Friday, June 29, 2012

The Necessary Corollary

Dana Goldstein:

2. By asking charter schools to embrace diversity as part of their mission statements, and recruit students from across all races and classes, instead of focusing solely on poor children.

And, adjusting accountability systems, school financing and overall rhetoric to reflect everyone's understanding that these schools are intentionally serving a different population than many neighborhood schools.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Accountability and Mayoral Control/Academies

Paul Davis:

CRANSTON, R.I. -- Republican Mayor Allan W. Fung will run unopposed for his third term as head of the state's third-largest city.

When the first Cranston/Providence mayoral academy was proposed, I kept asking "What if both these guys lose the next election? Or for that matter, if in 10 years both mayors are opposed to the school and refuse to chair the board?" Without the support of at least one mayor, the school would abruptly lose its charter and close. Nobody else in Rhode Island seemed to think it was a problem.

I suppose this is why.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What has to Decide

Is whether their for-profit political petition system will push people to sign a second petition which contradicts the first one they just signed.

Playing Rock, Paper, Scissors Against Goldman Sachs' High Frequency Trading Robot

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Not Buying a New Laptop

I'm typing this on my ThinkPad X60s, which I bought when it was the new top of the line ultraportable. I think I paid about $2,500 for it about six years ago. It has been slowing down lately, and failing in annoyingly peripheral ways. Power supply starting to short out, you can only buy third party replacement batteries that have probably been sitting on a shelf for four years, etc. So I've been hankering for some kind of replacement.

What I'd love is a little ARM netbook that runs Ubuntu perfectly for about 10 hours on a charge. That doesn't exist. I'd be happy with a cheap tablet that could run Ubuntu, but that doesn't exist either. I need to be able to run SchoolTool on the thing, not for any kind of serious development, but in case I need to demo it in a pinch with no internet access.

So I looked at the various low cost laptops. I don't want a chromebook, I want to run regular Ubuntu. I don't want to buy a laptop with a slow traditional disc drive. I found myself looking for a cheap laptop for which I could easily upgrade the memory and drive. I pretty quickly realized at that point I might as well just get more memory (I guess 1 gig just doesn't do it anymore) and a solid state drive for this thing, which will then probably still be faster than a new under $500 laptop.

So I put another $120 into this thing, and at this point I think I'll just buy another X series from Lenovo when it finally croaks for good, unless someone makes a great Ubuntu ARM laptop for under $500...

What Sucks About Facebook, Too

Dave Winer:

When you follow people who are richer or more successful than you are, or have more interesting lives, or have the things you want, it sucks.

More often than not, these media do not fill me with warmth for my acquaintances.

The Worst Years in Three Generations of Teaching in My Family

RI Red Teacher:

The 2011-2012 school year has finally ended, and none too soon. It has been the hardest year of my career as a teacher, and judging from conversations I’ve had with a range of teachers and students in a number of places, that is true for almost everyone. At least in Rhode Island. Even the students said that this year was different and worse—but not in a normal way. A qualitative shift took place this year, and we are all the worse for it.

Before I launch into a post-mortem, however, there is one group of teachers that did not see this as the worst year of their career. For teachers in the Central Falls diaspora, it was not the worst year. For Providence teachers whose schools were closed last year—provided they found appropriate placements—it was not the worst year. In other words, for people who’ve already been through the wringer, things seemed a bit better.

So what’s going on here? I suspect that for those of us in districts that were not previously hit with restructuring (such as CF and Providence), the “reforms” in those districts spread to the suburbs. And now, we’re all in the same boat…more or less.

We were up in Vergennes, Vermont for a reunion in Jennifer's family. I'd forgot that one of her cousins is a veteran ESL teacher in the Newark public schools. So we had a lot to talk about...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What is Informational Text Again?

So the New York State Common Core Sample Questions. I'm not going to nitpick this to death, in part because I don't have any detailed knowledge of what their current tests look like (or anyone's current tests, tbh). I spent the most time looking at the 8th grade samples because that's closest to my background as a high school teacher.

I found one "informational text" to be puzzling: "California Folk Music Project Collection of Traditional Music in California - Instructions to Workers."

Let's first pause and consider that according to NYSED, this document was originally written for "university researchers" in the 1930's. Kind of puts "college and career readiness," and, for that matter, the supposed decline in text complexity over the years, in perspective doesn't it? I don't have a strong opinion about the complexity of the text itself, but I am highly dubious of the underlying premises driving the focus on textual complexity. Is this not by definition a college level text on an 8th grade reading assessment? If actual texts written for actual college students or graduates are not, in fact, at "college-level," (and never were) why is the concept important?

Now, I'm actually in favor of having explicit standards for reading and implementing instructions for procedures. This example is supposed to assess reading of "informational text." However, the "range of reading" standard for informational texts only refers to "literary non-fiction," which is further 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.

