Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In the Common Core, Is there a Place for Domain Specific Vocabulary in the Discipline of English/Language Arts?

The Common Core standards consistently emphasize "general academic and domain-specific vocabulary," in equal measures. They are almost always used together.

One thing I've noticed in the standards, however, is both a peculiar lack of domain-specific vocabulary within the discipline of English and Language Arts, and inaccuracy when it is used.

For example, Ye Olde Massachusetts Standards:

Identify and analyze characteristics of genres (satire, parody, allegory, pastoral) that overlap or cut across the lines of genre classifications such as poetry, prose, drama, short story, essay, and editorial.

That sort of genre analysis -- fundamental to the discipline of English (and the humanities in general) -- is conspicuously absent from the Common Core.

This is a more typical formulation for the CC:

Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Is it my imagination, or is this written in such a way to require as little domain-specific knowledge or vocabulary within English Language Arts as possible?

When domain-specific vocabulary is used in the standards, it is mangled. For example according to CC, "informational texts" = "literary nonfiction" which is defined as:

Includes the subgenres of exposition, argument, and functional text in the form of personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies, memoirs, journalism, and historical, scientific, technical, or economic accounts (including digital sources) written for a broad audience.

That's just a mess on stilts, none of those definitions fits their "domain-specific" definition or makes any sense.

What I'm realizing now is that all this is a bit more intentional than I thought.

Here's what Achieve is telling secondary school leaders:

Academic Vocabulary: Students constantly build the vocabulary they need to access grade level complex texts. By focusing strategically on comprehension of pivotal and commonly found words (such as “discourse,” “generation,” “theory” and “principled”) and less on esoteric literary terms (such as “onomatopoeia” or “homonym”), teachers constantly build students’ ability to access more complex texts across the content areas.

This argument by Achieve has no basis in the text of the standards, which gives general academic and domain-specific terms equal weight, but it is becoming the standard interpretation.


SHIFT 6: Academic Vocabulary from EngageNY on Vimeo.


What I have come to realize over the years is that I teach discreet [sic] genre-related skills for poetry, drama, “the novel and memoir.[sic] Why was I sending kids off to college and work without teaching them how to engage in complex, informational and non-fiction text? Now I have partners in that effort in other content classes down the hall. it makes sense.

Now, I'm actually sympathetic with their general point about "tier 2" words being relatively under-taught, and I can see how this could especially be an issue with disadvantaged students. And I can imagine liking a set of standards which de-emphasized some academic vocabulary because they were less narrowly academic overall.

But these standards are not only very narrowly academic in their goals, but with a particular emphasis on close reading and textual analysis. Are we really dead set on doing this without using "esoteric literary terms (such as “onomatopoeia” or 'homonym')?" Why, exactly? In the video, David Coleman talks about the subtlety of meaning lost in over-emphasizing synonyms. Is it ok to teach the word "synonym" but not "homonym?" Or should we just use "words that mean almost the same thing" and "words that sound the same but are different" instead to prepare kids for college?

I think Coleman genuinely wants students and teachers who love words and language, but I don't understand the hostility toward words used to describe and analyze other words.

To the extent there is an explanation to this, I think it can be attributed to the rivalry between ELA and Literacy experts and teachers. Literacy people heavily outnumbered ELA people on these standards, and they're using the process to disarm their institutional rivals by literally removing their words -- their tools -- from schools.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's been a Helluva Year for Central PA in the National News


(CNN) -- Three females and a male shooter were killed Friday in central Pennsylvania, authorities said.

Three Pennsylvania State Police officers were hurt while responding, according to Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio. One of them was wounded when a bullet hit his armored vest, another was hurt in a vehicle accident involving the unidentified shooter, and the third was hit by flying glass as the shooter fired through the windshield of the officer's vehicle.

Blair County Coroner Patty Ross said that three females and one male, the shooter, were dead. It was not immediately clear whether all four fatalities were from gunshot wounds or where they were killed.

Trendspotting with John Thompson

John Thompson:

But, perhaps there is a simpler method of holding the "reformers" accountable. The World, the New Jersey Star Ledger and the Chicago Tribune have recently published confidential documents that provide glimpses of the motives of these accountability hawks. All three sets of documents reveal their deep suspicion of the public and of public schools, and provide evidence that the "reform" movement is morphing into an effort to privatize schools.

Achieve's Common Core ELA Benchmarking

I guess I never noticed these two documents published by Achieve in 2010:

Not surprisingly, both are too general and slanted to be of any real value. Achieve, Fordham, and the rest of the current US standards activists have a double standard for evaluating ELA standards compared to math. They believe that other, higher scoring, countries have better math standards than us, and that generally we should emulate them. In ELA, they just don't really like other countries' standards, high performing or not. They are quite confident that they've got some new ideas that are even better than those of the proven high performing states in the US.

So in the report you get a lot of comments like this:

The other state standards tend to apply such close reading to literary texts and not to informational material.

Of course, the reason other states and countries do not apply close reading techniques to informational material is that it is mostly a waste of time. The vast majority of "informational text" simply does not reflect enough care or craft to be worth the bother. Where informational text is very rich, it tends to yield more easily to literary techniques anyhow. There's no reason to think that a student who can perform a close reading of Poe and Melville can't handle the Gettysburg Address. There is something to be said for close reading in analyzing argument and persuasion, but I'd rather see that in a separate set of standards on rhetoric (for which there is ample precedent).

Anyway, if someone other than Achieve tried to add a major new task in math that high performing states and countries omit, their benchmarking would almost certainly frown upon it. That's the point of this enterprise, isn't it?

Here's some more stuff about Alberta vs. Common Core.

Here's a nice quote from the New South Wales standards which for some reason omits the phrase "college and career readiness:"

English involves the study and use of language in its various textual forms, encompassing written, spoken and visual texts of varying complexity, including the language systems of English through which meaning is conveyed, interpreted and reflected.

The study of English enables students to recognise and use a diversity of approaches and texts to meet the growing array of literacy demands, including higher-order social, aesthetic and cultural literacy. This study is designed to promote a sound knowledge of the structure and function of the English language and to develop effective English communication skills*. The English Stage 6 courses develop in students an understanding of literary expression and nurture an appreciation of aesthetic values. Through reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing and representing experience, ideas and values, students are encouraged to adopt a critical approach to all texts and to distinguish the qualities of texts. Students also develop English language skills to support their study at Stage 6 and beyond.

In Stage 6, students come to understand the complexity of meaning, to compose and respond to texts according to their form, content, purpose and audience, and to appreciate the personal, social, historical, cultural and workplace contexts that produce and value them. Students reflect on their reading and learning and understand that these processes are shaped by the contexts in which they respond to and compose texts.

The study of English enables students to make sense of, and to enrich, their lives in personal, social and professional situations and to deal effectively with change. Students develop a strong sense of themselves as autonomous, reflective and creative learners. The English Stage 6 syllabus is designed to develop in students the faculty to perceive and understand their world from a variety of perspectives, and it enables them to appreciate the richness of Australia’s cultural diversity.

The syllabus is designed to develop enjoyment of English and an appreciation of its value and role in learning.

Not very Common Core-y at all, is it?

Also True In Education


We have two things going on here. One is the understood rule that Democrats must be civil and nice and never commit the sin of accurately describing the views of Republicans. Second is the entrenched pundit utterly unconcerned with actual policy or judicial outcomes because, you know, they won't actually impact him.

You might have to substitute "reformer" for "Republican" here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What's Cooking at the College Board?

Kati Haycock:

I’m writing to let you know that, after 16 years at the Education Trust, Amy Wilkins will be leaving early next year to take a new position at the College Board.

That'll be working under new College Board president David Coleman, of course.

The Common Core, particularly "if implemented correctly" as we say, undercuts the argument for The College Board's two best known products, the SAT and AP (at least in English and Math). They're not going to be sitting on their hands over in that wealthy non-profit.

Grifters Gotta Grift

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

Earlier this year, the GE Foundation awarded an $18 million, four-year grant to Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by the chief CCSS architects David Coleman, Sue Pimentel, and Jason Zimba—to support (among other things) the development of Common Core–aligned curriculum and instructional resources. In addition to being developed under the careful guidance of the lead authors of the standards themselves (and all signs seem to suggest that these materials will be top-notch), SAP-developed resources will be open source and provided at no cost to teachers around the country.

