Monday, October 31, 2011

There Will Be Blood

Hanushek/Ravitch showdown this week at Eduwonk. Hanushek's opener seems particularly weak.

The idea that the lowest performing five or ten percent of teachers need to be fired on an ongoing basis strikes me as wrongheaded but at least has enough ruthless ambition to seem sort of plausible.

The idea (mostly from Gates minions) that the reason firing teachers might work soon (but not previously) is because we've never really known who the good teachers are or what they do is infuriating but at least has a certain logical consistency.

But the argument as Hanushek makes it today that a one-time purge of easily identified bad teachers would close the achievement gap between the US and higher performing countries like Canada and Finland is just laughable. If that were true there would not only be a lot of hard quantitative data already to back up the assumption, e.g., those reconstitutions in Chicago would have mostly worked, but there would be tons of anecdotal evidence to that effect. You simply don't hear about failing schools that have been turned around simply by getting rid of a handful of bad apples. Nobody even claims that with a straight face.

Also, I don't understand why this would let us pass Finland. Why would our current practices plus a purge be better than Finland. For that matter, why wouldn't we expect them to then adopt our method and increase their own scores in response?

Wearing Your Common Core Goggles

Michael Winerip:

DURHAM, N.H. — Every spring, Linda Rief, who is in her 25th year of teaching English at Oyster River Middle School, has eighth graders do a semesterlong “genre” project. They pick a subject area like mysteries, read masters like Agatha Christie, study the writer’s craftsmanship (“Explain how the author foreshadows doom”), then draft their own.

In a curriculum based on the Common Core ELA standards, you could organize a project around genre, but why would you? Understanding or using the concept of genre, or any particular genres, is not part of the standards. Studying a writer's craftsmanship is totally in the wheelhouse of the Common Core. 8th grade is the last chance to write fiction, so I guess teachers should take advantage of that.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Obviousness of Openness

Ruth Suehle:

One in seven people on the planet don't get enough food, a fact that led (Cable Green, director of learning at Creative Commons) to ask whether, if we had a machine that could feed everyone with a marginal cost of zero, and no ill effects to farmers, should we turn on the food machine? The obvious answer seems to be yes--and Green says that while we don't have a food machine, we do have a learning machine. But without policies--open policies--we can't turn it on.

By "open policy," Green means simply that publicly funded resources should be openly licensed. If the public has paid for a resource, it should be freely open and available. Publicly funded educational resources should use a license that allows the public to revise, reuse, remix, and redistribute those materials. To take advantage of the funding that goes into education and research, there must be broad adoption of open policies. ...

In English Composition I in Washington state, 55,000 students enroll each year with a $100+ textbook--that's more than $5.5 million every year for a course that is taught at nearly every institution of higher education. That money comes from federal aid (taxpayers), state aid (taxpayers), and student debt, which has passed consumer debt in this country. What if the State of Washington put out an RFP for anyone who could build the best English Composition I textbook, recoup its costs in a single year, invest $100,000/year to keep it updated, and use a Creative Commons license to share it with anyone else. And then what if other states took on the need of other basic courses, sharing them with everyone else? How could the savings be applied?

"We shouldn't attack the existing business models head-on, Green said. "Rather we choose to play by the new rules that we understand." Most of our policymakers exist in that world and think that way, and it's our job to help them think differently. He recommends partnering with legislators who care about the efficient use of tax dollars, saving students money, and increasing the availability of education to improve education with the adoption of open policies. "The only one thing that matters," he said, "is the efficient use of public funds to increase student success and access to quality educational materials. Everything else, including all existing business models, is secondary."

Of course, if you've got the magic food machine, you still need to do a bunch of other work to make sure all the food doesn't just rot in a big pile, but that's not a good general argument against using the magic food machine.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The New Paradigm: Occupy the D.O.E.

Looking forward to trying this out here. via M.Klonsky.

The Common Core ELA are a Subset of Comparable High Quality Standards

Ed Week:
The common-core standards in English/language arts and mathematics are generally aligned to the leading state standards, international standards, and university standards at the high-school-exit level, but are more rigorous in some content areas, says a report released Wednesday.
Zeev Wurman in comments:
This report purports to validate the rigor and suitability of the Common Core standards for college readiness. It concludes that the Common Core is "generally aligned to the leading state standards, international standards, and university standards at the high-school-exit level, but are more rigorous in some content areas."

Nothing can be farther from the truth. This report takes the Common Core and checks if a match is found with some standard in the compared set. That only indicates whether what is in the Common Core exists in the comparison set. It DOES NOT say anything about whether everything in the comparison set is found in the Common Core. The report is quite clear about it (p. 5):

"the comparison standard had to match the full Common Core standard. This meant that a broader comparison standard could be matched to a more narrow Common Core standard."

And, indeed, the report "matches" a beginning Common Core algebra standard 3.6c (pre-algebra, really) "Recognize situations in which one quantity changes at a constant rate per unit interval relative to another" with California CALCULUS standard 158 "Students demonstrate an understanding of the formal definition of the derivative of a function at a point and the notion of differentiability." Similarly, an elementary understanding of an approximation of statistical data with a line (Common Core 5.3a) "Interpret the slope (rate of change) and the intercept (constant term) of a linear model in the context of the data" is matched with a calculus standard (160) "Students demonstrate an understanding of the interpretation of the derivative as an instantaneous rate of change. Students can use derivatives to solve a variety of problems from physics, chemistry, economics, and so forth that involve the rate of change of a function." Boggles the mind.

Or, in ELA:

CC 9. Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

Aligns to:

  • IB 2. Demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the thought and feeling expressed in the works studied.
  • IB 3. Compare the techniques and styles used by authors to convey their subjects by looking at a range of works from different periods, genres, styles, and cultural contexts.
  • IB 15. Understand and appreciate literary works as products of historical, political, economic, and cultural factors.
  • IB 37. Understand the relationships among disciplines of human study.
  • IB 40. 6. Develop an awareness of personal and ideological assumptions based on parental influences, religious persuasions, and political leanings.

Unless I'm reading the crazy tables wrong (also they've fiddled with the id numbers in both sets of standards).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jamming with Julian

Linda Nathan:

He tapped out a song and sang a few notes and then asked if anyone else played. Yoselin, one of our amazing alums, sat down and played. “Tell me the chords from the song you were just singing,” she said, “and I’ll play and you sing.” The two of them did a little duet that ranked as one of the best moments in our teaching careers. To see our alum, our beautiful, talented, hard-working Yoselin, playing for Schnabel while he sang, brought us to tears. “We’ll have to practice more,” Schnabel smiled. He could not have known how special that moment was for all of us. He certainly could not have known the struggles Yoselin has endured to get where she is. She will never forget that moment, nor will any of us.

That it wasn't a Massacre is Beside the Point

Charles Pierce:

Make no mistake about it: The actions of the police department in Oakland last night were a military assault on a legitimate political demonstration. That it was a milder military assault than it could have been, which is to say it wasn't a massacre, is very much beside the point. There was no possible provocation that warranted this display of force. (Graffiti? Litter? Rodents? Is the Oakland PD now a SWAT team for the city's health department?) If you are a police department in this country in 2011, this is something you do because you have the power and the technology and the license from society to do it. This is a problem that has been brewing for a long time. It predates the Occupy movement for more than a decade. It even predates the "war on terror," although that has acted as what the arson squad would call an "accelerant" to the essential dynamic.