This text is outside of that large range. What this is, of course, is a "history and social studies" text. It is itself a primary source historical document important to the development of the social science of ethnomusicology. The Common Core standards are, as far as I know, unique in the world in actually including "Literacy in History/Social Studies" standards, but it is apparent that nobody knows what they are for or how to use them.

In fact, this standard fits perfectly but is not applied:

3. Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies.

A "description of a process related to history/social studies" is exactly what this text is.

So, here's the first question:

This text was written to instruct:
A. migrant workers
B. folk musicians
C. university researchers
D. elementary students

This is never explicitly stated in the text. It is pretty clear what the best guess is. On the other hand, while it diminishes my first point above, I should point out that this answer does not seem to be not entirely correct given some outside context. This was really a WPA project sponsored by the university:

Cowell had an uncanny knack for unearthing WPA staff who could assist her in her project. One of her most valuable fieldworkers was a Mr. Devere, who had had a dairy route in Contra Costa County and who lead her to numerous fine contacts in that area. On her staff were also Portuguese and Spanish speakers familiar with their own musical traditions and an Armenian ethnomusicologist.

Perhaps Mr. Devere was also a "university researcher" as well as milk man.

Regardless, there is no reason to be having kids guess the audience for a decontextualized set of instructions. That is, as we say, "inauthentic." It is not a real problem.

On the other hand, it would be easy to write a good question with the history and social studies version of the same standard:

6. Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

You'd probably end up with a question that would not be out of place in, say MUSC 1900 at Brown, but nobody will be able to say your 8th grader isn't college ready!

OK... so I think I said I wasn't going to get into the nit picking, so I'll stop.

My point here is not that these issues are simple carelessness on the part of NYSED, they are the result of the half-baked conceptual framework of the standards themselves, compounded by Common Core advocates pursuing their own agendas instead of trying to clarify the standards as written.


RIDE still only looks at reading but not writing scores when making decisions about closing schools. Gist's RIDE has a profoundly ambivalent relationship with data.

The Real Takeaway is Don't Trust the Tests

If you can increase test scores with immediate cash rewards which unarguably have no effect on student achievement and only reflect effort during test administration, you're really just proving the unreliability of the whole process.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Maybe They Could Add Non-Profit Charters to That Too

Andrew Leonard:

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., promoted a bill she has introduced that would prohibit for-profit colleges from using taxpayer-funded financial aid for marketing, recruiting or advertising purposes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Can't They Just Fire the Math Teachers?

Jennifer Jordan:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Education Commissioner Deborah Gist wants to shutter Rhode Island's oldest charter school at the end of 2012-2013, citing dismal math scores and poor leadership.

Gist is recommending a "non-renewal" of the Academy for Career Exploration. The high school serves 225 mostly low-income students. It opened in 1997.

I remain unconvinced that the rational response to a small high school with very good reading and writing scores (proficiency 5% and 13% above the state averages) and poor math scores (literally 0% proficiency last year) is to close the school -- charter or otherwise -- particularly when the likely alternatives in Providence are worse in reading and writing and only marginally better in math.

This is where all the talk about on-line learning gets up my butt, too. If RIDE has an online math curriculum they believe in, now's the time to use it. Give them three years doing online math to stay open.

It isn't like anyone else is banging down the doors to open a charter high school in Providence. Achievement First doesn't even want to take it on within the decade.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I'm Sure It Will Work Next Time, In Education

Rick Perlstein:

And therein hangs a tale: about grassroots Democrats who act like activists, who hold that slaps are sometimes what it takes to get the political job done, and Democratic leaders who act like you can solve all political problems with a hug.

Just ask Russo or Rick Hess, they'll explain it to you.

Common Core ELA Constituencies: Standards, Assessments, Curriculum

I've been trying to think of clear ways to explain what it going on with the Common Core ELA discourse (as usual, this applies only to ELA). Here's one model: the CC standards address three constituencies:

  • People interested in standards.
  • People interested in assessment.
  • People interested in curriculum.

These aren't entirely mutually exclusive, of course, but I'd argue are moreso than you'd expect.

People interested in standards. This turns out to be almost nobody. Me, Sandra Stotsky, anyone else? How many articles have you read comparing the Common Core standards to other existing standards? Not just by superficially counting this or that, but actually analyzing the philosophy, scope and intent of the standards themselves. Not commenting on the commentary. Not comparing the new standards to the old assessments. Comparing actual enumerated standards. There has been very little such analysis.

It goes so far that the CC ELA standards were never internationally benchmarked, as was required by Race to the Top. Also note that this is not at all a problem in math, where plenty of people seem to care about what the standards actually say.

Incidentally, I'm interested in standards qua standards for two reasons. First, I helped design a school from scratch around a set of standards. I'm able to look at a technical specification as a blank slate and think "what kind of school does this imply" in a way that most people apparently cannot. Second, I'm a fan of Robert Scholes work in deconstructing and reconstructing the discipline of English, which provides a solid theoretical and historical framework.

