Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lottery Day

So, several of the RI charters are having their lotteries Thursday, including two which we've entered Vivian into. I've done a pretty good job of not obsessing over this, but still, it is going to be a little nerve-wracking. The key factor here is that the PPSD lottery will take place later at a more vaguely defined date, so this isn't a "ZOMG, get into a charter or we're screwed" situation, but there are many overlapping scenarios which will be resolved randomly over the next month or so.

I just keep thinking about the $250 a year Vivian might gain by having a high value added teacher.

Putting the 11th Grade NECAP Math on a Curve

RIDE's NCLB Waiver Request:

I guess that'll help high schools from looking disproportionately bad compared to elementary and middle schools.

I skimmed though the waiver request, but I can't really get into it. Everything I care about has already been destroyed, and I also can't imagine that whatever they come up with won't primarily target Providence schools every year anyhow. It isn't like there is some other 5% of RI schools that they should be turning around.

More and Less Impossible Problems in Teacher Evaluation

Particularly in various comment threads, there's a very basic division on the nature of the problem of teacher evaluation. On one hand, you have people who regard it as a singularly difficult, essentially unsolved technical problem of pivotal importance. On the other hand, you have people who regard teacher evaluation as a moderately difficult management issue, not that much different than personnel evaluation in other complex fields. In particular, these folks can point both to personal experience ("Wasn't there broad agreement in your high school on who the best and worst teachers were?") and to the many excellent schools (and other enterprises) in the world that don't require extraordinary quantitative measures to evaluate their staff.

The difference, which mostly goes unspoken is that the people who see this as a uniquely hard problem want to compare and teachers across a wide range of schools. This is an unsolved problem, even when measures of success are limited to test scores:

The idea behind value-added measurements is that they look instead at how much growth students make in a year. Teachers are rewarded not when their students score highest, but when the students’ performance gains exceed the average gains made by similar students.

So while the ratings were explicitly designed to compare teachers who work with similar students, they cannot compare teachers who don’t. “This is just a difficult question that we still don’t know how to answer — this question of how to compare teachers who are in very different kinds of schools,” said Douglas Staiger, a Dartmouth College economist.

He added, “There are a lot of issues that I disagree with critics of value-added. But this is a real issue that it’s not clear how best to handle.”

I don't think that problem needs to be solved, or that it is worth the time, expense, and distraction to try to solve it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's the Free Lunch % of Amistad Academy?

Bruce Baker:

Of course, I have no problem with economically diverse schools. Or, for that matter, schools in overwhelmingly poor communities that are able to overcome the challenges of segregation. What is truly destructive is schools that present themselves as examples of successful segregated schools -- and thus proof that desegregation is not necessary -- when they are significantly less poor than the schools they compare themselves to. Amistad's rate as shown here would give it fewer children in poverty than any PPSD school in 2009-2010.

Hits a Sweet Spot, Of Sorts

The thing about the Common Core, especially in ELA, is that on one hand it is pretty much an evolutionary subset of the standards Achieve has been developing with states for over a decade, thus most materials should be adaptable with few changes. At the same time, a K-12 school system developed from scratch around the Common Core would be unlike any school ever described in detail, let alone implemented, even as a pilot.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Questions You Can Ask David Coleman on Wednesday

If anyone's attending RIDE's "Conversation with David Coleman" on Wednesday, you might ask:

Race to the Top required adoption of "internationally benchmarked" standards, yet a benchmarking document for the final draft of the Common Core ELA standards was never released. Can you explain that decision?

Based on your study of the standards used by high-performing countries, which ones define the goal of the educational process as limited to "college and career readiness?"

How did you decide to omit the concept of genre from the Common Core standards?

Given that you've said "the text should be central, and surrounding materials should be included only when necessary, so as not to distract from the text itself," why are we here listening to you explain your text?

I could go on for quite a while like this...

Non-Binding RI Charter Application Procedures to Change


For schools to open in the 2014-15 school year, applicants will be required to complete a prospectus prior to submitting a full application. The prospectus will be due December 1, 2012 and a final application on March 1, 2013. Prospectus guidelines will be posted here in the coming weeks.

Given that last year RIDE accepted and approved one charter proposal months before the deadline, and then accepted another nine months after the posted deadline (but just before the date required by statute), I'm not sure why they bother with this sort of thing. Have to keep all those people in the charter and transformation offices busy I guess.

Profiles in Grit

Young Spike Jonze:

...last fall I asked Steve (Rocco) if he was going to do a video and he asked me if I wanted to do it. At first I said no because I thought it would be too much work, then, later I said yes.

Good decision, Spike. Via Chrome Ball Incident.

Comparing PPSD Schools & RI Charters Based on Free Lunch Rates

Gordon MacInnes and Bruce Baker have written convincingly about the problems with using free and reduced lunch eligibility to compare urban schools. Families below 130% of the federal poverty rate are eligible for free lunch; under 180% for reduced price lunch. These are almost always lumped together in publicly reported statistics, including those offered by RIDE.

However, the achievement gap between free and reduced lunch eligible students is almost as large as that between reduced lunch eligible and non-eligible students, as MacInnes points out:

NAEP reports results every two years by various subgroups, including one for students eligible for free lunch and another for those eligible for reduced lunch. In 2009, free lunch students scored a full 28 points behind the national average (204 vs. 232) on fourth grade reading. Reduced lunchers were 16 points back.

This is a very significant difference. To put it in perspective, New Jersey students were second highest on the 4th grade reading test, 12 points ahead of Tennessee, which was 47th. Moreover, gaps of the same magnitude are found on eighth grade reading and both fourth and eighth grade math tests. The gaps have remained stubbornly in place for twenty years. To dismiss such differences as "meaningless" is at least dubious, if not flat-out wrong.

Baker has more examples.

So... how does this play out in Rhode Island? You can get school by school numbers split out between free and reduced from the federal Common Core of Data (with 2009 - 2010 data most recent), and I've started working on a data graphic (which is by no means done), but the initial results are, well, a lot more lucid than I would have thought. It is all so tidy that I feel like I should chalk it up at least in part to coincidence, and while what follows is not a rigorous or authoritative statistical analysis, it should make a lot of sense to people with some familiarity with these schools. I certainly feel like I have a much clearer and more coherent mental model of what is going on now with urban schools in RI, charter and otherwise, than I did a couple days ago. So, with that preamble/disclaimer out of the way...

