Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Robot Shopping 2012

I decided I wanted to try giving Vivian a classical Logo experience using a turtle robot. In 2012, to me that means a turtle robot with MIT/Scratch style block programming and ideally some kind of route to textual Logo and other programming languages.

Gary Stager suggested Lego WeDo, which I'm sure is perfectly reasonable advice, particularly since I know there's some research showing girls aren't particularly interested in robotics, but... I just want that direct turtle on the screen, turtle on the floor dynamic for some reason.

Finding the right robot proved to be a difficult job. First off, the whole thing was surprisingly hard to Google. I was still finding completely new stuff days and weeks after starting. It is a weird, fractured market.

You've still got some older Logo inspired products hanging about, mostly marketed to schools on websites that look about 15 years out of date, like, say, this one. These things generally don't work on Linux and aren't particularly hackable, which is also another constraint. In particular this should work well with an XO.

So that generation is on the way out, mostly in favor of Ardunio based robots. This is good, because they're open, flexible, hackable etc. On the other hand, it can turn into Dad's robot building project, which I assure you is not my intention.

Software hacking, perhaps. I've got more aptitude there. For Arduino based robots, like this one, I should be able to either use Turtle Art's Arduino plug-in, or perhaps ModKit's block UI in addition to the more standard Arduino programming interfaces.

But still, there would be a lot of work by me before the robot even existed, and it'd probably come out around or over my $150 budget for the project, so I was a little dubious.

As it turned out, I finally found something which I hope will be the perfect fit... more on that tomorrow.

"Fussy" is a Good Way to Put It

Tim Furman:

"Dear Community, the state has adopted a fussy new set of academic standards, and we live in the state. The main thing is that there will be more testing, and over time, as the standards grow into other subject matters, the testing will increase dramatically. The federal government is also trying to strong-arm the state into tying teacher evaluations into the data that these new tests generate, even though the test don't yet exist. It matters very little whether you or your children are ready and willing to have a fussier curriculum based on fussier standards--- this is all a blame mechanism aimed at solely at teachers. Carry on. Love, the AFT."

There But For The Grace of God (or Blog) Go We

Benjamin Herold:

After a series of public missteps, Thomas Darden, the head of the District's Office of Charter Schools (and PPSD Supe runner-up -TEH), has stepped down.

On Friday, members of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission publicly chastised Darden for failing to provide critical information about projected enrollment growth at Belmont Charter School prior to the SRC's scheduled vote. Darden, whose official title was deputy for strategic initiatives, resigned later that day, confirmed District spokesperson Fernando Gallard.

Darden had earlier come under fire for publicly estimating that the cost of charter expansions approved this spring by the SRC totaled $38 million - $101 million less than the actual figure.

I'm Sure I Could Find a Few Schools That Would LOVE a Few Laptop Carts

Jessica Pressler:

Greene gets this kind of reaction a lot. “Nobody gets it,” he grumbles, gunning over the boardwalk that leads from his boathouse to the beach. “I see David Koch a lot of the time. His policies are ridiculous. I don’t think he’s ever been to one of these schools where they have a rolling cart, where one computer has to go to different classrooms, and it can make so much difference, a $700 computer! I don’t think these guys realize, this is what they’re cutting off? To say to those kids, ‘Too bad, every man for himself’?”

Lately—like at a recent lunch with Steve Schwarzman, who has likened Obama to Hitler—Greene’s been trying another tactic. “Now I appeal to them selfishly,” he says. “ ‘Don’t you realize that if you don’t take care of this kid when they are 10 years old, you’ll take care of them when they are 20 and 100 instead? We just have to pay a little more taxes. It’s not going to kill us. You buy car insurance. Why not buy some democracy insurance?’ People think that Obama is this leftist, socialist guy,” he says. “But I don’t think they understand what people can go for when they are at the end of their line.”

Dan Nails It

Dan Meyer:

Our world is increasingly automated and programmed and if you want any kind of active participation in that world, you're going to need to understand variable representation and manipulation. That's Algebra. Without it, you'll still be able to clothe and feed yourself, but that's a pretty low bar for an education. The more interesting question is, "How should we define Algebra in 2012 and how should we teach it?"

Algebra Post Mental Bleedover

Dan points out that there's nothing about Algebra II in the Andrew Hacker piece that started this discussion, while my post was only about Algebra II. This was not a clever gambit on my part, in my mind the piece was about Algebra II. Doing a little mental and RSS forensics, I think it is because Dana Goldstein used this quote from Anthony Carnevale in introducing her long quote from the piece:

Education reform has stalled on Algebra 2. The more you demand it, the more drop-outs you have.

That bled through into my reading of Hacker. I do agree with Dan that:

The argument that we ought to limit second-year Algebra (with its strict rites and rituals of symbolic manipulation) to people who volunteer for it is a much easier argument than saying "all Algebra oughtta be elective." Given how much of the automated and programmed world relies on an understanding of variable representation, I don't really see that argument.

On the other hand, it is even weirder that most of the defenders of algebra are making rather indirect arguments. You do need to understand variables.

PPSD in the "Irreplaceables" Paper?

I suspect Providence is district B in the new TNTP paper. TNTP is embedded here, the teachers have been taking surveys asking the same kind of questions, and the size, demographics type of evaluations, etc. in the district line up. So it seems fairly likely.

Regarding TNTP in general, lets just say that the high-performing urban public school teacher in this household is willing to take a job just about anywhere to get away from those assholes.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Algebra II Cents

I'm no expert on Algebra II. In fact, I don't even remember what is covered in Algebra II, which is closely related to my feeling that it isn't really necessary for all American adults to know. This is also backed up by my suspicion that the vast majority of American adults would fail an Algebra II final exam utterly, yet that is very, very far down on the list of this nation's problems.

This is really a philosophical argument.

  1. What is the purpose of primary and secondary education?
  2. In particular, what does a high school diploma represent?
  3. What is the difference between subjects included in the curriculum and those absolutely required for graduation?

Beyond that, anything that doesn't focus on exactly what is covered in Algebra II and why those topics should be absolutely necessary for graduation is just hand-waving. What is the state's and community's interest in imaginary numbers?

Sherman Dorn's asks:

Is this an argument about what other people’s children should be exposed to? Often, arguments that propose limiting access to college or more challenging courses in high school are made by people with advanced degrees whose own children or nephews and nieces took high school math through calculus (or the equivalent for other subjects).

In fact, this is an argument about other people's children. It is an argument about students who have otherwise met all graduation requirements other than understanding and using polynomials, rational expressions, quadratic equations, imaginary and complex numbers, exponents and logarithms, etc. Neither my or your children will likely fit into that category. Are those students in that situation individually and are we collectively better off not giving them a diploma until they demonstrate proficiency in those topics? That is the real, actual question.

The Parent Trigger and RI Charter Law

Russ Conway speculates on whether a parent trigger bill might be headed to RI in the next session. It is certainly possible, but it would require more fundamental changes to RI charter school law.

There are three types of RI charters: district, independent and mayoral academies:

  • There is already a "parent/teacher trigger" to create district charters -- you need 2/3rds of the teaching staff to approve in addition to 51% of the parents. I think that's been on the books since the mid-90's, and nobody's tried it as far as I know (I've certainly thought about it, but at the time Providence was stuck at the charter cap).

    This is almost certainly not what parent trigger advocates have in mind, in part because I think the law still keeps the teachers as part of the PTU. I don't think an outside CMO would touch it with a 10 foot pole, so at worst you'd get a unionized community "mom and pop" charter out of it, which isn't so bad.

    I'd say there's not a lot of reason to suspect that teachers wouldn't support this in a given school, considering what a mess the PPSD tends to be.