People interested in assessment. This includes the testing companies themselves, who played a leading role in the design of the standards themselves (ACT, the College Board) and those seeking to implement policies that require more data -- particularly annual growth data. One particular implication of this is that the standards have to allow some degree of vertical alignment. "A year and a half's worth of growth," or "three month's worth of growth" have to be meaningful statements in this conceptual framework.

The standards are also designed to drive the creation of "next generation" assessments. That is, at least perceived as being better than the current "bubble tests," but hopefully within the technological grasp of the industry within the next couple years.

The actual enumerated standards are written by and for this audience. It is essentially a test specification; it describes a list of tasks which can be directly applied to create an assessment. To this audience, the CC standards are a clear and explicit roadmap.

People interested in curriculum. This is by far the largest group of the three. They drive the discussion and implementation of the standards, thus these folks had to be brought on board. There seems to be a tacit agreement between the assessment and curriculum people that the curriculum people can say whatever they want about the standards and the assessment people will leave them alone. In fact, most of the introductory material, appendixes, and other supporting commentary for the standards seems to have been handed over to curriculum people.

This has been good for marketing, as it gets people like Robert Pondiscio to say things like "Common Core restores art, music, history, and literature to the curriculum," which are utterly unsupported by the standards themselves, but suggested in supporting texts. If you've got a curricular axe to grind, you see the Common Core as a chance to impose your will on a momentarily blank slate. You need to have a seat at the table.

The assessment people can let the curriculum people say whatever they want, because in the end people will have to teach to the assessments, and all of the arguments about curriculum will hold no water, because they aren't based on the standards.

Maybe reading more non-fiction will get you higher scores on the tests. Maybe not. If not, exactly how long do you think schools will stick with it? How long should they?

John Thompson says:

Finally, there is no guarantee that "reformers" won't again become impatient and turn the technology necessary to support Common Core into a more sophisticated version of an educational assembly line. Common Core could degenerate into a super-duper hi-tech version of the scripted instruction that that has come out of NCLB but, still, it could be a step toward real educational equity.

If you focus on the standards themselves, in comparison to other comparable documents it is clear that "a more sophisticated version of an educational assembly line" is what we've been sold and what we'll get (at best).

Feel the Austerity! Smell the Efficiency!

Jonathan Jacobs:

Recently, the DLT (RI Dept. of Labor and Training) has been informed of an unprecedented reduction in workforce. Up to sixty-nine employees are scheduled to lose their jobs on July 28th, seventy percent of these are to come from the Unemployment Insurance sector. The irony of going from working to serve unemployed citizens in their time of need, to being one of those in need of such assistance is not lost on us. This layoff is guaranteed to significantly decrease the department’s ability to provide the necessary level of customer service. ...

Finally, the State of Rhode Island is a direct reimbursable employer. This means that they are responsible to pay the employees that they lay off dollar for dollar when these employees file for Unemployment Insurance. This burden falls ultimately to the taxpayer. Therefore, Rhode Island’s taxpayers will be on the hook for upwards of one million dollars in benefits paid out to laid off DLT staff to perform no services to Rhode Island citizens. This estimation does not include subsidizing health insurance for the out of work employees and their families. I know, personally, my wife and infant daughter will be forced to seek public assistance to help pay the high costs of staying insured.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Note to the AFT & NEA

Glenn Greenwald:

Throughout the Obama presidency, one of the most vocal and demanding factions in the Democratic Party base has been activists for gay and lesbian equality. They repeatedly protested at Obama events and even at the White House, complained loudly about Obama’s broken promises, and even threatened to boycott Obama’s re-election campaign by withholding donations. In light of that ongoing confrontationalism, as well as the importance of gay voters (and especially gay donors) to the Democratic Party, it’s no surprise that their agenda has been repeatedly attended to by Obama, as he engineered the successful repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, ordered his DOJ to stop defending the constitutionality of DOMA, and then finally “evolved” to an Election-Year endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Latino activists have been as confrontational and unwilling to fall into line as good, compliant partisan soldiers. They publicly protested Obama’s record number of deportation, complained about his immigration policies, loudly accused him of “betrayal,” and expressed subsstantial disapproval for him in polls. Thus, five months before the election, we have this today...

Nothing here about quietly hoping to be granted a seat at the table.

Close Reading the Common Core on Fiction/Non-Fiction

Common Core:

The Standards are not alone in calling for a special emphasis on informational text. The 2009 reading framework of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) requires a high and increasing proportion of informational text on its assessment as students advance through the grades.

Note that this is simply the proportion of questions on the test. There's also a table showing the exact numbers.

The Standards aim to align instruction with this framework so that many more students than at present can meet the requirements of college and career readiness. In K–5, the Standards follow NAEP’s lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts, including texts in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.

