Friday, November 30, 2012

Rick Hess Beats Me to the Punch

Rick Hess:

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

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

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

Maybe the Problem is Your Policies are Unpopular and Ineffective

Ben Wieder:

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Roger Schank:

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Test Scores for Teacher Effectiveness SCREENING

Douglas N. Harris:

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

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

What Exactly is Not STEAM?

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Flogging a Dead Horse

Stephen Downes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Perspectives from the Urban Hellhole (Philly)

Chris Lehmann:

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


They really do want to starve your granny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stand Up. Live Better.

Natasha Lennard:

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

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

Woonsocket Voted for Mayoral Control, btw

Rob Borkowski:

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2012


The Mustache of Understanding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

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

Marc Brasov:

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

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

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

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

We Need New Ideas for Secure Digital Testing

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

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

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

Too Bad Everything isn't Like Math

Strategic Data Project:

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Years of Posthumous PR Finally Pay Off

Dana Goldstein:

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pick One or the Other, Please

Erik Robelsen:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depends on What You Mean by "Leading Indicator"

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Blended Learning Product That Cannot Be Named

Michael Horn:

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Paying for Modern Industrial Labor

Kevin Drum:

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

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

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

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

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

This is a foregone conclusion for at least three reasons:

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sloyd: The Early Roots of Manual Training


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

Indiana's Old Standards Were Way Better

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

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

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

Also, Jim Stergios.

A Few Post Election Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Bizarro 2004

Andrew Leonard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Needed: Better Analysis of Last Name Distribution in Providence

MartinH in ProJo comments saves me typing:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 05, 2012

Pretty Much a Rounding Error Either Way

Linda Borg:

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

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

Thats... really small.

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

Friday, November 02, 2012

I Have No Idea What Anyone Is Even Talking About

Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen:

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

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

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

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

Sarah D. Sparks:

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

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

Thursday, November 01, 2012

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

The Onion nails it:

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

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

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

“I get it now,” Marcello added.

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

Things That Don't Work Anymore: Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Banality of KIPP

Mr. Dolan:

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

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

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