Basic law enforcement in this country is thoroughly, totally militarized. It is militarized at its most basic levels. (The "street crime units," so beloved by, among other people, the Diallo family.) It is militarized at its highest command positions. It is militarized in its tactics, and its weaponry and, most important of all, in the attitude of the officers themselves, and in how they are trained. There is a vast militarized intelligence apparatus that leads, inevitably, to pre-emptive military actions, like the raids on protest organizations that were carried out in advance of the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. Sooner or later, this militarized law enforcement was going to collide head-on with a movement of mass public protest, and the results were going to be ugly. (There already had been dry runs elsewhere, most notably in Miami, in 2003, during protests of a meeting of trade ministers.)

Meet Oakland, Singapore-by-the-Bay. There will be more of these. Depend on it. After all, they have fans out there.

Briefly Noted

Given that literature is the only art form that is an integral part of the standard K-12 core curriculum (as it has been taught for decades), you would think that people worried about the role of arts in education, like John Merrow, would actively oppose the Common Core standards, which call for a significant reduction in reading and writing literature.

Deep Thought

The Establishment cannot both co-opt and tear-gas the Occupy movement, at the same time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011



On Sunday night, actors Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher, along with costume designer Shawna Trpcic, cryptically tweeted a link to a Web page featuring a photo of Fillion toting a martini glass, somewhere in the middle of a lake. The image announced the completion of a new movie from Joss Whedon, the genius whose “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” “Firefly” and, to a lesser extent, “Dollhouse” are the very definition of awesome to nerds everywhere. According to the clues, the film stars a veritable who’s who of Whedon alums. And it’s “based on a play.” A Shakespeare play. Oh God. Ohmigod. Then on Monday, Bellwether Pictures officially announced Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” That thud you heard was everybody in America with a liberal arts degree fainting dead in excitement.

Pretty Much How a Weekday Dinner Gets Put Together In Our Kitchen, Too

via Ruhlman.


I've not tried the new iPhone or Siri. I do think it is fairly likely that in ten years we'll look back and marvel at Steve Jobs dying a day after what we will rightly see as his last great triumph. Or perhaps the technology behind Siri is actually shit and will be quickly forgotten. I don't know.

I do think, however, that while Jobs' "reality distortion field" has left this dimension, Siri may also bode the evaporation of Microsoft's inverse negative distortion field. This was a miasma of suck that made cool things seem impossible.

Twenty years ago everyone who considered the issue knew that in the future they wanted a tablet computer that would respond to verbal natural language commands. A combination of premature births or late-term abortions (Newton), half-measures (PalmOS), overly expensive demos (Surface) and plain old suckitude (TabletPC) had at least half-convinced me that people didn't really want tablet computers at all, until Apple got it right and then, of course, this is what we wanted all along, wasn't it?

Similarly, Bill Gates has been talking about the importance of spoken interfaces for years, and it always sounded idiotic to me coming from him, primarily because however Microsoft did it was sure to suck. Seems like a better idea now though.

And wow, the return of AI. I scratched the surface of this a bit when I was doing some Semantic Web research and wow, it made it crystal clear how little AI contributes to our computing experiences today, despite the CPU cycles at our disposal. And jeez, rank and file programmers just crap their pants if they have to start thinking about AI concepts. They essentially go on strike as a class. If Siri is as smart as she looks on the commericals, it could finally start changing people's expectations about the intelligence of their personal computers.

Monday, October 24, 2011

More with More; Not That There's Anything Wrong with That

Dr. Bruce Baker provides some fascinating analysis of Achievement First's Amistad Academy:

So, in summary, what we have here is a high performing school that does not serve the same population, spends more than the local district and chooses to leverage spending toward class size reduction in the early grades and toward competitive early to mid-career teacher salaries. That’s a realistic look at a school that by many accounts is a darn good one.

This will of course be very useful for our conversation in Providence.

Interpreting Charter School Rhetoric

Fernando Reyes:

YES Prep SW is a high-performing charter school. When I say high-performing, I mean it: our test scores are among the highest in the state, we send 100% of our students to four-year colleges, and the selectivity of the colleges our students is only increasing.

When you read this do you think of a school that has only graduated one class of 45 students, all of whom were required to be accepted to a four-year college to graduate? Can't easily figure out how many freshman started in that cadre, but I bet it was more than 45.

Later... scrolling down a little on the application linked to above, it looks like:

  • 76 9th graders in 2007-2008
  • 65 10th graders in 2008-2009
  • 50 11th graders in 2009-2010
  • 45 grads in spring 2011

Equals 100% college enrollment!

A VERY Intensive Review, I'm Sure

Elisabeth Harrison:

So far, Rhode Island has awarded 11 contracts from its $75 million Race to the Top grant, totalling $10,900. Here’s a breakdown of the largest contracts: ...

$2.86 million, the second largest contract so far, has been awarded to the Dana Center for an intensive review of the Common Core Standards, a set of national standards Rhode Island has pledged to adopt. The Dana Center will also look at how local districts can align their curricula to meet the new standards.


Doug Henwood:

On Friday, I wrongly reported that the OWS General Assembly had rejected the draft and disavowed the working group. In fact, the GA hasn’t even discussed the issue. According to people at last night’s meeting, whoever controls the website issued the statement of disavowal and deleted the accounts of some participants, making it impossible for them to participate in online discussions of the issue. The “whoever” is accurate: no one seems to know the identity of the website’s controllers, who nonetheless purport to speak for the organization. With such a freewheeling organization, if that’s the right word, lines of responsibility and accountability are very murky.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Skate/School Crossover

Tom & Jimi make the post-Teach-In connection.

Must Read for Today #2

David Graeber (via Joan Walsh):

On August 2, I showed up at a 7 PM meeting at Bowling Green, that a Greek anarchist friend, who I’d met at a recent activist get together at 16 Beaver Street, had told me was meant to plan some kind of action on Wall Street in mid-September. At the time I was only vaguely aware of the background: that a month before, the Canadian magazine Adbusters had put out the call to “Occupy Wall Street”, but had really just floated the idea on the internet, along with some very compelling graphics, to see if it would take hold; that a local anti-budget cut coalition top-heavy with NGOs, unions, and socialist groups had tried to take possession of the process and called for a “General Assembly” at Bowling Green. The title proved extremely misleading. When I arrived, I found the event had been effectively taken over by a veteran protest group called the Worker’s World Party, most famous for having patched together ANSWER one of the two great anti-war coalitions, back in 2003. They had already set up their banners, megaphones, and were making speeches—after which, someone explained, they were planning on leading the 80-odd assembled people in a march past the Stock Exchange itself.

The usual reaction to this sort of thing is a kind of cynical, bitter resignation. “I wish they at least wouldn’t advertise a ‘General Assembly’ if they’re not actually going to hold one.” Actually, I think I actually said that, or something slightly less polite, to one of the organizers, a disturbingly large man, who immediately remarked, “well, fine. Why don’t you leave?”

