Monday, April 30, 2012

Buffaloing Attendance Policy

New York State Education Commissioner John King:

On the issue of attendance, it's very clear. I believe that every student is entitled to an excellent education. Any policy that would render students invisible is not acceptable -- there have been proposals that would render the majority of students in a building invisible, proposals that would render the majority of students in a subgroup invisible.

While I accept that attendance is not solely the responsibility of educators, I reject the notion that educators do not contribute to student attendance.

I ran a school. I was a principal of a school in a very high-needs community. [King was founder and principal of Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston.] We had systematic strategies to ensure students came to school. One was academic engagement, making sure students are learning and excited about learning. Two was reaching out to students' families and engaging them with the work that's going on in school, showing them why school matters for their children's future. But also being incredibly persistent about attendance. I would call relentlessly, go to students' homes -- do whatever it took to make sure that families saw the importance of having children come to school.

Roxbury Prep Attendance Policy:

  • Absences are excused at the discretion of the school leaders only in the case of a verified illness, religious observance, court appearance, or school-imposed disciplinary action (i.e., suspension).
  • Immediately upon returning to school, each student must submit to the Office Manager a detailed note—signed by a parent or guardian—that verifies the date(s) of absence(s) and explains the reasons for the absence(s). Unless such a note is submitted the day of the student’s return to school, the absence(s) may be considered unexcused.
  • Unexcused absences are never acceptable and may result in at least a .25% reduction in the student’s final grade for each class missed. More than three unexcused absences in a trimester may result in no credit and a zero percent average in each class for the trimester. More than seven unexcused absences in a school year may result in no credit for the year. A student may appeal his or her no-credit status to a Co-Director.
  • It is incredibly important for students to arrive at school on time each day. Unexcused tardies are never acceptable. Three unexcused tardies may result in at least a .25% reduction in the student’s final grades.
  • A student may be assigned disciplinary consequences, including demerits or detention, pursuant to the disciplinary code, for being tardy and/or for unexcused absences.
  • A mandatory family meeting with the Director of Students and/or the School Leaders may be required for any student with 3 or more unexcused absences or tardies.
  • Roxbury Prep may involve agencies, the police, the judicial system, and/or other authorities if a student is repeatedly late to or absent from school.
  • A student who is absent is responsible for calling the Homework Hotline and submitting homework the day after s/he returns to school.
  • A student who misses five or more consecutive days of school without notifying Roxbury Prep or who enrolls in another school is subject to being unenrolled at Roxbury Prep.

Mary Pasciak:

Last week, Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes told me the district would not be likely to adopt a policy again that sets a minimum bar for student attendance: "That was a policy that serves adults and not students. The district is not going to engage in that kind of reversal any more. I can't imagine a time when we would create a policy that punishes students for not attending school instead of looking at why they don't attend school and solving those problems.

"That policy created a scapegoat for student attendance problems. It blamed parents and families entirely. The district did not assume any of the responsibility, and that was wrong. When we create schools that engage students, attendance improves."

This week, Dixon told me that in 2005, when the policy was changed, it seemed to make sense to do away with a minimum attendance requirement.

"Kids weren't allowed to take Regents exams. The legality was, how can you stop a child from taking a Regents exam in New York State?" she said. "It was viewed as an obstacle to graduation. If attendance was keeping someone from getting course credit on a course they had passed, we weren't helping anyone move along."

School Reform Cycle of Life

Linda Borg:

Scott Sutherland, one of three principals who transformed Hope High School six years ago, is leaving to become principal of the beleaguered Mount Pleasant High School.

Of course, Mt. Pleasant began becoming beleaguered around the time their principal, Nancy Mullen, was sent over to Hope to start its transformation.

This Entire Discussion is Off Topic

Greg Toppo:

When did fractions and non-fiction become so controversial?

The answer to this question, which frames an update on Common Core adoption and attendant controversy, is either "always" or "not yet." There is a certain amount of posturing going on by politicians, but the bulk of teachers and other interested parties are only now emerging from the initial "Wait, what?" phase of learning about the standards. The controversy has not yet begun.

And from reading pieces like this -- from national education journalists -- you wouldn't even know what points you're supposed to be arguing.


David Coleman, one of the standards' authors, admits that they'll be "a major shift," requiring more history, arts and science in English and reading classes, for instance, and less fiction. But he says it's needed to correct a decade of watered-down lessons. The biggest problem with No Child's requirement that schools raise test scores each year was that it was "content-free," he said. The law "was merely saying, 'Test whatever you got.' "

Do the standards require more history, arts and science in English and reading classes? Please cite examples from the text. Also, please explain why these changes don't simply mean "Test whatever (history, arts and science) texts you got."


David Riesenfeld, a history teacher who has been using the standards since 2010, said they've "pretty significantly pushed me to think about how much I cover" each school year. Because they require more depth in just a few areas, he said, they've forced him to focus more on teaching students to read and write about a handful of "significant topics" in world history.

I see, so these English and Language Arts standards are about depth rather than breadth in history class then? Interesting.


Riesenfeld, who teaches 10th-grade world history at Robert F. Wagner Jr. Secondary School for Art and Technology in Long Island City, N.Y., said he often relies on shorter passages and pushes students to read more closely and analytically — occasionally a class will spend an entire period breaking down a single paragraph. "In effect, they're learning how to use materials rather than just answer question a, b, c and d," he said.

So the Common Core is about reading shorter texts to prepare for college?


As a result, Riesenfeld said, his history students often look and sound as if they're in an English class.

OK, so more history in English and more English in history? Why again?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Discussing Transformation with Victor Capellan

Me, over at Mass Insight's blog:

Mr. Capellan,

I am sure that good and great things are happening at Central Falls High School today, just as I know good and great things happened there prior to the transformation.  What concerns me is that the transformation itself is a primarily political act.

Take, for example, your brief analysis of the reason for an increase in the graduation rate of last year's graduating class.  I would hope that the prime mover of increased graduation was increased student achievement, and in fact, there is rather clear evidence for that at Central Falls High School.  If one considers a score of at least "Partially Proficient" on the 11th grade NECAP's as representing graduation-readiness -- as the Regents propose to do -- then in the 2009-10 cohort of juniors, in reading 85%, and in writing 90% qualified.

By comparison, in the 2007-8 junior class cohort only 72% were ready in reading and 79% in writing.  In the 2011-12 junior cohort, it is down to 69% for reading and 75% for writing.

In short, the data demonstrates that last year's senior class was significantly better prepared -- prior to the transformation -- than those that preceded or will follow it.  One would hope they would have a higher graduation rate!  Of course, pointing out gains which preceded the transformation would undermine its premise, so they won't be mentioned.

I would also note that your personal resume should give informed observers reason to view rising graduation numbers with some skepticism.  You worked in the New York Department of Education through a period where credit recovery and graduation requirements were very loosely regulated.  A long trail of anecdotes suggesting inflated graduation numbers throughout the district has recently been confirmed by an internal NYC DOE audit.