Note the squishy verbs: "aim to," "follow NAEP's lead."

OK, let's ramp that up then:

In accord with NAEP’s growing emphasis on informational texts in the higher grades, the Standards demand that a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom.

ALL RIGHT. Let's demand... a significant amount. How much again?

Fulfilling the Standards for 6–12 ELA requires much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional.

Ah! "much greater attention" to "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.

OK... more of that than has been traditional!

Because the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.

Interesting. Is the distribution of text questions to be "matched instructionally?" That's never been explicitly stated.

To measure students’ growth toward college and career readiness, assessments aligned with the Standards should adhere to the distribution of texts across grades cited in the NAEP framework.

OK, assessments should map to NAEP. Clear enough.

Then there's this footnote:

The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational.

This is incorrect and inconsistent. As stated above, the NAEP percentages are about assessment, not the volume of reading.

This is all followed by 29 separate "range of reading" standards, none of which state anything about the comparative amounts of fiction/non-fiction/informational, etc. texts.

So why has 80% of the discussion about Common Core ELA focused on this question of applying these percentages of fiction and non-fiction to instruction? I have no idea.

Not that there is anything wrong with non-fiction! In fact, I have a distinct memory of my going of on a little rant on teaching more non-fiction during my interview for the Brown English MAT program. I just don't understand why this conversation is happening in the context of these standards, if the authors of the standards didn't find it important enough to address the issue clearly in any of the many, many range of reading standards.

Which is More Content and/or Non-Fiction Focused?

The reading focused old NCTE standards:

1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of tex- tual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctua- tion), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

8. Students use a variety of technological and informational resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Common Core ELA College and Career Readiness Reading Standards:

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Which one is more weighted toward "reading strategies?"

This entire conversation is hopelessly screwed up.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Today's Doyle-esque Interlude

John Thorne:

Here was a world a child could understand: the rain water collected in a barrel; the drinking water was hauled up in a bucket from a well. When we were cold we made a fire in the fireplace, and for a long time, when it was dark, we lit candles and kerosene lanterns... and carried one with us to the outhouse. We brought big chunks of ice for the icebox up from the dock in a wheelbarrow. We dug clams and picked berries and roasted hot dogs on sticks over a fire at the shore.

This was a life, it goes without saying, that was far from self-sufficiency--but one very close to self-revelation. Here was a world made tangible to the senses, one whose flesh seemed as fragile as our own. It is a small thing, maybe, to lie snug and safe, listening to the cold wet night pawing at the wall beside your ear. An experience complexly sensuous and sad, it gives substance to our understanding of safety, warmth, and comfort. Today, only the summer cottage has walls thin enough for the outside to reach us at all.

Enjoy your summer.

It Never Gets Old

Jon Schwarz:

But what's going on here is that David Brooks—as widely celebrated as Richard Cohen for being an extremely funny man—is telling his own version of the classic joke:

DAVID BROOKS: Okay, so our act starts with us inflating a giant internet bubble. Then that collapses, taking the country's economy with it, just as we massively cut taxes on millionaires because, we say, if we don't the government will have too much money. Right after that we blow off warnings about terrorism and let 3,000 Americans get slaughtered. We use that as a chance to lie the U.S. into invading a country that had nothing to do with the attack, killing hundreds of thousands of people and turning millions into refugees. In the middle of all that we borrow torture techniques from the Inquisition and use them on people in secret sites around the planet. Then we make billions off another financial bubble, the biggest in human history, and do nothing as it collapses, plunging the world into the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression. To fix that we open up the national bank vault and shovel out money as fast as possible to all the criminals who made it happen in the first place. Then—as the amazing finale—we refuse to prosecute anyone for that, for the war, or for torture, and we start killing U.S. citizens with flying death robots.


AGENT: ...That's a hell of an act. What do you call it?

DAVID BROOKS: The Aristocrats!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Petrilli's Reform Taxonomy

Derived from How to push for reform without alienating teachers.

The Things Big Money is Worried About

(Stopping) ... unaffordable pensions or healthcare plans ... across-the-board raises ... LIFO and tenure and collective bargaining. (Starting) measuring teachers’ contributions to student achievement gains ... online learning.

Things Most Teachers Like But Reformers Have Not Supported

... treat (teachers) as true professionals. Let them call the shots. Set the budget. Hire new teachers. Deal with management concerns... low performers need to go ... there are trade-offs between small class sizes and more generous salaries and benefits; all teachers need their craft to be regularly evaluated against some clear and common expectations around good practice; etc.