  • An independent charter now needs a sponsoring independent non-profit or higher education institution. That's an additional wrinkle and complication, although maybe at this point someone like RI-CAN could do it, although that undermines the whole "grass roots" messaging. Otherwise it'd be hard to find a random non-profit that would want to take on this kind of controversy. Also, RI's charter application process now requires a prospectus as the first step over a year and a half before the school opens, which would be a difficult hurdle, although RIDE is clearly willing to waive their application regulations whenever they feel like it.

    The biggest issue is again, the labor regulations, which give teachers more rights than outside CMO's are comfortable with.

  • So then you have the mayoral academy option, which has the CMO-friendly labor provisions, but makes no sense in this context. Parents are going to petition to turn their failing neighborhood school into a multi-district urban/suburban mayoral collaboration, with the charter held by a separate non-profit and run by a CMO? It is Rube Goldberg on steroids.

Of course, there's no particular reason that the underlying charter law couldn't be changed at the same time the trigger was added, particularly as such things tend to happen at 4:00 AM the last day of a legislative session in RI, but it definitely makes it a tougher sell. Also, the RI reform community has spent the past 3 years praising RI charter law and adding tougher regulations, not laying the groundwork for changes.

I'd like to thank Dan McKee's massive ego for creating this mess.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

If There Were Such a Thing as "Corporate School Reform" it Might Look Like This

Fred Kaplan:

By contrast, private-equity firms, such as Bain Capital, where Romney made his fortune, tend to view their client companies as cash cows, susceptible to cookie-cutter formulas from which the firms’ partners reap lavish fees, almost regardless of the outcome. Their ends and means breed an insularity, a sense of entitlement, a disposition to view all the world’s entities through a single prism and to appraise them along a single scale.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Oh, That "Market-Based" Reform

Conor P. Williams:

The most problematic part of Stokes’ argument, however, is the amorphousness of what she’s terming “market-based” reform. Whatever it is, such a reform project isn’t necessarily pro- or anti-school choice. Sure, in a certain way, school choice establishes a market for parents and students. But it’s not evident that all of the broader education reform arguments correspond to that distinction—it actually obscures more than it helps. In fact, there are major trends in education policy that suggest that the push for school choice is better understood as a grassroots movement—not a corporate campaign.

Elizabeth Stokes:

Backing Governor Chris Christie and Commissioner Chris Cerf’s unrelenting push for more “high-quality school options” in New Jersey, the Department of Education recently approved nine charter schools to open in September, bringing the total number of charter schools in New Jersey to 86. This move is part of a broader trend toward the marketization of education policy – the incorporation of market principles into the management and structure of public schools, as well as voucher programs to subsidize alternatives to public schools. These market principles include deregulation, competition, and the unqualified celebration of “choice,” all of which are embodied in the charter school movement. Despite claims of greater efficiency, innovativeness, and responsiveness, however, the growing rhetoric around choice needs to be more closely scrutinized before we wholeheartedly jump on the charter school bandwagon.

Market-based school reform is focused on the idea that by structuring schools like business enterprises, we can inject them with stereotypical private sector virtues like innovation and efficiency. According to this view, this is sorely needed because “traditional” public schools are supposedly ineffective. By removing barriers to entry for different types of educational organizations, market-based reformers believe we can incorporate some healthy competition into the state-run system and overcome drawbacks allegedly caused by the state’s monopoly control. This approach positions parents and students as consumers of education, free to choose which types of schools best meet their individual needs and preferences. The rhetoric of “choice” implies that marketization will enhance liberty as well as efficiency.

Various components of school reform as we know it do not neatly contain each other. They overlap messily. The "market-based" reform agenda Stokes clearly describes certainly exists, proudly and unabashedly. You can be pro-charter or pro-school choice without buying the whole corporate agenda, but that does not in turn mean the corporate agenda does not exist.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Good Luck Reproducing Those Results

Kevin Drum on the new Fryer/Levitt/List/Sadoff (Fryer + Freakonomics is a pretty toxic mix in my book) merit pay study:

But I'm still a bit puzzled. If I'm reading the results correctly, teachers in the gain group could expect $4,000 if their students produced average results, and $80 per percentile point extra if they did better than average. In the end, they produced results two percentile points better than average. Teachers in the loss group were paid $4,000 at the beginning of the year, and had to pay back $40 per percentile point if their kids did worse than average. They ended up producing gains of about seven points. (See Table 3 in the study here.)

This means that on average, teachers in the gain group earned $160 extra ($80 x 2) while teachers in the loss group gained $280 ($40 x 7). But the teachers must have known beforehand that their rewards were likely to be very small compared to the $4,000 baseline: In theory, they could earn thousands of extra dollars, but only by being supermen. The authors don't say how well the very best teacher did, but based on their summary results the top teacher probably generated an improvement of about 15 percentile points compared to average. That's a reward of $600 above the baseline. And that's the best result. This kind of money seems like it's far too small to produce any kind of serious impact.

So something about this doesn't really add up. Maybe I'm interpreting their results wrong, but I simply don't see how expected rewards this small could generate such significant improvements. Somehow, the baseline extra pay of $4,000 must have played a role here. right?

Assuming Drum's interpretation is correct, I can easily imagine that teachers didn't initially calculate how small the final bonuses were likely to be, but it would be very clear the second time around with the same teachers, or even with a new group of teachers who know how to use Google.

Also, once you'd do this a few times, most teachers would know to put the money in the bank, and a good union would have something set up so you could get it directly deposited into a savings account or even escrow. A really good union (that somehow had this imposed on them) would make it easy for risk averse teachers to just pool all the incentives into a single account that would pay back whatever bonuses were clawed back and give everyone an equal bonus.

Regardless, the whole concept of giving out bonuses and clawing them back is never going to fly.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

There are no Cut Scores in Sabermetrics

Imagine a scene where a major league general manager and his statistics wonk sit down to decide which of two minor league infielders to move up to their major league roster. The stats guy brings a bunch of numbers -- "multiple measures" you might say -- including a single aggregate number which compares the overall value of the two players. The GM glances at the report, says, "This guy only is only hitting .238 and I have a rule about calling up anyone with a batting average, under .240, so we'll take the other guy."

It may well be the right decision, but it kind of makes a mockery of the supposed sophistication of the process.

Or for that matter, imagine that your fantasy football commissioner announces that any team starting a quarterback who throws four interceptions automatically loses, regardless of the rest of the teams' scoring. Would you think that was a good idea?

From Zach Mezera's report on a recent City Council Education Subcommittee meeting:

One that was ID’d as “Focus” that probably caught peoples’ attention was Nathan Bishop. The primary reason for this, it seems, was that only 9% scored proficient (in what?) in the most recent NECAP. The RIDE rules state that if a school has a proficiency score of less than 10, it automatically is placed in Focus regardless of other scores.

It isn't actually 9%, but appears to be 9/30 for overall performance on the new classifications. Bishop does have an overall score slightly higher than some schools rated above "Focus," so this appears to be accurate.

I'd note that I don't really know one way or another if Bishop should be a "Focus" school.

However, I'm highly dubious of this particular rule. Let's just scroll down through middle schools and pick out some with similar overall achievement scores and see how they did overall. These will be listed by name then overall achievement/total points/classification ("Typical" is better than "Warning" is better than "Focus"):

  • Nathan Bishop: 9/51.33/Focus
  • Dr. Earl F. Calcutt: 9/50/Focus
  • Riverside: 13/46.33/Warning
  • Highlander Charter: 14/75.5/Leading
  • Nicholas A. Ferri: 13/51.5/Typical
  • Frank E. Thompson: 12/54.83/Typical
  • Goff: 11/45.17/Warning
  • Esek Hopkins: 8/50.50/Focus
  • Segue Institute for Learning: 10/53.17/Warning
  • UCAP: 12/55.71/Typical
  • Woonsocket: 11/51/Typical

There are a lot of schools that were on the bubble, some with lower overall scores than Bishop. I think Highlander is particularly telling though because they demonstrate that a school with an overall performance score under 50% and within 5 points of Bishop can still get one of the highest total scores in the new classification system.