As you follow my chart showing free lunch rates per school, declining from left to right, you start with the Department of Children, Youth and Families Alternative Education Program, then second is the Segue Institute Charter in its first year with under 70 students, followed by 55 district schools, 42 in Providence, before you get to the next charter. In fact, the highest free lunch eligibility school in Central Falls is at number 48, believe it or not. That the poorest schools are in Providence is not surprising, but what is interesting is the way the remaining Providence schools and the urban charters tidily cluster together in three groups.

We're going to look at these groupings and take a very impressionistic look at overall test scores, using the current (2011-2012) NECAP scores, averaged over the whole school. There is no point in getting too dainty about this -- the schools cover different grade spans, the poverty rates might have changed, but I don't feel like digging through old data, etc. We are not trying to draw any fine distinctions here. I'd note that doing this more precisely would take a little work since the feds and the state don't code the schools the same way in their data dumps (of course). The scores will be in the format reading%, math%.

Group 1, .709 - .686 free lunch:

  • 57. Reservoir Avenue School (K-5 PPSD): 60%, 50%
  • 58. The Learning Community (K-8 charter): 73%, 60%
  • 60. Textron/Chamber of Commerce Academy (charter HS): 81%, 0%
  • 63. Nathaniel Greene Middle (PPSD): 71%, 51%

Notes: Reservoir and The Learning Community basically switched scores since 2010-2011 (Reservoir had 75%, 56%; LC, 60%, 50%). Greene includes the district gifted program. Also, wtf 11th grade math?

Group 2, .634 - .615 free lunch:

  • 70. MLK Elementary (PPSD): 59%, 43%
  • 71. Paul Cuffee Charter (K-10): 73%, 66%
  • 72. RFK Elementary (PPSD): 69%, 53%
  • 74. Times2 Academy (K-12 charter): 67%, 51%
  • 75. Nathan Bishop Middle School (PPSD): 54%, 44%

MLK's scores are down as the result of an influx of students from closed schools -- which might knock them out of this demographic slice now. Their 2010-2011 scores were 70%, 47%.

Group 3, .466 - .439 free lunch:

  • 98. Classical High School (PPSD) 98%, 48%
  • 99. Blackstone Valley Prep (test scores for 5-6): 68%, 72%
  • 100. Vartan Gregorian Elementary (PPSD): 61%, 66%
  • 101. Highlander Charter (K-8): 68%, 55%
  • 102. International Charter (K-5): 65%, 61%

Notes: Classical is the exam high school for Providence; BVP had only one year's worth of students and has added a couple schools since this demographic data came in.

Of course, the above is more meaningful if you know the context of the above schools. In particular, Gregorian and Classical are the cornerstones of the public education options for East Side white people (and white people citywide) and major demographic outliers compared to the rest of the city. So it is a bit shocking to see that Central Falls charters have almost exactly the same number of students eligible for free lunch, especially when charter school principals are quoted in national publications saying that compared to schools in the same area they have " a higher percentage of students living in poverty."

My takeaway here is that the "good" PPSD schools and urban charters are just a lot more similar than other analyses would lead you to believe, and their scores are mostly determined by demographics. From a parents point of view these are all good schools. But demographically, they aren't like the bulk of the PPSD at all. There were 29 PPSD schools with over 80% free lunch.

Finally, while I know how difficult it is for those very high poverty schools to achieve high test scores, I also know that it is possible, because I've seen it done. The double whammy is that those schools are too weak politically to sustain their gains, and that's the real reason that economic desegregation is necessary (not sufficient) to truly improving opportunity for all children in Providence and RI.

Friday, February 24, 2012

We Should Be More Aggressive with the FOIA Requests

Gary Rubenstein:

Today, the day of the release of the New York City data, I received an email that I did not expect to come for at least a year. In D.C. the evaluation process is called IMPACT. About 500 teachers in D.C. belong to something called ‘group one’ which means that they teach something that can be measure with their value-added formula. 50% of their evaluation is based on their IVA (individual value-added), 35% is on their principal evaluation called their TLF (teaching and learning framework). 5% is on their SVA (school value added) and the remaining 10% on their CSC (commitment to school and community). I wanted to test my theory that the value-added scores would not correlate with the principal evaluations so I had applied under the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) to D.C. schools requesting the principal evaluation scores and the value-added scores for all group one teachers (without their names.) I fully expected to wait about a year or two and then be denied. To my surprise, it only took a few months and they did provide a 500 row spreadsheet.

More Visualization Fun

Click above to get the latest version of my little chart of RI schools by free lunch eligibility. This is pretty much an exercise in learning D3. I think it has gotten me far enough to do actual work on SchoolTool in D3 next week, but I'll try to come back to this and finish it later.

I guess the one detail which I should probably point out to semi-technical readers is that when you click through to the full version, the graph is being drawn (using SVG) by your browser based pretty much on the raw data dump from the Common Core of Data. Instead of, say, just making a graph in Excel and posting a picture of it, the graph is being generated in your browser. As a result other more interesting things are possible with greater programming experience and skill, like interactivity or applicability to other states' data. In the past this sort of thing was mostly done Flash, but now it works with open standards supported by all current browsers (not IE 8 or before though).

The Real Problem with Unions: Not Enough Expertise, Discipline, Nerve and Organization

Doug Henwood:

Obviously the bankers have the advantage in a debt crisis; they hold the key to the release of the next post-crisis round of finance. Anyone who wants to borrow again, and that includes nearly everyone, must go along. But that’s not their only advantage. The sources of their power were cited by Jac Friedgut of Citibank (ibid., p. 192):

We [the banks] had two advantages [over the unions]…. One is that since we were dealing on our home turf in terms of finances, we knew basically what we were talking about, and we knew and had a better idea what it takes to reopen the market or sell this bond or that bond…. The second advantage is that we do have a certain noblesse oblige or tight and firm discipline. So that we could marshal our forces, and when we spoke to the city or the unions we could speak as one voice…. Once a certain basic process has been established that’s an environment in which our intellectual leadership…can be tolerated or recognized…we’re able to get things effected.

It’s plain from Friedgut’s remarkably candid language that to counter this, one needs expertise, discipline, and the nerve and organization to challenge the “intellectual leadership” of such supremely self-interested parties. According to the union boss Victor Gotbaum (in an interview with Robert Fitch, which Fitch relayed to me), the unions’ main expert at the time, Jack Bigel, didn’t understand the budgetary issues at all, and deferred to Rohatyn, whom he trusted to do the right thing. For the services rendered to municipal labor, the once-Communist Bigel was paid some $750,000 a year, enough to buy himself a posh Fifth Avenue duplex (Zweig 1996). Gotbaum became a close friend of Felix Rohatyn. Politically, the unions were weak, divided, self-protective, unimaginative, and with no political ties to ordinary New Yorkers. It’s easy to see why the bankers won.