But as I paced about the Green, I noticed something. To adopt activist parlance: this wasn’t really a crowds of verticals—that is, the sort of people whose idea of political action is to march around with signs under the control of one or another top-down protest movement. They were mostly pretty obviously horizontals: people more sympathetic with anarchist principles of organization, non-hierarchical forms of direct democracy, and direct action. I quickly spotted at least one Wobbly, a young Korean activist I remembered from some Food Not Bomb event, some college students wearing Zapatista paraphernalia, a Spanish couple who’d been involved with the indignados in Madrid… I found my Greek friends, an American I knew from street battles in Quebec during the Summit of the Americas in 2001, now turned labor organizer in Manhattan, a Japanese activist intellectual I’d known for years… My Greek friend looked at me and I looked at her and we both instantly realized the other was thinking the same thing: “Why are we so complacent? Why is it that every time we see something like this happening, we just mutter things and go home?” – though I think the way we put it was more like, “You know something? Fuck this shit. They advertised a general assembly. Let’s hold one.”

So we gathered up a few obvious horizontals and formed a circle, and tried to get everyone else to join us. Almost immediately people appeared from the main rally to disrupt it, calling us back with promises that a real democratic forum would soon break out on the podium. We complied. It didn’t happen. My Greek friend made an impassioned speech and was effectively shooed off the stage. There were insults and vituperations. After about an hour of drama, we formed the circle again, and this time, almost everyone abandoned the rally and come over to our side. We created a decision-making process (we would operate by modified consensus) broke out into working groups (outreach, action, facilitation) and then reassembled to allow each group to report its collective decisions, and set up times for new meetings of both the smaller and larger groups. It was difficult to figure out what to do since we only had six weeks, not nearly enough time to plan a major action, let alone bus in the thousands of people that would be required to actually shut down Wall Street—and anyway we couldn’t shut down Wall Street on the appointed day, since September 17, the day Adbusters had been advertising, was a Saturday. We also had no money of any kind.

The radical left in America wasn't killed outright, it has lingered in a rancid, lobotomized, zombified form for decades (e.g., Worker's World Party), spreading the kind of discouragement and dismay narrowly averted above. My analysis always was that these groups were incredibly weak and marginalized, but they were the most energetic at calling a protest, showing up at everyone else's (including Save Our Schools, btw), with a core competency at bitter, endless internecine warfare. Finally breaking their grip was an essential first step in renewal.

Absolutely read the whole thing though to understand how this improbably movement got off the ground.

Must Read for Today #1

David Sirota:

Before it happens, it’s hard to know how you’ll feel when you see a slickly produced, oil-CEO-financed flier implicitly attacking your 11-month-old baby for not being old enough to attend school and explicitly criticizing your family for not being able to afford a home.

It sounds like a takeoff of “SNL’s” hilarious “bat problem” campaign ads — something so over-the-top it couldn’t possibly be real. But, in our case, it wasn’t a parody — such a mailer now fills up thousands of mailboxes throughout my town. And unfortunately, I now know how badly I feel in the face of such a barrage. I’m not overwhelmed by anger or vengefulness. Instead, I’m experiencing a far more numbing set of emotions: a mix of sadness and helplessness.

Six months ago, when my wife, Emily, decided to run for a school board seat here in Southeast Denver, I was (perhaps naively) expecting what we used to get from the most local of local races for such part-time, unpaid positions: lots of door knocking, a few yard signs, maybe a barbecue or two — all the wholesome activities that were once staples of local political Americana.

It is becoming apparent that the 1% has realized that they can buy local elections. They've got the bucks for sure and have been building the organization. And not just elections. How much do you think it costs to buy out a state PTA? Not much to a hedge fund manager. Repeat ad nauseum.

Physicist : Climate Change :: Economist : Effect of Poverty on Schools


Richard Muller, the skeptic we’re talking about, seems to have had different motivations from many of the professional climate skeptics. He basically appears to have suffered from nothing more than characteristic physicist arrogance, the belief that people in lesser sciences just don’t know what they’re doing. (Economists experience this all the time, but we make up for it by being equally condescending to sociologists.) To his credit, he went and tried to do better — and is now being honest in revealing that what he got was pretty much the same as the results of previous research.

Pretty Much My Exact Reaction to Walking Through Burnside Park Today


Overall, what struck me was how non-threatening the thing is: a modest-sized, good-natured crowd, mostly young (it was a cold and windy evening) but with plenty of middle-aged people there, not all that scruffy. Hardly the sort of thing that one would expect to shake up the whole national debate. Yet it has — which can only mean one thing: the emperor was naked, and all it took was one honest voice to point it out.

Bigger than I thought too.

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Brown proposes waiving annual evaluations to draw top teachers to struggling schools.

What this kind of thing really illustrates is the extent of groupthink in reform circles. Forcing principals to evaluate experienced, successful teachers every year is just a waste of time and a disincentive to teach in more challenging schools or to teach at all. That is perfectly obvious and always has been.

Somehow it became dogma in the past couple years, including in Rhode Island, and the premise is falling apart before it has even been widely implemented. This is what happens when you decide anyone with a critical point of view is an enemy of children and defender of bad teachers. You do stupid shit and waste your opportunity and credibility.

Certainly this went on with the whole mayoral academy thing. If the AFT tried to get legislation introduced in the Massachusetts legislature that required equal enrollment from urban and suburban districts in charters, they'd be laughed out of the room by reformers. Yet those same people thought it was a brilliant idea when it came from Rhode Islanders well connected to the national reform movement.

Likewise the people who wrote the mayoral academy law seem completely uninterested in explaining its basic contours to their CMO partners. Obviously if they're all reformers they must be on the same page and have the same great ideas. What could possibly go wrong. You don't even really need to proofread the application, I'm sure it is fine.

Chris Hedges on Occupy

I had started reading Chris Hedges Death of the Liberal Class a bit before Occupy Wall Street got off the ground. It is an uncompromising and bleak polemic on, well, the massive sellout of liberal institutions; the image that came to mind was like turning on a hair dryer pointed at your face full blast. He is a serious, experienced man, and generally does not seem easily excitable, or as late as a month ago at all optimistic about America's future.

He's excited and optimistic now:

Dude, Were You Just at a Meeting?

So the Achievement First Teach-In last night, from 7 to 9, butted up against my regular Wednesday night 9-11 skate session at Skaters Edge. I figured I'd just haul ass up there after the meeting and burn off all the extraneous tension. About 4 guys in their 30's who I hadn't skated with before were sessioning the bowl. I started padding up and left my button-up shirt on because I had already put my helmet on.

One of the other skaters came up to me, gave me a funny look and said something like "Were you just at a meeting? About schools?" This turned out to be Jimi, the husband of Andrea, another panelist at the teach-in. Jimi had the same plan but snuck out of the meeting quicker than I could. Crazy things happen when you actually leave the house.

Jimi shot a rather mellow run by me on his iPhone:

Looks like we've got a pretty good Wednesday night crew coming together for the winter indoor skating season.