And piling on top this arbitrary cutoff, the overall performance score is itself based on numbers determined by cut scores. It looks like Bishop lost at least 1 point by coming in one percentage point under the 45% cut score in 7th grade reading. That's one kid tipping the scales to trigger identification.

Everybody Wants Good Food

Tracie McMillan:

But what if we accepted our fate, as “lazy” Americans, and treated healthy, fresh food as if it were necessary for life? What if we treated it like fresh, potable water, and simply made sure that it was affordable and accessible to everyone?

We have not, as a society, built a water system designed to deliver only clean water to the rich but dirty water to the poor. We have not typically told the poor that if they truly cared about the quality of their water, they should obviously drive farther and pay more money for it. And yet, that’s what we say about healthy food.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Can We Make Students Ready for This Kind of "College?"

Tim Kreider:

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”) What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

Certainly "no excuses" schools will eventually be seen at least in part as a colonialist manifestation of this impulse.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Who Needs Shareholders?

Doug Henwood:

In Wall Street, I argued (among other things)

  • shareholders provide little or no money to the companies whose stock they own, and rarely have
  • in fact, since the early 1980s, the flow of cash has mostly gone in the reverse direction, from companies to shareholders
  • stock prices are often noisy and even systematically wrong, so therefore provide no good evidence on how well managers are running firms
  • shareholders’ interests are very narrowly selfish, usually at odds with workers, communities, and the broader society
  • so, basically, who needs them?

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Longer View of Data

Andrew McEachin:

Our results have implications for policymakers currently debating ESEA reauthorization. The first is that the types of schools identified as being in the bottom 5% will vary dramatically depending on whether status, growth, or a combination is used. Status models identify middle schools serving more poor and minority students. While low-achieving, these schools are near the average in terms of proficiency growth. In contrast, growth models identify smaller schools that are demographically typical, perhaps suggesting they are mainly identifying random year-toyear fluctuations. A combined model –here the average of the standardized proficiency rate and API growth scores – identifies schools that are low-performing on achievement status and growth. These are the schools we most want to identify for improvement.

The second finding is that the stability of classifications in a growth or combined model is near zero if only one year of data is used. This suggests that, as with evaluating teachers’ contributions to student learning, year-to-year comparisons are noisy (Kane & Staiger, 2002). However, simple three-year averages of combined proficiency level and growth measures dramatically reduce this noisiness and still focus the PLAS on low-achieving, low-growing schools.

Third, the AGS criterion expands accountability to a different set of schools – schools with moderate and improving achievement but consistently large achievement gaps. These AGS are stable across time – nearly as stable as PLAS defined by status.

Fourth, the subgroup criterion for identifying the bottom 5% is mainly a measure of the performance of students with disabilities in schools that have a significant number of those students. This is likely not what lawmakers have in mind for this measure. This finding may highlight a tension between inclusion and universal accountability (Thurlow, 2004).

Last, elementary schools are favored over middle schools under all criteria, as they were under AYP. Unless we really believe that elementary schools are so dramatically better than middle schools, this finding speaks to a flaw in the proposed methods of identifying schools.

What is the argument against RIDE using three years of data to generate their classifications instead of just one? They've got the data. We paid a lot of money for it. Processor cycles are cheap.

Why don't they release these rankings retrospectively for the past decade? Again, they've got the data. Is it because once we'd see it we'd know the system was junk? For that matter, I hope they already made the retrospective calculations during the design process to see if the results worked the way they expected.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

If You Must Have a BVP Caveat...

One thing you must grant "no excuses" schools is that they know how to get good test scores out of the gate. No more of this taking a few years for a school to find itself. So regardless of all other concerns, getting good scores after 1 year is impressive.

But, in RIDE's new classifications...

  1. BVP got 25/25 in student growth, but that is compared to how a single class did in October the year before, when the school didn't have any particular interest in maximizing their scores.

    Also, these schools tend to be good at a big jump in math during 5th grade. If you can put the hammer down (I'm not saying its easy or everyone would do it), you can yank kids up several grade levels that year, but then it naturally levels off as you hit more abstract math. Point being, everything else being equal, the growth score will probably be lower in the future.

    Then again, the student growth scores are likely to just be crazy volatile. For example, next year BVP student growth will probably be compared to a completely different, much more affluent set of students than they were this year, since they'll be compared whatever students in the state got the same (higher) score this year. There tend to be crazy year to year variations in these things.

  2. BVP also got the highest subgroup gaps score of any middle school: 27/30. This, however, follows what seems to be a pattern for schools with very high gap scores: not having 20 LEP and IEP students (total). In which case your score for low-income and minority students essentially counts double, and in BVP's case they're good. You can also infer that the 12 or so LEP and IEP students who took the NECAP did pretty well anyhow at BVP. However, 31 LEP and IEP students in that cadre took the test as 5th graders, so... ? Where'd the rest go?

Also, for gap measurement purposes, is BVP "Urban," "Urban Ring," or "Suburban?"

Monday, July 16, 2012

Number of Students with IEP's Taking 11th Grade NECAP's at Ponaganset High School

In regards to this earlier post, I looked it up:

  • 2011: 23/183
  • 2010: 9/198
  • 2009: 0/205
  • 2008: 8/200
  • 2007: 2/213

What's the over/under for next year?

Calculating Gap-Closing on a Curve

So 25% of RIDE's new school rating & classification is based on "gap closing." Unfortunately, Rhode Island schools and districts are largely segregated, so this does not actually make much sense. In most PPSD schools, there aren't enough white middle class kids to form a comparison group to establish the "gap." To a lesser extent the opposite can be true for poor and minority students in the suburbs.

So, to deal with this, RIDE calculates a score for a hypothetical Performance Reference Group of non-poor, non-special ed, English speaking whites. This is adjusted according to district types as shown:

So built into the model is the assumption that, for example, the default cadre urban middle class white high school student inherently underperforms their suburban cousins' proficiency by 27 points in reading and math? Huh? What, what, why?

Let's say we have a hypothetical urban high school with 100% poor minority students, 44% proficiency in reading and 5% proficiency in math.

In terms of absolute proficiency, they get 1 point in reading and 1 in math:

In terms of gap-closing, they get four points in reading and four in math. In fact, it seems to be impossible for an urban high school to get less than four points in math since the white man's score is 19 and you get 4 points for a gap less than 20:

As a result you get examples like Central Falls High School, which in absolute proficiency is 6/35, but in "gap closing" gets 28.50/30. In fact, that is 28.5 out of only 50 points the school gets total in the rating system. A suburban high school with poor and minority students getting the same reading and math scores as the urban school above would have a gap-closing score of 2 (compared to 8).

So... who cares? It is horseshit layered on top of horseshit. The overall system is biased against high poverty schools from stem to stern, so I don't really care. What RIDE gets out of this is a system that looks a little fairer to urban schools. One suspects that in the end no suburban schools will be harmed in the production of this film.

Nonetheless, that's how it seems to work, if you were wondering. If I've parsed this wrong, let me know.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

One Last Quick Bitter Retrospective Chart

E-Cubed High School is the highest rated neighborhood high school in the PPSD by over 10 points, the only one rated "Typical," and above Johnston, Pilgrim, Cranston East, Woonsocket, Coventry, West Warwick, Cumberland, Warwick Vets Tolman and Shea. It was started by a cadre of teachers and administrators from Feinstein High school in the middle of the last decade and both schools followed a similar philosophy and design.