Racially Divisive Policies Reformers Implicitly Support Within the Context of Segregated Charter Schools But Otherwise Don't Speak Of

... make it easier for educators to discipline unruly students, or to use “ability grouping” in their classrooms instead of mandating the nearly-impossible strategy of “differentiating instruction.” ... get their backs when they are faced with ridiculous demands from parents or others.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Actually, We Have Plenty of Direct, First Hand Evidence of Malice and Secret Agendas

Paul Bruno:

Reformers, for example, seem to focus almost exclusively on changing students' in-school environments. Rarely, if ever, do you see the most prominent education reform organizations throwing their considerable power behind improving students' out-of-school lives. Anti-reformers see this focus on in-school factors and interpret it as evidence of malice and secret agendas. After all, if reformers really cared first and foremost about helping students, wouldn't they dedicate themselves to helping them outside of school as well? (emphasis in original)

No interpretation necessary.

Monday, June 11, 2012

CTU Says "Enough"

Tim Furman:

When you have 26,502 employees in a union, and 23,780 vote to let their leadership take them to the sidewalks, it's because you're-- well, there's just no other way to say it; it's because you're a prick. Or at least you've been behaving like one. These people-- teachers-- are voting about their livelihoods; they're not dabbling heiresses. They're saying, "Not only do I not buy your bullshit, I'm willing to put everything I have on the line to make the point."

The Answer for Me is Yes

Corey Robin:

This is a challenge to the left.

Not the left that’s out there already doing the hard work—the labor movement, the Occupiers, the immigrants rights’ organizers—but the left that’s like, well, me: the academics, the writers, the bloggers, the journalists, the think tankers, the kibbitzers. The people who talk too much.

My challenge is this: If you’re calling for the labor movement to be more radical—more adventurous, more willing to get out into the streets, to break laws, to challenge the social order (and let me be clear, that is an aim I share)—I want you to stop and ask yourself a question.

Have you ever organized a majority, even a plurality, of your co-workers—in an academic department, at a newspaper, in a think tank, at the little non-profit where you work—to confront the boss, whoever that might be, in such a way that all of your jobs were put into jeopardy?

Admittedly, it was a crappy job to start with, and many of my co-workers were retired steelworkers, so they knew the drill.

Even so, it is really, really stressful

Friday, June 08, 2012

You Should Try Teaching, Chris

Chris Dillow:

One of the great irritations of our age is the tendency for non-economists to tell us what's wrong with economics.

This is Where We're Stuck in Educational Computing

Dave Winer:

There were a lot of things Steve Jobs was right about.

Probably the most important thing he got right was realizing that you have to build a great stadium before you can invent great sports. An example of this was the decision in 1986 to build every Mac with networking. So you could just string ordinary phone wire through an office and have email or chat or video games connecting all the workstations.

There is a constant stream of concern trolling over educational technology about the fact that sometimes you build a fancy state of the art stadium and the sport flops, or vice versa.

Or if you build the stadium just a tiny bit before the sport, the owner goes bankrupt and the stadium falls into disrepair almost immediately.

It should be perfectly obvious that the only thing you can do is just build a cheap and sturdy stadium and give the sport time to develop. Waiting for everything to come together perfectly at exactly the same moment is never going to happen.

Full disclosure: Winer's metaphor does not actually reflect how sports develop, but we'll ignore that.

The Forces that Slow the Pendulum

Ramsin Canon:

What adds to this is that the privatization process sets off an endowment effect among parents. In order to eliminate unionized teachers, privatization groups work with politicians to institute "turnaround" programs that suddenly shut down neighborhood schools. People generally react more strongly to losing something they have than they do to failing to achieve something they want. The turnaround process has been traumatic for thousands of Chicago families, and it's a cumulative phenomenon; in the early days of turnarounds, the impact was scattered. Over the years, and particularly with Mayor Emanuel's outspoken desire to pump up the number of charter schools, the sheer numbers of those impacted has grown and grown, networks of aggrieved and distrustful parents have emerged, and common cause with teachers who want to preserve public, neighborhood schools has been found.

So the top-down, political-relationship heavy, marketing strategies of groups like Stand for Children lose their efficacy over time (and ironically, it's a strategy with its roots in the pro-NAFTA campaign partially engineered by Mayor Emanuel). Such strategies rely on the vast majority of people being unaffected in an immediate material way by the policy changes being proposed; the sophisticated marketing with inoffensive, abstract visions appeal to people in the way most advertising does. But the campaigns enjoy diminishing returns as more and more people feel the effects of a policy, particularly in localized conditions, because the effects are concentrated.

And this is not mere speculation. Because charter schools in particular have objectively not had the spectacular results promised, there is no attendant surge in support for the privatization agenda on the ground, of the kind necessary to, for example, defeat a strike authorization vote, break a strike, or dominate local school council elections. Because of the proportions and numbers involved, high-level operations (relationship making with editorial boards, politicians, and social and economic clubs) are less effective. In other words, the proportion of people adversely effected by a given set of policies will be higher in localized conditions; and in adversarial situations involving only those policies, public relations-heavy tactics won't penetrate and persuade.