Step One, Meet the Legal Definition of a Mayoral Academy

RI Law (find it yourself):

A “mayoral academy” means a charter school created by a mayor of any city or town within the State of Rhode Island, acting by or through a nonprofit organization established for said purpose (regardless of the time said nonprofit organization is in existence), which enrolls students from more than one city or town including both urban and non-urban communities and which offers an equal number of enrollments to students on a lottery basis; provided, further, that such mayoral academies shall have a board of trustees or directors which is comprised of representatives from each included city or town and is chaired by a mayor of an included city or town. (emphasis mine)

Draft of New AFMA Application, Part XVI:

It is important to note that this application does not have a set number of seats per community;

If there is a way to reconcile those two statements, I don't know what it is. It is not the way RIMA approaches it at Blackstone Valley Prep. In fact, AF made the same mistake last time, RIDE didn't pick it up and after I pointed it out RIDE allowed them to make the change to their application during the public comment period to correct the error (the change was clearly noted on the RIDE site). If RIDE disagrees with the straightforward interpretation of the law, why would they have thought it was so important to fix the last proposal?

This of course has a huge impact on both the likely cost of the school to Providence and the role of the suburban districts in terms of need, demand and cost. Does Providence send 25% or more than 50%? Does N. Prov send 25% or 5%?

The thing is, Achievement First has absolutely no interest in running a 3/4 suburban school. It makes no sense. It is not what they do. Their application shows no interest whatsoever in the issue of creating an urban/suburban diverse school community. So they keep trying to weasel out of it.

One thing that is going to be important this time around is making it clear to the Governor and friendly Regents that it is absolutely essential that, if this school goes through, the continuing participation of the suburban communities play a significant role in evaluating the school, renewing its charter and expanding or contracting. If the suburbs walk away (parents don't apply, RIMA and AF don't bother recruiting) Providence should not be stuck with two schools sized for four districts (let alone two more middle schools and a high school).

If AF just wants to open a charter school for Providence, they can open an independent or even a district charter. It is much simpler than this mayoral academy nonsense.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On the Rise: Open Source SIS

On the Gartner hype cycle. Guess I was further ahead of the curve than I realized.

Nixon Goes to Mathland

Gary Rubinstein:

Nowadays, with high stakes testing, we are told that the only two things that really matter, in equal amounts, are reading and math. Schools are praised or shut down for their scores (or ‘gains’) on these subjects. Some schools, particularly charters, have realized that if they focus on math, at the expense of reading, they can get better combined results than if they try to focus on both, equally. This implies that proficiency in math is somehow as important as proficiency in reading, and I’m here to say that this is completely absurd. I’m one of the few people who is not scared to say this since I will hold my own in a debate against anyone on this topic, as I’ve been pondering it, nearly daily, for about twenty years. In this post, I’ll try to summarize why I think this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

TEACH-IN: How would Achievement First Impact our Community?

In my peculiar, self-defeating way I've neglected to note that I'm speaking tomorrow at a Teach-In sponsored by the Coalition to Defend Public Education. It is at 7:00 at St. Michael's Church, 239 Oxford St., Providence. This has a little more urgency now that an actual proposal has come down the pike.

Which of its Elementary Schools will North Providence Close for Taveras's Mayoral Academy?

OK, so for reasons I can't quite glean, Mayor Taveras has apparently sent RIDE an application to open a mayoral academy in Providence four months ahead of the deadline for schools opening in 2013. Perhaps a deal has been cut to rush this through ahead of the normal process, but I can't figure out how that would work to anyone's (especially the Regents') advantage. Maybe the MA advocates think a longer discussion period will help them, but even then it would make more sense to have discussions before you submit the proposal? Maybe this appeases Achievement First somehow? Is this related to upcoming announcements about persistently low performing schools in the PPSD? Who knows?

Anyhow... this is a proposal for two elementary schools with 88 in each school's kindergarten cohort, drawing from Providence, Warwick, Cranston, and North Providence. Since each district is supposed to be represented equally, unless one does not have enough applicants to fill their share, this will be a 3/4 suburban school based on an urban "no excuses" model. The proportional impact will be greatest on North Providence, just one seventh the size of the PPSD. Assuming they hold up their share of the enrollment, you're looking at 19% of their K-4 students leaving the district, a number pretty much equal to the size of one of their six neighborhood elementary schools, so one of them would have to be closed.

On the other hand, the message may shift quickly to the suburban parents not actually being interested in putting their five year olds onto a bus headed into south Providence for an extended school day, thus it won't really cost the suburbs much at all. Elisabeth Harrison:

The charter schools would serve students from Providence, Cranston, Warwick and North Providence, but organizers say more than half the students would likely come from Providence.

This is a trickly line of argument to take, however, since the first item required on the application is:

(a) Evidence of need and community support for the proposed public charter school;

So... more to come, to be sure.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What We're Learning About How "No Excuses" Works

Matt DiCarlo:

In other words, the teacher-focused, market-based philosophy that dominates our public debate is not very well represented in the “no excuses” model, even though the latter is frequently held up as evidence supporting the former. Now, it’s certainly true that policies are most effective when you have good people implementing them, and that the impact of teachers and administrators permeates every facet of schools’ operation and culture. Nonetheless, most of the components that comprise the “no excuses” model in its actual policy manifestation are less focused on “doing things better” than on doing them more. They’re about more time in school, more instructional staff, more money and more testing. I’ve called this a “blunt force” approach to education, and that’s really what it is. It’s not particularly innovative, and it’s certainly not cheap.

We Are The 99.99998%

It isn't necessary to overthink the relationship between the Occupy Wall Street movement and education. The most important point is simple and direct: there is too much power, money and influence concentrated in the 1% and not enough democracy. And in this case, we're talking about the true 1% if not 0.1% or 0.001%. Hm... let me do a little math here... 300 million, ed policy being driven by people in the top 30 (Gates, Walton, Buffet, Bloomberg, Zuckerberg, Koch...) that's the top 0.00001%. I guess if we want to include Broad, Murdoch & DeVos we have to knock it down to 0.00002%.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Take the Simpler Metaphor

Michael Goldstein:

If you asked which NFL team was best right now, you’d get some debate. The Packers have the best case.

But if you asked if the Packers are waaay better than the average NFL team, you’d get no debate. Yes.

Researchers are trying if there’s a “Packers” in teacher prep. That is, an Ed School or alternative program anywhere in the USA that is obviously way better than the others in the state. The thinking goes like this. The NFL is a copycat league. Perhaps if there were some clear standouts — based on evidence, not reputation — other teacher prep programs could copy. Then the USA could produce more good teachers. All the land would rejoice.

The simpler metaphor would be to compare the success of teacher prep programs in producing teachers to the success of college football programs producing successful professional football players. If you think about that one a while the problems in the whole approach become even more apparent.

On the other hand, a "New Football Player Project" or "Football for America" program that put gave kids some quick training before entering the NFL without that tedious collegiate experience would probably rack up pretty good data.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Feinstein High School: Closing a "Persistently Low Achieving" School Outside the Protocol for Intervention

Had some back and forth with Elliot Krieger at RIDE following my email last week:

On Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 8:49 AM, Krieger, Elliot
<> wrote:
> Tom, to try to clarify - You are correct that in January 2010 RIDE identified (based on our formula for measuring school achievement) Feinstein H.S. as one of the persistently lowest achieving schools in the state. At the time of this announcement, Providence had already decided to close FHS for reasons other than low performance.
That is simply untrue.  The PPSD board had not made that decision at
that point.  For example, Lilian Feinstein Elementary was already proposed for closure
by PPSD and on the lowest performing list, but kept open.

