Friday, August 31, 2012

The Thing about Teaching "Creativity" or "Critical Thinking"

When we start talking about whether or not, say, creativity or critical thinking can be taught, one problem I think is that educated people have trouble imagining what not being taught those things (or actively having them beaten out of you) looks like.

P.L. Thomas has an example today:

Consider this scenario shared with me just yesterday by email from a teacher in an urban charter school:
Favorite student story of the day: 
I assigned their first writing project today -- a personal literacy narrative because we just finished reading the narrative of Frederick Douglass (our class mantra is “literacy is liberating”). On my rubric/guidelines I wrote,  "Don't forget to give your narrative a unique title -- this is the first thing a reader will see!"
This is the conversation that followed:

An honors student: You mean we have to title the paper ourselves?

Me (with a snarky tone): Yes. who else would title it?

All students in unison: The teacher!

Me: Are you serious?

All students: Yes

Me (took a deep breath): If I catch anyone titling their paper "My Literacy Narrative," you will lose points, and I will make you wear a name tag that says, "Hi, my name is boring."

Multiple students began frantically erasing the top of their papers.

Apparently, every paper their freshman year was titled for them. [emphasis added]

Or, put another way, is it possible schools can only cause people to lose creativity and critical thinking but not teach it?

The Private Equity Scam in Terms Rhode Islanders Can Relate To

Matt Tabbi:

In 2010, a year after the last round of Hertz layoffs, Carlyle teamed up with Bain to take $500 million out of another takeover target: the parent company of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Dunkin' had to take out a $1.25 billion loan to pay a dividend to its new private equity owners. So think of this the next time you go to Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee: A small cup of joe costs about $1.69 in most outlets, which means that for years to come, Dunkin' Donuts will have to sell about 2,011,834 small coffees every month – about $3.4 million – just to meet the interest payments on the loan it took out to pay Bain and Carlyle their little one-time dividend. And that doesn't include the principal on the loan, or the additional millions in debt that Dunkin' has to pay every year to get out from under the $2.4 billion in debt it's now saddled with after having the privilege of being taken over – with borrowed money – by the firm that Romney built.

PPSD & PTU Encourage Teachers (& Parent) to Pull the Trigger

As I've been saying for a while, charter school laws and politics here in the Biggest Little are... different.

Case in point, my wife brought home a District Charter Schools FAQ yesterday wherein the district and union are encouraging teachers in the district to consider launching the process to convert their plain old district school to a district charter. Without going into the details again (I have to get up at 6:30 AM now people!) a district charter is sort of between a site based district school and an independent charter. Most pointedly, teachers are still in the PPSD bargaining unit of the PTU. You need support from more than 50% of parents and two-thirds of the teachers in the school.

The most absurd thing about it is that schools have to indicate an "interest and intent to apply" by Friday. That is, today. Perhaps some faculties started talking about it this summer, but certainly all haven't, and it isn't the kind of decision one should make the first week back to school. This is typical manufactured crisis bullshit. Whether it is necessary to hit SIG timelines I don't know. As usual, RIDE seems to be ignoring their posted application deadlines. In this case they want the full application by October 1 for opening next fall.

Whether or not anyone will go for this I have no idea. There is some federal money on the table. The biggest change is probably that your admissions moves out of the district choice system to the per-school charter application process, which is definitely advantageous as long as you can find enough applicants.

On the other hand, RIDE is currently trying to close an existing PPSD district charter which outperforms almost all its district peers, so I would have to consider it extremely likely that the reward for going through this process will be revocation at the first opportunity by RIDE. I haven't thought through the East Side angles or if this process is under active consideration over there.

This would have made sense five years ago, to institutionalize successful reforms at Hope and Feinstein instead of ending them, but the timing is bad now. We're at a low ebb of capacity. SIG pressure does not actually lead to well planned decisions, and this one is probably a big set up for failure. I would note that the PPSD and PTU are being impressively creative in trying to cope with Obama and Duncan's educational hurricane simulation, but the whole situation is just irredeemably destructive.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Like this Formulation

One Teacher's Perspective:

Reforming public education does little to reduce poverty. Reducing poverty does lots to reform public education.

Schools with less poor student bodies (10% either way makes a visible difference) are stronger institutions. Go visit a bunch of schools over a decade. You'll see.

The State Has a Plan for My Children

Jill, commenting:

I am guessing that you're not finding out what's happening at school. Assuming that you're not happy with the ???, what would you prefer?

Actually, I'm enjoying the fact that what Vivian does for six hours a day is somebody else's problem. To be honest we've got a lot of margin for error with Vivian academically (she spent her last few afternoons curled up with The Little House in the Big Woods, so reading is pretty much squared away and she's itching to do some "math on paper," of which I'm sure there will be no lack), Reservoir is a solid school, so I'm just not going to worry too much about it until I have a reason to (aside from cross-examining Vivian daily).

Generally though, I'm just kind of agog at the scope of this operation from the parents side. It is so far and away the most extensive direct personal interaction I'll have with the government, just in the first month. I'm still wrapping my head around it. We can walk to school but did you know that if you want to send your child to a school outside walking distance the city sends a bus to pick up your kid and take them there? For free? Every day? They're like Enterprise!

