaging

One of the main points of Rick Hess's Achievement Gap Mania is that the recent school reform rhetoric focusing simply does not appeal to the middle class -- insofar as they would want to be impacted by reform themselves. It might be ok for poor kids. Also, a lot of people have never liked teachers' unions.

This, I think, helps explain the other major piece of the week, Paul Tough's What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? The harder you look at Tough's article, the less is actually there. The whole thing is held together with duct tape and hand-waving. Here's one of the key concluding paragraphs:

When I asked Randolph to explain just what he thought Riverdale students were missing out on, he told me the story of his own scholastic career. He did well in boarding school and was admitted to Harvard, but when he got to college, he felt lost, out of step with the power-tie careerism of the Reagan ’80s. After two years at Harvard, Randolph left for a year to work in a low-paying manual job, as a carpenter’s helper, trying to find himself. After college, he moved for a couple of years to Italy, where he worked odd jobs and studied opera. It was an uncertain and unsettled time in his life, filled with plenty of failed experiments and setbacks and struggles. Looking back on his life, though, Randolph says that the character strengths that enabled him to achieve the success that he has were not built in his years at Harvard or at the boarding schools he attended; they came out of those years of trial and error, of taking chances and living without a safety net. And it is precisely those kinds of experiences that he worries that his students aren’t having.

Look... that's not grit. It is the opposite. People who do well on the grit scale are the ones who stay in college. That's the point. They are focused, don't go mooning around looking for themselves. That's what the questionnaire is supposed to predict. People who don't wander off to Italy to study opera for a while.

Anyhow... so, what is going on here? I think Hess's essay points to the answer -- working on middle class messaging for "no excuses" schools. It isn't about the achievement gap, it is about character, just like a private school!

So... expect more along these lines. If you ask me it is still a tough sell to suburban America.

Maybe the Pawtucket Schools Will Fall Apart

City Councilman Bryan Principe, whose neighborhood lost three schools this summer, asked what Lusi was doing to keep more schools from being labeled as low-performing, which triggers intervention and possible closure.
Lusi said she shared his outrage over the city’s historic neglect of the public schools, and said it is “horrendous” that students are leaving the system unprepared for college or careers.
The actual answer to this question is "hoping Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Newport get worse," because how much Providence schools improve in absolute terms does nothing to get off the "persistently low achieving" list. What matters is improvement relative to the rest of the state, most of which is much wealthier than Providence's public school population. Here's the list of RI districts with over 50% students receiving free or reduced lunches:

District # of Schools % FRL
Providence 53* 83
Central Falls 8 81
Pawtucket 18 75
Woonsocket 11 63
Newport 6 59

Put another way, only six of 41 PPSD schools last year had a poverty rate lower than the overall FRL rate for Pawtucket, the third school on the list above.

So the question is, how are all our schools going to pass all their schools despite our more difficult population. Even if we do pass some of the other district's schools, there just aren't that many of them. One of the few things we could definitely do is get rid of Classical High School, which depresses the ratings of the rest of the district high schools. It is a disadvantage our competitors don't have. Of course that's the last thing that's going to happen.

Anyhow, any NCLB waiver for RI that retains draconian punishment for the "lowest 5%" doesn't help Providence.

* these overall counts from InfoWorks include charters, a few already closed schools, etc.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Some Numbers on Providence's "Persistently Low Achieving" Schools

As the city council hears debate over the ratification of the new proposed contract for the PTU (and I suppose this is one way in which "mayoral control" is incomplete in PVD), controversy is focusing on the no-layoff clause and the looming number of mandated interventions in "persistently low achieving" (PLA) schools. Basically, if there isn't a no-layoff (or firing) clause, there's an axe hanging over half the district, and which half is hardly random. I took a look at the numbers for PPSD schools at PLA tier 1, 2, or 3 or active intervention, using last year's info (in last year's schools):

  • Of the 41 schools in the district, 26 are PLA.
  • No school with under 70% poverty is characterized as PLA.
  • Schools with 0 ESL students (RIDE lists 11!) are half as likely to be PLA as those with any ESL students.
  • Just looking at the basic demographic data (FRL/SPED/ESL) in simple combinations, the strongest eyeball correlation seems to be with free/reduced lunch plus ESL. Rank the schools that way and of the schools in the "top" fifth, 88% are PLA; of the middle 60%, 66% are PLA, and the fifth with the lowest combined rate have 37% PLA.