As you might have heard somewhere, Feinstein High School was named "persistently low-achieving" by RIDE in 2010 and closed by the PPSD. Here's a comparison of E-Cubed's 2011 scores with Feinstein's 2009 scores:

If Commissioner Gist, RIDE and the PPSD had not made decisions based on flawed metrics and data, and had supported ongoing successful reforms at Feinstein and Hope Arts, there is every reason to think we'd have at least three neighborhood high schools safely out of intervention status in the PPSD instead of 1.

I Don't Want to Sound Callous, But That's Just Not Very Many Kids

One of the non-urban high schools that got dinged in the new classifications was Ponaganset High School in Foster-Glocester, which is in "Warning." This is partly because they genuinely had an off year score-wise, although they're still above the state averages in reading and math.

They got hammered in subgroup performance, though -- only 12 points out of 30. Of course, the numbers in the subgroups are very small: 183 tested, 181 white, 1 black, 1 mixed, 0 LEP, 23 with IEPs, 16 eligible for free and reduced lunch. The low-income kids are above their peers statewide. The special ed scores are terrible.

Maybe this will lead to improvements in their special ed program? But overall, this is a ridiculously blunt and indirect instrument. Even if the system works perfectly, you're affecting a very small slice of kids.

Today's Meditation

Charlie Stross:

Because when you're born eldest son to the moderator of a remarkably exclusive brethren in an exceptionally free kirk where they don't believe in sex because it might lead to dancing (which would in turn imply the existence of music), the tendency to see demons everywhere never really leaves you.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Central PA Headlines

Huntingdon Daily News:

Belief in Freeh report varies

My Reactions to RIDE's New School Classifications and Rankings

OK, so we've got RIDE's new post-waiver school classifications. Here are some reactions with a number of throat-clearing caveats.

Caveat #1: I don't really feel like finding and (re-)reading the technical documents explaining this whole process -- it is a summer weekend after all -- so there are a number of question marks here.

Caveat #2: I don't believe ranking schools in a single list is a good idea, period.

Caveat #3: I particularly don't believe that ranking schools based only on test scores and even more easily corrupted graduation rates is a good idea, even if you chop and dice them in lots of different ways to make it look like you're using some kind of "multiple measures."

Caveat #4: Having said that, I have no qualms about poring over this data. This is, I suppose, like explaining to you why "low fat" cookies aren't any better for you right before undertaking an extensive taste-test of Snackwells and reduced fat Oreos.

Caveat #5: Should we be evaluating this as a temporary expedient or a permanent system? For example, should we even consider what should happen after a school goes through a 3-5 year improvement cycle? Is there any reason to think this will survive that long? To be honest, no.

Caveat #6: This is a clear improvement over the original system for designating persistently low-achieving schools, which was a travesty. But it was a travesty of RIDE's own design, and its flaws were obvious all along. So...

A long list of thoughts in no particular order:

  • It seems that we're switching from naming a new 5% of "lowest performing" schools to an ever growing list to every year to just classifying all the schools every year. So hypothetically next year's list won't actually change much. There will probably be fewer new interventions started. This is an improvement from Providence's point of view. Makes the whole thing seem like less of an endless meatgrinder devouring its own tail. On the other hand, I'm not sure that this is literally the case (see Caveat #1). Anyone know?
  • The real comparison here is not so much to NCLB but to SIG. If you wanted to translate this into the old SIG framework, from Providence's point of view, three new tier 1 persistently low performing schools were named for intervention, and nine were tier 2 (as they probably were last year); but now tier 2 schools are also slated for interventions starting next year.
  • The big story in the PPSD is Nathan Bishop Middle School coming out 10th from the bottom in the middle school rankings. This is a school that was re-opened on College Hill three years ago with extensive renovations and a new staff and academic program following extensive organizing and lobbying, particularly by the East Side Public Education Coalition. It has generally been considered a success, particularly in convincing more East Side parents that they don't have to flee to the private schools. Well, until yesterday perhaps. We shall see how that plays out. I don't know how those people think so I won't hazard a guess. I must admit some measure of schadenfreude. Guess those folks don't have all the answers after all.
  • Once you get to this large a proportion of the district, I don't see how this kind of school-by-school system is better than simply developing a coherent district-wide plan. Does anybody really believe this is the right way to do it? Will anyone speak up?
  • If thought that more drastic interventions were better in the PPSD, I'd be really discouraged. Doing this many with a no-layoff clause in effect, a more flexible set of reform options, unfavorable charter law and generally low interest and capacity to start new ones, and the whole union/district management structure for restarts probably means relatively little change.
  • Classical at #1 high school statewide should make one question what is being measured. Same union, pretty much same teachers, same district, etc. Different kids. Totally different results.
  • One good thing about releasing these as rankings is the possibility that these will be seen as the canonical rankings for the state. Whatever their shortcomings, they're more favorable to good diverse urban and rural schools than anything else that's come down the pike from, say, RICAN or GoLocalProv.
  • Congrats to E Cubed for managing a "typical" high school rating. That's a major accomplishment. Really.
  • The use of student growth percentage to evaluate schools is bogus:

    As Briggs explains and as Betebenner originally proposed, SGP is essentially a descriptive tool for evaluating and comparing student growth, including descriptively evaluating growth in the aggregate. But, it is not by any stretch of the imagination designed to estimate the effect of the school or the teacher on that growth.
  • This is actually rather old data, based on tests given in October 2011, which obviously primarily measure learning from the 2010 - 2011 school year and earlier. This is particularly frustrating if you're looking for evidence of dramatic turnarounds. The improvements already made this year at, say, Woods & Young Elementary this year won't show up (at best) until next summer's rankings.
  • Let's recall:

    PROVIDENCE — Making good on her vow to toughen oversight of the state’s 13 publicly funded charter schools and close ones she finds academically lacking, Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist recommended Thursday that a popular Providence charter school be granted only a one-year provisional extension.

    She raised the very real possibility that the Highlander Charter School would be shut down after June 2011.

    “I am very concerned about the performance of this school,” Gist told the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education during a work session.

    According to her recommendation, she wants to give the school a year’s grace period “so that families can plan to pursue other educational opportunities,” an alarming sign to the school’s supporters.

    Highlander is now RIDE's #4 middle school in the state based on tests given in October 2011. Good thing they didn't close that June.

  • Also, Gist has got a pending recommendation to close the Academy for Career Exploration charter school, the third highest rated high school in Providence after Classical and Times2.
  • Assuming that hiring, evaluation, pensions, etc. would be off the table since they're all already being reformed, I don't think Providence teachers in general would be opposed to adopting measures used at RI charters like the Learning Community, Cuffee, and Highlander, aside from the fact that it is kind of offensive to be told to do so by administration, especially if you were doing those same things a decade ago before being forced to stop by district administration.
  • Six of the seven schools that first adopted "criterion-based hiring" in the 2009-2010 school year are in "Focus" or "Priority" status (the lowest two). The two schools opened under criterion-based hiring are in Focus status.
  • Of the three schools in "Warning" status in the PPSD, you have one elementary that was consolidated and moved last year into an old brutalist middle school building, another that absorbed a big chunk of low-performing students from other closing elementary schools, and a third that lost its well-regarded principal so she could start another turnaround elsewhere in the district. It is a telling selection of schools on the bubble due to the negative effects of reform and budget meltdown.
  • Congratulations to Lima for being the second highest rated elementary school in the PPSD despite a sudden, unplanned reorganization and severe mold infestation!
  • If I wanted to start nitpicking the formula, I'd look at how the achievement gap calculations play out in segregated districts.

That's all I've got for now...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why Does Coleman the Classicist Hate the Art of Rhetoric?