This week, Student Achievement Partners announced a new partnership with the NEA and AFT, which will be funded with a three-year, $11 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, “to jointly design tools and digital applications to support teachers in their practice.”

I haven't seen any evidence at all that Student Achievement Partners has the capacity to create successful curriculum and instructional resources (and plenty to the contrary). The only thing that is clear is that they excel at turning connections in to cash.

Apparently Eli Broad isn't the Only One Funding a Fifth Column Within Our Public Institutions

Rajiv Chandrasekaran:

Petraeus allowed his biographer-turned-paramour, Paula Broadwell, to read sensitive documents and accompany him on trips. But the entree granted the Kagans, whose think-tank work has been embraced by Republican politicians, went even further. The four-star general made the Kagans de facto senior advisers, a status that afforded them numerous private meetings in his office, priority travel across the war zone and the ability to read highly secretive transcripts of intercepted Taliban communications, according to current and former senior U.S. military and civilian officials who served in the headquarters at the time.

The Kagans used those privileges to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, including a harder-edged approach than some U.S. officers advocated in combating the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said.

The pro-bono relationship, which is now being scrutinized by military lawyers, yielded valuable benefits for the general and the couple. The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank. For Petraeus, embracing two respected national security analysts in GOP circles helped to shore up support for the war among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

Or maybe Eli and Bill got the idea from AEI.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Burkins and Yaris:

One main idea we gathered from reading the PARCC text and test items (Pun intended!) is that PARCC seems to be confusing text complexity with text that is difficult because it is poorly written. Complexity is not the only reason a text may prove challenging, but it is the purpose of the PARCC assessments, as they clearly state that every item in the test is designed to assess text complexity. Making something complex involves more than making it “hard.”

This to me was always the risk of emphasizing "text complexity."

Also, text complexity in assessments is one of the few things in this whole process which can be "objectively" enforced. Not that each text has some Platonic true complexity, but you can write an algorithm to spit out a number which "proves" your case. So you can add in the commentary to the standards "Also, this has to be a genuinely valuable, well written, virtuous, whatever" text, but at the end of the day, that's not going to carry much weight in the test writing process. But they will get the complexity numbers to come out right.

TIMMS, Effort and Shovel-Ready Science

In my first look at the 2011 TIMMS and PIRLS results, I asserted that we've put much more effort into reading -- especially 4th grade reading -- than math and science, despite all the hand-wringing about STEM and STEAM. Among all the survey data and other analysis in the TIMMS and PIRLS reports, I did notice one table that backs me up.

For each test, principals were polled on the question of how much resource shortages affected instruction in the relevant subject area. In 4th grade reading, we have the fewest principals reporting their schools are "not affected," at 45%. This is the lowest percentage of all participating countries in reading; our scale score in the subject is a very competitive 6th.

I looked at the same rankings in math and science and compared us to Korea in each.

In math we have 42% and 43% not affected by resources shortages in 4th and 8th grade, ranking #6 and #8, respectively. Our scores rank #11 and #9.

Korea has 22% and 15% fewer schools reporting affects of resource shortages in math in those grades. They rank in the top three for both resources and overall scores.

In science we have 34% and 39% reporting their schools are not affected by resource shortages, ranking us #6 and #10 for resources and #7 and #10 for scores.

In 4th grade science, Korea is #1 in both resources and scores; in 8th grade they are #3 in each. They have 29% fewer schools with resource shortages in science in 4th grade, 18% fewer in 8th.

Now, the first cherry I picked there worked out pretty neatly, I'm sure the overall correlation is considerably less tidy. My point isn't that this is the decisive point or spending X million dollars would vault us to the top of the rankings.

But, you can certainly look to this while pulling your hair out and fighting back tears about what could possibly be done to improve math and science education in America, when everything we're trying seems like a triple-bank shot with our eyes closed. It might work to write new standards, then new tests, then new VAM models, use them in new evaluation systems, which we then tie to teacher training programs, which we use to rank schools of education, and then maybe create an entirely new alternative system of ed schools, etc., etc., etc.

In the meantime, it certainly couldn't hurt to shell out a little cash to make sure math and science teachers have all the resources they need. Right now 2/3rds of elementary principals believe that science instruction in their schools is affected negatively by resource shortages.

Sure, some of it will end up going into gold-plated telescopes and short-toothed clam rakes, but of all the things we could be doing, it is the easiest and most "shovel-ready," and it seems to have helped in early reading.

Monday, December 17, 2012

You Can Count Me as "Anti-David Coleman"

Cedar Riener:

None of these points are tangential, they get to the core of the philosophical disputes in these cases. The reason Michelle Rhee was so despised in DC was that she openly and bluntly dismissed the value of dialogue, diplomacy and consensus. (“I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months, it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.”) Part and parcel of this attitude is maintaining tha tyou have nothing ot learn from understanding The reason David Coleman is so despised is that his language indicates a disgust with his opponents. To me, this represents not just a disconnect between sides of an emotional issue, but a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of your own job. David Coleman, if you treat teachers who use Huck Finn as an entrance to modern racial identity as if they are training shallow navel-gazers, they will stop listening to you. I am not anti-David Coleman, and neither is Rachel, we are probably natural allies if you look at our support of Core Knowledge and the role of background factual knowledge in critical thinking. but the cursing in this case says “I am not taking people who disagree with me seriously.”

Where Would A People's History of the United States Fit in the Common Core?

American Educator has a critique of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I find the AFT's traditional conservative slant to be tiresome, but Wineburg makes some good points, and A People's History is certainly a polemic, but as usual I think Wineburg's perspective overstates the overall influence of Zinn in actual American classrooms.

Regardless, it does provide a good context for thinking about how the Common Core is supposed to work.

For starters, perhaps this essay should just be seen as an argument that A People's History is not a sufficiently high quality text to satisfy the exhortations of the authors of the Common Core standards. This would be especially true since the Common Core history standards emphasize primary or at least secondary sources, and A People's History, which, according to Wineburg, mostly cites other secondary sources, when it has citations at all.

On the other hand, A People's History is indisputably in the Core's wheelhouse of "informational texts" aka "Literary Nonfiction" aka "...historical accounts written for a broad audience," especially given that commentary around the standards emphasizes evaluating arguments and rhetoric. You can't learn to critique arguments if you are only given pre-selected texts with airtight logic and ample factual evidence. Or maybe that's what the CC authors have in mind.

So instead, perhaps you'll read A People's History in English instead of History class, with an English teacher guiding you through a set of tasks primarily focused on close reading and analysis of the text itself, with only part of one standard addressing whether "the evidence is relevant and sufficient." This might work out fine, in fact Wineburg's own analysis is more about how Zinn constructs his text as a whole than a point by point refutation.

Or perhaps not. Maybe students will sit through watered down history (and science) lessons taught by English teachers in the name of meeting the "informational text" requirement. It is difficult to say what the Common Core's vision of disciplinary and interdisciplinary literacy really is, or how it will play out in tests and classrooms.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Few Words About Mr. Round

I had the pleasure of working a bit with Stephen Round at Fortes Elementary 10 years ago, back when they were winning national praise (and grants) for their use of technology and particularly for their ongoing schoolwide project to build museum displays throughout the school telling the history of the neighborhood and the restored mill that housed the school. Steve's class's particular passion was ice harvesting, which is still documented online.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

PIRLS 2011: We've Succeeded at What We've Truly Focused On

From where I sit, we've only truly had an all hands on deck, we're going to spend whatever needs to be spent, this nation is at risk, I'd consider it an act of war if imposed upon me by an unfriendly foreign power, kind of response in one sliver of education reform over the past 15 years or so, and that is in elementary reading. I'm not going to marshal statistics to prove it; it should be obvious to anyone with a good view of the process.

To me this is symbolized in the elementary school down the street where the new literacy/data center sits in the ruins of the formerly state of the art science center (itself within the original library).

That is not to say I agree with a lot of our literacy strategy, but there is a vast difference between the amount of push in early reading instruction now and decades earlier.