Lumping the numbers for elementary, middle and high schools is really noisy though, since, for example, there are so many more ESL students in elementary. You can split it apart more finely, but it is hardly worth the bother since the results are pretty obvious.

So anyway, nothing profound (and there are some overachieving schools in the PPSD!), but there's no reason to think firing the teachers in Providence's PLA schools would be doing anything other than punishing the people working with the most challenging population. Unless you believe that the differences are explained by variation in teacher quality, in which case you have to explain how the current distribution complies with the requirements in RI's BEP to place teachers according to student need.

Is This Grit?

USA Today:

BENNINGTON, Vt.— For much of high school, Jaelyn Marshall, a 17-year-old from Harlem, was an indifferent student. She worked hard in her senior year, but it wasn't enough to make up for three years of bad grades.

"Every college I applied to said, 'Sorry, we don't want you,'" Marshall said. She's going to college this September after all, thanks to a partnership between KIPP charter schools and Southern Vermont College, a small four-year school here.

Under the program, called Pipelines Into Partnerships, the college's admissions office outsourced much of the responsibility for choosing 17 members of its incoming freshman class to KIPP, the largest charter chain in the country, as well as to a high school in Brooklyn and the Boys and Girls Club of Schenectady, N.Y.

It's a rare setup. Although colleges often have close relationships with high schools, very few cede control over admissions decisions. The partners believe their model — which focuses on unconventional measures of success, such as grit and academic improvement instead of just overall grades and scores — will give a chance at college to minority students who might otherwise be overlooked. ...

"We spend a lot of time and resources making sure our kids are supported in college," said Jane Martínez Dowling, executive director of KIPP Through College, a program that tracks KIPP students from eighth grade to their college graduation. "But to actually have an institution make the commitment to say, 'We are going to track your kids on campus,' provide advisories for them and academic supports, and almost customize their experience, was a win-win."

So... is being an indifferent student until your senior year is an example of grit? Or the opposite? Improvement, sure.

Also, aren't the grittier students the ones who do better in college? Shouldn't the less gritty be getting the extra support in school and the more gritty will do fine if you get them in the door?

I'm not saying helping these kids is a bad idea. I'm just saying the pop-theorizing around it is pretty much just handwaving and, frankly, marketing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Can Relate

An excellent series from the Philadelphia Public School Notebook:

It was 2006.

Neil Geyette was a 23-year-old, first-year teacher standing outside a bathroom filled with smoke at West Philadelphia High School. He had just extinguished yet another of the 31 small fires blamed on students at the school that year.

An administrator, he says, walked up, took in the scene, and then walked away, all without saying a word.

“There’s nothing worth saving here,” Geyette recalls thinking at the time.

But the earnest, easygoing social studies teacher hung tough through West’s darkest days. Painstakingly, he helped bring one of the city’s most historic high schools back from the brink.

“I wanted [West] to succeed. There was nothing that would make me stop,” Geyette says now of the long hours he poured into the school.

By 2009, West had enjoyed two consecutive years of relative calm. Geyette was part of a stable, dedicated staff led by popular principal Saliyah Cruz. He was also the head of the school’s Urban Leadership Academy, where he was intent on implementing his vision of a social justice-oriented curriculum built around hands-on community improvement projects.

“Nobody could deny that the school felt different,” he says.

The change, however, did not extend to improved state standardized test scores. In 2009, only 9 percent of students scored proficient in math and 12 percent in reading.

The School District of Philadelphia decided West needed something dramatically different.

Two year later, Geyette – and any traces of his work – are gone.


Earlier this month, amid the excitement of a ceremony inaugurating West’s new $66 million facility, that period of the school’s history was barely acknowledged.

As politicians and District officials cut the ribbon on the gleaming new building, they celebrated the school’s rebirth as a Promise Academy – a District-run turnaround school in which just about everything, from principal to teachers to academic program, is new.

Dramatic turnaround of persistently low-performing schools is now the law of the land. The U.S. Department of Education is requiring districts across the country to systematically overhaul their toughest schools, often by wiping the slate clean and starting over.

Former superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools initiative is one of the most aggressive district-led turnaround efforts in the country. Over the past two years, the District has converted 13 struggling public schools into charters. Nine other schools, including West, have been transformed into Promise Academies.