And while of course I will be a very involved parent, even if I wasn't, if I was completely indifferent or just incapable, they'd still take my child and try to educate them just the same. They've got a whole thirteen year plan for this stuff. It is crazy.

No wonder conservatives hate public education.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Maker Ed Job

Maker Ed is looking for a program director.

Leaving Your Kids with the Underpants Gnomes

Right now in my second day as a public school parent, I'm pretty impressed. The way it seems to work is:

  1. Drop off your kid at the playground at about 8:45.
  2. ???
  3. Retrieve your kid at 3:15.

Did I mention it is free?

In Education, This is Not a War of Ideas

I found John Merrow's recent post, A Polarized Education System, to be rather depressing. I don't always agree with Merrow, but generally he brings a robust perspective. Education in the US traditionally falls into pointless either/or debates, and Merrow runs down his current list

He says we are polarized about:

  1. accountability
  2. achievement (gaps)
  3. how schools should be run
  4. the power of school/the limits of school
  5. the role of technology
  6. the job of teaching
  7. assessment
  8. the purposes of public education

I would argue that in almost every one of these cases, the greater problem is that reformers will claim to (and actually) take either side depending on the context. What is really at stake is centralizing power and control in the hands of themselves and their allies (with the ideology of the market as a means to that end). The closer to ground level you get the more egregious the contradictions, but it doesn't matter if the discussion is all at 50,000 feet.

Now What?

Jay Rosen:

Professional journalists, whose self-image starts with: “We’re a check on…” have to decide what to do about the truck that just ran their checkpoint, carrying the brain trust of the Romney campaign, who are inside laughing at how easy it all was.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

You Can't Design the Ultimate CNC Titanium Pot Pipe Without Doing a Little Math

Peter Verdone:

As a machinist, I learned that I actually had to do math. I had really sucked at school growing up but now, with a real meaning, I could command the numbers to do my bidding. I sat in a cafe for a few hours while I taught myself trigonometry, or at least enough to get this designed. With my math done, co-ordinates plotted, program written, and material purchased the parts were then cut on the Hardinge CNC chucker. A few operations later and the stem was press fit into position. Fabulous! Polish ‘em up and burn…

The Subject of My Doctoral Thesis

Using Agent-Based Computational Economics to predict the efficacy of teacher pay and evaluation, particularly in regards to dis-incentives caused by anticipation of random future losses, triggered by observation of random losses caused by immediate peers.

Who wants to be my advisor?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mayhem 2012

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Also, teaser...

These are not isolated cases. This is being repeated throughout the country in great numbers.

TeacherTails from Detroit:

  • Teacher “A” is a National Board teacher certified in Adolescent Science. Last year she secured a position at a high school for technology with a principal who was very excited to have her on the staff. At the last minute the district pulled her from that school and placed her in another teaching English Language Arts. As you might expect from a teacher placed outside their area of expertise, her evaluation was not stellar. However, during the interview process, the original principal was able to select her as a science teacher for her high school. Yay!, right? No, because of the evaluation, she was told (verbally through the grapevine) that she is terminated.
  • Teacher “B” is an excellent Reading Recovery teacher. A former first grade teacher and early interventionist, the district has invested thousands of dollars in her training. In a district where a great majority of our students come to school unprepared for the rigors of reading instruction, you would think an early childhood educator who has intensive training in early intervention would be golden. However, most principals do not have the Title I funds in their budgets to keep Reading Recovery in their schools. So instead of placing this valuable teacher in a high needs first grade classroom somewhere in the district, her lay-off appears to be taking effect this morning.
  • Teacher “C” is a previous year Michigan Teacher of the Year, National Board Certified Teacher and National Board Candidate Support Provider. She has worked extensively to develop School Improvement Plans and has written for many School Improvement Grants. For the past several years, she has been an Instructional Specialist in the district. Although she has repeatedly been assured by her principal that she was indeed selected, the money was budgeted, and her performance is stellar, she has not received a recall notice and in fact has been locked out of her board email over the weekend. This teacher has devoted nearly her entire summer to re-writing the School Improvement Plan (pro bono) to meet the ever-changing demands of the district and state, and now faces unemployment.

These are not isolated cases. This is being repeated throughout the district in great numbers.

I don't understand why AFT and NEA locals around the country have not been posting stories like this for the past few years. I suppose we still think that maybe if we are quiet, they will be nice to us. Or we can't believe it is really happening. And we're just ashamed. It is happening, and it is wrong. I think we all see that quiet compliance not working.

We can't let people deny this is happening, shrug their shoulders about what could possibly make people think that these reforms are anti-teacher, against teaching as a real profession, fundamentally destructive to education.

I Guess We'll See How Many Parents in Warwick, Cranston and North Providence Have Been Waiting for a Chance to Send Their Children to School in the Projects

Jennifer Jordan:

PROVIDENCE ,R.I. -- Achievement First, an out-of-state charter school network that sparked fierce debate in Rhode Island, wants to lease two closed Providence public schools for $1 per year, plus "at least $5 million" in renovations at each school.

According to a news release, the charter network wants to rent the Oliver Hazard Perry Middle School on Hartford Street, and the Edmund Flynn School on Blackstone Street.

