Friday, September 28, 2012

MTT2K, Computer Science Version

Bret Victor:

Because my work was cited as an inspiration for the Khan system, I felt I should respond with two thoughts about learning:

  • Programming is a way of thinking, not a rote skill. Learning about "for" loops is not learning to program, any more than learning about pencils is learning to draw.
  • People understand what they can see. If a programmer cannot see what a program is doing, she can't understand it.

Thus, the goals of a programming system should be:

  • to support and encourage powerful ways of thinking
  • to enable programmers to see and understand the execution of their programs

A live-coding Processing environment addresses neither of these goals. JavaScript and Processing are poorly-designed languages that support weak ways of thinking, and ignore decades of learning about learning. And live coding, as a standalone feature, is worthless.


For fuck's sake, read "Mindstorms."

Common Core vs. French Baccalauréat

Mike asks in comments:

Do any states (or countries) offer standards on the ELA/Reading side that are clearer?

Also, and unrelated: I suppose I should read the Goldstein piece, but how would you, Tom Hoffman, answer the question, "Why David Coleman?"

As to the second question, I have no clue, although I think Coleman may deserve more credit for marketing the standards than writing them.

In the US, I'd recommend looking at Indiana and Massachusetts. I've not seen a Common Core advocate with the stomach for trying to argue that CC ELA is better than or even equal to those.

Grant Wiggins blog yesterday led me to a nice, clear example of literature objectives, in this case from the British Option for the French Baccalauréat:



The syllabus aims:

i) to encourage and develop the enjoyment and appreciation of literature in English, based on an informed personal response, and

ii) to develop the ability to analyse and discuss that response and the texts which produced it, in a cogent, organised manner


The examination assesses the candidates’ response to literature by allowing them to display:

  • knowledge of the works studied and the historical and personal contexts in which they were written;
  • understanding: extending from simple factual comprehension to a recognition and conception of the nature and significance of literary texts and the issues and ideas which they raise;
  • analysis: the ability to develop and explain their response, and to identify and describe literary effects;
  • judgement: the capacity to make critical assessments and judgements of value based on close reading; the capacity to answer questions on specific aspects and features of a text by selecting relevant material for discussion;
  • cultural awareness: the ability to appreciate the character and significance of texts produced in a language and culture which may not be their own;
  • expression: the ability to express, in fluent and effective English, ideas, opinions and responses in organised and cogent essays on literary subjects – probably (although not compulsorily) following the characteristics of a formal written register; the ability to engage in an informed literary discussion.

If you've spent a lot of time reading about the Common Core standards, or, like Grant Wiggins and many others, prefer to focus on the introductory matter and appendices and pretend they are the standards, you may now be thinking, "Gee, those are a lot like the Common Core!"

Not really. Compare:


The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (“the Standards”) are the culmination of an extended, broad-based effort to fulfill the charge issued by the states to create the next generation of K–12 standards in order to help ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy no later than the end of high school. ...

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Key Ideas and Details

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure

4. 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.

5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

8. (not applicable to literature)

9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

I'll let you use your own judgement in comparing those. Most other countries standards/outcomes are more similar to Baccalauréat than to the Common Core. If CCSSI had published international benchmarks, as required by Race to the Top, we'd be having a much more interesting and informed discussion of language arts standards than we have up to this point.

I think you can see why they are so fearful of it.

Congrats, Jenny!

Eve Khan:

Mahogany for 18th-century furniture was harvested under appalling conditions across the Caribbean. Slaves branded with owners’ monograms lived in thatched huts and scouted for trees. They had to drag and roll felled mahogany trunks to riverfronts and then float the logs, which were chained together, to ships waiting in bays full of sharks and coral reefs.

There were only a few upsides to the task. “Enslaved woodcutters had the option of wielding their machetes against a despised authority or just slipping away into the surrounding forest,” the historian Jennifer L. Anderson writes in a new book, “Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America” (Harvard University Press).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

PPSD Now has a Structural Deficit of Structures

Linda Borg:

PROVIDENCE –– The Providence schools are projecting a surge in enrollment, just one year after the district closed five schools.

Although enrollment estimates are an imprecise science, especially four or five years out, the School Department projects it will add almost 2,000 students by the 2021-2022 school year. This number is based on data analyzed by the district in addition to information provided by the New England School Development Council, which projects enrollments for school districts.

Let's look at the bright side first, shall we?

It is looking like the PPSD will survive the main shock of the ongoing manufactured crisis more or less intact. We're not going to turn into the next DC, Detroit or New Orleans. We're not going to spend the next decade fighting a rearguard action over the slow, intentional destruction of the district.

This is another blow to Taveras' credibility on education.

Meanwhile, we may need some of those closed schools back. And there's this:

The problem is that the city has asked for proposals to reuse these buildings, and Achievement First, a charter school operator, has submitted a request to use Perry Middle School and Flynn Elementary School. The charter wants to open two elementary schools, the first in the fall of 2013.