Anyone who has worked in a high school knows that graduation rates are susceptible to manipulation, particularly in a charged political atmosphere, particularly when teachers' jobs are under threat.  Close scrutiny is well justified.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The PPSD's Declining Turnaround Capacity

Elena Silva:

One of the biggest success stories of ELT (Extended Learning Time) is, not surprisingly, in Massachusetts. Matthew J. Kuss Middle School in Fall River has transformed itself from the first in the state to be declared “chronically underperforming” in 2004 to a school that is not even eligible for SIG funds today. Since adopting an added-time schedule in 2006, Kuss gives all its students 30 percent more time in school (including on Saturdays) and provides additional development time for teachers, almost all of whom have increased their work hours: instructors now have nine individual planning periods, a grade-level meeting, and at least one curriculum meeting each week.

While the regular day’s curriculum is dictated by the district, Kuss Principal Nancy Mullen explains, the ELT curriculum is decided by the teachers “so it’s aligned with standards but also meets the real needs of our students and gets delivered in a much more engaging and project-based way.” Mullen says more time isn’t the only reason for the school’s success, but it’s a big one. Significantly, this kind of time carries a big price: teacher salaries at Kuss increased by 25 percent. Without state funding for ELT, Mullen isn’t sure how she would fund those increases; the budget is now about $800,000 annually for teachers and other staff costs alone. But she says she would try.

This Ed Sector report on the limits of extended learning time as a turnaround strategy is pretty good. It also contains a few references to Providence.

The one that jumped out to me is a little oblique: Nancy Mullen was the principal of the PPSD's Mount Pleasant High School when I did my student teaching there at the turn of the century. She was a well regarded principal, in fact my mentor teacher had followed her there from Mullen's previous post as a middle school principal.

At that time, Mount Pleasant was generally regarded as the best big neighborhood high school. After Mullen moved on, to launch the Hope High turnaround, Mount Pleasant began its long slide.

Now, of course, Hope has almost completed a full up and down turnaround cycle, and Mullen is in Fall River.

Life Under Kenyan Socialism

Doug Henwood:

Graphed below is the behavior of employment—total, private, and public—around business cycle troughs and recoveries. The darker lines are the averages of all the cycles since the end of World War II; the lighter lines, the most recent period, around the June 2009 trough. (Click on the graph for the full-sized version.)

Scratch Now Properly Licensed

Walter Bender:

3. The Scratch team has updated their license documentation such that it is once again compatible with Sugar’s Free Software guidelines. Please see [1].

Long time readers may recall a lot more posts on open source software and its uses in education. The Scratch licensing fiasco is one of the things that just made me walk away from that issue. Not that I don't believe in the value of free software to schools -- it is still central to my actual career -- but because to be successful in American K-12 schools, we'd need the active support of our friends in academia. Scratch demonstrated that, on the whole, that wasn't happening.

To recap: MIT got a NSF grant to develop Scratch and for some reason they actually promised to make the code available under an open source license in the grant proposal. Cool! Then as soon as the grant was over, they made trivial changes to the license to make further versions of the software not qualify as open source.

From my point of view it was like showing up at a vegan potluck with a big bowl of split pea soup, plopping it down on the table in front of everyone, pulling out a big old hambone and giving the soup a good stir. Yes, fuck you too.

The practical implication of the license change was to make it impossible for Scratch to be included in distributions of free and open source software -- making it harder to put the software in the hands of children.

I guess it is all straightened out now. Yay.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Sarah Sparks:

The California researchers analyzed the coursetaking and math achievement of more than 22,000 students who started 7th grade between 2001 and 2004 in more than 20 schools in a large, unnamed urban district. They found that, for the nearly 2,400 students who performed in the lowest 10 percent on state math tests at the end of 7th grade, taking algebra in 8th grade had no significant effect on their state math-test performance at the end of 8th grade. And it caused their average GPAs to drop 7 percent, about the difference between a C and a C-minus.

Maybe they all had low value added teachers.

Computer Scoring Open Ended History Questions

Justin Reich:

Last week, Barbara Chow, the director of the education program at the Hewlett Foundation explained to a meeting of grantees why the foundation was investing in research concerning Automated Essay Score Predictors as part of their strategy of expanding opportunities for Deeper Learning in schools. (Disclosure: I run a Hewlett-funded research project, and Hewlett has indirectly paid me a salary for four years, though Harvard is my direct employer. That said, when I had a chance to speak for 15 minutes at the Grantee meeting, I devoted the entire time to explaining how their Open Educational Resources grantmaking program could potentially be expanding educational inequalities. So there is some evidence that I try to call it as I see it.) Again, it's the kind of argument that raises eyebrows. "If we replace human essay raters with machines, students will have a richer learning experience." Oh, really?

First point: there are two consortia (PARCC and SBAC) developing new tests for the Common Core Standards. In 2014 or 2015, we're going to have some brand new tests in states all across the country. We have an opportunity to make them better. Here's how Barbara makes the case that Automated Essay Score Predictors can do that

Here is an example of a test question from the AP US History test (2006 Released Exam):

Which of the following colonies required each community of 50 or more families to provide a teacher of reading and writing?

A. Pennsylvania
B. Massachusetts
C. Virginia
D. Maryland
E. Rhode Island

Now, this is the kind of question that makes most educators go berserk. A student can have a deep, rich understanding of early American history and not know that factoid. So what if we could replace questions like that, with questions like this (thanks to College Board for sharing):

By the early twentieth century, the United States had emerged as a world power. Historians have proposed various dates for the beginning of this process, including the three listed below. Choose one of the three dates below or choose one of your own, and write a paragraph explaining why this date best marks the beginning of the United States' emergence as a world power. Write a second paragraph explaining why you did not choose the other dates. Support your argument with appropriate evidence.

  • 1898 (Spanish-American War)
  • 1917 (Entry into the First World War)
  • 1941 (Entry into the Second World War)

I have some quibbles, but this is a much, much better question. The question calls upon several skills broadly identified with deeper learning: solving an ill structured problem—one without a correct answer and requiring tacit knowledge—and communicating that answer in a persuasive, evidence-based argument.

The problem with this is that the computer can score this for structure -- for having the form of an academic argument based on evidence -- but it does not know the whole scope of the problem domain -- it can't know all the evidence and facts relating to the issue, so a savvy student can just make stuff up. So... for example:

Among naval historians, the standard definition of a "world power" is one that can maintain two high seas fleets in two separate oceans indefinitely, while retaining a significant reserve and shipbuilding capacity. In Michael Doyle's authoritative history of the US Navy, Quahogs and Other Submersibles, a Rumination, until 1923 and the launch of the US 5th Fleet in the Pacific the US could only maintain one high-seas fleet. Therefore, in 1923, the US became a naval "world power," a status it maintains to this day.