Trust in Education Reform, XO Edition

Christine Murakami:

This past spring during our third trip, something magical began to happen. Not only were we invited to teach during the school day, but we were invited to teach four different classes, six different grades, and spend three full hours per day teaching. Every teacher whose class we taught stayed with us to help. (A first for us!) And better yet, there were emerging plans to keep the program going in our absence. Something about the fact that this was our third visit and that we communicated plans to return in 2013 has caused the students, teachers, and administration at JESS to start investing their own time and effort into the program, which of course is making it better for everyone. These steps are small but significant. The trust is building, and the commitment from both schools is growing.

Also important, patience.

Is That All There Is?

Jonathan Schorr:

The “reform” side, as it’s been called over the past several years (there are worse labels), is not monolithic, but is generally applied to those of us who, roughly speaking, believe education will be improved by:

  • accountability for student learning at many levels—school systems, schools, and teachers
  • public school choice, especially charter schools
  • disruptive innovation, meaning new, ultimately more effective and/or efficient ideas and processes that offer alternatives to, and ultimately disrupt, established processes
  • Alternative, entrepreneurial routes for teacher preparation (examples range from Teach For America to Relay Graduate School of Education)
  • the participation of entrepreneurial organizations, nonprofit and for-profit, that bring innovative approaches, autonomy and accountability to solving key problems in public education
  • commitment to a core belief that public schools can make a major difference in life trajectories in low income communities

That's incredibly handwavy for a decade-plus old movement. Also, quite incomplete when viewed from the perspective of an urban school district. We're not exactly rolling in autonomy here. Or accountability for those "entrepreneurial organizations."

Also, that's a terrible definition of "disruptive innovation." How is it different than the generic definition of "innovation?"

INNOVATION! is not a plan.

Also True for DIsruptive Ed Tech Entrepreneurs

Roger Schank:

The defenders of the existing system love mathematics because it is easy to test and there can be test prep courses and state-wide tests and national tests and tests comparing us to other countries, all signifying nothing.

Focusing on math is a tell that someone's innovation is of limited value in education. It is the discipline we've most simplified. Even if you can increase test scores in math (which is by no means a given), even raising standardized tests in other areas are a qualitatively different problem (let alone increasing the full range of educational outcomes).

This extends to general techniques like benchmarking standards and No Excuses charter schools.

Friday, August 24, 2012

They Work Very Well With Open Source Developers, Too

Larry Cuban:

Business leaders brought Junior Achievement programs into high schools annually. Local firms contracted with the district’s center for adult education to train and hire non-English speaking and low-income residents. Each of our three comprehensive high schools had vocational education programs that sent hundreds of students into local firms to work a few hours a day. The district’s Career Center enrolled 10th through 12th graders in over a dozen different programs that blended classroom and workplace training in construction, hospitals, motels, television studios, auto body shops, and beauty salons. A network of business-school contacts existed throughout Arlington that produced two-way traffic between classroom and workplace. The district celebrated local and national companies’ involvement with schools each June at luncheons at which I awarded prizes to top students while praising cooperating business firms.

SchoolTool has a wildly successful ongoing collaboration with the Arlington Career Center mostly because administrators simply saw open source development as a logical extension of a long tradition, not some kind of crazy experimental innovation.

There'll be more here on what we've been up to this summer with Arlington and Virginia CTE once we get it all successfully deployed...

What's the Deal with Text Complexity?

Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris:

In every grade level, the span of acceptable lexile measure has widened. It is now appropriate to include texts with quantitative measures both higher and lower than were allowed only a year ago. This indicator sends a signal warning educators to use caution when relying solely on quantitative measures to determine text complexity.It is an imprecise and volatile science despite new research indicating that there may be a correlation between quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity.

One might get the impression that a greater emphasis on text complexity in the Common Core ELA standards comes with some sort of breakthrough in the precision of understanding and measuring complexity. Not really.

In fact, grades 6-8, all of middle school, are considered one band, and in the revised alignment of the 6-8 grade band with Lexile scoring, 85% of the band overlaps with either grades 4-5 or 9-10. That's without taking into account qualitative measures. Within the Common Core's rules, you can still have a fourth grader and 7th grader reading the same text. Or a 7th grader and a 10th grader.

I would note that all that seems perfectly reasonable, it just doesn't seem to be what is described by Kathleen Porter-Magee.

So what's going on? Porter-Magee, Pimentel and Coleman are grinding an axe about literacy instruction that doesn't have much to do with the Common Core. Yet, text complexity is central to the design of the Common Core standards. How?

Here's the thing: the Common Core standards have to produce more vertically aligned scores throughout the whole K-12 range than previous standards. Otherwise you can't generate proper value-added scores for teachers, and teacher evaluation is what's wagging the dog here.

So you have a system where there is a narrow range of textual analysis tasks applied at all grade levels with relatively little variation, especially after elementary school, and the main difference is the complexity of the texts to which the tasks are applied. Just use your adaptive testing system to scale the complexity up and down until you come up with a score which will fit tidily into the value added formula. Text complexity in Common Core is about calibrating the assessments and the scores. It isn't about curriculum at all.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Because Nothing Has Changed In Schools in the Past 10 Years

Russo's post today about applying arguments toward standardization in medicine to education makes him sound like he needs to get into schools more. Regular urban schools in particular.