And, importantly, we've traditionally had good professional capacity in this area.

So... the scores for the 2011 PIRLS 4th grade international reading test is out, and we killed it. Killed it.

These two graphs lay it out pretty well. First, the overall score distribution (red = 5th-25th and 75th-95th percentile, black = 95% confidence interval for the average). Click to expand:

When you break out the scores by economic background, we do even better:

There's a name for the effect when you outscore everyone else in each subcategory but get a lower overall score because of the relative distribution of each group (i.e., you have too many in the most disadvantaged group). I'm not going to look up the name right now, but that's what's going on here. We're #1 in the top two groups and 5th in the third, by my scan. Against Finland we're +15/+3/-4. Against Russia we're +15/+8/-12. Against Singapore we're +1/+14/-4. We just have a low number of "more affluent" schools and a lot of "more disadvantaged" ones.

I guess Florida is the only state that took the PIRLS to be scored individually, and their scores are gaudy. First, first, and second by income group.

Yes, I know Florida's 4th grade reading scores are suspect because of their retention policies, but the whole northeast does as well or better than Florida on 4th grade NAEP, so some states would do even better, and Rhode Island might even look pretty good.

Ultimately, no, I don't put that much stock in any one test, etc., and we know our scores tend to decline at higher grade levels, and we don't do as well in math and science.

But, this is still an impressive indication of what we can do if we set our minds to it and invest real money and effort -- without the whole privatization agenda. I don't see us beating the world in math for pretty much the same reason we won't win the World Cup anytime soon; we do pretty good in soccer, for a country that doesn't really like soccer that much. And I'm not convinced we're even really trying in science at this point (heck, it's only 1/4th of STEM).

But Jeez Louise, this is probably the best we've ever done on any international test in K-12, ever. You'd think people would be happy. Especially the people who profess to think international comparisons are extremely important.

I Didn't Know Staff Writers Got Tenure

Prachi Gupta:

Stewart, who was told that he could not change the jokes, called his agent, saying “get me the fuck out of this. These people are insane.” He admitted that he “had to be talked down from a moderately high cliff” from quitting. Fortunately for America, Stewart stuck it out — but it took him “about two and a half years for the ‘natural winnowing process’ to leave him with a fully supportive staff.”

Apparently The Daily Show didn't qualify for a SIG-funded turnaround.

Good Thing Rhode Island Hasn't Tried Following Massachusetts' Strategies

James Vaznis:

Massachusetts eighth-graders outperformed most countries on a highly regarded international math and science exam, according to results being released Tuesday, offering fresh evidence that the state’s educational system rivals academically powerful ­nations around the globe.

In the science part of the test, only Singapore outscored Massachusetts eighth-graders. In math, Massachusetts trailed only South Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, and Japan; 63 countries took the test.

For that matter, Massachusetts isn't sticking with what got them there either. I'm sure we're both better off becoming more like Florida, Texas or Tennessee.

It Isn't Just About Skills


So the story has totally shifted; if you want to understand what’s happening to income distribution in the 21st century economy, you need to stop talking so much about skills, and start talking much more about profits and who owns the capital. Mea culpa: I myself didn’t grasp this until recently. But it’s really crucial.

You also need some leverage to demand higher wages. Maybe a little collective action.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Figured the Point was to Keep Each Episode Manageably Short

Dana Stevens:

When I heard Jackson was taking on The Hobbit as a three-parter, my first thought wasn’t to snicker at his hubris but to look forward to the chance to spend more time in Middle Earth.

More time in Middle Earth is exactly what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey provides—so much more that the movie starts to feel like some Buddhist exercise in deliberately inflicted tedium. Before we ever set foot in the hobbits' shire or lay eyes on any of the main characters, there’s a 20-minute long CGI prologue that provides a Bayeux Tapestry-length account of the mythic fall of Erebor, the dwarves’ once-glorious homeland. Bilbo doesn’t actually pack his bag and leave the damn shire until about an hour in to the movie, which clocks in at just 10 minutes short of three hours.

Apparently not.

Buying the Conventional Wisdom

Dan Froomkin:

Most reporters, however -- including many widely admired for their intelligence and aggressive reporting -- simply refused to blame one side more than the other. Mann said he was struck in conversations with journalists by how influenced they were by the heavily funded movement to promote a bipartisan consensus around deficit reduction and austerity. Such a bipartisan consensus doesn't actually exist, Mann pointed out. But if you believe it does, than you can blame both parties for failing to reach it.

"The Peterson world, I think, has given journalists the material to keep doing what they're doing," Mann said of the vast network of think tanks and other influential Washington groups underwritten at least in part by Wall Street billionaire Peter Peterson.

Peterson's vast spending has given rise to an environment of contempt among the Washington elites for anyone who doesn't believe the government is dangerously overextended. And by that reckoning, the Democrats are therefore more out of touch with reality than Republicans, who at least pay the concept ample lip service.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

First Fluke, Now Fleck

Rebecca Berdar:

Pennsylvania’s 81st District is a diverse place — a three county territory that encompasses Appalachian, Amish and liberal arts cultures in the midst of the urban and academic centers of Altoona and State College. It’s a diversity mirrored by its elected representative Mike Fleck, a conservative Christian who is disclosing that he is also gay.

It is unfortunate that the whole article in The Huntingdon Daily News is behind their paywall because it is really very well done. I had to chuckle over Berdar's description of the "diversity" in my home town -- Appalachia, Amish and liberal arts. Pretty accurate except there really aren't that many Amish around.

The Short Explanation: They Didn't Give it Much Thought

Leonie Haimson:

Coleman’s comments lead me to suspect that he and other supporters of the Common Core have not thought their prescription out carefully. Traditionally, in high school English classes, two novels, at least one play and several poems are regularly assigned; that works out to 700 pages of text or more. In order to achieve the 70% ratio without sacrificing huge chunks of literature that would mean that more than 1500 pages of non-fiction would have to be parceled out across all subjects.

They must have talked about the issue when writing the "range of reading" standards, though, and decided not to include the lit/informational ratio in there. Why?

What They Mean By "Multiple Measures," Take 27

Bruce Baker:

What we have here is NYSED threatening that they may enforce a corrective action plan on the district if the district uses any other measures of teacher or principal effectiveness that are not sufficiently correlated WITH THE STATE’S OWN BIASED MEASURES OF PRINCIPAL AND TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS!

This is the icing on the cake! This is sick- warped- wrong! Consultants to the state find that the measures are biased, and then declare they are “fair and accurate.” The Chancellor spews propaganda that reliance on these measures must proceed with all deliberate speed! (or ELSE!!!!!!!). Then the Chancellor’s enforcers warn individual district officials that they will be subjected to mind control – excuse me – departmental oversight – if they dare to present their own observational or other ratings of teachers or principals that don’t correlate sufficiently with the state imposed, biased measures.

Tell us how you really feel, Bruce.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Standards for Curricula

The Common Core standards are, of course, standards for what students should know and be able to do. The marketing of the Common Core ELA standards has been almost entirely focused on using the Common Core as standards for curricula, particularly the content of published curricula.

Coleman, Pimentel, etc., do not see teachers as the lever to implement the reforms they are interested in. They don't think like teachers at all. What they are clearly interested in is changing textbooks, instructional materials and tests. This is, I might add, a much more direct approach to changing America's classrooms.

For example, if you create an elementary reading program, or a high school ELA textbook, or a reading assessment, you pretty much understand what you're supposed to be doing when you manipulate the ratio of literature to informational texts. It's like changing the recipe a bit. Add 35% more "creative non-fiction?" I'll grab some more content from the cabinet, no problem.

But for teachers and schools, particularly high schools, a lot of this rhetoric just doesn't make sense. It does not apply, at least without a heck of a lot more explanation than has been offered thus far. What, exactly constitutes a unit of reading? A "passage?" How many passages in a book? Pages? How many Gettysburg Addresses equal one novel? Are all texts in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects also informational texts for this purpose despite the fact that they are defined separately in the standards? Do you have to analyze the text for it to count or just read it? How does Euclid count? If it counts, why not your math text? If these are annoying questions for which there are no answers, whose idea was it to start talking about percentages in the first place?