I chose this date because I am a naval historian, and I am applying the standard definition of "world power" as used by naval historians.

If you're my teacher in an actual class -- and in particular you know what a clever smartass I can be -- you'll see through this in a second. If you are a computer, what's it going to do, check my facts? All the computer can say is that this has more or less has the form of an academic response including evidence.

You can also note that temps scoring stacks of these things in data centers can't really score this kind of thing accurately either, but that's an argument against high stakes standardized tests in general, not in favor of computer scoring.

This is why the Common Core standards are so strict about keeping everything limited to textual analysis and evidence from texts. It is partly a revival of New Criticism, but mostly it is to make sure that the valid answers to the question is constrained to bits of text that can be identified by a computer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Q. Why don't you tell people you can read?


It is very, very, very secret.

This is one reason not to rely on tests for five year olds.

No Matter

Dale Mezzacappa:

Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen did point out that the high-powered consultants brought in to "right the fiscal ship" had concluded that individual school budgets had been wrung dry and that, compared to other big districts, its administration is not top-heavy or its spending out of line.

No matter.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charter Enrollment & Geography

Bill Turque:

Some cities (Chicago, Denver) have established neighborhood preferences for some of their charter schools. But the concept is not popular within the charter movement, which regards it as a potential threat to school autonomy and the breadth of choice for families outside the neighborhoods in question. Others warn that it could adversely impact a charter school if neighborhood families don’t buy into a school’s culture or educational philosophy.

I don't understand this argument. At best it implicitly acknowledges that running a neighborhood school is inherently more difficult than a charter.

BVP Board Minutes:

Question from Ken Vaudreuil asked about the process for the direct mail around lottery outreach. Jeremy clarified that we worked with a direct mail to buy lists of households with targeted age groups. For a similar prices as a small postcard (.50), the postal service has saturation mailings available. Include specific Southern Lincoln and Manville. We need to do this for a number of reasons: 1) urban/suburban communities model is integral to the work here ; 2) make sure everyone is aware of this choice and RIDE has explicitly asked that we work to make sure all 4 of our sending districts are represented better; and 3) excited to talk about growth to scholars.

I'm in favor of desegregation strategies, but I don't understand why RIMA and RIDE only apply these principles to BVP. They have been explicitly repudiated by RIDE and RIMA for the Achievement First Mayoral Academies. Why?

Also, I can't really believe we're in a place where it makes sense to spend money advertising heavily over-enrolled, successful public schools. As Maryellen Butke says:

People should be asking how we’re spending that money and how much of it is reaching classrooms. We should invest heavily in education but we need to ensure the money is being used to support great teachers and leaders in our schools.

Someone should tell her about this dubious application of public school funds.

RIDE Taking Over Central Falls Schools

Basically, the state is going from indirectly controlling the Central Falls schools to directly controlling them. This is probably a minor improvement, since it actually makes RIDE somewhat accountable.

It is also a reminder that Deborah Gist has never run a school, let alone a district.

Dear Mr. Superintendent

Helen Gym:

I actually believe in the value of institutions, despite having been burned by them plenty of times. I believe that professional educators can do a better job than the majority of hucksters and hustlers and ideologues scoring off of public education’s demise.

I believe in the possibility of school transformation and the role community and parent voices play in concert with schools and districts. I believe in the value of the public sphere and the responsibilities it owes to the most marginalized of communities - our immigrant students, special needs populations, and young people struggling with disciplinary issues.

I believe in choice options that co-exist to supplement, not destroy, a public school system. I believe in real, creative innovation in our classrooms, not the "drill-and-kill" test prep replicated in too many of these “high-performing” charters you tout. I believe in a vision of schools that is aspirationally led rather than deficit-based. Your focus on the bottom brings everyone down.

I believe our communities have always been there to pick up the pieces after administrations of hubris pass on. And I believe our public schools are worth fighting for.

Weaponized Testing

Diane Ravitch:

At present, the standardized tests are used inappropriately. There should be no stakes attached to them. Decisions about teacher evaluation should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about bonuses should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about closing schools should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about retaining students should not be tied to student scores. All of these are weighty decisions that should be made by experienced professionals, taking into consideration a variety of factors specific to the child, the teacher, and the school.

Tests are a tool, not a goal. We should use them as needed, not let them use us. Their misuse has turned them into a weapon to narrow the curriculum, incentivize cheating, promote gaming the system, and control teachers. The more we rely on high-stakes standardized tests, the more we destroy students' creativity, ingenuity, and willingness to think differently, and the more we demoralize teachers. The important decisions that each of us will face in our lives cannot be narrowed to one of four bubbles. We must prepare students to live in the world, not to comply on command.

I'm Sure This WIll Work Out Well

Dale Mezzacappa:

The plan, while saying that it is premised on giving parents more choices, doesn’t include any direct promises that schools will get what most parents say they want – smaller classes, art and music teachers, libraries, nurses, adequate security – all of which has been cut this year. And it relies on being able to attract and keep talented principals and teachers in an atmosphere of fiscal austerity, find the money to properly train and support them, and have the resources to give them the materials they need.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I Wouldn't Eat That If I Were You

Aaron Regunberg:

Farley did not develop this position out of any pedagogical or ideological concerns; he’s not an educator and he doesn’t seem to be invested in this debate one way or the other. Rather, he came to his position for the same reason a guy who works in the kitchen of a not-so-reputable restaurant might choose to never frequent that eatery during off-hours—he knows what goes on back there and will be damned before he’ll put that food in his own mouth.

Two Cosmological Limericks

Philip K. Dick:

Determinist forces are wrong,
Though irresistibly strong.
But of god there's a dearth,
For he visits the earth,
But not for sufficiently long.


Determinist forces are wrong,
Though irresistibly strong.
But of god there's no dearth,
For he visits the earth,
But just for sufficiently long.

Choose one.

I Don't Have Enough Leisure to Debate Unschooling

Megan Erickson:

Reading Astra Taylor’s n+1 essay “Unschooling,” I was reminded of my first semester in a classroom. Like many student teachers, I’d been offended by the idea of myself as an authority figure. Standing in front of the class at the chalkboard felt like a lie. Was I smarter than my students? No. Did I know more about the subject I was teaching? Not always. I was so afraid of humiliating kids that I refused to call on a student unless her hand was raised.

In practice, that meant that over and over again I gave a lot of outgoing kids the chance to speak, while effectively ignoring the ones who weren’t interested. When no one’s hand was raised, I wasted time wondering what to do next. In the middle of the semester, my students filled out their evaluations. “Dear Ms. Erickson,” one student wrote, “when no one raises their hand, it’s okay to just call on someone.” He was right. It was okay. I’d been protecting tenth graders from something they were perfectly prepared to face.