The larger attack on public sector unions and pensions will give reform more longevity than it would have otherwise, but Canon is right about what is slowing it even now. This isn't ended by rhetoric, it will be ended by people -- parents -- being sick of the facts on the ground. It is inconceivable to reformers that they could make things worse in urban education, but in the balance, they are.

Slowly Winning the Rhetorical War

This post from Eduflack deserves a little close reading. :

Yes, there is no criticism too vicious or too fact-free for opponents to use against education reform. Or perhaps, to be a little more generous and to paraphrase a line from Seinfeld, when it comes to defending the status quo, it isn't a lie if you believe it to be true.

Don't believe it? Take a look at the opinions and vitriol that follow education reform across the nation. In state after state, those who defend the status quo issue the same lines and look like carbon copies of other status quoers.

OK, so what are these vicious accusations (emphasis added below)?

If one is for greater accountability, then one is pro-bubble sheets and only teaching to the test.

Reformers aren't pro-bubble sheets: they prefer next generation computer adaptive tests! Or constructed response tests scored by computers or low-paid temps. But bubble tests will do if the preceding are not available because then there is no alternative available for assessing student achievement and those that contribute to it.

Reformers are not in favor of only teaching to the test in a direct and straightforward manner. They are also in favor of indirectly teaching to the test. For example, at Harlem Success Academy, sometimes they visit farms, because farms come up on readings on the test. See, that's a great example of going beyond "teaching to the test."

Reformers do not, however, defend any practice that makes no claim to eventually raise test scores. I guess one exception to that is regarding graduation rates and post-graduation statistics. They seem willing to sacrifice test stats to increase those numbers.

Also, if they think the test is a good one (e.g., AP), they have no problem with teaching to it.

If one supports public school choice, then one is stealing dollars from our community schools.

It is not stealing! It is a perfectly legal transfer based on competition, marketing and consumer choice!

If one demands increased parental involvement and parental rights, then one is anti-teacher.

If reformers were "anti-teacher" in this context, they would support parental rights in all public schools, which they do not. They only support parental involvement and rights in district schools, not charters!

If one calls for teacher evaluations, then one is anti-collective bargaining.

Like Scott Walker, many reformers believe it is acceptable for teachers to collectively bargain wages (only, within reasonable constraints)!

If one provides philanthropic support to improve public schools, then one must be a profiteer looking to make personal fortunes off public education.

Indeed, no philanthropist is making a personal fortune off his education giving. It is completely different people who are benefiting financially. And $270,000 a year (or so) is not a fortune!

If one highlights the achievement gap and the disparities in both quality and outcome for Black and Latino students, then one must be a race-baiter.

I don't even think this one makes any sense. I'm sure somebody has accused reformers of "race-baiting," but since the dominant pattern in contemporary school reform is white-run schools for minority students, race-baiting doesn't even seem like it could possibly work as a reform strategy.

Maybe the word Eduflack is looking for is "paternalism." On the other hand, they've actually embraced that one already so you can hardly call it a vicious accusation.

If one asks for public school improvement, then one must be trying to privatize the schools and enact a voucher system.

Reformers aren't trying to privatize the schools, they are only trying to privatize the management of public schools! There is a big difference! And many reformers only support giving students the choice of privately managed public schools, not including entirely private schools!

If one believes we can do better and wears the tag of education reformer proudly, then one must be an anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Republican looking to take over the system.

In closing, reformers aren't against all teachers, only the bad ones (who are very, very bad). They do not seek the complete abolition of unions! Unions may be allowed to exist! And they are in favor of privately managed public schools! Very much so!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Rodney Mullen Lays Out the Skate/Hacker Connection

RIDE Should Publish Historical Growth Model Data

RIDE's Office of Instruction, Assessment, & Curriculum confirmed to me that there is no technical reason why they cannot include historical NECAP data in the new Rhode Island Growth Model Visualization Tool. Basically, it does take some time to prepare the data, and they had other priorities.

I can't imagine it takes that much data munging, since it seems like it should all be derived from NECAP data sets, and one would hope that data would be relatively consistent over the years.

And while it seems like an arcane, geeky point, it is something that both the unions and all people interested in the new teacher evaluation system not being a bogus fiasco should care about.

For large sample sizes, the Growth Model numbers make sense, seem very consistent when dis-aggregated by grade level or compared between math and English. Smaller sample sizes are increasingly puzzling (as you would expect). Look at Little Compton. I think this is one classroom. Maybe two. In grade 3 reading, they're in the 63rd median growth percentile. In grade 3 math, the 38th. That's presumably the same teacher in both subjects. I don't know what the facts on the ground are, but with a few more years worth of data, it would be a lot more clear. Maybe the third grade teacher in Little Compton is just bad at math? What's up with 7th grade in Little Compton having an 84 median growth percentile in reading and 41 in math? Is that consistent over time? New teacher? Noise?