Do you really expect the whole school to change its practices to suit a comment in the introduction to one set of standards used by the school? To whom should anyone be held accountable for this?

Anyhow, that's one source of this confusion: they spent their big rollout on messages aimed at publishers, not schools. Now it is biting them in the ass.

David Coleman is Washing His Hands of this Mess

Lyndsey Layton:

The standards explicitly say that Shakespeare and classic American literature should be taught, said Coleman, who became president of the College Board in November. “It does really concern me that these facts are not as clear as they should be,” he said.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Disciplinary Literacies Necessary to Read Literacy Standards


If Coleman is complaining that no one understands his 66 page document with a key fact in a foot note on page 5, maybe HE needs some remedial non-fiction writing instruction so that the core of his core statement is actually understood – rather than misunderstood.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Rick Hess Beats Me to the Punch

Rick Hess:

First, politicians will actually embrace the Common Core assessments and then will use them to set cut scores that suggest huge numbers of suburban schools are failing. Then, parents and community members who previously liked their schools are going to believe the assessment results rather than their own lying eyes. (In the case of NCLB, these same folks believed their eyes rather than the state tests, and questioned the validity of the latter--but the presumption is that things will be different this time.) Finally, newly convinced that their schools stink, parents and voters will embrace "reform." However, most of today's proffered remedies--including test-based teacher evaluation, efforts to move "effective" teachers to low-income schools, charter schooling, and school turnarounds--don't have a lot of fans in the suburbs or speak to the things that suburban parents are most concerned about.

I also wonder how the low performing southern states will react, although there is more variation within the between states, so maybe it won't be very noticeable.

I've been kind of amazed at how everyone just assumes the NECAP 11th grade math cut scores are just fine, even though it seems to be twice as hard to pass as the MCAS, so who knows.

Maybe the Problem is Your Policies are Unpopular and Ineffective

Ben Wieder:

Speaking in Washington, D.C. at the fifth annual Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform Tuesday (November 27), John Podesta said that major electoral defeats in Indiana, Idaho and South Dakota showed the folly of painting unions as the enemy.

I don't think the unions did anything different this time around, it is just that people are starting to understand what the "reform" agenda actually is, and in particular, that it is only appealing when applied in the abstract to other people's children/schools. Try to apply it state-wide and people start to look more closely.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Roger Schank:

A few years ago I was asked for my annual prediction my e-learning magazine and I predicted the death of m-learning. I was attacked by everyone. Funny we don’t hear so much about m-learning any more. Learning is a field that is very trendy. There is always the latest greatest that everyone must do. Today this is “social learning” and “on the job learning.”

There is one problem with this. None of this stuff is ever new in any way. Learning hasn't changed in a million years. Did I say a million? Too conservative. How do chimp babies learn? Socially? Of course. They copy what their mothers do and what their playmates do. (Amazingly they do this without Facebook.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Test Scores for Teacher Effectiveness SCREENING

Douglas N. Harris:

But they also made one decision that I think was a mistake. They encouraged—or required, depending on your vantage point—states to lump value-added or other growth model estimates together with other measures. The raging debate since then has been over what percentage of teachers’ final ratings should be given to value-added versus the other measures. I believe there is a better way to approach this issue, one that focuses on teacher evaluations not as a measure, but rather as a process.

This is depressingly obvious. Too bad we're ruled by malicious idiots.

What Exactly is Not STEAM?

So the cool kids have decided to add the Arts to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to make STEAM. Who could be against that? Indeed, what does it leave out? Literacy? I presume not. Literature? Isn't that an Art?

It seems like the only thing left out is History & Social Studies, which is already the red-headed stepchild of American education, so... ?

STEAM = more of everything? More of what we already do? Just adding Engineering?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Flogging a Dead Horse

Stephen Downes:

Content (under whatever license) is 'enclosed' when it is contained behind a barrier such as proprietary encryption, a digital lock or a paywall. Enclosure does not restrict the content itself, but restricts access to the content; access is granted (typically under some other name) only via some concession, such as payment, or provision of personal information.

To my understanding, all of Flat World's content will now be enclosed behind a paywall. OERu assessments enclose assessment content. This mailing list (OER-community) encloses content behind a subscription requirement (I can't even link to discussions in my newsletter; all non-subscribers see is a barrier).

Enclosure is an important concept because it leads to 'conversion'. The process of conversion is one where what was once a resource that could be freely accessed is (for all practical purposes) accessible only through a barrier of some sort; in other words, the content is free, but has been effectively completely enclosed. This is what happened (for example) to many UseNet newsgroups. It almost happened to Wikipedia, and would have happened, has Google not intervened.

It seems to me that this is only a problem insofar as the cost of making and publishing a copy of "enclosed" but openly licensed material outweighs the value of doing so for each person in the world. It must be a problem on both ends.

There is a lot with format, etc., you can do to make copying a pain in the ass, and I don't think you are required to provide access to the "source code" in the same way you are with software, despite the fact that an educational resource may use a lot of software.

But I also suspect that OER's just aren't seen as that valuable. Is there an open educational resource as important as, say, BASH? Not that I'm aware of.

Also, the possibility of commercially re-distributing free content would be one of the main incentives to un-enclosing it. If Pearson is charging you $10 to access an OER, maybe I should copy it and offer it for $1. That might not be exactly what Stephen has in mind, but its a step.

I suspect a big part of the problem is just cultural at this point. It is well established that I can take a Red Hat Linux CD, change the name and try to sell it to you, or just give it away. I wouldn't win a lot of praise for that, but it is accepted. Would the same apply in the OER world if I was just copying openly licensed resources from behind paywalls?

I would note that it would be pretty easy for, say, Gates or Hewlett, to fund a project to just copy all OER's from behind paywalls and publish them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Perspectives from the Urban Hellhole (Philly)

Chris Lehmann:

But the thing is – whether it is Michelle Rhee or Rahm Emmanuel or <-Insert Corporate Ed-Reformer Here->, they don’t hate the kids.


They really do want to starve your granny.

Both are right, and you have to be able to hold both ideas in your head at the same time. In part they're both right because there is a wide range of people in each camp. There are plenty of people who hate kids, and some of them support school reform. There is a punitive, sadistic streak in American politics and economic life. There's a lot of hubris and ambition. Also, too, racism.

On the other hand, "they're wrong because they don't care about kids as much as we do" isn't going to win the argument, because privatizers have invested heavily in turning that argument against "the teachers' unions." It might never carry the day, but right now it is like a frontal assault on the Maginot Line.

It is important though, to not approach this situation as if both sides can come together over a common concern for kids. Or that, once the other side sees the damage their policies are doing in the lives of real kids, they'll reconsider. That's not going to happen. They're way, way, way past getting the benefit of the doubt on anything like that.

And at bottom, it isn't really about ideology. The kernel of this thing is tribal, getting the right kind of people in charge of schools and schools' money. Their people. I just see too many cases where one year they close something down only to replace it a few years later with the same damn thing, just run by their people.

It's a Good Thing Checker Finn Hasn't Read the Common Core ELA Standards

Chester E. Finn, Jr., commenting on the CCSSO's "Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards," aka Common Core for Social Studies:

Did you spot the missing words? I’ll bet you did. They are the verb “know” and the noun “knowledge.”

If he checks, Mr. Finn might find that the CCSS ELA/Literacy standards make rather light use of "know" and "knowledge" as well, particularly in the standards themselves.

My biggest concern about this initial draft is that it just overlaps the CCSS Literacy Standards for History/Social Studies so much:

At the heart of the C3 Framework is an inquiry arc — a set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that feature the four dimensions of informed inquiry in social studies: 1) developing questions and planning investigations; 2) applying disciplinary concepts and tools; 3) gathering, evaluating, and using evidence; and 4) working collaboratively and communicating conclusions.

It would be nice if someone was actually coordinating this process so we don't end up with two redundant sets of standards.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stand Up. Live Better.

Natasha Lennard:

Employees at 1,000 Walmart stores across the country are planning to strike on Black Friday. The holiday period industrial action comes in the wake of a string of strikes by Walmart workers in several states and involving employees throughout the retailer’s supply chain.