Just yesterday my wife encountered a hubbub about one of the courses she had been assigned to teach this year. Despite the course number surviving the last great course purge in the PPSD, anxious messages were tumbling down from above about the lack of a "guaranteed and viable curriculum" for the course, an urgent need for a textbook, any textbook! Not to mention a syllabus! Of course, all these things were resolved without consulting the person who would teach the class, who was also probably the only person in the conversation that had experience previously teaching the course in the district.

So anyway, professional autonomy giving way to standardization is not something that might happen in the future in education, and you can judge its efficacy for yourself by looking at the test scores of any urban district managed by a Broad Academy graduate.

How's it working?

The Problem is that Student Achievement Partners are Incompetent

Just to put a little perspective on my series of hair-pulling rants about how terrible the Common Core ELA exemplars put out by Student Achievement Partners are, I just took a look at the new PARCC Item and Task Prototypes and in an initial gloss they seem... fine. Like they've actually been prepared by qualified and experienced professionals who are interested in the standards themselves. And it is easy to imagine that tests along these lines could be better than what we're using now.

This gets back to the less hysterical, fundamental critique of the CC ELA. It is just way too narrow.

But also, Student Achievement Partners really suck at this stuff. They're terrible at it, because they don't care. They aren't even interested.

Upcoming Skate Documentaries

There will be much more crying in the one about the dudes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Actually, I Peaked About Two Years BEFORE I Got a Teaching Job

Tim Furman:

I was a huge, international expert on pedagogy, classroom management, curriculum, and child development in my second year of teaching. Then, ten years later, I was mortified what an arrogant showboat I had been in the early years---there is so much more to it than what you see in the first years.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The New Culture of Speaking

Stephen Marche:

Ferguson's critics have simply misunderstood for whom Ferguson was writing that piece. They imagine that he is working as a professor or as a journalist, and that his standards slipped below those of academia or the media. Neither is right. Look at his speaking agent's Web site. The fee: 50 to 75 grand per appearance. That number means that the entire economics of Ferguson's writing career, and many other writing careers, has been permanently altered. Nonfiction writers can and do make vastly more, and more easily, than they could ever make any other way, including by writing bestselling books or being a Harvard professor. Articles and ideas are only as good as the fees you can get for talking about them. They are merely billboards for the messengers.

That number means that Ferguson doesn't have to please his publishers; he doesn't have to please his editors; he sure as hell doesn't have to please scholars. He has to please corporations and high-net-worth individuals, the people who can pay 50 to 75K to hear him talk. That incredibly sloppy article was a way of communicating to them: I am one of you. I can give a great rousing talk about Obama's failures at any event you want to have me at.

Should Teachers Consider TED a Reliable Source? Why, Exactly?

Evgeny Morozov:

So I take no pleasure in declaring what has been obvious for some time: that TED is no longer a responsible curator of ideas “worth spreading.” Instead it has become something ludicrous, and a little sinister.

Today TED is an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering—a place where ideas, regardless of their quality, go to seek celebrity, to live in the form of videos, tweets, and now e-books. In the world of TED—or, to use their argot, in the TED “ecosystem”—books become talks, talks become memes, memes become projects, projects become talks, talks become books—and so it goes ad infinitum in the sizzling Stakhanovite cycle of memetics, until any shade of depth or nuance disappears into the virtual void. Richard Dawkins, the father of memetics, should be very proud. Perhaps he can explain how “ideas worth spreading” become “ideas no footnotes can support.”

Even if you like a lot of TED talks, it should be rather obvious that the format and approach invites an inevitable decline into hucksterism.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Rhode Island Sized Catastrophe

What If?

Within weeks, Rhode Island is a graveyard of billions.

Has the Technology Changed?

Chris Lehmann has a thoughtful post on The Seductive Allure of Edu-Tech Reform, which I agree with, but I don't think you have to think very hard to see that we're just looking at an investment bubble.

Let's take for granted that what ed-tech entrepreneurs are shooting for educationally are test score gains. If they're getting them at any scale, for real, consistently, with at-risk kids, we'd frickin' know about it, and truly, sales growth would be unstoppable.

Policy has already set the table for these guys with constant testing, carrots, sticks, etc. They just can't deliver!

The fact of the matter is there has been essentially no significant innovation in K-12 ed tech that actually solves our hardest problems.

Thus, we're looking at a hype bubble.

The Text Complexity Question Is Not About Me

Susan Ohanian notes that in a new supplement to Common Core Appendix A, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers more or less conclude that all the half-dozen or so popular quantitative measures of text complexity are "close enough for government work," and provide a handy equivalence scale.

In particular she notes that this seems to implicitly (or explicitly) give a stamp of approval to Accelerated Reader's software's system of assigning texts to readers based on text complexity. Also, Renaissance Learning (creators of Accelerated Reader) is an Endorsing Partner of the Common Core State Standards.

This is all getting a little to Inside Elementary Literacy for me, but I'm confused about whether or not Common Core advocates like Kathleen Porter-Magee and Susan Pimentel are equally as concerned about the assignment of "just-right" texts assigned by computer's running corporate software as they are about the soft-hearted hippies teaching balanced literacy.

I would tend to prefer the latter to the former, but overall the whole text complexity question strikes me as a classic false dichotomy crossed with technocratic overreach.