What was at stake in New York was no mere bond market concern. In a classic 1976 New York Times op-ed piece, L.D. Solomon, then publisher of New York Affairs, wrote: “Whether or not the promises…of the 1960’s can be rolled back…without violent social upheaval is being tested in New York City…. If New York is able to offer reduced social services without civil disorder, it will prove that it can be done in the most difficult environment in the nation.” Thankfully, Solomon concluded, “the poor have a great capcity for hardship” (quoted in Henwood 1991).

Behind a “fiscal crisis” lurked an entire class agenda, and one that has been quite successfully prosecuted in subsequent crises for the next two decades. But since these are fought on the bankers’ terrain, using their language, they instantly win the political advantage, as nonbankers retreat in confusion, despair, or boredom in the face of all those damned numbers.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

February Break

While I was wrangling JavaScript...

First D3 Graphic

OK, my first D3 visualization, or at least a screenshot of the core data part of it, is above. Of course I have to add scales, explanation, etc., but I'm pretty happy with my progress today. You can click on the image to expand. Consider this a proof of concept (where the concept is I'm enough of a programmer to understand D3).

This is the percent of students receiving free (not reduced) lunch data by school in each school in Rhode Island from the NCES's Common Core of Data for the most recent (2009-2010) school year. Providence Public School District schools are in red, charters in green, others in blue. Each line is a school.

Hmm... I wonder where the lowest performing 5% of schools are going to be just about every year...

So... if you're curious, here's the code:

var barWidth = 3;
var width = 1200
var height = 600

var xScale = d3.scale.linear().domain([0, 321]).range([0, width]);
var yScale = d3.scale.linear().domain([0, 1]).range([0, 600]);


var chart ="body").append("div")
.attr("class", "chart")
.attr("width", width)
.attr("height", height);

function cleanup(element, index, array)
element.FREE_LUNCH = parseInt(element.FREE_LUNCH);
element.PCT_FREE_LUNCH = element.FREE_LUNCH / element.TOTAL_STUDENTS
return element

function sort_by_fl(a, b)
return -1;
return 1;
return 0;

function colorize(school)
if (school.DISTRICT_ID == "4400900")
return "red";
if (school.CHARTER == "Yes")
return "green";
return "blue";

d3.csv('./frl.csv', function(csv)
var schools =

.attr("x", function(datum, index) { return xScale(index); })
.attr("y", function(datum) { return height - yScale(datum.PCT_FREE_LUNCH); })
.attr("height", function(datum) { return yScale(datum.PCT_FREE_LUNCH); })
.attr("width", barWidth)
.attr("fill", function(datum) {return colorize(datum); });

I'm Tired of Hearing BVP Ads on NPR and WEEI All Day

Blackstone Valley Prep:

Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy data shows significant growth for 6th grade scholars after only one (1) year at the school. Teaching year data, which RIDE uses to evaluate the performance of all public schools, including charter schools, revealed that 86% of BVP 6th graders scored proficient or better in English Language Arts and 89% of 6th graders scored proficient or better in math.

For all I know, RIDE does use teaching year deep in the bowels of their AYP calculations (I guess they do), but I have never seen a district or state official or website refer to the "teaching year" scores. Of course, I've been critical of this all along, so I don't really have a problem with BVP or RIDE coming around to my way of thinking. However, if you go to, say, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary's Infoworks Live! page, you see the much worse "testing year" data, which includes an influx of kids from other schools.

Also, BVP's "teaching year" numbers may include students who are no longer at BVP. If a student left BVP and went to another RI public school, their scores should still show up in BVP's "teaching year" numbers. I don't know where the cut-off is for students who leave mid-year.

Finally, not mentioning at all the at least 17% attrition rate in discussing gains in percentage of students meeting proficiency is just dishonest.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rhode Island Hopes So

The Nosy Gamer:

Perhaps the most intriguing use of an intellectual property may come from Curt Schilling's 38 Studios.  Schilling hired R. A. Salvatore to create a world for the company's Project Copernicus that was used for the sRPG Kingdom's of Amalur: Reckoning.  In 2004 Blizzard released an MMO based on a world created for a RTS series.  Will Project Copernicus launch to a ready-made player base already invested in the Amalur world?  CCP had a lot of growing pains as it slowly climbed up the charts.  Has 38 Studios found a winning formula, at least as far as their IP is concerned, to avoid that?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Would You Rather Have a "Career Ladder" or Just One Less Prep and Another Planning Period?

I don't think there is any functional difference between saying "teachers need a career ladder" and "teachers need a ilghter class load and more time to prepare and do other things during the day." Because practically speaking, a "career ladder" means (to me) that beginning teachers have a lighter load to work with mentors, etc, experienced teachers have a lighter load to have time to work with beginning teachers, and inevitably the teachers in the middle will need more time off to do whatever they're supposed to be doing in their ladder.

I'm guessing reformy teachers like the sound of "I want a career ladder" more than "I want a lighter load," and "career ladder" seems more politically palatable, but really, it is the same thing.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Left Alone, SIG Will Eventually Destroy the Providence Public School District


SIG is Race To The Top's lesser-known step-sibling (even though it's sent more money to a broader set of schools than Race ever will). It's NCLB's weak "restructuring" sanctions, pumped up steroids. It's an easy program to beat up on -- the massive spending, the permissive (or limited) turnaround options , the lack of speed and quality of implementation. I've never quite understood how it rose to such prominence and size in the Obama administration, or how Team Duncan and the White House anticipated that school closings and restaffings of SIG would be blamed on NCLB as much as the current Administration.

Blame it all on Barack Obama.

Missed Calls


... even my grandparents carry around portable touchscreen computers with perpetual access to the dataverse.  This is something even a life ass-deep in science fiction did not prepare me for.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Learning D3

One thing that came out of our annual planning meetings last week in Arlington is that we're well overdue now for some serious data graphics work. To be honest I'd shied away from this as a result of trying to do too much fancy stuff right at the beginning and wasted a lot of time and money. We've got a solid core now though and in some cases a lot of data, so... visualizations!

Justas suggested D3, and after poking at it this week, I'm getting excited about it. I haven't been this stoked about programming in a while, which is a good thing.