In almost every instance, the formula has been the same: the principal is replaced, the teaching staff is reconstituted, and the school receives a highly structured academic program focusing tightly on the basics.

It’s an educational theory of change predicated on replacing, rather than building upon, what is already happening in schools. It allows for no distinctions between dysfunctional schools and those, like West, where there may be something worth saving.

During the initial Renaissance process at West, a team of educators, including Geyette, developed a proposal to turn around the school, based on the work they had already been doing. District officials rejected it out of hand.

Then, when the volunteer body of parents and community members charged with recommending a new manager for the school selected a group already working in West, the District shut down its own process.

Despite the controversy that has sometimes accompanied the District’s hard-line approach, the early returns at Philadelphia’s first cohort of 13 Renaissance Schools – the group West was supposed to be a part of – are encouraging. They have received much-needed new resources, test scores are up, and climates are generally better. Parents, by and large, seem satisfied.

But perhaps more than at any other school, the saga of West offers a cautionary tale for the turnaround movement.

For two years, the school got caught in the middle of a philosophical, cultural, and political clash over the best type of education for poor, inner-city students of color.

As a result, the school’s 700 students ended up collateral damage, losing the better part of last year to chaos and disruption.

And for better or worse, “starting over” at West has also meant a complete repudiation of the former reform vision guiding the school – one that many still hold on to as the best hope for lasting and meaningful change.

This is the real story of the last decade of "reform" in our urban high schools.

Nominative Use of a Trademark

Apache Software Foundation:

What is nominative use?

Anyone can use ASF trademarks if that use of the trademark is nominative. The "nominative use" (or "nominative fair use") defense to trademark infringement is a legal doctrine that authorizes everyone (even commercial companies) to use another person's trademark as long as three requirements are met:

  1. The product or service in question must be one not readily identifiable without use of the trademark; (for example, it is not easy to identify Apache Hadoop software without using the trademark "Hadoop")

  2. Only so much of the mark or marks may be used as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service; and

  3. The organization using the mark must do nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder.

The trademark nominative fair use defense is intended to encourage people to refer to trademarked goods and services by using the trademark itself. This trademark defense has nothing to do with copyright fair use and should not be confused with those rules.

I'm just noting this because it is a principle I've never been able to pin down, and it has come up in conversations about a certain prominent open source LMS.

Monday, September 19, 2011

This will be a Useless Exercise

Karina Wood:

It is super-important that lots of parents from all across Providence come to the following Council hearings and meetings this week at City Hall and speak out on the teachers contract.

Issues to raise could include:

  • teacher hiring policy: is the Criterion-Based Hiring (interview) agreement in this contract null and void because all vacancies will be filled internally with the teachers who currently have no positions?
  • no recess time allocated in school day
  • abolition of site-based management
  • no parent-teacher meetings required in school year
  • school day lengthened by just 5 minutes this year and to just 15 mins in 3 years' time
  • no improvement in restoring art and music to our schools

Having just skimmed over the copy of the contract Ms. Wood's organization has helpfully posted, it seems crystal clear that the answer to the first and most important question is "no." That is, the new hiring process is explicitly slated to begin after ratification of the contract, which the city council hasn't done yet (that's what these meetings are about). And it is also made perfectly clear in an appendix that the district was going to make assignments this year.

Of course, one might ask the broader "Are teacher contracts actually binding in RI?" question, to which the answer appears to be "No," but if that's true then this whole conversation is pointless.

Site-based management was already dead, art and recess aren't really part of the contract at all. I don't think the parent-teacher meeting language has changed. Is this an actual or hypothetical problem?

Then we get to extending the school day more than 15 minutes -- without giving teachers raises. How far do you want to go with this now? We already had the mayor fire all the teachers and usurp the School Board's role in contract negotiations. Is the city council going to cut him off at the knees next? Is this worth putting a bunch of lawsuits back on the table, possibly extended labor strife (work to rule, etc), lending strength to arguments for binding arbitration, etc, etc. Shouldn't we just put this behind us and get to work?

True Grit

My comment over at Max Bean's:

I think you're giving "grit" too much credit. It isn't clear that it is recognized by more than one psychologist, singular. Nor is it actually one of Seligman’s traditional character strengths. Nor is there any evidence that KIPP is really measuring it in any meaningful way other than simply sticking a number on kids. Nor, for that matter, is the basic finding very surprising -- people that self-report to be focused, ambitious, and persistent are apparently better at sticking with tasks requiring focus, ambition and persistence.