It is this false and misguided sense of children’s fragile identity that informs the educational philosophy of “unschooling.” Demographically, unschooling is homeschooling for middle class people with master’s degrees. Its heroes are Paul Goodman, John Holt, and A.S. Neill, the author of a once influential but largely forgotten book called Summerhill, about a boarding school run entirely by the students.

Following these introductory paragraphs, whole essay is slightly askew. No Paul Goodman did not advocate for wishy-washy teaching in traditional classrooms. Nor did he recommend a coddling education insulated from adults or conflict among children. Setting aside the complexity of Goodman's work, I'm not even sure it is consistent enough to neatly summarize.

On the whole though, I don't care enough about this to read Taylor's essay or try to analyse Erickson's quick slide from A.S. Neill to Lisa Delpit. In 2012, the entire conversation is an elite indulgence.

You see, right now the Mayor, the state government, the federal government, and the richest people in America all seem to want to close or otherwise destroy all the schools in my neighborhood, and they've got a good start on the process.

Julia Triptych by Vivian

Understand This Concept

Anemona Hartocollis:

Deborah Meier, founder of the progressive Central Park East schools in New York City, who has lectured and written widely about testing, said the pineapple passage was “an outrageous example of what’s true of most of the items on any test, it’s just blown up larger.”

In the world of testing, she said, it does not really matter whether an answer is right or wrong; the “right” answer is the one that field testing has shown to be the consensus answer of the “smart” kids. “It’s a psychometric concept,” she said.

Mad Men is a Good Idea for a TV Show

I don't buy the 40 year nostalgia cycle, unless I slept through the great 30's and 40's revivals of the 70's and 80's. But more to the point, I did a paper of a linguistics class at Brown where I looked at the changes in the use of language in ads in Ladies Home Journal between 1967 and 1968. That's obviously not a leading indicator of social change, but man, once it was decided that everyone had to change or be square, everything changed (down to sentence structure and syntax) almost overnight and advertising (for better or worse) was right in the middle of the process. There certainly hasn't been anything like it since.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Poring Over School Budgets is a Popular Hobby

The reason that the prison privatization playbook ultimately won't work in education is that poring over school budgets is a popular hobby, particularly outside of cities. People aren't suddenly going to give up this pastime and stop asking questions. Other popular pastimes: slagging on schools, ginning up scandal and filing lawsuits. People aren't going to stop doing those either.

Mmmmm.... Pineapple

Tim Furman:

I know there's been a lot of attention to the pineapple question on the New York test, but I'd like to point out that these terrible test questions are as common as the rain. You only hear about them when someone takes the risk of pointing them out. It is a testing violation for teachers to look through the testing booklet to see what's on the test.

I did this very thing several times at my own risk over the years, just to see if the tests had any remote relationship to the things we were doing in class.  I would never do it now, in the current police state around testing.

It isn't that all standardized tests are bad, but if you have the opportunity to look, you quickly realize that many of them are. That's not a problem unless you're using them for high-stakes, not just one of many diagnostics. And nobody seems to have a plan to improve them based on anything other than doing a better job next time around. That is to say, no real plan at all.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Life, the Universe and Everything

I went to Devaney, Doak and Garrett intending to get something light for the prematurely arrived summer reading season and instead left with:

  • The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
  • How to Cook Everything, by Michael Bittman

That's a pretty maximalist 2000 pages.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Don't Even Know What This Post is About

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

Let’s take, as one example, a ninth grade student –Maria—who has the equivalent of a fifth grade reading level. Her peers are reading things like Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hemmingway. Maria is reading Maniac Magee. If we assume that both comprehension and cultural and background knowledge build over time, how we will ever get Maria to the same place as her peers? How do you get her from Maniac Magee to Macbeth?

The reality is that, the incremental increases in complexity that the “just right” books theory demands simply will never close the gap between Maria and her peers.

Enter the Common Core. The “Grade Appropriate” approach that drives its ELA standards is based on a very different assumption. Teachers who follow the “Grade Appropriate” theory select books, poems, articles, and stories that are appropriate for the grade level, even if that level is above the students’ instructional or independent reading level.

Teaching with this approach can be more challenging, particularly in schools where many students are far behind grade level. A great deal more scaffolding is needed to ensure that all students—including those who are reading far below grade level—are able to understand grade-appropriate texts. And there’s no easy way to ensure that students do more of the “heavy lifting” of the reading on their own, rather than to rely on teachers to help them struggle through.

Figuring out how to target remediation and how to scaffold difficult texts is exactly the kind of work that needs to happen to make a serious push to close the reading gap. And for those looking at whether CCSS is going to live up to its promise to drive student achievement, we could do worse than to start tracking the type and complexity of texts being assigned in classrooms across the country as Common Core implementation ramps up.

What does this have to do with the Common Core? Isn't the right curriculum whatever gets kids up to standards?

And while I'm unfamiliar with Maniac Magee one of the mysteries of this whole scheme is what one might mean when one says "fifth grade reading level" in the age of Common Core. Give me a 9th grader who can complete these tasks for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and four years, and we should be fine. We might not nail Macbeth the first time, and heck, we may backslide and read some sub-grade level dreck like Little Women or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but it is all quite doable, either way.

Fifth grade reading level according to the Common Core:

They were indeed a queer-looking party that assembled on the bank--the birds with draggled feathers, the animals with their fur clinging close to them, and all dripping wet, cross, and uncomfortable.

The first question of course was, how to get dry again: they had a consultation about this, and after a few minutes it seemed quite natural to Alice to find herself talking familiarly with them, as if she had known them all her life. Indeed, she had quite a long argument with the Lory, who at last turned sulky, and would only say, `I am older than you, and must know better'; and this Alice would not allow without knowing how old it was, and, as the Lory positively refused to tell its age, there was no more to be said.

At last the Mouse, who seemed to be a person of authority among them, called out, `Sit down, all of you, and listen to me! I'LL soon make you dry enough!' They all sat down at once, in a large ring, with the Mouse in the middle. Alice kept her eyes anxiously fixed on it, for she felt sure she would catch a bad cold if she did not get dry very soon.

`Ahem!' said the Mouse with an important air, `are you all ready? This is the driest thing I know. Silence all round, if you please! "William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria--"'

Friday, April 13, 2012

Getting Sankey

In this age of data-driven analysis, we're hitting a serious logjam around understanding the flows of students through and among schools. That is, we're getting increasingly detailed snapshots of student performance (on tests at least), tracking individual students longitudinally, and looking at school-level aggregated performance data, but there's not much public data on how students move between schools, within grade levels in schools, and between district and charter schools.

See, for example, Ursula Casanova's piece on grad rates in The Answer Sheet today.

Or KIPP's announcement that 89% of their students now "returned to their KIPP school or completed the highest grade offered at their school." That's nice, but whether it is good or bad is anyone's guess. Which kids are leaving and why? Are the leavers' test scores low, high, or average? What about retention rates?