Here's a good summary:

Data-Driven Documents, or D3 for short, is a new visualization library to build visualizations in SVG. But in my opinion, it's also the best javascript multipurpose SVG library when it comes to animation, interaction and above all for binding data to graphics. The community is very responsive, source code is very clean and the API is well written.

This is fairly low level -- you're making boxes and lines, not just plugging numbers into a prefab chart. I'm no guru but I've fiddled with enough infographics to know it doesn't take me too long to start wanting something very custom. In particular D3 is powerful enough to run a full custom data dashboard for SchoolTool users, which would be a huge feature for us.

What I notice so far is just how much the open web toolkit has matured. Chrome's Javascript development tools are nice; SVG works natively in all current browsers so you don't have to much around with Flash or plugins; people have come to some consensus on the best ways to write Javascript libraries.

My goal for the next couple weeks is a new D3 graphic every day. These will start out absurdly simple but hopefully turn interesting fairly quickly. I have plenty of raw material with the new NECAP scores...

The Pendulum, It Swings

Frank Murphy:

Earlier this week the District announced a shift away from mandated, scripted curricula in favor of autonomy for individual schools. Over the past decade, the amount of autonomy a school has over its curriculum has repeatedly changed as the District leadership changes. Let's review that recent history.

When will Providence follow suit?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The BVP Testing/Teaching Year Thing

Mike Magee on Facebook:

The difference in 5th and 6th grade Teaching Year data enrollment numbers is the result of a small number of students who were retained and a somewhat larger number of students who either left to go to private school or left the state (and in a number of cases, the country) . If you look at "Testing Year" data which includes the 6th graders who randomly filled those empty seats and were with BVP for a month before taking the test, the proficiency percentages are slightly lower but still impressive: 86% math, 80% reading. I don't know how BVP's mobility rate compares to the district.

I don't know how many students were retained, and generally this would be obscured by the students retained by the previous year's sixth grade class, but based on Magee's statement it is less than half of the unaccounted for seventeen students. Let's just note that a high retention rate is part of the "no excuses" model BVP embraces:

Democracy Prep Harlem, the first school in a new network that plans to open more schools in New York and Rhode Island, is a charter that subscribes to the "no excuses" principle common at charters, meaning everyone, from students and parents on up, is held accountable for their performance and must pay consequences if they don't measure up. Unlike many charters, Democracy Prep, a middle and high school, has an outsized population of special-education students. Seth Andrew, the school's founder, says students at the school are far behind when they arrive in sixth grade. Last year, more than 20 percent of the sixth-grade class was held back. "The reason that charters exist is to help remediate for traditional public schools that are not teaching students to read, write, or do math, and that's not a one-year job," he says.

Of course, BVP may not really be able to hold to this approach in the long run -- the scrutiny of suburban schools is much greater, as we can see from this conversation.

Provplan has a great resource on mobility in Providence urban districts (from 2007 - 2008) which states that about 13% of the Central Falls school district's student population left the state during the course of the year. Pawtucket was around 8%. On the other hand, you don't see teaching/testing year gaps of this size in similar charters like The Learning Community or in, say, Central Falls middle school, so there still may be some inconsistency in how this is being measured or exactly what's happening. I'd also note in passing that I'd love to know exactly how much of CFHS's 15% grad rate increase was attributable to better tracking of leavers getting more kids off their books.

It may also be true that there's a somewhat larger slice of parents who chose BVP as an alternative to private school and decided not to stay. That is, if their alternative was other public schools, they'd still show up as "teaching year" students, but perhaps this population is more likely to go to a private school as their choice. Certainly BVP is marketed more like a private school than most urban charters (e.g., on sports talk radio).

I don't think any of this is particularly nefarious. It is just odd. BVP is a peculiar school, and nobody knows what it path will be. I'm certainly curious. It is already clear that there will never be another school quite like it in Rhode Island, as RIMA and RIDE have disavowed most of its most distinctive features.

Why Not Kill The Met While We're at It?

Linda Borg:

Introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Warwick), the bill would require national and state criminal-background checks for any person seeking to participate in a mentoring program working with students.


Linda Borg confirmed to me that the ProJo did run two front page stories on this year's NECAP. They're just unfindable on the web.

While trying to get people to pay for content on the web may or may not be a good idea, giving readers the impression that you are simply not covering the news at all is definitely a bad idea.

Blogging Overload

I've got too many things in the queue that require substantive (or not so much) posts, including:

  • I have to actually write down clearly the legal argument against RIDE's current interpretation of mayoral academy admissions.
  • I need to write a post clearly explaining what's going on with the Meeting Street mayoral academy application. A charter school inside a private school that mixes the schools' costs and populations is as far as I know unprecedented. These things don't come up coincidentally in the contemporary school reform world.
  • Yet another "WTF NECAP 11th grade math" post. They didn't move at all again; everyone seems afraid to say the obvious -- we don't know if there is a drop off in math performance at the high school level because the test is so much harder than both the middle school and other high school tests. This creates a serious chilling effect on high school reform in RI. Blackstone Academy jumped up to around 30% last year but they stayed stuck there this year. Any turnaround or other plan that requires a school to get low income kids at over a 30% proficiency rate is set up for failure.
  • I need to write a critique of RI-CAN's proposal for "success schools," which would apparently give schools the "autonomy" to implement a narrow set of prescriptive changes, all of which they can do already aside from not having sufficient funding -- which this wouldn't help with.
  • In the end I can't really believe the past three years actually happened. I mean, when the Brady administration arrived with the high school strategy of "first, phase out all successful programs that serve low-income high school students," it was obvious we'd end up here. But yes, it really happened.
  • At my wife's new school, they're coming to the sudden realization that three years after the school was opened with a staff almost entirely selected by "criterion based hiring," run from the beginning according to the current reform agenda, the only question is "Are we all losing our positions next year, the year after, or the year after that?" It would be best if it happened during this contract...

Connecting the Dots

Charlotte Danielson:

The first one anywhere happened to be in England, actually. It was an international school. But the first school district in this country happened to be in Coventry, R.I. The book was published in 1996, and I met with the superintendent, John Deasy, in the spring of 1997. He got it right away. He said, ‘This is what we should be using.’ He has had several jobs since then, and he’s now superintendent of Los Angeles public schools. He was quite visionary in that sense.