We're on Track to Start the Debate when the Four Billionth Dollar has been Spent on Implementation

Emily Richmond:

As we move toward a debate on common core standards, I hope we remember to ask not just what our society believes should be taught, but what we want students to actually know.

I'm Afraid the Answer to that Question is "Courses Taught by Economists"

Sherman Dorn:

The common irony in attacks on history of education or philosophy of education classes is that such criticism often comes from those who also attack teacher education for its lack of rigor. So where might one find more rigor in colleges of education… except in courses taught by those with liberal-arts perspectives?

Economists have numbers and impressive formulae!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Longer, Lower Kickoffs?

According to the printed Sports Illustrated I was reading on the crapper (so no link), the average NFL kickoff last year went to the five, so in theory this year -- with the kickoff point moved forward five yards -- the average should be right at the goal line. Anecdotally, most of the ones I saw last week were going five or more yards deep. It seems to me that the kickers are kicking lower to drive the ball to the back of the end zone, which also means that if the returner does run it back, he's likely to have more space -- thus more long runbacks than usual.

I haven't read anyone else offering that explanation though.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Screw It. I Don't Regret a Thing.

Jon Fine:

Here is where I’m supposed to say I’m sorry. Here is where I say we must respect the delicate membranes within our ears. Here is where I beg, in cloying tones, that we teach the children to learn from these mistakes.

Screw it. I don’t regret a thing. Sound transported us to places most people never get to see. When my old band got asked to reunite this year at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the U.K., our concerns centered on practice logistics and plane schedules, not on our battered eardrums. The old basketball star walks gingerly on aching knees. Me? My ears ring. I can’t hear a thing you’re saying in this noisy bar. And it turns out that my left ear’s hearing is noticeably weaker in certain frequencies—it has what ear docs call the “noise notch” that afflicts those exposed to serious sound. But I’m okay enough. If not, well, I accept the physical penalty without complaint. For now, at least.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Fundamentally Devoid of Value Judgement?"

Paul Tough:

What appealed to Levin about the list of character strengths that Seligman and Peterson compiled was that it was presented not as a finger-wagging guilt trip about good values and appropriate behavior but as a recipe for a successful and happy life. He was wary of the idea that KIPP’s aim was to instill in its students “middle-class values,” as though well-off kids had some depth of character that low-income students lacked. “The thing that I think is great about the character-strength approach,” he told me, “is it is fundamentally devoid of value judgment.”

"Fundamentally devoid of value judgement?" Is he twelve? Is this how David Levin actually thinks?


Duckworth’s research convinced Levin and Randolph that they should try to foster self-control and grit in their students. Yet those didn’t seem like the only character strengths that mattered. The full list of 24, on the other hand, felt too unwieldy. So they asked Peterson if he could narrow the list down to a more manageable handful, and he identified a set of strengths that were, according to his research, especially likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement. After a few small adjustments (Levin and Randolph opted to drop love in favor of curiosity), they settled on a final list: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.

Let's look at the whole list, with the ones they chose in bold:

  • Wisdom and Knowledge
    • creativity
    • curiosity
    • open-mindedness
    • love of learning
    • perspective and wisdom
  • Courage
    • bravery
    • persistence (grit?)
    • integrity
    • vitality (zest?)
  • Humanity
    • love
    • kindness
    • social intelligence
  • Justice
    • active citizenship / social responsibility / loyalty / teamwork
    • fairness
    • leadership
  • Temperance
    • forgiveness and mercy
    • humility and modesty
    • prudence
    • self-regulation and self-control
  • Transcendence
    • appreciation of beauty and appreciation of excellence
    • gratitude
    • hope (optimism?)
    • humor and playfulness
    • spirituality

Of course, choosing to value "life satisfaction and high achievement" is a value judgement. And as you can see above, the strengths and virtues chosen certainly reflect value judgements. It is a cliche for American school districts to put fostering "love of learning" right in their mission statement, and they typically and uncontroversially emphasize several from this list. Your list would almost certainly look different than KIPP's.