I suspect that most reformers are ok with computers assigning texts to individual students based on complexity (but not teachers), but that there is probably also a subgroup that thinks that a few recommendations in the appendices will keep the software companies in check. If so, they're dreaming. They might be able to get the hippies fired though.

The thing that gets me worked up is the idea that the Common Core Standards themselves have anything to say or the matter. They clearly don't.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

If Only Someone Would Try These Innovative Ideas

Diane Ravitch:

By now, after 15 years of free-market education policy, Arizona ought to be the top scoring state in the nation.

But it’s not.

New Proposals for Two Smallish, Local-ish, Virtual High School Charters

RIDE has posted two proposals (submitted to them in March) for two virtual high schools which would open in the fall of 2013. These are both independent charters (not mayoral academies).

The Village Green Charter is essentially from Rob Pilkington, a long-time fixture of the RI charter community, who helped start ACE (then Textron/Chamber of Commerce, back in 1995) RINI Middle College and Beacon charter schools. He generally seems harmless. This is in association with Destiny House of Rhode Island.

Then there is the Nowell Leadership Academy, which is sponsored by the YMCA.

Total size of both schools is under 600 and would be spread across several communities, including Providence, so it isn't such a big deal as far as I'm concerned. In both cases, yes, a fair amount of money is going to flow out to for-profit providers, but the scale is pretty small. RIDE and the PPSD have systematically destroyed Providence's neighborhood high schools, so it is hard to argue against the need. Not that it is ok how we got here, but it is where we are.

One thing that bugs me is that the law seems pretty clear to me that the charter is to be held by the non-profit making the application (that is, Destiny House or the Y):

16-77.3-1. Entities eligible to apply to become independent charter schools. – (a) Persons or entities eligible to submit an application to establish an independent charter school shall be limited to:

  1. Rhode Island nonprofit organizations provided that these nonprofit organizations shall have existed for at least two (2) years and must exist for a substantial reason other than to operate a school; or
  2. Colleges or universities within the State of Rhode Island.

RIDE apparently has decided that "Entities eligible to apply to become independent charter schools" actually means "Entities eligible to submit applications on behalf of other entities which will be created to form charter schools." In both cases they propose creating a separate non-profit to hold the school charter. Given that I don't really care that much and that they've probably already created at least one school based on this interpretation, I'll probably just leave it at that. It is annoying though.

I'm Losing My Patience With This Crap

Me commenting on Kathleen Porter-Magee's post on Shanker Blog:

As usual, Ms. Porter-Magee fails in one of the basic aspects of the Common Core expectations, citing evidence for her argument from the text.

Here’s the typical form of reading standard 10 (it has many, many variations on the theme):

By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4–5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Let’s apply standard four here (“Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.”). Why does standard 10 begin by specifying “By the end of…?”

It seems to me that “By the end of…” clearly indicates that the standards do not place any requirements on the complexity of texts used throughout the year. The goal is simply that students should be reading on grade level by the end of the year. Has that ever NOT been the goal of reading standards? Is there an example of state standards that do not call for students to read grade level texts by the end of the year?

If the standard as written means that students should be reading texts at grade level throughout the entire year, how would a standard that only requires students to read grade level at the end of the year be different?

I don’t really have a dog in this hunt ideologically. It just annoys me to see such baldfaced misrepresentations of clearly written standards.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Instructional Assistants: the Working Poor

Jonathan Pelto:

In Connecticut, public school instructional assistants, (many of who have college degrees), are paid $11 to $14 per hour, for 6.5 hours of work a day, for 186 school days a year. Add in the 8 paid holidays and subtract out their health insurance premium co-pay and the average IA salary earns in the range of about $10,800 to $13,500 a year… a rate of pay that places them well below the poverty level.

A core member of the education team, caring for our children, helping them to learn, backing up our teachers and we pay them one-third to a one-half as much as we pay school bus drivers and far less than the pay any other education related employee.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Also True in School Reform

Vagabond Scholar:

This is what sends my blood pressure soaring. Who gives a shit about common ground in rhetoric?!? Politicians lie all the time. They all love America and babies and whatever plays well in the region they're campaigning in that day. It's really not a big challenge to find "common ground" in rhetoric. The question is how much basis Ryan's proposals have in reality. As Greg Sargent likes to say, politics is supposed to be a clash of visions (and his example involves Paul Ryan). If there's no common ground to be found in the actual policies being discussed, and the values underneath them, well then, another speech won't help much – especially if it's bullshit from a charlatan.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Show About Nothing

Tim Furman:

When I get into a conversation about the Common Core, I try to ask the person I'm talking to to identify a particular standard in the CCS that he or she finds superior to its counterpart in the current Illinois Learning Standards. Nobody can ever name anything. Nobody has any idea what this is about, I find.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Hippies are Necessary


I think that the idea of an "cultural subsidy" is a nice way to think about the important role that ethical arguments play in movements like free software and free culture. "Open source" style efficiency arguments persuade a lot of people. Especially when they are true. But those arguments are only ever true because a group of ethically motivated people fought to find a way to make them true. Free software didn't start out as competitive with proprietary software. It became so only because a bunch of ethically motivated hackers were willing to "subsidize" the movement with their with their failed, and successful, attempts at free software and free culture projects and businesses.