Looks like right now the closest planned solidarity demonstration is in Seekonk.

Woonsocket Voted for Mayoral Control, btw

Rob Borkowski:

Come November 2013, new Woonsocket School Committee members will get appointed to the board instead of elected.

City voters agreed to make the switch, casting approve votes on Question 8 — Amendments to the Woonsocket Home Rule Charter:"Shall the City of Woonsocket Home Rule Charter, Chapter XIV, be amended to provide for an appointed School Committee?"

Monday, November 19, 2012


The Mustache of Understanding:

Tapani eventually found a welder from another firm who had passed the American Welding Society Certified Welding Inspector exam, the industry’s gold standard, and he trained her welders — some of whom took several tries to pass the exam — so she could finish the job. Since then, Tapani trained a woman from Stacy, who had originally learned welding to make ends meet as a single mom. She took on the challenge of becoming a certified welding inspector, passed the exam and Tapani made her the company’s own in-house instructor, no longer relying on the local schools.

“She knows how to read a weld code. She can write work instructions and make sure that the people on the floor can weld to that instruction,” so “we solved the problem by training our own people,” said Tapani, adding that while schools are trying hard, training your own workers is often the only way for many employers to adapt to “the quick response time” demanded for “changing skills.” But even getting the right raw recruits is not easy. Welding “is a $20-an-hour job with health care, paid vacations and full benefits,” said Tapani, but “you have to have science and math. I can’t think of any job in my sheet metal fabrication company where math is not important. If you work in a manufacturing facility, you use math every day; you need to compute angles and understand what happens to a piece of metal when it’s bent to a certain angle.”

Who knew? Welding is now a STEM job — that is, a job that requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.

Applying my STEM skills, $20/hr x 40 hrs x 52 weeks = $41,600, which is nice, I suppose, but for a specialized array of physical and mental skills, couldn't they just pay more? $20/hr. might sound like a lot if you haven't been paid an hourly wage since a summer job 20 years ago, but it doesn't go so far today.

What's particularly aggravating about this case is that it is in the defense industry. How many other people with fewer and more commonly held skills are making way more money off this Humvee armor? Pretty much everyone else probably. It isn't like they have to shave off pennies here to compete with Walmart Humvee armor.

Also, note that they "solved the problem by training our own people," anyhow. So why was this article even necessary?

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Realistic View of the Impact of Literacy Standards in History/Social Studies

Marc Brasov:

As policymakers move forward with the implementation of the Common Core, it is important to ensure that schools have the freedom to balance instruction and assessment with a high-quality curriculum, in history classes especially. But I fear that the Common Core's requirement for literacy skills in both history and English classrooms could have a very different effect.

The standards, as of now, suggest that more non-fiction texts be examined in English classes, while requiring history classes to increase their focus on reading and writing skills. Although such collaboration between subjects at first may seem like progress, recent history with NCLB and high-stakes testing suggests another possible outcome: more focus on literacy, less focus on history.

While specifying some examples of great primary texts that students should read and learn to analyze, the Common Core standards do not actually require that any history content be taught. Students might read history texts but fail to receive history instruction. It may very well be that English classes be mandated to act as history classes.

In other words, at some future point, will history and civic education classes be replaced with longer English classes in low-performing schools in order to improve test scores?

We Need New Ideas for Secure Digital Testing

Maybe we could use something like the Cotton Candy. Basically it is a little computer running Android or Ubuntu in a USB stick, with its own wireless network connection, that you can plug into a pc. With some client software on a Mac, PC or Linux, it will essentially take over the host computer's screen, keyboard and mouse, with all the software running on the stick. Or you can run it off a TV with a USB or Bluetooth mouse or PC.

At testing time, HQ would ship out the testing sticks to schools, with as much of the bandwidth-intensive media files as might be needed by the tests already loaded to cut down on network requirements. Every student could have an identical, secure testing environment regardless of the vagaries of the local PC stock.

Presumably people paid to think about this kind of thing are already doing so. I don't know.

Too Bad Everything isn't Like Math

Strategic Data Project:

Generally, we do not present ELA results in this report for two reasons. First, the variation in effects among ELA teachers is substantially smaller than that among math teachers. This finding is consistent with other research on teacher effects and may suggest that other factors outside of the classroom have a larger influence on children’s ELA performance than is the case in other subjects. Current research also suggests that ELA state tests may also be less sensitive to instruction. Second, we do not present results among ELA teachers because, in most instances, they are very similar to our findings concerning math teachers (though some are smaller in magnitude). We explicitly make note of instances where ELA and math results diverge.

That's a big asterisk. History, social studies, science (esp. elementary school science), the arts, and pretty much everything else you want to teach is more like ELA than math.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Years of Posthumous PR Finally Pay Off

Dana Goldstein:

The whole saga at Crenshaw reminds me of the sad story of another creative public high school that bucked the prevailing reform winds of the day: Feinstein High, in Providence, Rhode Island. Feinstein was founded as a Ted Sizer-inspired “Essential School” organized around the principles of civic engagement and volunteer work. Serving just 360 students, Feinstein was highly nontraditional: It stressed long-form writing, not test scores, and there were no sports teams, class periods, or even grades. Every student had every teacher’s cell phone number, as well as a laptop they could carry between home and school. Although test scores were uneven, Feinstein demonstrated consistently impressive graduation and college-going rates compared to other high-poverty high schools in Rhode Island. For awhile, the school was recognized as a rare success story within an otherwise failing district. In 1999, the Gates Foundation gifted Providence $13.5 million to experiment with creating more small neighborhood high schools, using Feinstein as one model.

Over time, however, Gates, disappointed with stagnant test scores and graduation rates at some Foundation-funded small schools, decided to change his focus. In 2005, he stopped funding non-charter small schools and began investing heavily in school choice and standards-and-accountability reforms, such as charter schools and data-driven teacher evaluation. As the largest private foundation in the world, the Gates Foundation’s priorities are powerfully influential over the entire non-profit sector, and certainly help shape federal and state education agendas, too -- in part through the seeding of Foundation alumni, like Deasy, in important policy-making jobs. It didn’t take long for Feinstein to fall out of favor with Rhode Island’s political and philanthropic elite, and in 2010, despite emotional protests from students and teachers, the Providence school district shut Feinstein down.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pick One or the Other, Please

Erik Robelsen:

Under revisions to South Carolina's social studies standards finalized last year, Mr. Huffman said, one addition was a suggested set of social studies literacy skills, some of which were derived from the common core.

Look, if you're going to adopt the Common Core Literacy Standards in History/Social Studies, that at least excludes you from having to repeat them in the social studies subject area standards. You don't have to put the chocolate in your peanut butter and the peanut butter in your chocolate.


One big change, she said, is that students are expected to tackle a higher level of text complexity than before. "You're basically bumping up things by two years in a lot of cases," she said.

That's what led her to introduce Einstein's article for Science Illustrated magazine, "E=MC²: The Most Urgent Problem of Our Time."

Using the text is "one of the best ways that we have found" to address content goals in a unit on nuclear chemistry, Ms. Poeppelman said, while also "incorporating and weaving in common-core-standards goals." In particular, she identified two reading standards, one on analyzing text structure, the other on author's purpose.

That's nice, but if you're really concerned with "college and career readiness" it makes no damn sense to turn away from reading your textbook to analyze a magazine article, even one by Einstein. Correct me if I'm wrong, but STEM majors and professionals will primarily read textbooks, technical manuals and journal articles, which have a very standard text structure and a couple utilitarian purposes.

If your goal is to get kids ready to survive freshman chemistry on their own, you'd be better off just making them read their high school chemistry textbook and skip the literary analysis, right?

And actually taking a look at the Einstein text, it is arguably more interesting as a primary source document in history than a science text. This is pretty cool but not the kind of thing you have to be able to parse to pass freshman Physics:

‘What takes place can be illustrated with the help of our rich man. The atom M is a rich miser who, during his life, gives away no money (energy). But in his will he bequeaths his fortune to his sons MÅå and MÅç, on condition that they give to the community a small amount, less than one thousandth of the whole estate (energy or mass). The sons together have somewhat less than the father had (the mass sum MÅå+ MÅç is somewhat smaller than the mass M of the radioactive atom). But the part given to the community, though relatively small, is still so enormously large (considered as kinetic energy) that it brings with it a great threat of evil. Averting that threat has become the most urgent problem of our time.”‘

If this reminds you of the current influence of ed reform philanthropy, it is not my fault.