If we had six years worth of historical data expressed in student growth percentiles in this graphical tool, we'd all have a pretty good idea of how stable and meaningful the numbers are.

If this is a good method of evaluating teacher performance, RIDE should prove it to us by including the historical data.

Two Posts Every Teacher Should Read

Nancy Bloom:

I just quit my job as a teacher in an urban charter school. Even though I still don’t have another job and I support myself entirely, it is the best decision I ever made. It is especially liberating this week while my colleagues – and after five incredibly stressful years on the education front lines, my truly beloved friends – wait for the June 1 ax to fall.

Every June 1, the exhausted teachers and staff at my school learn whether they will be rehired for another grueling year. Last year the school gave 43 staff and teachers the you’re-outta-luck-pal letters, including the entire three-man physical education department and the student support genius, Dany Edwards, who somehow made harmony out of the schools’ cacophony of crazy student behavior. This year the school’s three glorious new gymnasiums are largely unused because we have no gym teachers and Dany is dead of unknown causes. Whatever happened to this beautiful young man, firing him didn’t help him live any better or happier for his last few months on earth. And the kids he championed lost his tender, tough, hilarious and real guidance.

This post is dedicated to you Dany, one year after you ran from the building in frantic disbelief, waving your letter as you ran up and down Hyde Park Avenue, looking for people to share your grief. If they can fire you, they can fire any of us. Except they can’t fire me. I beat them at their game.

Emma Brown:

Nichols also argued that the timing of the observations, all unannounced, seemed unfair. For example, when her sister was taken, unconscious, to the hospital in May 2010, Nichols asked to leave school, but she was told there was no one to cover her classroom. A few hours later, an assistant principal dropped in for an observation of Nichols’s class.

Her sister died that day.

Nichols took three days off for the funeral. She left work sheets for her students to do in her absence. Upon returning to school, she received a memo from Czarniak criticizing her failure to “provide meaningful, productive activities for every lesson, including when you need a substitute.”

The following day, another assistant principal visited the class. It sounded as if Nichols had laryngitis, the assistant principal observed. “It was very difficult for the students to hear the questions you were asking,” she wrote. “This slowed down the momentum of the activity.”

Czarniak used evidence from those observations to write a year-end evaluation recommending that Nichols be placed on probation. She would be required to turn in lesson plans every two weeks and work with instructional coaches.


Michael Lewis:

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn't. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader's shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He'd been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I'm sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

I recommend washing down that second cookie with a nice lecture on the importance of self-control for the poor.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Not the First Time I've Heard of This

Jonathan Pelto:

So, with little to no communication between Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools and the teachers that actually do the teaching, Vallas decided what text books to purchase.

Despite being treated to that “I’m the decision maker - so I don’t need to listen to anyone,” it sounds like there was widespread excitement at the prospect of getting new textbooks to use in the classrooms of Bridgeport’s school.

Some of the first boxes to be opened included a new text for Bridgeport’s high school seniors, an anthology of… British Literature.

But, here is the problem Paul;

British Literature was phased out years ago to make room for American and World literature, subjects that consistently resonate much better with Bridgeport’s vibrant multi-cultural communities.

But unwilling to let logic or reality stand in the way of the corporate decision-making model, the word from the superintendent’s office was British Literature is what will be taught staring this September. Period, end of story.

British Literature?


It can’t be the State Department of Education’s recent mandate that every school shift its curriculum so that it focuses on the “Common Core Standards.” There is nothing in the common core standards that require British Literature be the required subject for 12th grade English.

Is it that a 12th grade British curriculum has already been developed so the texts books are just part of a logical implementation strategy? No, a British Literature curriculum for Bridgeport seniors hasn’t even been put together.

It is true that Bridgeport is retaining a bunch of consultants (who’ll “guide” some teachers) as they begin to create a new common core curriculum this summer, but realistically, an effort like that takes time – time to develop the curriculum, time to identify the best materials for that curriculum and time to train the teacher on how to make the most of the new curriculum.

Teachers in New York City have been working on developing common core curriculum in their schools for more than two years and they still aren’t done.

But doing things right doesn’t seem to be a top priority for the new regime in Bridgeport.

No thoughtful process.

No consensus building.

No effort to develop a curriculum that would best fit the demographic characteristics of Bridgeport.

Or Maybe Less Thinking and More Doing

Matt Yglesias:

Luce's book is the story of a United States that's suffering from a variety of fairly well-known problems that intellectually seem far from unsolvable. And yet our political system, for some fairly profound reasons, just isn't working on solving the problems. Instead, it's leaping toward another terrifying and pointless debt ceiling slowdown even as political punditry remains excessively focused on personality conflicts rather than the structural roots of this dysfunction. It's time to start thinking.