Of course, the folks attracted by "open source" style superiority arguments can find the ethical motivated folks shrill, off-putting, and annoying. The ethically motivated folks often think the "efficiency" group is shortsighted and mercenary. But as awkward as this marriage might be, it has some huge upsides. In Landini's model, the ethical folks can build their better world without convincing everyone else that they are right and by relying, at least in part, on the self-interest of others who don't share their principles. Just as the free software movement has done.

I think that Landini's paper is a good description of the critically important role that the free software movement, and the FSF in particular, can play. The influence and importance of individuals motivated by principles can go far beyond the groups of people who take an ethical stand. They can make involvement possible for large groups of people who do not think that taking a stand on a particular ethical issue is even a good idea.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Works for School Reformers Too

Vagabond Scholar:

Here's a more serious diagram of conservatism in America:

(Click, or go here or here for a larger view.)

This isn't drawn exactly to scale, and it's flawed of course, but I think it's roughly accurate. Most pundits are hacks, but if we broaden out to the general population, we find people of good faith in addition to the professional hacks, their amateur brethren, and the true zealots. The circles represent a kind of compassion-asshole continuum of character and worldview: Cloistered-Indifferent-Callous-Spiteful-Evil. The diamonds represent a continuum of knowledge and wisdom: Thoughtful-Mistaken-Ignorant-Zealous-Devious. This latter continuum loops somewhat, in that both the thoughtful and the devious understand to some degree how the world actually works, but the devious are bent on exploiting that, with little to no concern about who's hurt in the process.

Where your average TFA applicant is probably just cloistered and thoughtful/mistaken (with TFA trying to move them toward mistaken) and, say, Bill Fischer is evil/devious and spiteful.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Finch: the Robot that Thinks it is a Keyboard

Following a tangentially related link from Mark Guzdial last week, I finally found the robot I was looking for: the Finch.

It is a pre-assembled robot developed at CMU and marketed commercially by BirdBrain Technologies. It has the same micro-controller as an Arduino Leonardo and a pretty standard array of sensors, RGB LED's in the nose, a buzzer, a molded shell, and of course motor driven wheels. Prices start at $99, with volume discounts.

The most distinctive aspect of the is robot is the way it operates while connected to the computer via USB. This has one major drawback, that you have to rather gingerly follow it holding the cable above it trying to minimize the influence of the relatively heavy cord on the light robot's movements. This will never be a precise drawing robot.

On the other hand, this approach has many advantages:

  • No radio keeps the cost low;
  • No battery saves money and means that the robot is always ready to go (especially important in schools) and can run indefinitely as long as it is connected;
  • Communicates via a simple command set over the USB Human Interface Device (HID) protocol so that it requires no special drivers;
  • Programs run on the host computer so there is no separate compile/download step for the robot;
  • You can control it from a variety of programming languages, hypothetically any that run on the host computer.

Right now, there are a variety of Java-based methods of controlling the Finch, including a Scratch knock-off, Jython and a Greenfoot module. What I'd really like to do is write a Turtle Art plugin for Vivian's XO. So I spent a couple evenings fiddling with PyUSB while watching the Olympics. Unfortunately, while using a protocol primarily used for keyboards and mice is clever, it is also obscure. As Dima Tisnek put it:

There is an enormous void of hiddev programming information out there... "in hiddev space none can hear you scream" kind of thing.

So I got to the point where I was facing a close reading of the USB HID spec, when I decided it might be easier to generate a Python wrapper for the C++ module provided by the Finch developers. I got the C++ source to compile and run correctly, so now I guess the next step will be to learn some SWIG.

Common Core Readings: Unconventional, Implicit, Figurative, Archaic, Vague, Complicated, Academic, Specialized and Obscure

Susan Headden:

The idea behind the shifts is to prepare students for what they will confront in real life—business plans, legal briefs, newspapers, instruction manuals and other “informational” texts that will drive their decisions. ...

As we did our reading, we kept the hallmarks of complexity in mind. On the high end of the scale, they include: structure that is unconventional rather than expected, ideas that are implicit rather than explicit, and language that is figurative rather than literal, archaic rather than contemporary, and vague rather than clear. Sentences in very complex texts tend to be complicated rather than straightforward, and vocabulary is academic rather than plain. Informational text that is defined as complex might require specialized knowledge, have multiple meanings, and an obscure purpose. Complex literary texts tend to include references to other texts, demand cultural knowledge, and carry sophisticated, multiple perspectives. (More than one participant noted that such texts might well meet the standard of complexity, but that they might also fit the definition of bad writing.)

Indeed, they're particularly bad writing in those "real life" texts. And not particularly rewarding in non-fiction in general. Struggling with the language in Romeo and Juliet is one thing, but kids are going to be spending a lot more time with the Mayflower Compact, too.

A 19th Century Catcher Speaks Out

Sean "Toothpick" Ness on the Facebook:

It's very important to protect the sanctity of marriage. That's why I treat my wife with respect. Enjoy your chicken sandwich you small-minded asshole.

Fair Game

Accountable Talk:

But recently I heard a case of perverted behavior with a child that can not be ignored in a discussion such as this. This kind of sick behavior must be punished, and I am sure Ms. Brown and Ms. Rhee would agree.