I guess mine -- for a school -- would be roughly:

  • creativity
  • curiosity
  • open-mindedness
  • love of learning
  • perspective and wisdom
  • love
  • active citizenship
  • appreciation of beauty

But those are just my middle-class values showing. Poor kids apparently need something different.

Student Engagement


I am haunted by the nagging fear that I have mailboxes, tucked into a dark corner of an office somewhere, and perhaps even full of checks and important documents, that I don't know exist.

I didn't know that I had a mailbox in the English department (my undergrad major) at CMU until after I'd dropped out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Too Bad They're Appealing to a Tiny Bankrupt City

Central Falls High School Transformation:

The Expanded Learning Opportunities Initiative at Central Falls High School is seeking local businesses and organizations willing to serve as community mentors for students undertaking specially designed projects to earn graduation credits.

I'm of course in favor of this kind of thing, but it is yet another good reminder of why an impoverished, one-square mile, school district with a highly transient population is a bad idea.

Getting Ahead of the Next Mayoral Academy Proposal

I need to write this down before I move these mayoral academy (MA) issues out of active memory for the next six months or so. Basically these are the points which need to be made to RIDE, the Regents, the Governor and relevant mayors prior to the next round of proposals:

  • RIDE has to follow the law and their own regulations and require complete, valid bylaws be included in any proposal.
  • The proposal should clearly be in the voice and from the point of view of the proposed charter holder, not the management agency, since the management agency may leave shortly after the charter is granted (as happened at Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP)).
  • The proposal should adhere to whatever the best practices are for government contracting and oversight, which I'm pretty sure doesn't include things like letting the contractor recommend the members of the board of directors.
  • Any mayoral academy should include more than two municipalities (as is the case currently at BVP). As the Governor noted, a two-district MA puts extra financial burden on the sending towns. Also, as I've noted, it is simply unstable, since there are only two people who can chair the board, and if they both decline (and they may have clear incentives to do so), the school closes.
  • The proposal should include statements of support from the mayor and/or municipal governments of each sending municipality.
  • The board of directors should be made up of equal numbers of representatives from each participating municipality, through a selection process that includes the mayor, municipal government and/or other elected officials in some clearly specified way (as is the case currently at BVP).
  • The targeted poverty rate for the MA should be equal to the combined poverty rate of all sending districts (like BVP). The purpose of urban/suburban collaboration is not to give poor suburban youth the opportunity to experience the isolation of urban poverty.

These points are completely in line with the design and apparent intent of the original law.

Friday, September 09, 2011

One Thing You Won't See in the Next Mayoral Academy Proposal

One major unforced error by Achievement First and RIMA in the AFMA proposal was laying out the whole 13 year, five school plan in a proposal for a five year, two school charter. The potential advantage of this would have been to give momentum to future expansions and generally make RIMA look awesome and powerful. The downside was to lay out the full cost of the full five school plan which, to be honest, is what freaked me out.

Side note: the new funding formula is to be phased in over seven years (if you're getting more money). Presumably we're already one year in, so basically the first five years of charter school expansion would be offset by increased overall state funding, but the cost of a full K-12 charter district would continue to grow for eight more years.

Next time around, everyone in the room will know they're talking about a five school K-12 plan, but we'll be forced to pretend otherwise.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Dana Goldstein Takes You to My Wife's Classroom

Dana Goldstein:

When I was researching for my book this past spring in various Rhode Island public schools, I sat in on Jennifer Geller's 10th grade Contemporary World History class at the Providence Career and Technical Academy. That day's state-mandated lesson objective was to "trace patterns chronologically for events leading to World War II in Europe." But Geller, a 12-year veteran in the district, used technology to layer a more ambitious and contemporary media literacy skills-building session on top of the dry history.

Its a pretty routine lesson, well executed.

Oh, also, if this is the kind of teacher you'd like to have in your school, we're looking and willing to relocate for the right school...

Hope Those Families are Yankee Fans

Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy Principal Jeremy Chiappetta tweeting Sept 1 following the Regents' rejection of the AFMA application (in chronological order):

@lorib518 really sad. What I don't know is what it means for @bvprep and our work. We have to be ready to mobilize hundreds of families...

Long weekend to mull over #edreformri

That weekend starts now: with ride on @mbta to #fenway to cheer on #yanks with my man Tim Brown...will drink away big loss today

My view from #fenway - 1-0 #yanks! Thanks @browndotnet !!