Depends on What You Mean by "Leading Indicator"

The most insightful line in CAP's new report Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement is surely:

Yet very little is known about the properties of this new school-level measure.

If, for example, teacher absence is a leading indicator of student achievement, you might expect the state with the lowest rate (Utah, 21% absent more than 10 days) to have significantly higher 8th grade NAEP scores than the state with the highest (RI, 50%). Alas, they don't.

This is the kind of think tank report where nobody really disputes the basic points -- a lot of teacher absences aren't good and they're influenced by direct policy choices (rules about taking absences) but also an indicator of problems with the culture of a school -- but you know in the end it is just going to be a hammer used to make teaching a worse job.

Also, there's pretty obviously a lot of potential slop in the data (e.g., If a teacher quits after two weeks, how many days of absence is it? If their long-term sub misses 10 days, is that two absent teachers for one job? etc...) and not a lot of explanation of its rigor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Blended Learning Product That Cannot Be Named

Michael Horn:

On the one hand, several blended-learning programs are continuing to use curriculum from one online provider, and although it doesn’t give them the customization they may prefer ideally, its simplicity and reliability are worth the tradeoff. Carpe Diem schools and the Flex Academies exemplify this–and neither seems to be complaining nearly as much about the technology.

Horn's post as a whole is a handwavy cop-out, but I'd say the above paragraph illustrates just how fucked K-12 ed-tech is. Which products, exactly, is Horn referring to? You will never know in ed-tech, because that might upset somebody actually important. God forbid educators might have a drop of honest opinion even accidentally fall on their lap regarding a Holy Vendor.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Paying for Modern Industrial Labor

Kevin Drum:

Companies like this all like to say that American manufacturing is too competitive with anyone in the world. But look. If you can't afford to train workers, and you can't afford to pay the wages it takes to attract good workers, then by definition that means you aren't competitive. You're only competitive if a recession has made people desperate and the government helps you out with training. And who knows? Maybe that's a good use of taxpayer money. Wall Street certainly benefits from the training provided by state universities. But it's still a subsidy no matter how you slice it. Without it, apparently, American manufacturing just isn't very competitive.

Part of the reason US unions eventually made progress in steel and other heavy manufacturing is that labor costs were a relatively small percentage of the companies costs. You can give out raises and benefits (and in the medium term especially retirement benfits!) without cutting into the bottom line too much.

You'd think that in high tech manufacturing, since you'd have fewer, higher skilled workers and a lot of investment in equipment, you'd also be able to pay the remaining workers more, but apparently not. Or maybe management would just prefer not to.

It is the Fall of 2015, Common Core Shows Seven Years of Reform Have Failed, Now What?

This is the central question of education policy in Obama's second term. Everyone expects that a switch to new Common Core-based tests will show in the fall of 2015 that more students than ever are failing. That is, as we're rolling up toward the first presidential primaries and caucuses, we'll have a freshly (re-)created crisis, in which seven years of Obama's policies and 15 or so years of intensive national reform efforts will be shown decisively to have failed.

This is a foregone conclusion for at least three reasons:

  1. the aim of primary and secondary education has been changed to require more academic rigor than ever before;
  2. scores always go down when you change standards and tests, as it takes several iterations to optimize the system;
  3. making scores go down is clearly a design goal for Common Core advocates and accountability hawks in general. They have no language or conceptual framework that can possibly explain why scores going up could be anything but a sellout failure. Anyone who tries to set the cutscores at a point where proficiency goes up will be relentlessly attacked.

So the scores are going to go down, the question is, what now?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sloyd: The Early Roots of Manual Training


SloydWe can look back to Sloyd, a technology education approach from Northern Europe dating back to the late 1800s. They specified everything from the workbench (shown right), tools, tool storage, room layout, tool use, and sequence of projects increasing in complexity. The approach was applied to paper, cardboard, wood, and metal, with many books written to support making progressions in each medium.

Indiana's Old Standards Were Way Better

One thing about Indiana’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett's ouster is that Indiana's old ELA standards were truly the pinnacle of Achieve's 15 year project to improve state standards. At least, that was my impression when I read through them a couple years ago. Good luck finding the 2006 version now.

But anyone who compared the two would see how much better Indiana's were than the Common Core (including Fordham). Everything about them was just better thought out, better organized, better executed. And they were probably a bit more refined and fresh than those of Massachusetts, California and other pretty good ones.

Anyone who cared to look knew Bennett was selling them an inferior product at the behest of outside (if not literally federal) interests.

Also, Jim Stergios.

A Few Post Election Thoughts

Progressives are more prepared now than in 2008 to push Obama and congress from the left. We're a heck of a lot more on alert to resist Democratic attacks on public education and support for the privatization agenda. The unions aren't even fully mobilized, but we're not completely on our heels.

After the past four years, a mixed bag of tactical wins and losses adds up to a limited strategic victory. If a year ago the tanks were rolling unopposed toward your capital, counterattacking them to a standstill is a victory.

Pouring outside money into local elections will produce some wins for privatization, but in the long term it kills the pretense that this is about anything other than concentrating power in the hands of the wealthy. I think the "parent trigger" is the only thing they can think of to counter that, but that approach just isn't going to work.

We're walking back from a freakish event where Republicans, independents, and about 2/3rds of the Democratic party suddenly decided to beat up on teachers and urban schools. We don't need to win this back from the center. Roll it back from the left, survive the current reforms running their course to no good effect, reassemble the traditional constituency for public education.

More than any election I can remember, the Democrats won by being Democrats. Nobody thinks today that the Democratic party can only win by tricking people in to thinking they're Republicans. We just need to apply that to education (and a few other things).

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Bizarro 2004

Andrew Leonard:

Eight years ago, on the morning of November 3, Democrats blundered through the aftermath of an election gone horribly awry in a state of fog and shock. The confused dismay extended beyond the normal disappointment that comes with backing the losing candidate in a presidential race. There was something else going on, a sense of horrible surprise, as if we’d all been terribly misinformed. We were sad and bewildered.

I wrote about that feeling for Salon that morning, seeking some understanding from the wreckage. I blamed the Internet, not for Kerry’s loss, but for my false hopes. I wasn’t alone. For many of us, Bush’s victory over Kerry delivered an unforgettable lesson on the dangers of getting caught in the Internet-enabled echo chamber.

Oh sure, it had been a lot of fun — all those hours we spent with Atrios and DailyKos, Donkey Rising and Talking Points Memo. It was all so new, exciting — and most of all, liberating. We had been freed from the chains of mainstream media! We could pick our own narratives, and not have them forced on us. Even better, we now had amazingly granular access to information about the state of the campaign — any and every campaign! We all became instant poll experts, and sallied forth each day into the political flamewars better armed with factoids and polished spin than ever before.

What a blast that was. Good times, good times.

And then came Election Day. And we realized that we’d been living inside a cocoon of self-defeating complacency. By confining our information sources to places that told us only what we wanted to hear, we had divorced ourselves from reality. And reality sucked.

I suspect that on this morning a good many conservatives are facing up to the same bleak sense of hornswoggled dismay. Some of them won’t admit it, but in their heart of hearts, they’ve got be wondering what the hell just happened. Indeed — judging by the tone of the conservative info-sphere in the weeks leading up the election, and combined with the data we have already accumulated with respect to how insular and self-reinforcing the conservative echo chamber is, it could be that this morning delivered an ever deeper sucker punch to the gut to the right than the left endured in 2004.

So here’s the question: Will Obama’s victory be a wakeup call for the right?

This is not just wishful thinking. For many people on the left, the 2004 election was a watershed moment. Yeah, the Net was great, but we had to be more careful in how we embraced it. We realized that the echo chamber had led us astray, and we learned that it would behoove us to be more wary. The whole rise of Nate Silver in 2008 was in part a response to this phenomenon. We didn’t want to get burned again. We wanted numbers we could trust.