The case involves a teacher who allegedly groped a 16 year old girl. The police recorded a phone call from this teacher apologizing to the girl for what happened. The case was investigated by the police, who declined to prosecute. In the end, the teacher reportedly paid a settlement to the girl to end the matter. As bad as this case was, yet another accusation surfaced against this teacher. A student again complained of inappropriate behavior by this teacher, although she later recanted. Nevertheless, in light of the first settlement paid, coupled with a subsequent allegation of similar misconduct, we should in this case agree with Michelle Rhee and Campbell Brown that this teacher needs to lose his job and shouldn't be allowed anywhere near young girls.

Oh, wait. My bad. It wasn't a teacher against whom these allegations were leveled. It was a politician, namely Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento.

The husband of Michelle Rhee.

A Better Educated Populace Would Demand Better Economists

Diane Ravitch:

As I read the article, I thought about how American policymakers look enviously at Japan’s high test scores on international assessments.

And it struck me that the economic problems in Japan are not caused by the schools. And the high test scores are not a source of entrepreneurship, nor have they guaranteed a strong economy.

All this deserves consideration. In our nation, our greatest strength is creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and imagination.

Now our policymakers want us to use Japan and other nations with high test scores as a model, claiming that this will lead us to even greater economic growth in the future.

Japan’s dilemma today disproves the theory on which contemporary corporate-driven school reform is based.

Let us learn from their example.

Economic decisions drive the economy. Creative people build a better economy. Higher test scores do not produce a better economy, nor do they nurture the creative genius needed for future innovation.

The long term failure of American education to create an engaged, informed critical populace has left us vulnerable to the growth suppressing policies of the Eric Hanusheks and Ben Bernankes of the world.

Teaching Keynesian economics and labor history is more straightforward than teaching creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and imagination. It would lead to greater economic growth, as well.

The Most Exasperating Thing Yet Written About Common Core ELA

James W. Pellegrino and Margaret L. Hilton, Editors; Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills; Center for Education; Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Research Council:

In the early 1990s Australian scholars Freebody and Luke took an important step forward in reconciling the various controversies described above (Freebody and Luke, 1990; Luke and Freebody, 1997). They created what is now known as the “four resources model.” The model consists of a set of different stances that readers can take toward a text, each of which approaches reading from a different point of view: that of the text, the reader, the task, or the context. Taken together, the stances constitute a complete “theory” of a reader who is capable of managing all of the resources at his or her disposal. The authors propose that any reader can assume any one of these four stances in the quest to make meaning in response to a text. The confluence of reader factors (how much a reader knows or is interested in a topic), text (an assessment of the complexity and topical challenge of the text), task (what a reader is supposed to do with the topic), and context (what is the purpose or challenge in dealing with this text) will determine the particular stance a reader assumes when reading a particular text. That stance can change from text to text, situation to situation, or even moment to moment when reading a given text. The various stances (resources) and the key questions associated with each are:

  • The reader as decoder, who asks: What does the text say? In the process the reader builds a coherent text base where each idea is tested for coherence with all of the previous ideas gleaned from a close reading of the text.
  • The reader as meaning maker, who asks: What does the text mean? In answering that question the reader seeks to develop meaning based on: (a) the ideas currently in the text base and (b) the reader’s prior knowledge.
  • The reader as text analyst, who asks: What tools does the author use to achieve his or her goals and purposes? The text analyst considers how the author's choice of words, form, and structure shape our regard for different characters or our stance toward an issue, a person, or a group. The text analyst reads through the texts to get to the author and tries to evaluate the validity of the arguments, ideas, and images presented.
  • The reader as text critic, who asks questions about intentions, subtexts, and political motives. The text critic assumes that no texts are ideologically neutral, asking such question as: Whose interests are served or not served by this text? Who is privileged, marginalized, or simply absent? What are the political, economic, epistemological, or ethical goals of the author?

Got that so far?

The mapping of (the Common Core ELA) standards onto the four resources model (Luke and Freebody, 1997) is reasonably transparent. The three standards in Cluster 1, Key Ideas and Details, reflect the stance of the reader as decoder, with a hint of reader as meaning maker (because of the requirement of invoking prior knowledge to complete each task). The three standards in Cluster 2, Craft and Structure, reflect the stance of the reader as text analyst, focusing on form–function (or purpose–structure) relationships. The three standards in Cluster 3, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, entail all four stances—decoder, meaning-maker, analyst, and critic, but favor the text critic (especially 8) and meaning maker (especially 7 and 9). And, of course, the standard in Cluster 4, Range and Level of Text Complexity, involves all four stances in constant interaction. (emphasis mine)

OK, here's standard 8:

Delineate and evaluate the reasoning and rhetoric within a text, including assessing whether the evidence provided is relevant and sufficient to support the text’s claims.

Here's the relevant part of cluster 3, reader as text analyst:

The text analyst reads through the texts to get to the author and tries to evaluate the validity of the arguments, ideas, and images presented.

Standard 8 clearly applies directly and precisely to the "text analyst" role. What the "four resources model" illustrates clearly is that the Common Core standards entirely omits the role of the reader as text critic from the curriculum. They have, at best, three of the four basic stances of the reader. They are strikingly incomplete.