> The entire purpose of identifying schools as persistently lowest achieving is for the schools to build a stakeholder group, choose a reform model, and implement the model in order to improve student achievement at the school. Schools identified are eligible to apply for federal funds to help with these reforms.
The PPSD did form a stakeholder group, whose recommendation was
ignored by the PPSD and RIDE.

> It would have been absurd and unfair to continue to identify Feinstein as one of the schools in the first cohort, as there would be no purpose to developing a reform plan or in applying for federal funds for FHS. We would have (rightly) been criticized for avoiding the intent of the law by identifying a school that would take no action.

> Therefore, I January 2010 we also identified 5 other schools in the first cohort, the minimum required # based on our total # of schools.
So... at some point was Feinstein High School formally removed from the list?

<> wrote:
> Correct, Tom - FHS was not part of the official list sent to the U.S. Department of Education. Ultimately, 5 schools officially identified in that cohort, which was the minimum # required.
That is not true Elliot.  It is clearly identified in your application here:

Apparently the PPSD and RIDE was allowed to close the school outside
the intervention process, but it was still officially named as tier 1
persistently low achieving (with an asterisk).  So an accurate
statement would be:

"In January 2010, Rhode Island identified its first cohort, including
Central Falls High School and five Providence schools (the B. Jae
Clanton Complex, the Juanita Sanchez Complex, Lillian Feinstein
Elementary School at Sackett Street,  the Roger Williams Middle
School, and Feinstein High School). All of the schools in the 2010
cohort are implementing plans for school transformation, except
Feinstein High School, which was closed outside the state's
intervention process."

And I must note that the only discernible reason not to close FHS as
part of the protocol for intervention is the fact that by many
measures it was the highest performing neighborhood school in
Providence at the time it was closed, and thus there were no qualified
schools to transfer the students to.

I'm not sure what he was referring to in his last email, but it seemed we'd pretty much exhausted the topic:

That would be true, had they gone through the protocol and decided on school closure as the reform model for FHS.

The most interesting point here is that RIDE and the feds have already established a precedent for setting aside the intervention process for schools designated as tier 1 lowest achieving.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This is What a Disruptive Innovation Looks Like

Pixel Qi:

GITEX – Dubai, Oct. 9th-13th, 2011 – Pixel Qi Corporation, designer of innovative low-power sunlight-readable liquid crystal displays, and Shanghai Shizhu Technology, a leading developer of multimedia devices closely allied with one of China’s leading publishing and media groups, today announced that they have joined to develop a family of tablets based on Pixel Qi’s award-winning, full-function liquid-crystal displays. Leveraging Pixel Qi’s technology, four tablets will be launched for China’s growing e-reader market, and are being shown at GITEX in Dubai. Combining Pixel Qi’s displays with Shizhu’s design creates an excellent multi-media experience in a slim, lightweight design with extended battery life. Shizhu has a key partnership with Southern Media Group, whose paper publications reach millions of subscribers daily, and whose media set the pace for investigative journalism, popular and gossip content, and online presence in China.

Whether or not this particular one is the big one, it fits the profile, and it ain't coming from Amazon. Or probably anywhere mainstream analysts are looking. That is kind of the point.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Recent Open Source SIS News

Andy McKay outlines a situation in British Columbia where they are considering replacing their multi-million dollar (mostly) province-wide SIS. Gartner advises buying something proprietary off the shelf. Some more grassroots folks I've been corresponding with want to bake their own open source. I'm dubious about a barn raising in this case -- tracking 500,000 students province-wide is nothing to sneeze at -- and I'm afraid they'll just learn that there are reasons enterprise software sucks to use that can't be overcome with agile development and spunk. Especially if you don't keep an absolutely laser focus on your own requirements. And if you DO keep that focus, you aren't going to be spending any time making sure you're creating a more generally useful open source project.

In general, I'd like to see government paying experienced and reputable vendors to write and use open source software, but this will be significantly more expensive up front, since the vendors are giving up their opportunity for future income from licensing the software. So the initiatives ultimately will have to be coordinated at a higher level, like the national government sponsoring software to be shared by all the provinces. Or perhaps just a partnership between the provinces, but isn't that what the national government is? Either way, this is still tough because you're moving much of the control even further from the end users and adding more bureaucracy. If it was easy it would have already happened.

Another scenario is the path DART is following (via Stephen). It is a locally grown standards-based SIS used in the Bering Strait School District:

DART is now a well-developed Student Information System (SIS) with many feature groups or "modules" to solve the major needs of a typical school district. Although DART is not right for every school district, it is rapidly gaining features and controls to make it more easily generalizable and customized for a typical district's needs.

The first "generalized" version of DART has been created with assistance from Carnegie Mellon University's Technology Consulting in a Global Community program (TCinGC) during the summer of 2011. Thanks to the CMU team, DART is now easy for a typical school district to customize, install and maintain. Two brilliant and energetic consultants from CMU - Bolek Kurowski and Cristina Melo - lived in Unalakleet for the summer, and helped us start to make DART generalizable for other organizations. They have done an outstanding job analyzing DART's current status, mapping the system, identifying weaknesses and mapping out alternatives for DART as a sustainable Open Source project.

So after developing a successful local tool, they're getting some outside volunteer help to make the project more generally useful. This is a promising approach, but still a big long-term project. It is one area where philanthropy could invest in "taking innovation to scale," but for the most part, it is still uncharted territory.

free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive

Mike Konczal (via Dan):

Upon reflection, it is very obvious where the problems are. There’s no universal health care to handle the randomness of poor health. There’s no free higher education to allow people to develop their skills outside the logic and relations of indentured servitude. Our bankruptcy code has been rewritten by the top 1% when instead, it needs to be a defense against their need to shove inequality-driven debt at populations. And finally, there’s no basic income guaranteed to each citizen to keep poverty and poor circumstances at bay.

We have piecemeal, leaky versions of each of these in our current liberal social safety net. Having collated all these responses, I think completing these projects should be the ultimate goal of the 99%.

Also worth noting, each of those problems are nearly unique to the US among modern economies.

This Would Be Nice

David Sirota:

The most radical, community-organizing-inspired proposal to come out of the Obama administration is not the recent National Labor Relations Board moves aimed at strengthening organized labor nor his push to create more green jobs. No, it is his new proposal to limit the tax subsidy for very wealthy people to make so-called “charitable” contributions.

Though designed with the best of intentions, this subsidy now provides a financial incentive for nonprofits to rely primarily on a handful of huge donors, rather than encouraging them to build a broad, small-dollar fundraising base — one that would inherently grant the nonprofit world much-needed independence from the elite’s narrow self-interests. Moreover, this tax break often ends up subsidizing the super-rich’s efforts to finance their own partisan causes — causes which represent the opposite of soup kitchens, mentoring programs or anything else that falls under the rubric of actual charity.