Poor Children with Excellent Teachers are Still Poor

Moshe Adler:

The devil is in the details: the average wage and salary of a 28 year old in the H-C study who had an excellent teacher was $20,509 in 2010 dollars, $182 higher than the average annual pay of all 28 year olds in the study. How does this compare to the average salary and wage of a 28 year old in this country? The authors excluded from their study people whose income was higher than $100,000. As we shall see, this exclusion is problematic; but to do the comparison we must do the same. The average salary and wage in 2010 of a 28 year old who earned less than $100,000 a year was $29,041, 42% higher than the income of a 28 year old in the H-C who had an excellent teacher. In other words, even if we accept the numbers that the authors of the H-C study choose to spin, having an excellent teacher cannot pull people out of poverty.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Eddy in the Currents of School Reform

If someone has some trick to finding the ProJo's coverage of this year's NECAP results I'd love to know it, but I sure can't find it, and Google can't either. Their new website design is so awful it could be buried there somewhere.

Can it be possible that RI's newspaper of record won't cover this story at all? It is inconceivable.

Nonetheless, we are at a point where nobody wants to talk too much about the scores in Providence in particular, except maybe charter advocates, but even they'd prefer not to focus on exactly what changes driven by whom have led to recent declines at the high school level. The mayor doesn't want to talk about it; the unions don't want to talk about it, because they've gone along with it; public school parent advocates don't want to talk about bad news; administration doesn't want to talk about it, because their plans are failing; the newspaper has supported all these failing measures.

So we just won't talk about it.

Nobody Could Have Predicted, PPSD High School Alignment Edition

PPSD neighborhood high schools with over 50% proficiency on NECAP reading (based on this plus FHS):

  • 2008: 3/8
  • 2009: 5/9
  • 2010: 4/8
  • 2011: 1/8

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Truly, I Don't Know What These People are Thinking

Sara Mead tweets:

Rose (sic) are red, violets are blue, Common Core Standards will ensure kids can explain the literary device at work here
  1. The Common Core standards aren't particularly strong in this area, e.g., the phrase "literary device" does not even appear.
  2. In particular I don't think this is an area where existing standards are weak.
  3. Exactly what literary device is being used here anyhow?

If you'd been through what we've been through the past few years in Providence, you wouldn't have much of a sense of humor about this shit either.

She's Got Balls

Joseph B. Nadeau:

Central Falls High School's big shout-out came over the school's success in raising its four-year graduation rate from 54 percent to 71 percent last year, according to Gist.

Meanwhile, under the graduation requirements Gist was pushing last year (and this year too, more or less), only 21% of CFHS 11th graders would be qualified to graduate based on their NECAP math scores (down 3% over the past two years) and only 69% would make it in reading, where the percent scoring at level 1 (the lowest) has doubled over the past two years.

Overall, reading proficiency is down 14%, writing down 15% and math is flat (at 7%) since Commissioner Gist's dramatic intervention two years ago.

On the other hand, if things go well, we may make it back to status quo ante by next year!

If This Is True We Should Just Give Up

David Brooks:

The American social fabric is now so depleted that even if manufacturing jobs miraculously came back we still would not be producing enough stable, skilled workers to fill them. It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies. The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks he's nuts.

Also, what wages and working conditions does Brooks think a skilled, stable American worker in a specialized technical field deserves?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Uneconomics: "a tool of political rhetoric, blame avoidance and elite strategy"

William Davies:

It is time to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth about the public status of economics as an expert discipline: it has grown to be far more powerful as a tool of political rhetoric, blame avoidance and elite strategy than for the empirical representation of economic life. This is damaging to politics, for it enables value judgements and political agendas to be endlessly presented in ‘factual’ terms. But it is equally damaging to economics, which is losing the authority to describe reality in a credible, disinterested, Enlightenment fashion.

NECAP Blackout

It might be's horrible usability, but as far as I can tell, the ProJo hasn't written a line about the release of the new NECAP scores Friday afternoon. I'm sure they'll get around to it. It sounded like Elisabeth Harrison was reading from a charter school press release on WRNI this morning (charter scores are good, but nothing particularly newsworthy happened to them).

I'm sure they'll get around to covering the lack of progress overall eventually.

Teaching Year vs. Testing Year

One of the quirks of NECAP testing is that since the tests are administered in October, school level reports are given for both the "testing year," that is, kids actually taking the test in the school, and "teaching year," kids who attended the school the previous year. This is supposed to track kids both leaving and entering different schools. For example, last year I could track the scores of Feinstein High School students the year after the school closed by looking at teaching year data.

This gives us a peek into how last year's closures and restructuring affected school level scores. One thing we don't know below is how many students left the PPSD schools below, perhaps anticipating the influx of new students.

At Martin Luther King, there were 313 testing year kids vs. 264 from the 2010-2011 teaching year. In ELA the testing year proficiency was 1 point lower than the teaching year, 4 points in math and two points in writing. Howerver, the school's 2011 testing year proficiency was down 11 points in English and 4 points in math from the 2010 testing year. Digging in a little more, the school seems to have picked up 19 4th graders (18% of the class) and 12 5th graders (12%) at level 1 in reading. One gets the impression at MLK that everyone was dragged down by the change.

Looking at this a day later... this data is strange because the decline in math seems to be more or less directly attributable to new arrivals because the year over year and the testing/teaching differences are the same. In reading the effect is stranger -- the big year over year difference but lack of teaching/testing spread... weird. Peer effects?

At Asa Messer, the year over year drop in testing year scores was 18 points in reading and 14 points in math. The teaching/testing year gaps were 13 points in reading and 10 points in math. This reflects 38 more 3rd graders, 32 4th graders and 10 5th grade students. In this case the change in population seems to more directly explain the change in scores. Again, the school seems to have particularly picked up a lot of 4th graders with poor reading skills: 18 at level 1 (17%).

Blackstone Valley Prep (mayoral academy) has 104 6th grade students listed in the testing year and 84 in the teaching year (that's the only applicable year). I would guess that someone didn't do a very good job of tracking where leaving students ended up. Or perhaps some of them left the RI public school system entirely or they simply increased the size of the class without telling me. Regardless, the 19% change in population lowered their testing year reading proficiency rate by 6 points and the math rate by 3 points.

This is consistent with what I'd expect in a school trying to apply an authoritarian model designed for low-income minority students to a more diverse population.

Actually, I guess we can test that hypothesis...