Burkins and Yaris:

Sound argument is rooted in fact. Persuasion is rooted in emotion. At least this seems to be the current evolution of the Common Core vernacular. What then grows in the fertile ground between the argument and persuasion, the place where facts are distorted for the sake of persuasion. We call it a persuadument, where the speaker crosses his/her fingers and hopes the numbers are convincing enough to keep us from looking behind the curtains. When we listen to a presenter, we all tend to say to ourselves, “It must be true, because no one would say 37.2 percent of children with red hair score better on standardized tests if their teachers teach while standing on their heads, if it weren’t.” Oh, mighty Oz …

We wrote about Coleman’s misrepresentation of the data regarding the use of informational texts in elementary schools. This bad exegesis calls into question every statement of statistical fact presented in the two hour speech that is the source of the quote above. We challenge you to choose a David Coleman video. Take your pick. When he “argues” a point with statistics, particularly if the statement is startling, try to track down the research behind it. We are very concerned that there is a lot more persuasion than argument behind the marketing strategy for the Common Core. Hopefully, most of the statements are true. Whether we are wrong or right, the Common Core deserves an intense vetting. Even Reader’s Digest has fact checkers.** We think even the authors would have a hard time arguing with double checking the statements surrounding the Common Core.

It’s all a little ironic, though, isn’t it … misrepresenting data to persuade people not to teach children to persuade people?

**Okay, we aren’t positive about this, but odds are in our favor. Forgive the persuadument.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'm Shocked the Extremely Rich Aren't Funding Examination of Inequality

Alexander Russo:

Over the past few months, the issues of social mobility and class inequity have become increasingly apparent and frequently discussed. Here are a few previous posts from this blog (The Fiction Of Social MobilityIgnoring Inequality, Missing OpportunityWill Reformers Ever Broaden Their Agenda? Whatever Happened To Antipoverty Programs?) though you can find news and commentary on the topic in the mainstream press pretty much anywhere.

What do reformers think about these data?  How do their ideas address issues of social mobility and the opportunity gap?  What if any adjustments or wholesale changes need to be made in the current array of interventions and approaches? We don't really know. Social mobility gets to the core of the education enterprise.  Either schools can provide it or additional measures are required.  

By and large, reform types in and out of the Obama administration have been silent on the news that American society is increasingly bifurcated.  It's all education wonkery, all the time.  The silence has continued even as it's become an increasingly common topic of debate on oped pages and in the Presidential campaign. (Here's a recent D. Brooks column, for example: Opportunity gap among children further divides America. Fordham's Mike Petrilli discussed some of the same questions here. -- to which Andy Rotherham blithely replied "Good question!"

I'm not saying that reformers need to toss out all their current ideas at once, or to talk about social mobility all the time, just that they need to better address the issues and realities that are on the minds of the general public and -- perhaps -- consider putting their cold, hard data-geek hats on and make a couple of hard decisions.  Otherwise, they run the risk of being left out -- or as in the case of the parent trigger, left behind -- while the mainstream public debate surges past them.

The funders of school reform (and the funders of the Obama re-election campaign) aren't paying for nuance, and they're really not paying for examination of social inequality. Period. End of story.

They are paying for a distraction from the discussion of inequality.

Today on RI Future

RI Future:

Get ready for the conservative barrage that because Rhode Island ranked as the least business-friendly state we should adjust policy to appease the good editors at CNBC. But before we do, take a look at what CNBC says are the top two states in which to business – Texas and Utah – and the bottom two – Rhode Island and Hawaii. Where would you rather move your business to?

By the way, every northeastern state finished in the bottom half of this list. Conversely, Rhode Island was the only northeastern state not to finish in the top 10 for education.

Speaking of public education, RIDE’s own Jason P. Becker has a great post today filling in for Ted Nesi titled: “Woonsocket, not the state, failed to fund city schools.” He writes that because the state has increased education aid to schools there and the city has decreased funding that it’s Woonsocket’s fault it doesn’t have enough money. If only government were so simple … for at least the past three years, Woonsocket has raised property taxes very close to as much as the state allowed, and during that same period Woonsocket lost out on some $12 million it expected in state aid. I would argue the question is not did the state do more than Woonsocket, the question is did either do enough.

The Projo’s story on a Middletown group home with more than 400 at-risk kids living there that was closed due to conditions the state felt were “not suitable for the children” reads like something out of Dickens, or Annie.

Maryellen Butke’s campaign for state senator has a new advocate: Donna Perry, who is both the executive director of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition and John DePetro’s sister. I bet she won’t be bragging about that endosement as she door knocks on the East Side.

Basically, if the state hadn't cut funding to all cities, Woonsocket would still be solvent and underinvesting in education. Or, if their local taxes were as high as Providence's, they'd be broke and underfunded, but not completely insolvent. Combine state cuts, a history of lower local taxes, and overall political dysfunction, and you've got bankruptcy.

I May Be Quoting This Back to Kathleen in the Future

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

After all, field testing is a proven way to refine and validate solutions to complicated problems. But in this case, just because it sounds like sage advice, doesn’t make it so. In fact, suggesting that we “field test” Common Core betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about what standards are and what they are not.

Standards aren’t an instructional program or curriculum that helps teachers and students reach an academic goal. Standards are the goal. They are nothing more or less than a simple list of knowledge and skills that students should learn at particular grade levels. You can’t “field test” what a state should expect its students should learn.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Burkins and Yaris Politely Calling BS on Common Core

Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris:

So, not only are we not convinced that the line between personal and professional articulation is as clear as David Coleman suggests, we don’t think David Coleman thinks the distinctions between persuasion and argumentation are so categorical. His actions speak louder than all those words.

They're cranking out this stuff daily.

The Wonders of Credit Recovery

Walt Buteau:

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) - Central Falls graduates from the class of 2011 missed months of un-excused time in the classroom but still received diplomas, according to records obtained by Target 12.

During the 180 day school year, eight graduates missed at least 50 school days with some of them missing half the year.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I'm at FOSSed, a little grassroots open source in schools conference hosted at Gould Academy up in Bethel, Maine, conveniently located near my in-laws. It is a bit IT heavy -- lots of conversations about imaging and filtering -- but it is good to check in with those guys periodically.

I was also looking forward to hitting the Bethel skatepark and maybe the South Paris clover on the way home, but I fell on my shoulder a week ago with my arm pinned over my head and seem to have screwed up my left rotator cuff. Trying to play base ball with it last weekend didn't help either, and now any major jolt or jerk sends a stabbing pain into my arm. So I guess I'm going to be rehabbing for a while.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Does ANYONE Care What the Standards Actually Say?

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

First, New York includes on its fourth-, sixth-, and eighth-grade assessments a “paired passage.” For this, students have typically had to read two passages that are related in some way, then to answer a series of short-answer and one extended-response question. The released samples still include paired passages, but I think the Department could have used them to better effect. For starters, in both the fourth- and eighth-grade tests, the extended response question that was based on the paired passage is a fairly low-level “compare and contrast” question. The Common Core standards seek to push students to do higher-level analytical writing. New York could provide better examples of the kinds of writing that the new standards ask of students. (In fairness, the sixth-grade extended-response question is much better.)

Let's look at the questions and the relevant standards to try to sort this out.

4th grade extended-response question:

The myth and the article both provide explanations for why evergreen trees keep their leaves in winter. How are the explanations similar and different?

Use specific examples from the myth and the article to support your answer. In your response, be sure to do the following:

  • describe what the myth says about why evergreen trees keep their leaves in winter
  • describe what the article says about why evergreen trees keep their leaves winter compare and contrast the two explanations
  • include details from both the myth and the article to support your answer

Because this is responding to the combination of a myth and a scientific article, this is supposed to align to both:

RL.4.9 - Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics and patterns of events in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.