To understand how this all operates, recall that President Obama is not — even remotely — proposing to halt government subsidization of nonprofits. He’s merely proposing to minimally reduce the amount the very affluent can write off their tax bill when they make donations to 501(c)3 organizations from the current (huge) 35 percent of the contribution down to (the still pretty huge) 28 percent.

As the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports, this one provision alone would generate a whopping $400 billion for the U.S. Treasury and would apply only to those making over $200,000 a year — that is, to the top 3 percent of income earners.

The fact that such a modest proposal, affecting so small a part of the population, would generate such enormous revenue reflects how philanthropy in America now tracks the larger contours of our Gilded Age economy. Because they now control such a disproportionate share of national wealth, America’s rich make the lion’s share of tax-deductible philanthropic contributions. A 2006 survey found that the 3 percent of Americans with assets above $1 million “are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all charitable giving” (all this despite the fact that, as ABC News, “people at the lower end of the income scale give almost 30 percent more of their income”).

Monday, October 10, 2011

New "Lowest Achieving" Reactions

ProvidenceParent in comments:

"I am a parent of a child at Pleasant View Elementary (PVE). For the last three years our school has been neglected by the School Department and RIDE. Last year (2010-2011) we had two temporary principals, both came out of retirement and made more than $400 a day to babysit the property. The two years (2008-2010) prior to that we had a man put in as Principal who stole our students funds and recently plead out of at court. It has been recently made public knowledge that he was put in our school (PVE) as a set up so he would be caught. Meanwhile, our children were ignored and there was not over sight.

Today, our outstanding, hard working teachers and new amazing Principal had this ball dropped in our laps. The turnaround time for PVE should have an more time built in. In just the last 30+ days of school our parents and students have experienced a marked turn of events! Our school community is growing stronger, our teachers are being challenged and are happy about it, and our students are working harder too!

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

Although the turnaround school designation does usher in additional federal dollars, Providence Supt. Susan Lusi says the aid –– about $300,000 per school –– isn’t enough to transform seven large schools.

“Two million dollars is a tiny amount when you are trying to turn around seven schools,” Lusi said. “On the one hand, it’s not enough money. On the other, we have to improve the achievement of our students.”

When the federal government made large sums of money available for school improvement, it assumed that states would also make an investment, Lusi said. But the General Assembly has eliminated spending for school turnaround efforts.


“Shea High School should be the poster child for the well-meaning but bad judgment of No Child Left Behind,” said Principal Chris Lord, referring to the sweeping school reform plan introduced by former President George W. Bush. “Yes, there has to be school reform. But there are ways to go about it that reflect what is really taking place in the schools.”

Shea recently received a glowing report from the prestigious New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which spent a week evaluating the school. Shea has a nationally recognized “government academy,” where students intern in government agencies and the legislature. It has an exchange program with students in China.

Yet, none of these successes is recognized in determining which schools are targeted for intervention, Lord said.

Lusi's response, while still pretty mild, is more critical than the "Thank you sir, may I have another?" response last year from Brady.

I still have no sense whatsoever of what level of machination is going on in the selection of the "persistently low achieving." By my reading the state has a lot of latitude to come up with whaterver crazy math gives the results they want, and even then flexibility to make selections within their arbitrary calculations. And apparently to change the calculations and the selections months after the fact. Hopefully there is some kind of strategy behind this, but it is hard to infer.

In particular, suddenly targeting both high schools in Pawtucket is going to be... interesting. I don't know much about Pawtucket, in fact I drive my wife crazy by constantly referring to Pawtucket as Woonsocket, and vice versa (not to mention driving to the wrong one occasionally). Generally though, what you'd want to do is go after the poorer school first, splitting opposition in the town, and go after the more affluent one next year.

I don't imagine this will happen, but Pawtucket has a lot more leeway than Providence to push back against RIDE and the feds on this one. I don't think the state's threat to take over both those schools is very credible if there was strong and persistent opposition (including an alternative plan for raising graduation rates) from the city. Not that I'm predicting anything.

The Acid Revelation

Michael Ruhlman:

I’ve had many (ah-ha moments), and they’re always a thrill. I write about one in the new book, the time my chef instructor at the CIA, Michael Pardus, tasted my cream of broccoli soup and said, “This is good. But I want you to take this back to your station and taste it again. Then I want you to take a spoonful and put a drop of white wine vinegar in it and taste the difference.”

I did. A single drop changed that soup from fine, just OK, to very good if not better. It was a lesson that would apply not only to broccoli soup, or soup generally, but to everything. The importance of acidity and the ability to use it (Technique #5), would become something I’d consider in everything I made, from soups to stews to sauces, to sandwiches, to meats and fish, to whole composed plates, even to sweet things (I add cider vinegar to butterscotch sauce, for instance, just a few drops, all about balance).

Sea scallops were on sale at Whole Foods yesterday, so I got some and seared them in clarified butter using the technique from Ad Hoc. Squeezing some lemon on before serving is "optional," but in this case caused the same reaction Ruhlman had above.

I've made a few recipes from Ruhlman's Twenty (i.e., "the new book"); the Braised Lamb Shanks with Lemon Confit (and Ras El Hanout) was good enough that we had it twice in one week.


Snake Running

Factory Kustom:

I actually keep a piece of chalk in my bag so I can mark out lines at the park. Just riding fast and low like this is an amazing workout -- it is a LOT more tiring than it looks.


Friday, October 07, 2011

This Reminds Me of Something...

Justin Elliott:

Here’s what we know:

Note to RIDE


Mr Krieger,

I'd like to point out a misleading omission in today's press release regarding "Persistently Low Achieving" schools.  Your press release states:

"In January 2010, Rhode Island identified its first cohort, including Central Falls High School and four Providence schools (the B. Jae Clanton Complex, the Juanita Sanchez Complex, Lillian Feinstein Elementary School at Sackett Street, and the Roger Williams Middle School). All of the schools in the 2010 cohort are implementing plans for school transformation."

Of course, you have omitted Feinstein High School from that list, which is not implementing plans for transformation.  That school was closed, and virtually every student reassigned to PPSD schools with lower achievement as measured by both the 2009 and 2010 NECAP scores (looking at 2009-2010 teaching year data).

I do appreciate that in the future RIDE will try to incorporate up to date data in these decisions, but I am annoyed at the department's efforts to write its past mistakes out of existence.

Tom Hoffman

RIDE Confirms I Was Right All Along

Linda Borg for the ProJo:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. --- The Rhode Island Department of Education has revised its list of chronically low performing schools, adding two schools from Pawtucket and three in Providence while dropping three other schools from Providence.

The schools in Providence that will be required to make substantial reforms are:

  • Carl Lauro Elementary School,
  • Alvarez High School,
  • Gilbert Stewart Middle School,
  • Mount Pleasant High School,
  • Pleasantview Elementary School.

The Pawtucket schools are the city's two high schools, Shea and Tolman. ...

RIDE initially selected this second grouping of low-achieving schools in March. (The first were selected in January 2010, a list that included several Providence schools and Central Falls High School.)