Fans at #fenway cheering Carleton Fisk - but I ask, how many rings does he have? #gotrings?

Now we're talking! Finally some good stuff tonight! 4-2 #yanks - #gotrings?

Moved from back of the plate to luxury box. View worse, but someone else now paying for the beer.

Can You Cite Strong and Thorough Textual Evidence to Support Analysis of What the Common Core Standards Say Explictly?

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

The biggest problem with the SBAC content specifications is the consortium’s plan for assessing Claim 1 (close reading). In short, the specifications put the focus on student mastery of particular reading skills, rather than on comprehension of carefully selected texts. For instance, the 14 “summative assessment targets” that will be used to determine whether students “can read closely and critically comprehend a range of increasingly complex literary and informational texts” are all narrowly-defined skills, including: using explicit details to support ideas, identifying or summarizing central ideas and key events, determining word meanings (including shades of meaning), and using supporting evidence to justify/explain inferences.

The challenge is that one of the things the Common Core standards are focused very specifically on using skills as a means to an end—on ensuring that students understand and can critically analyze appropriately complex texts. By focusing on skills as the “assessment targets,” the consortium will inevitably perpetuate the myth that mastery of skills absent mastery of rich content or comprehension of complex texts can help improve students’ reading comprehension writ large. That you can somehow assess students’ ability to summarize or use details to support inferences and use it as a proxy for deeper comprehension of carefully selected texts.

It is simply not true that "the Common Core standards are focused very specifically on using skills as a means to an end—on ensuring that students understand and can critically analyze appropriately complex texts." They may say that they are, but the standards themselves are not. The word "critical" or "critically" does not appear in the body of any of the Common Core ELA standards. There is no ELA standard for 6-12 that requires the student explicitly to "understand" a complex text. Now, maybe you can argue that it is implicit, but the standards very clearly avoid that exact point, for example:

RH.11-12.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

That standard is very carefully crafted to not focus on "ensuring that students understand," but simply require the citation of evidence supporting an understanding, which may or may not be the student's own.

Also True About Schools

Scott Rosenberg:

“I know best” is a lousy way to run a business (or a family, or a government). It broadcasts arrogance and courts disaster. It plugs into the same cult-of-the-lone-hero-artist mindset that Apple’s ad campaigns have celebrated. It reeks of Randian ressentiment and adolescent contempt for the little people.

Jobs’ approach, in Jobs’ hands, overcame this creepiness by sheer dint of taste and smarts. There isn’t anyone else in Apple’s industry or any other who is remotely likely to be able to pull it off. If what Jobs’ successors and competitors take away from all this is that “we know best” can be an acceptable business strategy, they will be in big trouble.

I think you see this in the "no excuses" CMO's too. I can believe (but don't really know) that the best KIPP schools, Amistad Academy, etc. can overcome "this creepiness by sheer dint of taste and smarts." Its the belief in replication that frightens me, because you can't scale taste and smarts.

School Reform in the Apple Store

While I was annoyed at the TFA display in the front of the Apple Store in the Providence Place Mall, I eventually noticed some karmic justice in the display running behind the Genius Bar (they were running pretty far behind on my appointment...).  The screenshot of the NY Times app on the iPad features a story about how Cathie Black's appointment to NY schools Chancellor will be saved by Bloomberg appointing an education expert to work under her.

Good times.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Depends on What You Mean by "Analyze"

So here's an example of the kind of instruction one of the authors of the ELA Common Core standards, David Coleman, would like to see:

Close Reading of Text: Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. from EngageNY on Vimeo.

It is a teacher-led close reading, focusing on the question "What kind of argument is this?" Peculiar. Knowing the "kinds of argument" is not part of the standards. There is this:

RI.9-10.6. 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.

Although the History/Social Studies version of that is:

RH.9-10.6. Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

So I suppose you need to know this is an informational text, not a primary historical source.

But anyhow, here's where we are. We are supposed to infer from these standards that students must know rhetoric. Something about it. But look, they just wrote these standards, from scratch. Why wouldn't you lay it out? Especially when all other references to assessing arguments look like this:

RH.9-10.8. Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.

That is, the standards only care about one type of argument -- one based on reasoning and evidence -- which, as Coleman points out, King's does not depend on.