RI.4.9 - Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

This prompt does not align with the literature standard because it compares a myth to an informational text. The standard is clearly looking for a cross-cultural comparison, not a comparison of myth and science. It isn't really aligned with the informational text standard either. They aren't even trying.

6th grade extended-response question:

In both the Demosthenes biography and the Icarus and Daedalus myth the main characters exhibit determination in pursuit of their goals. Did determination help both main characters reach their goals, or did it lead them to tragedy? Write an argument for whether you believe determination helped or hurt the two main characters.

In your response, be sure to do the following:

  • describe how determination affected the outcome in Demosthenes
  • describe how determination affected the outcome in Icarus and Daedalus
  • explain the similarities or differences that exist in the ways determination played into the outcome of both texts
  • use details from both passages in your response

This is supposed to align to:

RL.6.9 - Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Same damn thing! The standard asks the student to compare two fictional literary texts and the example is a literary and an informational. This is rather important since a biography ought not to "approach a theme or topic" with the same kind of approach as a fictional text at all. This question would literally encourage students to confuse Greek mythology and Greek history.

The 8th grade extended-response question is ridiculous:

In the two autobiographies, the authors describe the challenges they must overcome to learn essential skills. Using specific details from the two passages, compare and contrast the challenges that each author faces and how each addresses those challenges.

In your response, be sure to do the following:

  • describe the challenge presented in “Story of My Life”
  • describe the challenge presented in “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”
  • explain how the author of each passage addresses the challenge
  • compare and contrast the challenges the authors faced and how they overcame their challenge
  • use details from both passages in your response

The problem is that they seem to have written this on auto-pilot to match the form of the previous questions without checking standard 9 for 8th grade informational texts:

RI.8.9 - Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.

Oh crap, that doesn't work for two different autobiographies! I don't want to have to write another prompt... how about if we say we're aligning to:

RI.8.2: Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.

Yeah, that'll do. Nobody will care about a little extraneous comparing and contrasting!

When I started this post, what I assumed I'd find is that Porter-Magee's complaint that two of these questions were too "low-level" for Common Core is unjustified by the actual reading standards ostensibly addressed. I think I've shown that is true. If the standards call for comparing and contrasting, that's what should be assessed. The only thing they aren't high-level enough for is Porter-Magee's hand-wavy overall interpretation of the ambitions of the Common Core.

I was genuinely surprised, however, to see just what a butcher job of alignment NYSED managed to come up with. The only thing I can attribute this to is that even the test authors are so freaked out over counting informational vs. literary texts that they don't think they're allowed to include enough literary texts to evaluate the literature standards.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Front Porch Open Studio

"Explain" vs. "Analyze"

The more I thought about it, the more odd the wording of this standard that came up yesterday seemed:

CCLS: RL.6.6 -- Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

It is an outlier in the literature standards, mostly the key verb used is "analyze." It seems that typically "explain" is seen as being lower lower level (particularly in terms of Bloom's Taxonomy) than "analyze." This kind of simple verb... analysis is pretty common when people try to evaluate a corpus of standards.

I think in practice this mode of analysis is fairly useless. For example, you're "analyzing" the standards by counting verbs and looking at a list. Is that easier or more difficult than explaining to someone why one set of standards is more rigorous than the other?

Put another way, "analyze" standards can legitimately be evaluated by multiple choice questions. Can "explain" standards be evaluated by anything other than an actual explanation by the student directed at an audience?

Historic Baseball Fields in Panoramic Maps

This website is a repository of historic pictures of American baseball fields. These pictures are found on panoramic maps, in which small details are meticulously drawn, including, in most cases, the players on the field.

The Other (Other) Providence

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson:

What explains the very different — albeit short — trajectory of Providence Island from the more illustrious history of the Massachusetts Bay colony? The roots of this difference are not to be found in the germs, culture or ideas that colonialists brought with them — after all, it was the same group of people spearheading both colonization efforts.

Instead, it lies with the conditions that the Puritans encountered, and it was these conditions that ultimately shaped the path of the Massachusetts Bay colony towards inclusive institutions, while strengthening the extractive character of those in Providence Island.

The first factor was that Providence Island became from the get-go a militarized colony, partly because the Company was expecting hostilities from the Spanish (and also intended to use the island as a base against the Spanish). It was also partly because, for reasons we next explain, the elite needed the military fist to control the settlers. This militarized atmosphere contributed to the conflict on the island, discouraging investment and economic activity.

But the most important reason related to what was on the ground and what the investors in London expected to reap from the ground. As noted above, the investors viewed Massachusetts as mostly barren, so did not expect huge profits. It is for this reason that they allowed John Winthrop to take the charter of the colony with him, meaning that authority would rest with the settlers, not back in London. It was for this reason that there was not much opposition to giving private property in land to settlers in Massachusetts. In contrast, the Providence Island Company was a major investment for the prospect of substantial profits. So the Company did not let the reins go and did not allow private property for settlers.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Everyone is so Busy Worrying about the Quality of Common Core Implementation, Nobody has Time to Check the Quality of Common Core Implementation

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

2. Particularly in the sixth-grade sample, several of the questions are rigorous and demand that students not only deeply understand the text, but also that they actually draw on evidence from the text to inform their answers.

I was particularly impressed by question five on the sixth-grade test, which showed how you might craft a multiple-choice question that actually demands that students go back to the passage and provide evidence to support a conclusion.

Question five on the sixth-grade example:

5. Which line or lines illustrate knowledge the narrator has that the characters in the story do not?
A “There had been a time when the Trojans had gone out and fought with their enemies on the plain.” (lines 4 and 5)
B “We can easily believe then that Priam, King of Troy, and his people were very glad to hear that one day the Greeks had gone home.” (lines 10 and 11)
C “No one was quite sure what it [the horse] was, or what it meant.” (line 22)
D “A great rattling sound was heard, and the Trojans, if they had not been very blind and foolish, might have known that there was something wrong.” (lines 32 through 34)

Key: D
Aligned CCLS: RL.6.6

CCLS: RL.6.6 -- Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

I find this question to be fairly confusing. What knowledge does D contain that "the characters in the story" do not have? Not the rattling. The blindness and foolishness of the Trojans? That there was something wrong?

Laocoön, priest of Neptune, knew. The weird thing is that there is a subsequent paragraph in the full text that explains how Laocoön subsequently meets his end which has been cut out, so that makes the question more obscure. There are actually several paragraphs cut out, which make the shorter version more difficult to understand.

Also, Cassandra knew, although the line about her is mangled in the edited text in the example:

Also Cassandra opened her mouth, and that she should speak the truth and not be believed.

It is supposed to be:

Also Cassandra opened her mouth, and prophesied the fate of the city; but no one took any heed of her words, for it was her doom that she should speak the truth and not be believed.

Also, this answer is dependent on not considering the Greeks to be characters in the story.

Also, you can't conclusively determine if A) is known to all of the characters based on the text (when was that time and who did they fight). B) is puzzling since it isn't actually making a claim. C) is puzzling too... It is probably not a true statement, but it is definitely something that none of the characters in the story know. That is, they don't all know what the others know.

So... this is not a very good question in my book. Also, it doesn't ask a very interesting question. I'd say a better approach to the standards would be trying to come up with something that asks for evidence that the narrator is meant to be read as speaking to a live audience ("We can easily believe then...") or that he is Greek ("the Trojans, if they had not been very blind and foolish"). The biggest problem with those questions is, of course, they're really more prior knowledge questions in practice.

It isn't really clear why just:

Explain how the author develops the point of view of the narrator in this text.

is not sufficient. Just copy/paste the standard.

Finally, I'd note that in 1921 this was considered to be a 5th grade text. The standards must be slipping...