Later, however, RIDE asked for a waiver from the federal government to give the targeted schools more time to prepare for the reforms.

RIDE also wanted to be able to include the latest test data -- from 2010 -- in its determinations. Test scores on the New England Common Assesment Program or NECAP are part of the formula used to identify persistently low performing schools.

The new timetable approved by the U.S. Department of Education allows RIDE to use the most recent test data and graduation rates to select the schools.

Of course, I pointed this problem out two years ago after Feinstein High School's test scores shot up a month after the school was named "persistently low achieving" and closed. Pointed this out to the Commissioner, Regents, the school board. Nobody cared then.

In fact, by this time last year, all the teachers at Central Falls high school had already been fired, rehired and the school's turnaround hastily begun. Apparently this year nobody had even started to talk about what was going to happen to these schools, so they took the opportunity to change their minds.

You almost get the impression that this whole process is politically driven.

The English Classroom Has Always Been Flipped

USA Today:

Roshan disagrees. She says it's all about helping students understand difficult material. Flipping the classroom, she says, has made her students more independent, less-stressed learners, because for many students, the hardest part is applying the lesson to problem sets.

"In an English class, you send the kids home to read a passage, and then in class you discuss that passage," she says. "Why in math class am I more or less having them read the passage in class?"

I think you can apply the same argument to the flipped classroom that Dan Willingham does to learning styles: in practice, it is often just compensating for poor reading comprehension and/or inadequate textbooks. Math students always had textbooks that they could read at home.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

David Hackett is the 99%

Skull Skates:

Pro skateboarder and O.G. Malibu local David Hackett hasbeen a pivotal part of the sixties through contemporary surf skate movement maintaining a somewhat calculated underground profile. Popping up at spots and throwing down with authority, throughout the last five decades, adding fuel to the ledgendary Hackett fire. ...

David recently had emergency colon cancer surgery, which saved his life and left him with $100,000.00 hospital bill due to lapsed insurance. Many have felt and appreciated Hackman’s numbered and notable contributions to skateboarding. Helping Hackett would be a great way to show we care and you can do just that by contributing donations of any amount directly to Hackett’s Paypal

You can also buy a LTD. Edition Hackett Loop of Death poster here

Stay tuned for a Skull Skates / Hackett LTD. edition benefit t-shirt, coming soon.


"Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself"

Michael Sippey:

When Jobs resigned in August, John Gruber wrote "Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself." I couldn’t agree more. While I'm lucky to have been able to have received both product and demo advice from the man, I'm privileged to have had even the briefest experience with the culture of Apple that he helped create. Excellence, quality, passion, attention to detail -- those aren’t just attributes of Apple products, they’re attributes of how people at Apple work.

Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll hear a lot about what Jobs did at Apple over the last ten years. While he may be impossible to replace, I have to believe that the senior team at Apple knows that their most important job, and the best way to honor his memory, is to continue the culture he created at Apple. Based on what I saw three years ago -- and the products they’ve introduced since -- I’m bullish.

Apple isn't perfect, and my recent trip to the Genius bar went way less smoothly than my last visit to the RI DMV, but what is most striking from the point of view of 2011 is how uniform the quality of implementation is across Apple's ventures. It seems easier to understand that Apple's computers have better industrial design than other companies than, say, the fact that their commercials are a lot better too. Apple isn't an advertising company, they just hire a contractor like anyone else, yet still everyone else's commercials are shit in comparison. Same with the retail stores. Same with their overall business model. The rest of the industry, while still often vastly profitable, is just a bunch of people running in circles waving their arms around in comparison.

Mounting a Surprise Mass Demonstration

Something like Occupy Wall Street's peculiar genesis was probably necessary given that peaceful mass demonstration in recent years (by the left, at least) is simply ignored as business as usual from the "professional left" and anything planned with the slightest radical edge is infiltrated by domestic espionage operations, broken up by pre-emptive raids and met in the streets well-prepared militarized police ready to put hundreds of people into, well, intentionally not well prepared jails. Wrong-footing the cops (and Bloomberg) was way more important than getting people organized or even widely aware of what was going down.

Regarding having a clear agenda, well, if someone as occasionally reasonable as John Merrow can worry that an educational policy rally headlined by the likes Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera won't clearly state what it is for or against, then this criticism is just a meaningless tic that will be rolled out for every progressive protest.

Awakening the Un(der)Employed Twenty-something Masses

Joan Walsh:

And so far, this leaderless movement is avoiding some obvious mistakes. There’s been no violence. As I noted earlier, they’re approaching the police as potential allies, not enemies. Even if it hasn’t worked yet, it’s smart politics. The fact that cops and firefighters joined the union movement in Wisconsin, despite the fact Gov. Scott Walker cynically exempted them from his public worker crackdown, gave that still-growing political force greater reach.

Right now, the lack of concrete goals is an asset, not a deficit: It allows the broadest possible message to echo with the broadest possible audience. Rather than drawing lines and identifying enemies, as the left typically likes to do, participants have gravitated toward the unifying image of “the 99 percent” – that is, the entire nation, beyond the top 1 percent of America’s earners, who now soak up almost a quarter of the nation’s income and 40 percent of its wealth. The “We are the 99 percent” blog is like a 21st century, DIY version of Michael Harrington’s searing “The Other America,” the book that awakened the country to the poverty in the midst of affluence in 1963, and helped motivate the great society.

Today the problem is better depicted as an unjust concentration of affluence, in the midst of declining living standards for most of us and poverty for way too any. A corrosive economic inequality makes a mockery of the social contract that once promised security to those who got an education and worked hard. Both parties share blame for letting the financial sector rig the rules for the last 30 years. They’ve created a debt machine that charges interest to lend Americans the cash they haven’t gotten in raises since wages stagnated in the 1970s, after the Democrats abandoned economic populism. Occupy Wall Street seems to be triggering the recognition of that injustice in a way that longer-term, “better organized” social justice movements did not.

The Nation’s Betsy Reed has a great piece explaining why the left should lay off with its demands for clearer demands from the Occupy Wall Street folks. The left has plenty of ideas, and it even has a decent (if inadequate) number of organizations and organizers. It lacks access to the popular imagination that Occupy Wall Street seems to be attaining. A May 12 march on Wall Street drew impressive organizational support, Reed notes (confession: I don’t even remember knowing about it), and made a smart list of demands to the city. But the Bloomberg administration ignored it, and so did the media. The year before, the “One Nation Working Together for Jobs, Justice and Education” march, sponsored by 400 liberal groups and turning out an estimated 175,000 people, amounted to little, and the Democrats were routed a month later in the midterm elections.

Why are we such know-it-alls? Why can’t we wait and see what starts to emerge from this 18-day social experiment before we make demands of it?

How Teachers in Tennessee Go On Strike

The Tennessean:

Sherrie Martin, former teacher of the year at a Metro school, is questioning whether she really belongs in the classroom after scoring low on the state’s new teacher evaluation.

In Sumner County, Summer Naylor left her third-graders behind last month, resigning after eight years teaching. Too many mandates and evaluations made her job no longer fun.

New evaluations pushed Robert “Bud” Raikes — the Smyrna High School principal who has a stadium named after him — into retiring early.