The NAS paper ignores this and moves on based on their assertion that they are congruent.

Allow me to use this post as a recursive example. Colloquially, what I've done above would be considered "critical thinking." In the discipline of English, however, criticism has a different, more precise definition, as shown in the model above. So thus far I've not done "text criticism," just enough textual analysis to show that the text fails internally, on its own terms.

This only becomes criticism when I ask "Why and how did this happen?" Apparently there is so much money and power behind Common Core that everyone up to and including the National Research Council is willing to claim to see things that are not there. Everyone wants a seat at the trough table.

That is criticism.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

It is Always Year Zero in School Reform

John Thompson:

The TNTP concludes that, "Focusing on smart retention can help schools quickly and dramatically improve the quality of teaching they provide to their students, which is the key to boosting student learning." And even better, one dose of "smart retention" would be enough to permanently transform underperforming schools because, "As uncomfortable as it might be to dismiss or counsel out a large number of experienced low performers, it’s something that districts should only have to do once on a large scale if coupled with more rigorous standards for hiring and tenure."

The New Teacher Project might want to reflect on the fact that they designed and lead the hiring practices used in Providence three years ago to start two schools from scratch. Both those schools are already considered by their partners at RIDE as being in need of intervention. So maybe it isn't a "do it once" situation after all.

Someone Appreciates Me

Michael Sieben for Thrasher:

I've always been way more impressed with the worst dude at a skatepark. It's no mystery why the good dude is out there skating. He's good. But the worst dude? That takes guts.

You Might Think...

Michael Lind:

You might think that the debate about educational reform in the U.S. would therefore be about how we can spend more money overall on public education; how the federal government can increase its share of public K-12 funding from 10 percent to 50 to 80 percent; and how to raise public school teacher educational credentials while substantially raising public school teacher salaries.

Instead, the American conversation about educational reform goes, in effect, like this: “In order to compete with countries like South Korea and Finland, we should completely ignore what they do in achieving superior education results, and indeed do the opposite. Instead of copying what works abroad, we should remodel our K-12 system along the lines suggested by libertarian theorists at the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, even though no successful foreign country today or in the past has ever based its educational system on anything remotely resembling what those market utopians propose.”

Disrupting Educational Research

Martin Weil:

If you compare Karim and Sal’s definitions to Stump’s list, you’ll likely judge that while both have been correct, neither has been complete. We could stop here and declare this duel a draw, but to do so would foolishly ignore that there is much more to teaching and learning mathematics than knowing what belongs in a textbook glossary. Indeed, research suggests that a robust understanding of slope requires (a) the versatility of knowing all seven interpretations (although only the first five would be appropriate for a beginning algebra student); (b) the flexibility that comes from understanding the logical connections between the interpretations; and (c) the adaptability of knowing which interpretation best applies to a particular problem.

All seven slope interpretations are closely related and together create a cohesive whole. The problem is, it’s not immediately obvious why this should be so, especially to a student who is learning about slope. For example, if slope is steepness, then why would we multiply it by x and add the y-intercept to find a y-value (i.e., as in the equation y=mx+b)? And why does “rise over run” give us steepness anyway? Indeed, is “rise over run” even a number? Students with a robust understanding of slope can answer these questions. However, Stump and others have shown that many students — even those who have memorized definitions and algorithms — cannot.

This returns us to Karim’s original point: There exists better mathematics education than what we currently find in the Khan Academy. Such an education would teach slope through guided problem solving and be focused on the key concept of rate of change. These practices are recommended by researchers and organizations such as the NCTM, and lend credence to Karim’s argument for conceptualizing slope primarily as a rate. However, even within this best practice, there is nuance. For instance, researchers have devoted considerable effort to understanding how students construct the concept of rate of change, and they have found, for example, that certain problem contexts elicit this understanding better than others.

The Gates Foundation's implicit position has become "learning science is bunk (with the possible exception of Gates funded research started in the past five years)." That's always been my interpretation of their support for Khan Academy; I'm glad the disconnect between the research base in math education and KA is becoming more widely understood. You could also see this as an embrace of disruptive innovation -- get a cheaper, inferior product out to everyone quickly instead of slower, more expensive projects. It is tricky strategy as philanthropy though.

It is also consistent with Gates' habit of acting as if nobody ever had the idea of research in education before they came around. I suspect Bill Gates believes this is true, maybe the rest of the staff convinced themselves as well.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Today's Doyle Moment

Brought to you by Kiersten Marek:

Have a Melancholy Lughnasadh

A gentle, wistful melancholy, that is. Lughnasadh marks a cross-quarter day on the Celtic calendar. The beginning of harvest and the month when the light begins to turn more golden and the sun moves lower in the sky.

Nobody Could Have iPredicted

Philissa Cramer:

More broadly, the auditors concluded, the department never had a clear vision of what success in NYC21C would look like and thus never measured whether it had been successful. Certainly, Liu’s office concluded, the department did not have data to back up its decision to turn NYC21C into the much larger, much costlier Innovation Zone.

“The DOE suffers from acute amnesia when it comes to empty promises made when this initiative was announced,” Liu said in a statement. “The DOE should stop taking shots in the dark with untested pet projects and get serious with providing real tools for education, complete with measurements for success.”

RIP Gore Vidal

I was a fan.