Walter M. Haney's suggestion from 2006 is important:

States and LEAs should be required to report not just on test scores but also on grade progression ratios. As I have argued here, rates of student progress through the grades are a more robust measure of educational quality than are test scores. Also, as I have demonstrated, such data are vital in order to interpret test results. The apparent dramatic improvement in 2005 grade 4 NAEP scores in Florida are illusory. Not only is Florida not reducing the race gap, but data on grade transition rates for that state reveal that with 3-4 times as many minority than White students being flunked to repeat grade 3. Florida’s policies are helping to cement educational inequalities in place for years to come. Mssrs. Bush and Bloomberg are simply myopic and misguided. NAEP may provide some useful information on states’ educational progress, but as I have shown, if used in isolation as an “official benchmark for evaluating states' standards,” NAEP results may mislead more than inform.

Aggregate mobility data seems difficult to reconcile with direct experience. What does a 28% mobility rate (in PPSD 2007) really mean at the school level? Does that measure the same thing as KIPP's 89%? ProvPlan tells us that in 2008 over 10% of PPSD students left the RI public school system. What grade levels leave? To where? How many of those were considered drop outs?

States and districts should have all this data by now, what with the millions and millions of dollars spent on such things. The raw numbers would be difficult to process though -- this definitely calls for some data graphics. Something like a Sankey diagram (from Wikipedia):

Or perhaps like this one.

Here's a crude mockup:

In the chart above, the columns are grade levels in a middle school, the rows are school years, the arrows represent the size of flows of students between grades and in and out of the school, and the colors represent test scores of the whole school at the given grade level and how they are distributed to different incoming and outgoing flows.

Something like this would make it a heck of a lot easier to figure out what is going on with test scores.

Good Thing I Moved to Providence Where it is Safe to Raise a Family

Jeff Gill:

Two Mapleton men who were allegedly planning to deliver heroin and drug paraphernalia behind the car wash/Laundromat located at 150 East Penn St., Huntingdon, were arrested Wednesday afternoon by members of the Huntingdon County Drug Task Force.

Across the street from the ball field!

Also, thanks to the Daily News for continuing to give me free synopses of the local news, that's all I really need anyhow. OTOH, apparently the ProJo's paywall strategy is is to convince me they've just stopped reporting the news at all.

This Reminds Me of Something

Tom Sgouros:

But despite insisting that the Postal Service be run like a business, Congress has put strict limits on what it must and must not do.

The founders of KIPP, in particular, love to compare their approach to Federal Express (not the unionized UPS, of course), although FedEx is allowed to "cream" the postal market more severely than any charter school.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I Would Choose to be Uncommon

Bruce Baker posted last week on the general contradiction in contemporary American school reform:

Let me be clear that this post isn’t about favoring or slamming either vouchers or the common core, but rather pointing out that favoring both is entirely inconsistent, unless there’s some weird, warped agenda behind it all. This post IS about slamming the two, when used in combination. It just doesn’t make sense. Let’s throw into this mix other policies promoting standardization of the operations of traditional public schools like forcing those schools to make personnel decisions based largely on student assessment data.

Collectively what we have here is a massive effort on the one hand, to require traditional public school districts to adopt a common curriculum and ultimately to adopt common assessments for evaluating student success on that curriculum and then force those districts to evaluate, retain and/or dismiss their teachers based on student assessment data, while on the other hand, expanding publicly financed subsidies for more children to attend schools that would not be required to do these things (in many cases, for example, relieving charter schools from teacher evaluation requirements).

Being a blog post, it is probably imprecise in a couple areas, but the essential point is critical to understanding the perspective of the people being reformed today, in contrast to the reformers' point of view.

This week, Kathleen Porter-Magee responded at the Common Core Watch blog. What follows is my comment in response:


I see little support in history for your assertion that "Innovation stems not from different schools defining different ends, but instead from schools reaching those goals in different and innovative ways." From kindergarten to KIPP, I would argue that significant changes and improvements in educational systems are almost always accompanied by a revision in the desired ends. Indeed, the Common Core itself is based on the radical proposal that the purpose of primary and secondary education is preparation for tertiary education or work. Before the start we can see the end of these standards, whether they succeed or fail, the next innovation will require a broader re-envisioning of the aims of education and the disciplines more in line with those of high-performing schools and systems around the world and throughout history.

Despite yourself, you manage to illustrate the central contradiction Baker is pointing to within a single paragraph. You state "Finally, reformers who believe that choice will lead to better educational options simply must acknowledge that choice between low-performing schools isn’t a real choice... Low performing schools should be closed... And parents should be empowered to choose between schools based on what’s best for their children."

As the parent of a daughter entering kindergarten next year, what I know would be best for her would be the option to send her to a school whose very existence was not dependent on the state or federal government's current conception of "performance," and had an entirely different set of goals built on a fundamentally different philosophy. This is not an abstract or hypothetical point -- it is what I am faced with as a parent every day.

Applying RI-CAN's System to Dear Old FHS

Just for kicks I tried to figure out what Feinstein High School's rankings in RI-CAN's system would be in its last year before being named "persistently low-performing" and closed. In terms of overall performance FHS would have gotten a D with a score of 38%, although that's still ahead of seven other PPSD high schools. I'd note that the state average for high schools is a C-. The raw rankings by subgroup are pretty similar.

On the other hand, FHS easily would have been #1 in high school improvement this year, with a score of 13 points, easily besting Westerly's current top rating of 8.

All the achievement gap scores cannot be calculated, since there are not enough white or non-economically disadvantaged students for RIDE to release the numbers. Also, performance gains cannot be calculated for high schools.

So... this system seems to not be very informative or illuminating. The whole concept of in-school achievement gaps is useless for highly segregated school districts, like we have in Rhode Island.

"Don't take anything that happens to you there personally"

Mac McClelland:

The days blend into each other. But it's near the end of my third day that I get written up. I sent two of some product down the conveyor line when my scanner was only asking for one; the product was boxed in twos, so I should've opened the box and separated them, but I didn't notice because I was in a hurry. With an hour left in the day, I've already picked 800 items. Despite moving fast enough to get sloppy, my scanner tells me that means I'm fulfilling only 52 percent of my goal. A supervisor who is a genuinely nice person comes by with a clipboard listing my numbers. Like the rest of the supervisors, she tries to create a friendly work environment and doesn't want to enforce the policies that make this job so unpleasant. But her hands are tied. She needs this job, too, so she has no choice but to tell me something I have never been told in 19 years of school or at any of some dozen workplaces."You're doing really bad," she says.