Lemonade is Not Much Better than Kool-Aid

Cindy O'Donnell-Allen:

Yet day after day, they came to Jenny’s classroom willing to try their hand at rhyming couplets and understanding why Shakespeare might be using them; to read passages closely to determine whether Hamlet and other characters were maintaining or wavering in their resolve; to watch Daniel Beaty’s extraordinary performance of “Knock, Knock,” and to respond to it with their own writing, either by drawing connections to Hamlet’s relationship with his late father or to write their own poems in his voice; to learn some theatre moves for understanding scripts so they could get the play on its feet.

While O'Donnell notes that they planned this unit "with the CCSS in mind," I'd also note that the connection between the grade 11-12 literacy standards and those activities is a bit of a stretch in every case. In the grand, global scheme of things this is extra-ordinary. These are tasks which should and would hit most language arts standards around the world dead center. And to be clear, I understand this because the first draft of the CCSS ELA standards were internationally benchmarked, and actually made it easy to check (this has, of course, subsequently been removed from the CCSS site and more recent versions have not been benchmarked).

If a school or teacher has got good value-added scores, they'll be able to do this kind of thing, if not, someone will be coming around to point out that their tasks aren't well aligned with the standards and if they want to keep their job/school open, they'd better make some changes.

For example:

to watch Daniel Beaty’s extraordinary performance of “Knock, Knock,” and to respond to it with their own writing, either by drawing connections to Hamlet’s relationship with his late father or to write their own poems in his voice

is not quite aligned with:

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.

She continues:

Part of me is pretty darn convinced that it involves our subversive intent going in to the unit to push back against some of the ways we already know the CCSS will be used to justify and perpetuate traditional practice. Susan Ohanian, for one, is very, very afraid. I think the fear is to some extent justified. But I also think that if all we do is rail against the standards, we’re missing opportunities to exercise our own agency as educators to meet them in ways that stay true to what we know. The alternative is to heighten our cynicism quotient so high that we might leave the profession altogether, and that would be shame.

I'd guess the part that is different and useful is a little more emphasis on the text itself. I do think that the CCSS is responding to some imbalances in the ELA curriculum (but way, way oversteering).

This comment does get to one of the central issues in CCSS adoption. Individual teachers pretty much have to try to make lemonade, as they've always done. The deep failure has been institutional, the professional organizations, the unions, the state administrations, the universities, etc.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Vanity Fair:

Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as “stack ranking” — a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor — effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed — every one — cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

I'm sure it will work in schools though!

via Daring Fireball

Ah, Three Blocks from My Parents House

Jeff Gill:

First suspected meth lab found in Huntingdon

Huntingdon Borough Police continue their investigation into a suspected methamphetamine cooking lab, which was found in the second floor apartment at 206 Sixth St. at approximately 12:45 p.m. Monday.

I hope it is safe to take the girls for a visit.

One of My Many Layers of Cynicism

Felix Salmon:

As a result, my feeling is that the ed-tech world should converge quite aggressively on a set of anonymized-data standards, and spend quite a lot of effort explaining to various management types that the data is great for comparing teaching methods, on an aggregated basis, or working out which technologies are getting the most enthusiastic uptake — but that it should not be used for comparing teachers, on an individual basis.

About 10 years ago I found myself working on a large foundation funded project to improve the "information infrastructure" of schools. This was headed by some of the biggest names in educational research and development in the country. I had a somewhat ambiguous and idiosyncratic role in this project, representing an actual in-school practitioner. I ended up doing a lot of pretty much self-directed research and development into the kind of data standards Salmon is calling for above.

The direction the project took -- regardless of its original intention -- turned out to be entirely based on the principal investigators' prior research and, even moreso, on the perceived desires of Gates, Hewlett and other big foundations (working in the word "literacy" turned out to be crucial). This is, of course, the way such things always work. It was clear that none of the PI's or foundations were actually interested in "information infrastructure," so I put that line of inquiry aside.

Had, say, Tom Vander Ark, understood the need to invest in that kind of R&D, they'd be vastly further along in their path to data-driven nirvana.

In retrospect, I guess I'm glad for their lack of vision, but I still find the whole thing incredibly annoying.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Student Achievement Partners' Veil of Competency

The thing about Student Achievement Partner's lousy examples of how Common Core ELA is supposed to work (examples here, here, here, here, here) is that ultimately they say more about Student Achievement Partners' competence than the standards themselves.

For example, if in yesterday's example, they had simply continued onto reading standard eight -- or applied it in their own reading of the text -- everything should have been fine:

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Anyhow, Student Achievement Partners seems to simply lack any real expertise in English Language Arts instruction, particularly beyond the elementary school level. They seem to lack even a interest in ELA instruction beyond a couple of hobby horses (text complexity, text-based questions, writing arguments). I wouldn't be surprised if all these exemplars were written by interns.

What's really disturbing is that nobody else seems to notice. Is everyone trapped in David Coleman's reality distortion field?

Extended Family Notes

Daily Camera, November 2009:

Several Boulder Valley parents of gifted students made passionate appeals to school board members Tuesday night to approve an application for a sixth charter school in the district.

The school board held the first of two public hearings on the proposed charter school, which would focus on addressing the needs of gifted students.

The board is scheduled to vote on the charter application Dec. 8. If it's approved, the Boulder Valley Academy for Gifted and Exceptionally Motivated Students could be open by next fall.

Carol Block said she moved her three school-aged children here from the East Coast to attend a good school, and their "gifted" needs still aren't being met.

"My son's self-esteem was so low when we moved out here because no one could teach him," Block said, with tears in her eyes. "We need this so badly."

One parent, Audrey Fishman-Franklin, spoke against the proposed charter school, calling its title and mission elitist, divisive and "embarrassing."

Audrey is a distant cousin of Jennifer we met at the reunion last weekend. Looking forward to talking more when we take a trip to Boulder this fall.

Common Core Habits of Mind: Believing in Miracles and Myths

These Common Core exemplars stick in my brain like melted gum in a sneaker sole. I'm afraid the only way to clean them out of my cerebellum is to write these overly long posts.

Rhode Island is part of the Tri-State Quality Review Rubric And Rating Process for Common Core aligned curriculum resources. There is, on that site, one example of an ELA exemplar: “The Long Night of the Little Boats.”

The Long Night of the Little Boats is an excerpt from Against Odds, by Basil Heatter, a prolific author whose works include Harry and the bikini bandits (pictured above, my copy is on the way).

The provenance of this lesson plan seems to trace back to Think Before You Write, a 2006 article from Educational Leadership by Joanna Hawkins. The "writing for understanding" process Hawkins describes seems perfectly reasonable:

In our world history curriculum, we take our 7th and 8th graders through a unit on the complexity of history. We focus the unit on a particular event—the rescue of British soldiers, stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk during World War II, by hundreds of little boats whose civilian captains risked their lives to transport these men across the English Channel.

Our focusing question is, How do the forces of technology, geography, desire for power, economics, and values influence the little boats' rescue of the British soldiers at Dunkirk? Clearly, students need to understand key vocabulary words and concepts to address this question. So we work with the terms technology, geography, desire for power, economics, and values/ideas in a variety of ways. We ask, How do these concepts affect our own lives? What are some examples?

A dramatic presentation of the evacuation of Dunkirk seems like a perfectly reasonable way to at least introduce the unit, although video and (gasp!) a brief lecture would be more efficient in delivering the background content.

Regardless, I generally approve of the objective and focusing question. On the other hand, here's the objective for the new Common Core version:

The goal of the exemplar is to give students practice in reading and writing habits that they have been working with throughout the curriculum, particularly using literary nonfiction text...