Complacency went out the window. Right up until the polls started closing on Election Day 2012, and even with Nate Silver giving Obama a better-than-90 percent chance to win, Democrats were feeling anything but confident.

Will conservatives have the same come-to-Jesus moment?

Nate Silver, Bayes, Teacher Evaluation, VAM, etc.

The whole Race to the Top driven system of teacher and school evaluation is a tall, steaming pile of shit, the wrong premise, wrong theory of change, wrong ideas about human motivation, management, measurement, philosophy of education, the meaning of life, etc. There are a few layers of clean straw in there maybe (yes, student surveys provide useful data, that's why RI has done them annually for many years), but on the whole, it is stinky on top of stinky.

From my outside perspective, however, the most annoying layer was the top one, where some formula turns a bunch of data into a score for the school or teacher. Even if accept everything leading up to that point, and you accept that it is useful to reduce all that stuff to one number or letter or rating, the systems themselves look like they were pulled out of the rectum of some jackass from The New Teacher Project.

Other, more statistically adept bloggers like Bruce Baker and Matt DiCarlo have written about these things in more detail. What's screamingly obvious to me is the lack of serious literature about how this kind of analysis should be done.

Meanwhile, I've been reading Nate Silver's new book, The Signal and the Noise, which centers on the role of Bayesian analysis in his work and its usefulness in general. I'd note that since this is not a book about education, he apparently does not feel the need to try to convince you that he or his friends invented it. A refreshing changes after, say, Paul Tough.

Anyhow, basically, Bayesian probability is good for turning an ongoing stream of noisy data into a high probability hypothesis. Like, for example, turning a sequence of close, high margin of error polls into a forecast with 90% confidence. It should work pretty well for teachers and schools too.

For example, say you have a teacher that you've got a high level of confidence in. Then you get a VAM report with a high margin of error that says she's a Bad Teacher. A Bayesian analysis would conclude that after this single unreliable data point there is still a high probability she's a Good Teacher. Whereas, what we're doing now is just throwing that dubious number in with a few other dubious numbers collected this year and hoping that the errors average each other out. You could also do things like weight the probability of a good teacher having an anomalously bad observation higher than a bad teacher having a good outlier (a likely hypothesis to me, at least).

The thing is, this change is not going to happen, because it would generally emphasize the unreliability of the data and specifically make it harder to get rid of good experienced teachers. That's much more important to the privatizers than accuracy.

Sherman Dorn also has a good post today on Silver's book.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Needed: Better Analysis of Last Name Distribution in Providence

MartinH in ProJo comments saves me typing:

Similar long line at Martin Luther King this morning. The A-L line was very long and it took me 1 1/2 hours. The M-Z line was much shorter, although the lack of a "greeter" at the door to help new arrivals led to many waiting longer than they needed to in the wrong line.

Here too, the voting machine broke down, leaving me feeling queasy (perhaps unjustifiably) about my vote being counted.

It didn't seem to me that the voter ID was responsible for the delay. Too few supervisors, and antiquated paper lookup procedure, were more the issue.

Pretty much exactly what happened at the Elmwood Community Center, too.

Where is Jim Willis when you need him (hopefully not washed away by Sandy...)?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Pretty Much a Rounding Error Either Way

Linda Borg:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Highlander Charter School in Providence has applied to open a high school.

The school hopes to open with 29 ninth-graders in the fall of 2013 and gradually expand to include 160 students.

Thats... really small.

They haven't posted the application on RIDE's site yet, but we're supposed to be less than a month away from the deadline for 2014 prospectuses (prospecti?). I don't get RIDE's rolling charter application policy.

Friday, November 02, 2012

I Have No Idea What Anyone Is Even Talking About

Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen:

Every morning, the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at Paul Cuffee Middle School in Providence, R.I. join together in what’s called a Circle of Power and Respect. In this “CPR,” they discuss anything from an upcoming science project to how to get boys to stop purposefully clogging the toilets. Last spring, when a beloved teacher left the school, one classroom used their CPR time to process the change. “He said he’s leaving because this is good for his family,” a seventh-grade boy reassured his classmates. “It doesn’t have anything to do with us.”

If this kind of frank, organized discussion of feelings sounds odd for middle schoolers, it is. But, experts say, if middle schools can give as much attention to emotions and values as they give to academics, the double focus pays off in surprising ways.

Unfortunately, when it comes to our national conversation about what makes great schools, middle schools (which can serve any configuration of grades five through nine) and junior highs (usually grades seven, eight, and nine) are often like the overlooked middle child.

That's funny, because in the world I inhabit, the national reform conversation has been initiated and dominated by an authoritarian middle school model ("no excuses") that is an explicit reaction to and repudiation of the kind of school design they're attributing to Cuffee, which should be familiar to most people who attended middle schools in the seventies and eighties.

Sarah D. Sparks:

In most districts, researchers voiced concern that evaluation systems do not take into account the time it will take for even the most effective teachers to adapt to new areas of focus in the standards—not to mention that the common core deliberately omits guidance on specific teaching strategies to meet the new requirements.

Maybe they were talking about math, but on the ELA side, the authors go about as far as they can, through their voluminous official commentary to promote specific teaching strategies to meet the new requirements. Of course, nobody knows if those strategies are the most efficient or effective; your mileage may vary.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

This Just Going To Be A Thing That Happens From Now On

The Onion nails it:

NEW YORK—Following Hurricane Sandy’s destructive tear through the Northeast this week, the nation’s 300 million citizens looked upon the trail of devastation and fully realized, for the first time, that this is just going to be something that happens from now on.

Gradually comprehending that this sort of thing is now just a fact of life, citizens all across America stared blankly at images of destroyed homes, major cities paralyzed by flooding, and ravaged communities covered in debris, and finally acknowledged that this, apparently, is now a regular part of the human experience.

“Oh, I see—this is just going to be how it is from here on out,” said New York City resident Brian Marcello, coming to terms with the fact that an immense storm that cripples mass transit systems and knocks out power for millions in the nation’s largest metropolitan area can no longer be regarded as an isolated, freak incident, and will henceforth be just a normal thing that happens. “Hugely destructive weather events are going to keep happening, and they are going to get worse and worse, and living through them is something that will be a part of all our lives from now on, whether we like it or not.”

“I get it now,” Marcello added.

Faced with the prospect of long months before any of the widespread damage is truly repaired, the millions who reside along the Eastern Seaboard told reporters today they fully understood, for the first time, that natural disasters killing scores of Americans and costing billions of dollars are going to be routine events, not just in the immediate foreseeable future, but permanently.

Things That Don't Work Anymore: Comments

You may have noticed that comments don't work very well here anymore. I almost always get duplicates. I think Google is hinting they really want us to use Google+ instead of Blogger. Regardless, we're going to suffer with this indefinitely.

I'm finding leaving comments to be increasingly hit or miss in general. Capchas are getting too difficult. People are probably getting a little too tricky with Javascript and introducing subtle browser incompatibilities.

It isn't the end of the world but it is a little bizarre to see something so simple falling apart.

Also, for some reason I usually can't leave a comment on This Week in Education. Here's what I was just trying to post:

I guess they (50Can) figure they can get the most bang for their buck in Rhode Island, but jeez, RI districts are really small, and the only challenger they're backing is someone who lost her seat in 2010. I guess reform == the status quo in RI.

I'd say this supports your "they're not really that scary" narrative.

The Banality of KIPP

Mr. Dolan:

Create curiosity gaps with your design. Above the bulletin board Ryan Weaver of KIPP Academy Boston creates a series of visual anchors to preview the units of study for students throughout the year. This is a marvelous example of dual purpose design. It builds curiosity (one of the character strengths key for future success) and it makes long term planning evident. This builds students’ confidence in the teacher and makes the process of learning more transparent to kids who often feel like they are lurching from subject to subject without any clear path.

The simple touch on Elizabeth Vetne’s Visual Arts I board is used in many classrooms across KIPP Massachusetts. Giving each lesson a title makes the content stickier and also draws reading skills across the content areas. Much more to come about this classroom and the mind-blowing power of great arts teaching.