There are plenty of good examples of how to write these kind of standards, for example:

4. Texts and influence

Students will learn to examine texts and their language from the perspective of exercising influence in particular. They will familiarise themselves with argumentation and will consolidate their knowledge relating to this. They will learn to analyse and produce argumentative texts.


The objectives of this course are for students to

  • consolidate their media literacy, which will enable them to analyse and interpret various media texts, their backgrounds and functions and to critically assess information communicated by the media and its effects on individuals and society;
  • be able to justify their views diversely both as writers and as speakers and to assess aspirations to influence and the reliability of text;
  • be able to examine the effects of literature on society;
  • learn to examine and assess texts and the values that these convey even from ethical viewpoints.


  • direct and indirect influence, such as persuasion, steering, manipulation; advertising, propaganda; irony, satire, parody;
  • genres of texts aiming to influence, graphic and electronic texts: opinions, columns, humorous columns, reviews, editorials, commentaries, advertisements;
  • argumentation methods and rhetorical devices;
  • taking a stance in conversations, debates and oral contributions;
  • literature consciously aiming to influence and other contentious texts;
  • ideology in texts, source criticism and media criticism;
  • responsibility of a communicator; media choices and netiquette.

That's why you'll never see international benchmarks for Common Core ELA, they are completely different from the standards of high performing countries, by design, but who knows why?

Brave New World

I just had someone try to send a text message to my land line, and Verizon's computer called me and read it to me.  Crazy!

What We Did This Summer

SchoolTool 2.0 drops October 13.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Almost Like Real Reporting

Incidentally, I did get confirmation from the US Dept. of Education that, as I thought, RI now has until the 2013-14 school year to open a "high-performing" charter in compliance with our RttT obligations -- there is no cost to not opening AFMA this year.

Falling In with the Wrong Crowd

As I get to know these people through their writing and actions, I'm starting to flesh out a rough taxonomy of contemporary school reformers. Some are basically sociopaths, others are potentially and often actually excellent educators who fell in with the wrong crowd (e.g., see the former category). I fit Michael Goldstein into the latter category and a post of his from last week fits my model perfectly:

(It’s not about the coaches, it’s about the players) is the title of a recent blog by Philip Waring. He, through the Amelia Peabody Foundation where he’s a trustee, is a funder of charter schools. Including ours. He then cheerfully challenges much of the thinking of charter school advocates. He and I sometimes email back and forth about this stuff.

That particular post by Waring seemed pretty innocuous, so I scrolled down to the previous one which included this gem:

More and more people, at least those who think about these things, are asking themselves where might new jobs come from? Real jobs, that is, not government jobs which, while they may make work, make nothing that can be sold and turned for a profit leading to new growth and new job creation.

Real jobs come from industries that are growing and thereby creating new wealth. Government jobs may be growing but no new wealth is being created thereby.

You either see what's crazy about that or not. He then goes on to apparently not realize that the deregulation and innovation he's suggesting in education would, if it worked (which it wouldn't and hasn't), would end up reducing employment in the sector anyhow.

Skateboarding is a Lifetime Sport

Due to last week's family schedule, I didn't get to skate during the week, so I went to Skaters' Edge Friday night to ride the "snowman" bowl. During the course of the session I rode with a four year old (well, and 11 months) and a 48 year old. They were both pretty good. The four year old dropped into the 8' deep end, no problem.

Below, not me, but it should give you the idea:

It isn't apparent when you're watching what a tiring workout it is.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Another Modest Proposal

Just have Acheivement First work with a Providence based non-profit to create a "regular" charter school here. It is 100% certain to pass with no problems.

They'd just have to pay teachers the prevailing wage, put them in the state retirement system, and otherwise treat them as "public school employees, having the same rights under Rhode Island and federal law as employees and prospective employees at a non-chartered public school."

If they'd been willing to do that, AF would be looking at carpet samples and measuring for drapes by now, but apparently having no school is better for kids than paying teachers.

A Modest Proposal

Rhode Island mayoral academies are regional, integrated urban/non-urban educational collaborations. The kind of thing I like. Except for reasons known only to them, the original promoters and implementers of these schools conceived this as an opportunity to bring urban charter models to the suburbs. This was always a very silly idea, and its shortcomings are obvious now.

If anyone is going to create a new, successful mayoral academy after the AFMA debacle, it will have to be based on a genuine needs analysis of the participating communities, and a school model that first and foremost appeals to suburban parents.