  • Fall 2010 5th grade testing year: 101 students, 41 white, 35 not-low-SES, 11 w/IEP
  • Fall 2011 6th grade teaching year: 84 students, 36 white, 32 not-low-SES, 5 w/IEP
  • Fall 2011 6th grade testing year: 104 students, 42 white, 41 non-low-ses, 8 w/IEP

Huh, that's not it. Based on this possibly misleading, inaccurate data, it looks like they lost 17 kids, 14 of which were low-SES, and replaced them with 20 kids, 11 of which were low-SES. So, to be fair to BVP, the most obvious interpretation is that their testing year scores are lower because they're bringing in kids from lower-achieving schools and that's bringing down their scores.

It would be interesting if we seemed to have the full set of teaching year data which would include the kids who left the school. I guess it is possible that twenty students either left the state or switched to private schools, but that seems fairly unlikely to me. Other charters I've looked at don't show the same phenomenon.

Incidentally, this year's 5th graders at BVP had proficiency rates 5 points lower in reading, 10 points higher in math and six points lower in writing than the previous year's. That's more or less the scores of the incoming students, although it probably includes repeaters. The BVP teaching year report cryptically lists 8 5th graders who aren't given scores on that year's test. Presumably they are repeaters, but I don't know why they wouldn't be reported. Or perhaps that number has some significance beyond my comprehension.

Anyhow, keep the jump in 5th grade math scores in mind when considering BVP's overall 25 point jump in math. Certainly the above would be consistent with a school that was good at raising the math scores of all students but held back several because of reading or other issues.

Consider this just an exploration of a small and unusual publicly available data set.

Friday, February 10, 2012

New England's Finest



To hold itself accountable, the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education established annual performance measures to ensure that progress is being made toward reaching each of its 2014 goals. These goals are based on the Strategic Education Plan and the State Scope of Work that is part of our Race to the Top grant. Of the 33 performance measures, 4 were met, 3 were nearly met, and 24 were not met. Two of the performance measures do not have data available at this time.

On the whole, a year of treading water. Bad for Providence elementary schools, better for middle. In PPSD high schools, the only remaining bright spot is E-Cubed, which has managed to avoid being systematically destroyed by the state and city, unlike the rest of their reform cohort.

The Growth of the Poverty Achievement Gap in the Past 20 Years Obviously Illustrates the Failure of the Anti-Poverty Programs of the 60's

Doug Henwood:

Today’s New York Times contains a fine example of how ideology works at the high end: report information that might trouble the established order, but conclude on a tranquilizing note that allows the comfortable reader to turn the page (or click “close tab”) without changing his or her worldview. Both functions are important. Outlets like the Times do report tons of important stuff that one would be hard-pressed to learn otherwise. But, as Alexander Cockburn put it long ago, a primary function of the bourgeois press is reassurance.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Firing the Lowest 5%: a Thought Experiment

Corey Bunje Bower:

Let's say that we're very confident in our ability to recruit and retain teachers who are better than our current teaching force and so we decide to fire all below average teachers (a full 50%) -- which would be a far more aggressive plan than any I've seen proposed.  First, the majority of these below average teachers are novices who are still improving and for whom we don't have particularly good estimates of ability.  Given that the majority of struggling beginning teachers either improve or self-select out of the profession, let's estimate that 2/3 of all teachers in their first 5 years are identified as below average teachers.  This would mean that only 1/6 of all teachers in their sixth year and beyond are below average teachers.  And since only 1/3 of teachers are in their sixth year or beyond, this would mean that only 1/18 of all teachers would both have 5+ years of experience and be rated below average.  This is a little under 6% of all teachers.

The average school in my sample had 72 teachers.  So, that's the equivalent of firing four teachers.  And that's under an extremely aggressive scenario.  Besides, now that you've rid your school of the chaff, who, exactly, do you want to fire next year?  And if you want to argue that we could be more aggressive and fire some of the novice teachers, that would mean there'd be fewer low-performing experienced teachers (since teachers tend to be roughly equally effective pre- and post-tenure).  So, for now, let's stick with the assumption that, under an aggressive plan, we'd fire four teachers this year in the average school.

Now, other districts have far more experienced teachers.  And it might make more of a dent there.  But a good number of our poorest-performing schools and districts are quickly churning through teachers too fast for firing low performers to make much of an impact.  Certainly, we should make every effort to rid our schools of the worst teachers (by increasing the performance of, and/or dismissing the lowest performers) -- I don't think anybody seriously disputes that notion.  Or, at the very least, I don't think anybody serious disputes that notion.  But will firing the lowest performing 6% of teachers in high-poverty NYC schools make a difference?  It's possible.  But let's be reasonable -- it's not going to make much of a difference.

If I had my own foundation, I'd fund the creation of an agent-based simulation of teacher hiring and evaluation practices.

Recent Common Core Quotes

Mary Ann Reilly:

You may ask, "But wait a minute--where are the learners? Are there no children? No students?"  These represent critical questions.  In fact I would ask, Is it even possible to have a model of  student learning that does not have learners represented?  Can we call this a classroom model if the only one present is a man in a suit talking?  

I want to say here that Mr. Coleman's thoughtful inquiry into the opening of the letter is interesting.  I can imagine that we might have a lot to discuss.  But I would be quick to also say that such a discussion about text should not be mistaken for teaching.  There is no teaching when there are no students. Children collectively co-compose the class. They are not vessel upon which we pour 'correct' interpretations. They are the living impulse that along with the teacher make a collection of people into a class.

That's the quiet secret that is missing from so many of these reform schemes and standardization. Teaching and learning are human enterprises. Fallible as they are beautiful. Representation is essential.

Now there is an irony to Mr. Coleman's model lesson without students as he is showing all of us how to critically read Dr. King's impassioned letter from the Birmingham Jail.  What's unfortunate is the significant disconnect between Mr. Coleman's model and his failure to recognize that without students he has no model.  Representation is missing and isn't it ironic given the very text he is critically analyzing?  Dr. King's message is largely about the responsibility we have (especially those sanctioned with power) to ensure the representation of all, especially those who may be cast as 'other'. This important understanding is not lived in the actions of Mr. Coleman. ...

I think here of the absence of actual student bodies in the model Common Core State Standard lesson and want to suggest that this should give us pause. This is not a simple oversight.  This is a philosophical failing--a moral problem that extends well beyond the video lesson. It makes me ask, Would an actual teacher, regardless of competence, actually fail to recognize that one cannot have a class without students?  Is this not the primary understanding that we carry with us when teach? The class cannot exist without the children, the teens, the you, the me.

Grant Wiggins:

There is a kind of naiveté permeating the Common Core support materials so far.