I'll admit that I did start crying a little. Not at work, thankfully, since that's evidently frowned upon, but later, when I explained to someone over Skype that it hurts, oh, how my body hurts after failing to make my goals despite speed-walking or flat-out jogging and pausing every 20 or 30 seconds to reach on my tiptoes or bend or drop to the floor for 10.5 hours, and isn't it awful that they fired Brian because he had a baby, and, in fact, when I was hired I signed off on something acknowledging that anyone who leaves without at least a week's notice—whether because they're a journalist who will just walk off or because they miss a day for having a baby and are terminated—has their hours paid out not at their hired rate but at the legal minimum. Which in this state, like in lots of states, is about $7 an hour. Thank God that I (unlike Brian, probably) didn't need to pay for opting into Amalgamated's "limited" health insurance program. Because in my 10.5-hour day I'll make about $60 after taxes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Can't Wait...

Jill Davidson:

So I don't want to do PPSD communications work, and I am fairly sure that the people who are paid to do that work don't want me to do so either. Put more broadly, I don't feel like being Suzy Sunshine for parents looking to know more about PPSD. I used to dig doing that. Now, not so much. The reasons for that are a whole other blog topic, too. What I know now is that these insights punch a big hole in the current purpose of this blog.

So for now, that's it. I will be publishing actual content on Thursday and Friday. In the meantime - or anytime -if any readers are interested in sharing ideas about what this blog could or should be, I am all ears.

The Learning Community Sticks a Big "Kick Me" SIgn on RI-CAN's Back

The Learning Community:

As advocates for public education, The Learning Community has grave concerns about the RI-CAN school report cards that evaluate every Rhode Island public school based on faulty methodology. RI-CAN claims that their report cards “are designed to help families in Rhode Island access online information about their local schools” when in truth the report cards spread misinformation to concerned citizens. Instead of providing access to accurate data, RI-CAN summarizes a school’s performance by using only one grade level’s achievement on state standardized tests and mathematically incorrect calculations.

No efforts at holding schools accountable will succeed unless the measures used are fair and accurate. It is worth mentioning that we are expressing our strong opposition to the report cards despite the fact that The Learning Community ranked in the Top 10 schools in Rhode Island on 7 of the 14 indicators.

The methodological deficiencies of the RI-CAN report cards render them at best useless and, at worst, harmful to our state’s efforts to support the education of every child.

Heh. Indeed.

Rhode Island charter school politics are a little... different, and apparently that's starting to break out in public. So now not only has RI-CAN presented its opponents with an opportunity to ding its credibility by publishing this transparently slipshod analysis, but The Learning Community has generously offered to cover your flank against the "supporter of the status quo" and/or "defender of lousy schools" counter-attack by letting you respond that "even the high-performing Central Falls charter school The Learning Community" thinks your rankings are crap.

To be honest, I have serious doubts that the unions are even capable of rousing themselves enough to get an equally pointed response into the press. Let alone the Broad-infested PPSD.

Nonetheless, great work by The Learning Community!

I especially liked this part:

If you are curious about the RI-CAN system but do not want to sign up to “be a member of RI-CAN,” feel free to log on as:
Username: thesetwohands
Password: thesetwohands

Reform Mad Libs

Welcome back Baffler!

Maureen Tkacik:

[Obama Cabinet official], [Obama policy adviser], [billionaire CEO], [billionaire private equity tycoon], and [billionaire mayor] sing praises of [photogenic local schools chief whose extensive sackings of teachers and principals had been sufficiently unpopular with voters to have cost her boss the recent D.C. mayoral primary]. One refers to [recently released charter school propaganda-mentary] as her “Rosa Parks moment.”

Coming Soon to Tiverton, RI

Nice corner...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ri-CAN: Not Really Interested in Data

OK, so RI-CAN has a new school ranking and rating system and a website for perusing it. As far as I can tell, there are two guiding principles behind this effort:

  • Getting people to "join" RI-CAN, because you have to do that to see an individual school's scores. Expect to see a nice large number of RI-CAN "supporters" or "members" popping up in their future missives.
  • Providing some nice looking rankings for Blackstone Valley Prep, because the whole methodology seems to be built around including it as a full peer of schools which actually fully exist.

So, to accommodate BVP, for overall performance RI-CAN only uses the numbers from the current school year, in the highest grade served by the school, in reading and math (but not science and writing). This is perfectly tailored to BVP's existing data set.

I was a little surprised that they use the "testing year" numbers instead of the "teaching year," since the reform community recently realized that the teaching year data was more meaningful. However, BVP is prominently featured as having the highest African-American student performance and second highest limited English proficiency performance, but they barely make the 10% population cutoff for either in the testing year, if you round up from 9.6%, and don't have enough students still in the RI public education from the "testing year" to be eligible for either list at all.

They do helpfully note that in terms of their measurement of performance gains that:

It is important to note that this indicator is most reliable in showing a school’s impact on the change in student achievement if the school’s student population remains stable from year to year.

They do not note that this affects the reliability of some of the top (BVP) and bottom (MLK Elementary) scorers in this area.

To give credit where it is due, I do think these numbers help confirm that Deborah Gist putting her boot on the neck of RI independent charters has made their scores go way up the past couple of years. It is one of the few policies which very clearly correlates to test score changes.

RI-CAN's system is similar to RIDE's new ranking system as described in their NCLB waiver application, but rather clearly inferior (and I'm no fan of RIDE's). I'm sure RI-CAN will add more elements to their system in coming years, as BVP's data set grows. For example, right now BVP doesn't have enough special ed students to count, but if that changes, I'm sure it will be added to future rankings!

Finally, this comment by Maryellen Butke just gets under my skin:

Executive Director Maryellen Butke says another standout was the Urban Collaborative Program in Providence, a middle school that works with failing students. It had the highest test score gains for any middle school in the state - 25 percentage points.

"For them to be beating odds in that way and really making such improvement gains, I want to run right over and say tell us what you're doing, cause that's a very large gain," Butke says.

UCAP has only been around for 24 years Maryellen! It is a multi-district intervention program for middle school students who have fallen behind for one reason or another. Most are referred by guidance counselors (not lottery, it isn't a charter). Some other fun facts about UCAP:

The class size at UCAP is approximately 17 students and a special education teacher is available to assist any student needing extra help during the regular school day.

Students from grades 7, 8, and 9 are heterogeneously mixed in each class and students remain with the same teachers for their entire time at UCAP.

Students are given many opportunities for silent reading and for conferencing with a teacher or another student about things they have read or written. Students will also spend time in all classes on strategies related to problem solving. Students will be expected to understand the ideas and concepts presented in class and to demonstrate this understanding in a variety of ways. Generally, teachers do not make much use of short objective tests or other traditional methods of assessment. Instead, students will take part in projects and will demonstrate their understanding through such things as poster boards, oral presentations, research papers, creative writing, or computer projects. Also, textbooks are rarely used at UCAP. Instead, teachers create learning programs and units for students based upon the school’s written curriculum, student needs and interest, and world events.