Find dual purposes for your design. Fernando Acostas’s bulletin board for problem solving is a lovely example of tying math problem solving strategies to the character strengths the school is working on.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

SchoolTool 2.3 & CanDo

We released SchoolTool 2.3 last week, which wasn't a big update because most of or work this year was focused on re-writing CanDo, our skills, outcomes, standards, competencies, etc. based assessment system.

We've actually been working on CanDo with the Arlington Career Center and the Virginia CTE Resource Center since 2005. Virginia CTE has an absurdly complex set of competencies spanning 15 or so career clusters, hundreds of courses, cross-course competencies, and a rolling update cycle and no formal versioning process. With CanDo you can import the competencies (via a spreadsheet), associate them with courses (including a new feature to automate that process I came up with), score them in section gradebooks, create groupings of competencies for project-based grading, track changes in student acheivement over time and across sections, and generate graphical reports at the student and section level.

A lot of what we were doing was taking an open source application that was paid for, designed for and used only in Virginia schools, and, with philanthropic support from Mark Shuttleworth, creating a new version that would work just as well or better in Virginia and as many other scenarios as possible.

There's a pretty wide range of cases where you need to track student achievement of a list of outcomes, for example, in addition to 25 Virginia CTE sites, the Virginia Commonwealth University's Autism Center for Excellence is using SchoolTool to track social skills development in individuals with autism spectrum disorders, the Alexandria Seaport Foundation is going to record achievement of math standards via boat building projects in sites across the country, and the Fab Academy is going to monitor student progress in their sites across the globe.

For the current SchoolTool community, this is a big new addition to our standard application, yet it is also the most complete and tested.

Now that this is out I have to take off my project manager hat and put on my promotional juggernaut hat.

Never Forget What a Virus-Ridden Mess Windows Made of Your School Network

Brad Reed:

“During [the time that Apple was building the iPhone], Windows went through a difficult period where we had to shift a huge amount of our focus to security engineering,” said (Microsoft's) Mundie. “The criminal activity in cyberspace was growing dramatically ten years ago, and Microsoft was basically the only company that had enough volume for it to be a target. In part because of that, Windows Vista took a long time to be born.”


“We had a music player before the iPod,” he said. “We had a touch device before the iPad. And we were leading in the mobile phone space. So, it wasn’t for a lack of vision or technological foresight that we lost our leadership position. The problem was that we just didn’t give enough reinforcement to those products at the time that we were leading. Unfortunately, the company had some executional missteps, which occurred right at the time when Apple launched the iPhone. With that, we appeared to drop a generation behind.”

This has mostly been mocked as a lame excuse, and it is, but you're also going easy on Microsoft if you forget how completely and utterly they screwed the pooch on security, and you shouldn't underestimate the extent to which Apple's strategies are driven by security concerns. Security is a bigger driver for the App Store concept than getting a cut of all your $1.00 apps (although that cut is nice to have). Part of the reason all your iPhones are not part of a Russian botnet is sandboxing and other security features, but a lot of it is that they can review the code you can install on your phone and remotely disable it if the have to.

It is hard to imagine Microsoft getting away with that sort of thing in the first few years of the 20th century, so you can imagine how much their heads had to be spinning.

The Lack of Capacity for Any of This

Sherman Dorn:

The difference between outsourcing critical services and hiring employees to do one of your essential jobs is that you do have resident expertise when you hire people directly, when you staff up for what you say is essential. And for a state department of education, you would think that curriculum development and support for teachers comprise a core part of what it is supposed to do, the type of technical assistance that the majority of districts could not invest in before the recession, that even fewer can now. On occasion, it might be helpful to hire somebody in a state capital who knows what is in the Constitution and what is in the Declaration of Independence. For U.S. historians, that’s sort of like knowing your keister from your … well, you understand. Some things can be outsourced. Some things should not be. Florida’s gone too far in the direction of outsourcing important jobs to for-profit companies that have no commitment to the state.

Charter Schools are Not an Anti-Corruption Strategy

Trailer for John Merrow's upcoming film on New Orleans:

If you meet a starving man and all you have is a bag of Cheetos, by all means, give him the Cheetos, but it does not follow that Cheetos are the answer for malnutrition.

Merrow begins with the corruption of the New Orleans public school system before Katrina. I have no reason to think it wasn't that bad, but I don't really know. Perhaps it is less corrupt now; I can at least imagine that it is. But the idea that in general the right strategy to fight public corruption is to remove civil service protections in hiring and firing, reduce transparency, base high stakes decisions on tests which are often gamed or cheated on outright, and generally put control of the system in private hands, makes no sense on its face.

Maybe this is better for New Orleans right now (maybe not), but will it hold up in 10 years? It should be obvious that the end of these market-based reforms will be corruption, and while we may not notice it or care in, say, privatized prisons, we will notice and care in our children's schools. There are already many, many examples.

Here's a nice closing quote from Paul Carr:

And there’s the rub. Given their Randian origins, we kid ourselves if we think most Disruptive businesses are fighting government bureaucracy to bring us a better deal. A Disruptive company might very well succeed in exposing government crooks lining their pockets exploiting outdated laws, but that’s only so the Disruptor can line his own pockets through the absence of those same laws. A Disruptive company may give you free candy in your 50-dollar cab but, again, that’s only because doing so is good business. If poisoning that same candy suddenly becomes better business (like encouraging New York cab drivers to be distracted by their phones, or putting vulnerable people at risk of attack is better business)… well maybe that’s an option worth exploring too. After all, food safety legislation is just another attempt by the government to drive Disruptive businesses off the road.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Learning Styles are a Myth That Warns Us That Not All of Our Students are the Same

Stephen Downes:

If we think about learning styles as the magic shortcut to more effective learning, we are deluding ourselves. Even if it is true that people learn differently, and it is true that people learn differently, we don't achieve magical results simply by catering to that.

A learning style isn't a shortcut to memory because learning isn't about remembering at all. It's a myth, but it's useful. It's a myth that tells us, that warns us, that not all of our students are the same. They're not going to react the same, and most importantly, they're not like us.

What if the Value for Big Data in Education is Not in Learning, But Testing?

Dan Meyer:

I don't have a lot of hope for a system that sees learning largely as a function of time or time of day, rather than as a function of good instruction and rich tasks. It isn't useless. But it's the wrong diagnosis. For instance, if a student's clickrate on multiple-choice items declines at 9:14 AM, one option is to tell her to click multiple-choice items later. Another is to give her more to do than click multiple-choice items.

It seems to me that the low hanging fruit here might not be relying on this kind of data to teach better, but to increase test performance. If the learning software tells the data warehouse that a student will score highest on an assessment of standard 3 administered Tuesday at 10:00 in the morning, if the subject of the prompt is basketball, and the answer is multiple choice, is there any reason the high stakes test couldn't or shouldn't use that to increase (or decrease) the student's score (in math or ELA)? If we're going to have high-stakes embedded, adaptive assessments, this all gets pretty blurry.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Green Lantern Theory of School Reform

John Merrow:

If you had the power to make one change in public education right now, what would it be? I’m not talking about some sort of magic wand fantasy, so suggestions like “End Poverty” are not appropriate. What I am looking for are changes that could be made.


Dave Levin (of KIPP) had the simplest — and perhaps the most profound — suggestion. “Change the sign,” he said. He reminded us that virtually every school has signs trumpeting a familiar slogan, “All Children Can Learn.” That should come down, Dave said, and be replaced by signs reading “All Will Learn.” Not ‘can’ but ‘will,’ reflecting a new determination and responsibility. And ‘all’ means ‘all,’ he said, including the adults! Changing the sign was, for Dave, an important first step toward changing the way adults in schools approach their jobs.

We certainly could "end poverty," at least to the extent that European social democracies have, and that would be virtually guaranteed to increase aggregate academic achievement over time, barring some other simultaneous screw up. And while we may not have the political will for the task, actually executing it would not be that hard. Increase the scale of various extant social programs.

On the other hand, Levin's plan is pure fantasy. Levin is literally calling for a triumph of the will in American education. Believe and it will happen!

How did we get to the point where such things are taken seriously?