“For the first time in 17 years I don’t like getting up and going to my job,” Martin said. “There are so many teachers frustrated, and several have already resigned.”

Comparing Apples to Apples

Hung-Hsi Wu:

The Common Core math standards place great emphasis on mathematical integrity, [in other words] the statements of the standards are mathematically correct and the progression from topic to topic is logical. In this regard, it is at least comparable to the best state standards, such as those of California and Massachusetts. However, the Common Core math standards are unique in being sensitive to the multiple defects in the existing de facto national curriculum that is already embedded in existing textbooks (see my article for further discussion) and address these defects directly.

There is no point in comparing a new set of standards to an enacted curriculum and arguing that the new plan has more integrity. It is like comparing a plan for a new city to an existing one and getting excited about how much clearer and cleaner the new city looks on paper. The question that matters is: are the new standards better than the old ones, and the answer from their proponents seems to be that they're "at least comparable," which is a little underwhelming considering all the expense.


Usually such benchmarking is done by asking whether topic X is taught by a certain grade, and whether each grade teaches too many topics. If topic X is fixed, then the usual criterion of excellence seems to be that the earlier X is taught, the better the curriculum. The Common Core math standards do not play this game, but are nevertheless fully consistent with the research findings of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel on curriculum from an international perspective (see Chapter 3 of the Report of the Tasks Groups). People who are worried that the Common Core math standards have not been benchmarked against international competitors may be those who have bought into some myths, e.g., all high-achieving nations finish Algebra I in grade 8. A rational discussion of this issue would show that there is no intrinsic merit in finishing Algebra I by grade 8.

Of course, international benchmarking is a basic requirement for the use of these standards in Race to the Top plans and all of Achieve's, work leading up to this was supposedly based on international benchmarking, so... ?

Having said that, I have no position on whether the new math standards are any good or not.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"People in Kansas do yoga, you understand. Country's different, you understand?"

Charlie Pierce:

"People are informed today. People are online," Burke explains. "People in Kansas do yoga, you understand. Country's different, you understand? There's no more mooks in the citizenry. We are working people and we're not getting a fair shake, so we took to the streets. It's an irrational act, an act of passion, but we need to use self-control and respect. Those who want to go down with the ship will go down with the ship. Those who will be there will be sensible people who are out here for a reason. The kids who are out here who just want to party, well, they're beautiful children and we protect them every night. I can't even tell you what's going to happen after today. The cops may sweep this when the landlord says I want them out.

"Not anti-anybody. We're pro-American citizen. Millions of Americans are getting kicked out of their house. They're losing their education, their health care. They can't take care of their parents. This is about people. Republicans are opening their bills. Democrats are opening their bills. I'll go all the way to $250,000 if you want. Everybody's opening their bills and they're thinking, 'Who's protecting me from people stealing from me?' This isn't what I agreed on when I signed this agreement with this company. You add all these hassles up in your life — your hospital, your credit card, your education, your mortgage — and you're getting nailed. And there are a couple of banks who created the instruments that made that happen. This is not a physical war. This is an oppression that's quiet, and through money, and through services, and through small print. They want you to be afraid, and not to know, and they want to bewilder you. Between you and me, I shouldn't get a credit card. But I got one. I didn't even apply for it. Why am I getting a credit card?

"This is not Tahrir Square. This is not Tompkins Square Park. This is not Yuppies against squatters. This is about minds. We need help from people who know. We need help from people in the financial industry who know. They should be here, too. He should want to see a better community. I want to see change in a systematic and legislative way. We're looking for real results. We're looking for protection for people. We're down here trying to play bills. It's serious out there, but it's quiet, because it happens at everyone's kitchen table. It's happening household-by-household. There's a sense out there, which I hope what's going on here will dissipate, that there's something wrong with me. I'm a jerk because I can't pay that bill. There are working men who will march tomorrow. It's all about people, who feel they got duped. There needs to be a systematic legislative change, so that this cannot happen any more."

Brendan Burke's head is shaved. He doesn't wear funny glasses. He doesn't beat a drum, or look like he failed an audition for a Radiohead tribute band. He is not what the smart people come down here expecting to find. He looks like the truck driver he is, and he talks like someone who works for a living. For a long time in this country, that was enough. That country is what the people have come to find in this little park, where the wind is getting colder.

They Really Don't Take It Seriously

USA Today:

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said department officials hadn't seen the new report, but he said they were aware of "troubling reports across the country" of the disparity in minority and white discipline rates. He said the department is taking the reports seriously. "In the end, we want to make sure that every student is treated fairly and given the opportunities and the resources to succeed," he said.

That's funny, because the last time I checked, the department was pushing as hard as it could to open privately run segregated schools aimed at minority students featuring strict "no excuses" disciplinary policies that middle class white people would never tolerate from government officials and which generally have much higher rates of suspensions and other punitive measures.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Back in the Bad Old Days

Kevin Carey:

We know what the Lamar Alexander vision of public education looks like. It’s called “the early 1990s,” before the 1994 passage of a previous version of NCLB that required states to start developing real standards and accountability systems. Back then, states could do as they pleased, and as a result, only 14 percent of fourth graders were proficient in math. After two decades of sustained focus on basic subjects in elementary school, that percentage has more than tripled, to 45 percent. Presumably, Alexander hasn’t forgotten those bad old days—he was Secretary of Education at the time. It’s a shame that his nostalgia for the failure over which he presided has resulted in legislation to roll back twenty years of imperfect but significant progress in education policy.

OK, lets look at the graphs from the linked report:

It is especially difficult to base any credit or blame on either the 1994 or 2001 laws, since the big jumps occur immediately after their passage, when there arguably hasn't been sufficient time to drive significant change nationally or even full implementation.

However, to make the kind of cheap extrapolation I'd have been embarrassed to even suggest a couple years ago, but now is all too common: if we had maintained the rate of growth in 4th grade mathematics established between 1990 and 1992, we'd now have 60% proficiency in 4th grade math (instead of 39%), and 72% proficiency in 8th grade math (instead of 34%)!!!!!

Monday, October 03, 2011

I'm Surprised Stories Like This Aren't Rolled Out More Often In Defense of Tenure

Nancy Flanagan:

I don't believe there has ever been a school year when I wasn't teaching at least one board member's child. I've seen local boards make baseless, idiotic decisions and demonstrate the "I'm only on the board to get benefits for my child" syndrome. I've been asked by an administrator to change the grade of a board member's son, and instructed to "forget" that a board member's daughter stole a musical instrument, when the police report was filed.

I know there's plenty of room for malfeasance--not to mention outright educational incompetence--with local school boards. I've experienced it.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Once We Can Quantify Grit, This Will Be Objectively Proven


I think all these elites believe they are wealthy and secure due to their superior morality and work ethic. Therefore, it's important to make sure the plebes feel some pain for their excesses so they'll adopt the higher standards of their betters. Just as Michael Kinsley believes that Chris Christie's obesity reveals a slothful character, the Central Bankers are apparently all convinced that sovereign debt is due to the character flaws of slothful citizens who have failed to become wealthy. Neither belief is relevant to fiscal policy. Or even true.