All adolescents, particularly those who are at-risk, are faced with many challenges. With this in mind, UCAP has made the commitment to provide counseling and support for students. UCAP utilizes a case management approach under the direction of the school’s full-time, licensed social worker, and a counselor.

Perhaps RI-CAN would like to advocate for more schools like UCAP, and for all urban schools in Rhode Island to have a similar program and resources. Of course, that will never happen. It is simply not their agenda at all.

Monday, April 09, 2012

This is Exactly How the Common Core ELA is Designed to Work

Ruth Ann Dandrea:

Because what I hadn’t known — this is my first time grading this exam — was that it doesn’t matter how well you write, or what you think. Here we spent the year reading books and emulating great writers, constructing leads that would make everyone want to read our work, developing a voice that would engage our readers, using our imaginations to make our work unique and important, and, most of all, being honest. And none of that matters. All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit. You can compose a “Gettysburg Address” for the 21st century on the apportioned lines in your test booklet, but if you’ve provided only one fact from the text you read in preparation, then you will earn only half credit. In your constructed response — no matter how well written, correct, intelligent, noble, beautiful, and meaningful it is —if you’ve not collected any specific facts from the provided readings (even if you happen to know more information about the chosen topic than the readings provide), then you will get a zero.

The tests won't change much; the difference will be that under the Common Core there will be no argument for doing anything more.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

On the Other Hand, Perhaps it is an Argument for Throwing Audio Recorders Back Out

Dahlia Lithwick:

The arguments for keeping cameras out of the high court sound awfully thin after this week, and for the people who stood in line for days, and slept outside in the rain for a glimpse of the proceedings, the idea that what happens inside the court is too sanctified or complicated for mere mortals to understand now seems laughable. Listening to arguments that unspooled in well-trod Tea Party clever-isms, Americans who tuned in for the audio must surely recognize that what the court does isn’t all that different from what the local school board does. They just use bigger words. The notion that it’s just too hard for the average American to comprehend all the nuances of precedent and statutory interpretation rings a little hollow when neither precedent nor statute is invoked except in passing.

And to those justices who contend that they bar cameras from the room because it tempts the participants to act up, to talk in quotable “snippets,” and to showboat for the audience, I would simply suggest that the absence of cameras this week didn’t seem to limit any of it. Indeed if the justices are going to conduct themselves as though they are on a Fox News roundtable, it might be better—not worse—to allow the public to take notice of that fact.

If Everyone Got "Tenure"

Jake Blumgart:

Most rich, democratic nations, including almost all of the European Union, Japan, South Korea, and Canada provide “just cause” protections for their workers. (Many less wealthy, but still democratic nations eschew employment-at-will, including many Latin American nations and South Africa.) The laws vary, but they generally provide what only a union contract in the United States does: You can’t be fired for any old reason. Many nations even have an independent labor court system to adjudicate such cases. America’s much vaunted Constitution is not so generous.

Surely the best way to close our achievement gap against these countries is to allow our teachers to be fired without cause.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Khan in Context

I haven't spent much time thinking about Khan Academy, at least compared to some people, and even less looking at it. My thinking on the topic is pretty well illuminated by a review of Jeff Dunn's Evolution of Classroom Technology post. If Khan Academy is a big deal, all the things leading up to it should have been bigger deals too. There should be a more prominent 40 year track record of programmed instruction and audio-visual aids leading to increasing achievement. There should be lots of pilots with more expensive and clunky technology (extensive libraries of VHS tapes going home with kids, etc.) making the point that if we could only find some practical way to distribute this stuff, the amazing results seen at a small scale pilot would explode across the country.

That's just not what happened. It is all somewhat effective, just not dramatically so. Evolutionary changes. Sustaining innovations!

Teachers have to Make Lemonade

Stephen Lazar:

I am pretty sure I am supposed to be against the Common Core learning standards. I am not.

While I share the concerns of many of my colleagues that the new standards are a Trojan horse for further standardized testing, narrowed curriculum and hierarchical control of what happens in the classroom, I think the standards themselves represent the greatest opportunity for history teaching and learning to be widely re-imagined since the Committee of Ten set the basic outlines for American education over a hundred years ago.

OK, here are my concerns specific to the Common Core ELA standards as applied to history.

  • It isn't clear that the current problem is the current standards, e.g., Stephen points to a study that finds that "What he found was that these multiple-choice questions did not call for knowledge or skill in the historical thinking that was prescribed by the standards. (emphasis mine)" From a distance it is hard to tell when people are complaining about their state's standards or the assessments of the standards. I think it is often the latter, which means that new standards are not really necessary or sufficient to solving the problem.
  • It is not at all clear what the relationship between the literacy standards and their content area standards are or are supposed to be. In particular, Stephen praises the Common Core for including "historical thinking skills," but it is not a complete set of those "thinking skills." Are we to expect the rest from somewhere else or is this all we get?
  • Neither is the relationship between "Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies" and "Reading Standards for Informational Text" at all clear. In theory one is a subset of another. Or is it? In some cases the differences between different versions of the same standard are minimal, and there is no particular reason to think one can be evaluated independently of the other. How does one know when to apply one set of tasks to a text compared to the other (e.g., when is the Gettysburg Address an informational text and when is it a historical primary source)?. And can someone explain to me why "Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance" is under informational texts?
  • Given the above, and that we know one of (if not the) primary motivations for these standards is to facilitate value-added evaluation of teachers, who is supposed to get credit (or blame) for what? I'm ok with the idea that literacy is everyone's business, but how does that square with per-teacher value-added evaluation?
  • Nobody seems willing or able to try to make the leap to thinking about what the lived experience of a student raised under these standards would be like. It might seem like a refreshing change to what you're doing now, but the real kick in the balls of the Common Core exemplar lessons is that in a school really built around the standards, kids would sit through variations on those lessons at least a thousand times in their primary and secondary education, multiple times a day with relatively little variation year over year, simply because the range of required tasks is so narrow and redundant.
  • Finally, comparing these standards to your current ones and deciding they are better doesn't say much at all. These are supposed to be world-class standards, and they aren't. They aren't close. It is ok to compare ourselves to the best here. We're paying enough for this crap to get it right, for real, but somehow that possibility is not even on the table anymore.

You'll Be Reading This Quote for Years

Anna Phillips:

“Folks are genuinely looking for opportunities to make peace and not war,” Mr. Canada said. “And I think that’s terrific. But someone has to make war.”

Tuesday, April 03, 2012



Core Knowledge Foundation was awarded the pre-kindergarten through grade 2 curriculum contract in English Language Arts (ELA) & Literacy and will be responsible for building Common Core aligned curriculum materials and associated professional development resources as well as associated professional development.

There is no money to be made in criticizing the Common Core.