Michael Goldstein:

Kathleen Porter-Magee wrote a great blog post for English (and social studies) teachers.

I would say Porter-Magee has written a good post for people who can safely say they'll never have to teach English again. For all but the least experienced English teachers, the entire David Coleman initiated "Thou shalt not engage in pre-reading exercises" conversation she outlines just has to be infuriating.

Normally I'd assume that an initially subtle idea about teaching literacy had gotten garbled into a black and white proscription in the course of being transmitted down to teachers. In this case, he seems to be starting with the over-simplified absolute.

You can actually make a good argument that you don't have to know much of anything about actually teaching students to design "college and career ready standards," at least the end of high school targets. But why exactly should anyone care about Coleman's ideas about teaching?

Monday, February 06, 2012

I'm in Arlington All Week for SchoolTool Meetings

Don't Pretty Much All the Systems for Determining "Persistently Low Performing" Schools Have this Problem?

Matt DiCarlo:

There really is a striking progression of data loss in this analysis. Most generally, as discussed above, IFF uses proficiency rates (how many students above or below the line), which ignores underlying variation in actual scores. In addition, they’re using cross-sectional grade- and school-level data, which masks differences between students in any given year, and over time. Then they use the rates (and projected rates) to calculate rankings, which ignore the extent of differences between schools. And, finally, the rankings are averaged and schools are sorted in quartiles (performance “tiers”), losing even more data – for example, schools at the “top” of “Tier 2” may have essentially the same scores as schools at the “bottom” of “Tier 1.” At each “step,” a significant chunk of the variation between schools in their students’ testing performance is forfeited.

Friday, February 03, 2012

What's Next for Achievement First in Providence

Elisabeth Harrison:

The final tally was five to four when the State Board of Regents voted last night on Achievement First. Board Chairman George Caruolo cast the tie-breaking vote.

The hilarious part in this is that the decision comes the same day Mayor Taveras was on the front page of the paper talking about the possibility of the city declaring bankruptcy. Nothing like draining a few more millions out of the city to fund a few mayoral academies. Meanwhile, he ostentatiously still has no plan for the school district he is also responsible for.

These schools were pretty much inevitable because of Race to the Top, but it would have been nice to make them submit another application to make the point that the deficiencies in this one aren't acceptable. As it is, a very low bar has been set for key issues like showing need or demand from participating cities, following the law regarding equal enrollment from participating cities, or generally explaining what the enrollment policy will be with any specificity.

The nice thing about technical legal arguments, as I've been trying to make, is that you can always file a lawsuit and you don't have to rely on politics to win. All you need is someone with standing to sue and a willing lawyer.

So I'm not going to do it personally, but hopefully between now and whenever AF's first lottery happens, someone will sue over AF's enrollment policies and we'll get some finality on the issue -- especially since the same thing is a huge factor in Meeting Street's new proposal as well.

There are two big reasons this is important:

  • Idealistically, because desegregation is important, and I don't believe in the strategy of drawing students from an economically diverse range of school districts to create an economically segregated school (which is where this is headed).
  • Providence needs to push as much of the cost for this onto the other districts. We're supposedly broke.

Also, I think RIDE should obey the law.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

On Unlikely Allies: The Next Chapter

I don't have much to say about this interview of Tom Brady, Steve Smith and Kathy Crain by Ed Sector, debriefing the collapse of their attempted labor-management thingy last year. It seems fairly accurate to me. Around here that counts as high praise.

What's missing is the mayor's side, and also the role of Gist, the Feds and the Broad Foundation in all this. Maybe the Ed Sector should ask them too.

Surely You're Joking Dr. Coleman!

OK, let's look at Achieve the Core's close reading exemplar for Richard Feynman's "The Making of a Scientist" aimed at sixth graders. This is for two or three days with a standard five parts: reading task, vocab task, sentence syntax task, discussion task, writing task.

First off, let me say that I'd not use this text (which is included in full in the exemplar) with kids in Providence, because I think the main takeaway would be "this is why you're screwed." That is, "see how many advantages white middle class kids with educated parents have before they even get to school." I know my main reaction was "I am an inadequate parent."

I'd also note that the way Feynman's father read to his child is not the way the Common Core is advocating ("avoid giving any background context or instructional guidance at the outset of the lesson while students are reading the text silently."):

We had the Encyclopaedia Britannica at home. When I was a small boy he used to sit me on his lap and read to me from the Britannica. We would be reading, say, about dinosaurs. It would be talking about the Tyrannosaurus rex, and it would say something like, “This dinosaur is twenty-five feet high and its head is six feet across.”

My father would stop reading and say, “Now, let’s see what that means. That would mean that if he stood in our front yard, he would be tall enough to put his head through our window up here.” (We were on the second floor.) “But his head would be too wide to fit in the window.” Everything he read to me he would translate as best he could into some reality.

Anyhow, lets go through the "text-directed questions:"

(Q1) What was Feynman’s father trying to teach his son with the tiles? What sentence is the main point of this scene?
Students will likely say that he was teaching his son about patterns or possibly that he was teaching him math. Teachers should ask students to go back into the text to find the main point—something even more important than patterns and math that his father was trying to teach him: “he started very early to tell me about the world and how interesting it is.”

That's a rather fine-grained distinction considering Feynman actually quotes his father as saying "I want to show him what patterns are like and how interesting they are. It’s a kind of elementary mathematics." If you want to be particular about it (as the author of this exemplar clearly does), what the teacher is really asking for is not what Feynman's father was doing but Feynman's subsequent interpretation of his father's actions.

The next question is:

(Q2) In this section of the text, Feynman put the word “doing” (in the final paragraph) in italics to draw attention to it. Why is he focusing on that word, and how does it connect to the lesson his father is trying to teach him in this example?
Feynman’s father is trying to draw a distinction between recalling the name of a bird and genuinely knowing something about birds. The example is meant to illustrate that while the same bird is called different things in different languages, knowing the names of the bird (even made up names) doesn’t tell you anything about the bird—only about what humans have called it. For Feynman, what really matters—the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something—is captured in knowing what a bird does.

I'll just note that this is a rather jarring point to make in an example of an entirely text-focused curriculum. Then the next day the teacher is supposed to start with a follow-up to the previous question:

(Q3) Why does Feynman’s father tell him about the lice and the mites on birds?
Students should connect the lesson learned in the previous example—to know something is to know why it does something—to this one. The bird does something, namely pecks at its feathers. To know the bird would be to know why it pecks, and his father explores Feynman’s tentative answer with him before offering up his explanation.