The education situation is a variant on this. The obvious, proven solutions from an international perspective are disallowed from polite conversation, and incredible amounts of thought and punditry are being expended on dubious workarounds which keep people like Matt Yglesias happy but ultimately won't work.

Labor Needs a Bold Private Sector Strategy

David Atkins:

Still, the numbers here are striking. The current Republican regime is predicated on a single demographic constituency: old white males. The Fox News demographic. A demographic that is literally and figuratively dying. At a certain point, the weight of decline of the Republican-leaning segments of the population will shift on the fulcrum far enough that it will become very difficult to continue in their current direction. Like a cornered animal, that will be when they are at their most dangerous. The reflection of their imminent decline is part of what fuels their current extremism: a desperate grasp at locking down power while they still can.

But there's another set of numbers, too, that should be disturbing to the labor movement: the fact that Scott Walker has been ahead in in most non-partisan polls by a range of 3 to 8 points, while President Obama maintains an average 5-point lead in the state. In other words, a significant portion of Wisconsin voters are willing to vote for Walker, but unwilling to vote for Romney. My own theory is that these are probably not so much centrist, Simpson-Bowles friendly voters, but people who are mostly otherwise more or less progressive but have become convinced by the anti-public employee arguments of the right. If that's accurate and Walker wins despite the major counterpush, it may be necessary for the labor movement to spend more time aggressively expanding into the private sector, than increasingly doubling down on defending the public sector, which is intrinsically a more difficult argument.

At Least Woonsocket and Pawtucket are Sticking Up For Themselves

Bruce Baker:

What concerns me more is when local representatives of children attending these districts, including the superintendents of many of these school districts simply don’t stand up for their own constituents. Somehow, the solution for Philadelphia public schools is to close more of them? To shift more control to additional private managers? But to ignore entirely that Pennsylvania continues to maintain one of the least equitable state school finance systems in the country? The same applies to Chicago? Do we hear the City of Chicago’s leaders condemning the fact that Illinois also maintains one of the nation’s least fair funding systems? One of the nation’s most racially disparate state school finance systems?

To be honest, I think the most rational thing for Providence to do would be to stage an administrative strike. If RIDE and the feds think they know how to run the district they should have to do it, entirely. Otherwise, leave us alone.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Back in the Classroom

I Don't Know What is Up With This

Bob Plain:

Perhaps the biggest policy proposal in the draft budget is the idea to merge to board of regents, which currently oversees elementary and secondary public schools, and the board of governors, which oversees public higher education, into one board of education.

The nine member board would be appointed by the governor and would employ a chancellor of education whose responsibilities would be “determined by the board of education,” according to Article 4 of the proposed budget bill. The current commissioners of education “shall be subject to the direction and control of the board of education.”

Hard to Tell How Much Events are Coordinated These Days

James Ryan:

But another part of his plan that potentially veers far from the usual conservative talking points received almost no attention: Mr. Romney would give poor students and those with disabilities the right to attend any public or charter school in their state.

In the age of ALEC, 50CAN, etc., you have to wonder if the recent, short-lived proposal to open up the Barrington School District to outside applicants has anything to do with this. If I knew anything about the Barrington School Board, it might be an easily discounted idea, but I don't.

For that matter, I still don't have the slightest idea what is or was up with the whole mixed public/private charter school proposal Meeting Street made. Was that some kind of national break-the-mold statement or just an oversight? What is the status of that proposal anyhow? Unless the Regents approved it without telling me, I guess it is probably not on schedule to open this fall. Or something. Did it just go away?

Job Ladders and Magic Beans

Dave Winer:

I've been programming for X years where X is a surprisingly large number.

2012 - 1975 = 37

Some conclusions may be in order.

First, most people don't program that long. The conventional wisdom is that you "move up" into management long before you've been coding for 37 years.

There is a lot of magical thinking about creating "career ladders" within teaching, in part because there is a lot of fantasy about how other careers work. Mostly you just go into management, aka, administration.

There are, I guess, top doctors and lawyers who still do high end medical procedures and mix it up in prominent cases, but few careers have "ladders" which allow one to primarily continue doing the core task.

Can you think of any examples?

We Are Ruled By The Worst People In The World

John Thompson:

So, Duncan should start by saying he is sorry for imposing collective punishment on teachers in schools destined for turnaround. His demand that 50% of teachers be replaced in those schools, along with his incentives for using a statistical model for firing teachers, means that effective educators have lost their careers simply because they taught in ineffective schools. His mass dismissals perpetuate the "reformers'" myth that teachers' "low expectations" are the cause of dysfunctional schools. Under Duncan's rules, districts did not have to impose litmus tests on teachers or to systematically drive veteran educators out of the profession. But he funded districts that, predictably, used federal rules to get rid of Baby Boomers' higher salaries and benefits, and to keep veteran teachers from expressing their professional judgments.