Empathy is a Facet of Understanding

Fred Clark:

And let’s be clear, if he meant what he said, then Antonin Scalia is an idiot — a bad justice, a bad lawyer and a bad human being. If he really meant what he said, then Antonin Scalia is a very, very stupid man.

This is not the kind of stupidity that has to do with innate intellectual capacity or the lack thereof. It is not a level of stupidity that can be achieved through simple ignorance. This is a depth of stupidity that can only be achieved through the deliberate rejection of empathy. This astonishing variety of stupidity has to be willfully, voluntarily chosen.

The point being that this is not a good thing.

Nor is it necessary, for Scalia or for anyone else.

I am assured, despite this recent display of apparent imbecility, that Antonin Scalia is possessed of a sharp intellect. I don’t doubt that this is true, but that doesn’t do him any good if he is determined to pretend otherwise by choosing to reject the intellectual, rational and moral necessity of empathy.

But let’s not focus on the negative here. There’s a positive aspect to Scalia’s unfortunate object lesson in achieved stupidity. It reminds us that every one of us has the capacity for a formidable intelligence. Intelligence can be chosen just as easily as stupidity can be. Even more easily, actually, since choosing intelligence doesn’t require you to smother the protests of your own conscience.

Here, then, is how to choose to be smart. Just ask yourself this: What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if I were in that person’s situation?

Those questions are not complicated. You understand them. You grasp how they can be applied. You’re capable of empathy.

And that’s why you — whoever you are who may be reading this — you are more qualified than Antonin Scalia to wear the robes of a justice of the Supreme Court. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a lawyer, not an American citizen, not a high-school graduate, not an adult. If you can understand and ask that question of the shoe being on the other foot, then you are smarter and more qualified than Scalia to serve as a justice and to serve justice.

Quite True About the PPSD, Too

Pedro Noguera on the NYC DOE:

This is not a system that is designed to learn even from its successes.

That's after being reformed.

It is Nearly Time for David Coleman to Exit Stage Right

A couple weeks ago Valerie Strauss posted a teacher's critical response to his day of training on the Common Core ELA standards, which centered on an exemplar close reading by David Coleman and friends of the Gettysburg Address. Last week Kathleen Porter-Magee gamely rose to its defense.

She gets stuck with a lot of this kind of double-talk, however:

The exemplar was just that: a model. An example of how you might implement the Common Core ELA standards. These example lessons are not—nor are they meant to be, I assume—part of a fully fleshed out, scripted curriculum that teachers must implement. Instead, it is meant to show the level of planning required to align instruction to this vision of CCSS implementation. This is an important distinction. A scripted curriculum constrains teachers’ words. A detailed model is merely meant to show the rationale behind a plan so that teachers can better understand it.

It simply isn't clear what this document is supposed to be at all -- especially, I might add, if you read it the way the Common Core teaches you to read, focusing only on what the text itself says. It calls itself a "unit," which generally refers to a much larger group of lessons. It has no objectives, and does not cite the Common Core standards directly at all -- despite, I might add, the standards' own emphasis on textual citation. It fails to explain and support its rationale for its most prominent feature: discouraging "... giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset" or asking what it calls "non text-dependent questions." What this means while reading a historical primary source text is very difficult to pin down in practice. For example, the exemplar specifically recommends asking "What important thing happened in 1776?" but not "Why did the North fight the civil war?" It does helpfully suggest that "Many students will likely be familiar with the phrase civil war."

Which gets to the larger point. Why are we reading this if we aren't even necessarily familiar with the phrase "civil war?" It is not to understand Lincoln, the Civil War, or American history. It is to "Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance." Did we do that? Good! Let's move on to the next "unit!"

I could go on and on with this...

The impact of Lincoln choosing “conceive” is significant, since in one word it captures the idea that the founding or conception of the country was at once the beginning of a place and a big idea – that “all men are created equal.” Students begin to see the power of Lincoln’s language by looking at this word choice with care.

Speaking of word choice, "beginning of a place?"

Strauss posted a much better response today from Stephanie Day:

The problem was with the exemplar, a prepackaged lesson, not the actual standards.

I wouldn't go that far, but yes, the example sucks, and Common Core advocates are going to have to consider whether David Coleman is doing their movement more harm than good, and if defending his slipshod work is worth their time.


Peter Verdone:

This is an apology to Lorri Lee Lown. I was wrong about something and insisted that I was right. Doubts arose and I had to check my assumptions (based on experience). That is that the increased friction caused by heavier riders and the increased drag due to their size overcame the increased gravitational pull. I was wrong enough that I couldn’t even push the numbers to fake it. I’m man enough to admit it. It doesn’t happen all the time. This time I was wrong.

Simply put, given similar parameters, a heavier bike and rider will go faster coasting down a hill than a lighter rider.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Free vs. Reduced Lunch Achievement Gap

Jonathan Pelto with some CT numbers:

For example, look at the differences in the CMT scores for 4th grade math students in some communities around the state. The following chart contains that percentage of students who are “at goal” broken down by whether they qualify for free school lunch, reduced price school lunch or do not qualify for subsidized lunch at all.

  % of students who qualify for free lunch at goal % of students who qualify for reduced price lunch at goal % of students who don’t qualify for free or subsidized lunch at goal
State of CT 41% 59% 80%
Greenwich 53% 57% 86%
West Hartford 61% 64% 86%
Danbury 58% 62% 77%
Norwalk 50% 66% 78%
Stamford 42% 44% 80%
New Haven 39% 49% 60%
East Hartford 34% 43% 55%
Meriden 41% 53% 59%
West Haven 41% 50% 67%
Middletown 44% 61% 72%

On the whole, the gap between free & reduced is almost as great as between reduced and no subsidy. Based on my recollection of CT geography, wealthier districts seem to have low scores for reduced lunch -- although that may be as much a reflection of the higher local cost of living as anything. Hard to say from 50,000 feet.

Also, in case you were wondering, CT, NJ, NY, MA and RI all have reduced lunch rates between 4.6% and 6.6% (RI is highest).

as far as I know, we don't have public access to data broken down this way in RI.

On Being Turned Around

RIDE Admits to Another Ideologically Driven Error

Dan McGowan:

Changes are coming to the state's teacher evaluation system, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) confirmed today.

The goal, according to RIDE, is to streamline the entire process, strive for clarity, accuracy and consistency and align the model with other initiatives.

Of course, the title is the meanspirited way of responding to steps to simplify RIDE's new evaluation system (I don't know if they are improvements).

The thing is, probably every single administrator charged with implementing the original plan knew it was literally physically impossible to execute, from the beginning. I don't think RIDE deserves congratulations for figuring that out, any more than they do for, say, deciding that they should wait until after a new year's data comes in to name the lowest performing schools.

This is, by the way, sort of what "winning" will look like for our side if it happens. Reformers patting themselves on the back for "discovering" what we've been saying all along and coming out with their own "innovative" initiatives that are strangely familiar.