By reading and re-reading the text passage, closely combining classroom discussion about it, and writing about it, students come to an appreciation of the need to (a) re-read, paraphrase, and discuss ideas, (b) come to an accurate basic understanding level of a text, (c) come to an accurate interpretive understanding of a text, and (d) build a coherent piece of writing that both constructs and communicates solid understanding of text. (emphasis mine)

At this point I should pause and emphasize to active classroom teachers -- especially those working under new high-stakes evaluation regimes -- that putting "practicing reading and writing" down as your lesson objective is not going to fly with your administrator, and pointing out this exemplar (or blog post) will not save your job. I'm sure that's obvious, but I don't want to accidentally end anyone's career by passing on this dubious example.

However, it isn't apparent what kind of objectives one should use under Common Core ELA, as the standards limit the scope of the discipline to the point where a curriculum comprised almost entirely of "reading and writing practice" would be sufficient to meet the enumerated and tested standards. So at least this objective is consistent with the design of the standards. Maybe it will be permissible as a lesson objective in the future.

Moving on, because the Common Core standards emphasize close reading, students will do a close reading of the text. Unfortunately, like many other "informational texts," "The Long Night of the Little Boats" seems to have insufficient weight to justify the treatment. In particular, the word "miracle" is used throughout the text, so it is given much attention. To quote the opening paragraph of the text:

It was a miracle. Those who were there consider it so, and those who have studied it since are even more convinced. It was a miraculous combination of courage, effort, and good weather.

The second step in the exemplar is:

Understanding the concept of “miracle” is critically important to this text. It is the author’s key point and will be used when students come to summarize the article.

The teacher guides students to note that “miracle” and “miraculous” are both used in the first paragraph, and class re-reads and discusses briefly what this might mean (from prior knowledge, which may be inaccurate, and from context). The teacher then works with a Frayer model template (see Appendix A), beginning with bottom left quadrant, moving to the top left, then top right, and finally to the bottom right. (The bottom two quadrants, examples of “miracle” and non-examples, are especially important, since “miracle” is a word that has lost much of its original meaning due to everyday use.

This is an unsupportable reading of the text, in my opinion. The concept of a miracle is not, in fact, central to the text nor is it used in any way other than the everyday. Look at Heatter's first paragraph. Apparently all you need for a miracle is "courage, effort and good weather." Fair enough, but no point in dwelling on it.

Later in the exemplar they define “miracle” as "out of human hands, so wonderful and good as to defy belief." Is that how we're teaching history now? Acts "out of human hands?" Or is that just how we teach "informational texts" in English class? Heatter has nothing whatsoever to say about divinity.

Nor, for that matter, is it at all clear that the "original" meaning of "miracle" is a meaningful concept, as it had both divine and non-divine uses by the mid-13th century.

The most obvious reading is that Heatter calls it a "miracle" because Churchill called it that immediately afterwards, and the (not terribly religious) Brits have since.

By day three of the exemplar, we're on to:

1. Students turn their notes from yesterday into a complete written summary.

The teacher should remind students of the focus statement: “The little boats’ rescue of the soldiers at Dunkirk in 1940 was a miracle.”

Which is still barking up the wrong tree, followed by:

3. Teacher returns to asking a set of text-dependent guided questions. Now that students understand the miracle that happened, they need to grapple with why it happened. How did shared human values, both on the part of little boat rescuers and soldiers, play a part in the outcome of this event? It is essential for students to understand the concept of “value.” They need to understand that a “value” is a deeply held belief about something for which one cares.

By working with examples from their own lives, students will find it easier to recognize and infer the underlying values of patriotism, responsibility, persistence, discipline, and deference to others on the part of the soldiers.

The Common Core does not particularly support or require this kind of moralizing -- particularly the sudden interest in making connections to students' lives -- but for some reason Student Achievement Partners seems to be pushing this angle. I don't fully understand how all the moving parts and motivations fit together though (particularly considering the StudentsFirst/SAP angle).

Regardless, it is a dangerous frame to use in analyzing military history. Just ask the Japanese. Did they lose because of a lack of "patriotism, responsibility, persistence, discipline, and deference to others?" Also, why are the British abandoning the French, Belgians and Dutch to the Nazis? How could they leave Anne Frank behind?!?

Anyhow... much of the above is kind of beside the point. The biggest question, really, is why spend five days practicing reading and writing "habits" (don't even think of calling them strategies) based off of a not particularly notable five page narrative of a historical event? I like to tweak people about saying a certain kind of teaching is "new" or "innovative" but seriously, has anyone ever really taught like this? There's not much here to spend a week on, and what's next? More reading and writing practice with the next damn thing? If not, why not? Nothing in this exemplar suggests otherwise.

Finally, Heatter's text does not seem to be particularly accurate, historically. The WW II references I have in my personal library don't have any details about the evacuation because they don't seem to regard the flotilla itself as remarkable in the big picture; of much greater interest is Hitler's order to stop the advance on Dunkirk, thus allowing the evacuation. Wikipedia points to the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, which contradicts much of Heatter's narrative:

On the 14th day of May, 1940, the BBC made the following announcement: "The Admiralty have made an Order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30' and 100' in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned".

Although this may have sounded something like a request, it was, in fact, an Order. These ships were required for harbour services and national defense and thus the idea of using private yachts as naval auxiliaries was quite well established by the time the emergency of Dunkirk broke upon the Nation.

On the 26th May 1940, a secret cipher telegram was sent by the War Office to the Admiralty stating that the emergency evacuation of troops from the French coast was required immediately. A contingency plan, long prepared under the code name 'Operation Dynamo' - the name being derived from the control centre at Dover, which was an existing generating station overlooking the harbour - was to be executed. In overall command was the Vice-Admiral Commanding Dover - Bertram Ramsay. On the following day, May 27th, the Small Craft section of the Ministry of Shipping was telephoning various boat builders and agents around the coast requesting them to collect all small craft suitable for work in taking troops off the beaches where the larger ships could not penetrate. What was needed were boats with shallow draught and this directed attention in particular to the pleasure boats, private yachts and launches on the Thames and also in muddy estuaries and creeks in deserted moorings along the South and East coasts which would be suitable for such an Operation.

In many cases the owners could not be contacted and boats were taken without their knowledge - such was the speed and urgency of the Operation. Mr. Douglas Tough of Tough Brothers, Teddington, who, with Ron Lenthall, collected many of the boats on the upper reaches of the Thames, reported that the owner of one of the boats which was being commandeered could not be contacted but, hearing that his boat was being taken away, informed the Police that it was being stolen and pursued it to Teddington Lock. More than l00 craft from the Upper Thames were assembled at the Ferry Road Yard of Tough Bros.

Here everything unnecessary was taken off and stored. Bob Tough, son of Douglas & a past Commodore of the Association, has lists of china, cutlery, pots and pans etc. all taken off and stored and returned to the owners in due course. The boats were then checked over and towed by Toughs and other tugs down river to Sheerness. Here they were fuelled and taken to Ramsgate where Naval Officers, Ratings and experienced volunteers were put aboard and directed to Dunkirk.

The Mrs. Miniver story of owners jumping into their Little Ships and rushing off to Dunkirk is a myth. Very few owners took their own vessels, apart from fishermen and one or two others. The whole Operation was very carefully co-ordinated and records exist of most of the Little Ships and other larger vessels that went to Dunkirk.

Maybe they're a bunch of cranks with an obscure axe to grind, but it sounds pretty good to me. There are also other parts of the story I know Heatter leaves out or elides -- the overall length of the evacuation process, the importance of cloud cover, the cushioning effect of sand and water on bombs and shells, the French, etc.

To bring this around to the original context, none of the above, particularly the historical inaccuracy, would be caught by the new Tri-State Quality Review Rubric And Rating Process, because such things are simply not considered in the rubric.

This is all going to go really well.