To cut to the chase, to me the best fit would be a "high tech" high school, like, say High Tech High or Science Leadership Academy. Those are the ones I know personally; they wouldn't do replication in Rhode Island, but there are CMO's with similar models. A proposal along those lines would serve a genuine need, not cause significant fiscal problems to the sending districts due to its moderate scale, and breeze to approval.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

One Small Step Against Corporate School Reform; One Giant Leap Against Small State Stupidity

Since the spring I hope you've come to see Rhode Island's Own Mayoral Academy Concept as about three layers of stupidity, provincialism, and small-time politicking on top of everything you hate about contemporary school reform. It was the stupid that made me fight, and that made it clear that we could win this round, and today we did.

If AFMA itself had gone through, it would have been bad in itself, but the worst part would have been establishing a precedent for how mayoral academies would be established in the future, and it would have emboldened RIMA and RIDE to charge forward as fast as possible, building a baroquely unstable network of overlapping fiefdoms.

So while the war is not over, the blitzkrieg has been halted, and we've dug into some good defensive terrain.

It is a win. A clean one, and it changes the terms of the fight going forward, so be happy.

Having said that, now let's look ahead to the next step...

Chafee's letter (which appears to be an image pdf here, so I can't copy/paste) calls for exploring a different Providence-based multi-district mayoral academy with Achievement First. A few things to remember: a mayoral academy must be made up of students from more than one district, including urban and non-urban districts, with the student body made up of equal numbers from each district. This isn't an easy coalition to put together, particularly around a school model exclusively aimed at urban schools, based in a city. Particularly now that people in the suburbs are on alert to the sheer implausibility of it all.

There is a reason they tried to sneak AFMA through. The RI reform community have saddled themselves with the most unfriendly "charter friendly" law in the country. Pass the popcorn.

Enjoy This One Folks


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The nine-member Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education has rejected the application of charter management operator Achievement First, which wanted to open a network of public charter schools serving students in Cranston and Providence.

The vote Thursday afternoon was 7-1, with Regent Betsy Shimberg casting the dissenting vote. The ninth regent, Mat Santos, was absent on National Guard Duty.

The Exodus from Teaching Has Not Yet Begun

John Merrow:

Premise No. 1: The world of teaching has to change — and is slowly changing. Despite the harsh attacks on the profession by too many shrill voices, others are working to improve pay and working conditions. When these changes take effect, the exodus from the profession will slow down.

Who is working to improve pay and working conditions? Unions? Somebody else?

If the economy doesn't improve, there will be no improvement in pay and working conditions. However, if the economy ever really improves and people currently teaching suddenly have options, then we may find out what an exodus from teaching really looks like.

Take the More Straightforward Metaphor

Patrick Mattimore:

Claiming testing measures are the problem is a little like suggesting the scale is broken because we got too fat.

Actually it is like suggesting that weight alone is of limited value in assessing a person's health and an over-emphasis on weight loss is often misguided.

Also, Michael Goldstein on a study of teacher coaching:

If this were cancer research, you’d see a bunch of studies use this one as a jumping off point for more experiments. If we change dosage, can we move the 0.22 SD gain to 0.32? What happens if we combine this intervention with, say, some sort of merit pay incentive? What if teachers get this coaching as part of grade-level teams, not as individuals?

But the more direct analogy is not:

teacher coaching : education :: drug trials : health care

It is:

teacher coaching : education :: doctor coaching : health care

And I doubt there is much more complex research of the type Goldstein is referring to (e.g., does merit pay for doctors increase the effectiveness of coaching) in health care than in education.

Mayoral Academy Quasi Game Theory Analysis

You've got three actors who can exert control over the school board of a two-district mayoral academy. The RIMA board and two mayors. Here's how it plays out:

  • As long as both mayors cooperate in the process, RIMA has all the power, they pick the school board. Both mayors have to cooperate to make sure their interests are represented, and they get their share of the credit.
  • If one mayor "defects," and refuses to actively support or participate in the school board, all the power shifts from RIMA to the cooperating mayor.
  • The cooperating mayor may choose to continue to grant his power to RIMA, or he may impose his or her own terms as a condition of continuing to cooperate (e.g., a friendly board majority, new CMO, etc.).
  • If RIMA does not meet the cooperating mayor's demands, he or she can defect and cause the school to be closed.