So apparently the answer to this question is not "to tell me about the world and how interesting it is," but I don't know why it is less so than in the first question. Why does the teacher's answer skew so weirdly meta-physical: "To know the bird would be to know why it pecks?" Would Richard Feynman say anything like that? Is that how a scientist thinks?

OK, next question:

(Q4) Feynman’s father says, “So you see, everywhere there’s a source of food there’s some form of life that finds it”. Explain what is meant by this sentence and why “some” is in italics.
This is another good comprehension question to test and see if students truly understand Feynman’s point about knowing. To his earlier insight about truly knowing something, this example adds the further point that knowledge of the principle in question is key. The details—like the names of the birds or the relationship between lice and mites—might be incorrect in the particulars. But to Feynman and his father, what really mattered was the discovery of the principle that some form of life (no matter how small or insignificant) will utilize an available source of food.

OK... but nobody is really discovering a principle here. Feynman's dad is giving him a good rule of thumb for observing nature that actually holds up well when you think about, say, the discovery of extremophiles. But where they're going with this is increasingly unclear. In science "knowing" is important but precision is not? Is it ok that this "principle" about life is not true and reinforces a common misperception about how the world works?

And so...

(Q5) After re-reading the section of the text on the wagon and ball example, ask students to engage in this experiment themselves if materials allow, or to guide the teacher in physically re-creating it or a similar experiment that illustrates the law of inertia. Feynman’s example shows the principle behind inertia—“that things which are moving tend to keep on moving, and things which are standing still tend to stand still”—a point he stressed in his explanation of what it means to know something. Teachers should note that Feynman’s father is quick to confess to not knowing why there is a law of inertia (“nobody knows”), but does explain the law through an example that he then uses to extract a “general principle.”

OK, so first off we just established two questions ago that "to know something is to know why it does something" and now we're (wisely) discarding that idea. Or at most we should attribute it to biology and not physics. But really, what to do with this sentence: "...Feynman’s father is quick to confess to not knowing why there is a law of inertia (“nobody knows”), but does explain the law through an example that he then uses to extract a “general principle." The elder Feynman refers to a "tendency" called "inertia," not a "law." He doesn't "derive" it, he explains it. For that matter saying you don't know why there is a specific physical law is rather different than saying you don't know why objects exhibit certain properties. The latter is a question that physics might answer, the former is not. Pretty much what you'll probably get when you have English teachers ordered to teach science texts.

My point here is that this question and explanation response is just garbled.

On the other hand, it is nice that they propose an experiment.


(Q6) In the final paragraph Feynman says he “was given something wonderful when he was a child.” Using two of the examples from the text, explain what he was given and how it influenced his life.

For homework:

...pick one of the examples that Feynman uses in his piece (the dinosaur, the birds, or the wagon) and in 2-3 paragraphs explain both the example and the lesson Feynman’s father was trying to teach him with it.

At this point, it should be well established that the expectation is to verbosely parrot back what the teacher told you during the lesson, with liberal citations from the text.

What are the underlying problems here?

  • As Jennifer reminded me, this is just what lesson plans written by non-teachers look like, or even plans written by teachers without trying them in front of real kids.
  • You don't necessarily gain much by close reading an article from Cricket even one written by someone as awesome as Richard Feynman. This piece doesn't hold up as a treatise on epistemology. If you do take the close reading approach, you need to be really, really precise as the teacher.
  • You have to be very clear about whether there is only one correct answer to a text-based question or whether anything that can be supported by the text is acceptable.
  • The single most important question in science education is "What is science and how does it work?" All across America thousands of sixth graders are now going to be dragged through this example lesson by English teachers who will only manage to muddy that water (e.g., "To know the bird would be to know why it pecks").
  • The hidden part of the Common Core is apparently life lessons from wise men.

Close Reading the Close Reading Exemplar Objectives

I'm trying to figure out the close reading exemplars from David Coleman and friends' new website.

Here is a list of the objectives of the exemplars, whittled down to the key nuggets (in the order listed, grade level in parentheses):

  • to use the reading and writing habits (8)
  • to give students practice in reading and writing discover the rich humor and moral lesson (7)
  • to observe the dynamic nature of the Constitution through the close reading and writing habits (8)
  • to use the reading and writing habits... to discover the rich language and life lesson (11-12)
  • to use the reading and writing habits... to explore the historic Great Fire of Chicago (6)
  • to guide students and instructors in a close reading of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” (9-10)
  • to give students the opportunity to explore the point of view of a man who survived slavery (8)
  • (to) allow students to participate in critical discussion of two stories that illuminate important, yet divergent, experiences of war and conflict... to think critically about the experience of wartime as felt by both soldiers and civilians as they navigated specific trials that were a part of their direct or peripheral involvement in WWII... (to) practice existing skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening as they apply them to new understandings about overarching historical themes (7)
  • to use the reading and writing habits... to absorb deep lessons from Richard Feynman’s recollections of interactions with his father (6)

Of the above, the parts that actually address the Common Core ELA standards can be boiled down to "practice reading and writing habits." That's pretty much the 6-12 English curriculum called for by the standards. Otherwise, you're looking at content for history class or addressing the hoary, mostly unspoken traditional English curriculum: importing moral or life lessons. Somehow I'm not surprised we've ended up back there.

See also Stories don’t need morals or messages.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

ProJo: Your Shitty Website is a Public Hazard

Beth Comery:

But the current online ProJo set-up, a bifurcated mishmash of mini-reports and hidden content, is confusing and frustrating. Nobody can find anything or link to anything. Just yesterday I sent a link to friends of a video-feature taped on Monday night and posted hours later — and it was wonderful — but the video was swapped out in under 12 hours and has evaporated completely. No archive, nothing. So the link didn’t even connect to the video, it connected to the video space. This just isn’t how people would ever use this.

Furthermore, bloggers — and yes, we have some ownership of this problem, but here we are — can no longer send traffic to your site by linking to the articles and opinion pieces. You have disappeared from Google searches completely — whatever the opposite of ’search engine optimization’ is, you’ve nailed it. Here at the Dose we find ourselves linking to the Providence Business News and even the Boston Globe for local news. Your numbers in this regard must be plummeting.

So I urge you — publishers, editors, and owners — bite the bullet and scrap this model. And please figure this out soon; the thought of Rhode Island without a newspaper is too terrifying to even contemplate.