There are perfectly good closed Catholic school buildings in Cranston they can use.

Also, wtf Linda?

It has also closed a small high school on Broad Street.

I'd say "Feinstein High School on Elmwood Avenue was closed citing inadequate facilities; Paul Cuffee School opened a charter high school in the building the following year."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Common Core

Mary Ann Reilly:

It is this absence of context that most worries me about the way we seem to be responding to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)--as if this document somehow represented a completed whole that we could pick up and apply directly to children like a topical cream to an itch. I keep returning to the video of David Coleman offering a model lesson "about what it might look like to take the Common Core State Standards in literacy seriously in a daily classroom and begin to show what kind of shifts that might mean." What continues to astound me is that any teaching and learning model could be offered that fails to include students.  Mr. Coleman delivers his model without the students.  One of the most important maturation shifts I see in teachers happens when they shift their attention from focusing rather exclusively on what they are teaching, to focusing on what children are learning and how they are expressing that learning. This shift represents important learning.

Mr. Coleman offers us a rather incomplete model, but truly it is not his offering that concerns me.  Mr. Coleman is not a teacher and to expect deep understanding of something as complex as the connections between teaching and learning is to expect too much.  Rather, I am deeply concerned by the large number of educators, such as state commissioners, superintendents and other administrators who have watched this model and have have failed to articulate how partial an offering Mr. Coleman serves.

The absence of students in a national model lesson is a fundamental problem, not a semantic difference.  We need to ask ourselves:  Do we see teaching as connected to learning or do we see it as a solo act? 

Dana Goldstein:

On a hot June morning in suburban Delaware, in the chintzy, windowless ballroom of a hotel casino, David Coleman stood at a podium reciting poetry. After reading Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” a classic example of the villanelle form, Coleman wanted to know why green is the only color mentioned in the poem, why Thomas uses the grammatically incorrect go gentle instead of go gently, and how the poet’s expression of grief is different from Elizabeth Bishop’s in her own villanelle, “One Art.”

Why indeed is the color green the only one mentioned in the poem? "It represents life, Mr. Coleman?" I'm not sure how far it goes beyond that. In "Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay," it causes you to read "deeds" as "reeds?" Do I have evidence for that in the text? It is just how I read it. Also is "Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay," mentioning a color? No? Can you cite some evidence from the text to support your argument?

As to the significance of "go gentle" vs. "go gently," I have no clue. "Gently" seems to lilt a bit more; "gentle" flows less gently. That's just the way I read it though; do I have any evidence from the text? I guess Professor Senechal gets it:

All interesting questions. But “go gentle” is not grammatically incorrect. Here “gentle” is a predicate complement; it corresponds with the subject of the sentence, the implied “you” of the imperative. By using “gentle,” Dylan Thomas means that his father should remain ungentle, that he should not submit to “that good night.” If he had used “gently” instead, it would have modified the verb “go” and given the line a different and more limited meaning. “Gentle” applies to the father, to the person; “gently,” to the going. (To me, “gentle” carries a tinge of reverence for that reason.) These little points do matter, because when one hears the grammar in “Do not go gentle into that good night,” one also hears what makes the line unusual.

How does she know it is about his father?

Those aren't bad questions per se, especially if you want students to approach texts as academic puzzles used to generate assignments. That'll get you through your college freshman lit requirement. I'm reminded of a line by Robert Scholes:

For me the ultimate hell at the end of all our good New Critical intentions is textualized in the image of a brilliant instructor explicating a poem before a class of stupefied students.

At least everything so far maps clearly to one or more Common Core ELA standards. Presumably the comparison to the Elizabeth Bishop poem Coleman mentioned would be covered by ELA standard 9, grade band 11-12:

Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

This is a very strange standard, and one of Coleman's favorites. For some reason, it contains a unique range of reading (certain periods of American Lit), despite sitting directly above a dedicated range of reading standard for the grade band. It asks the student to... what exactly? Demonstrate knowledge, including how texts treat themes or topics? It doesn't actually ask for a direct comparison of the texts, and there is already a complete theme standard (#2).

This could be a generic standard about making comparisons between texts (without limiting the range of texts or the type of comparison. Or it could have been a clear content standard about American Literature. Instead it is a muddle.

The weird thing is that Coleman's example doesn't fit this standard for two objective reasons:

  • Dylan Thomas is not an American poet.
  • Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" was written in the 1970's.

Now the point here isn't "Gotcha, it is impossible to teach this lesson under Common Core." But it is very, very peculiar that Coleman managed to construct his standards in such a way that his own examples don't fit. It is bizarre, really. And incredibly careless. Insultingly so. The idea that this standard is psychometrically distinct is ridiculous.

The Difference Between Polling, Moneyball, and Teacher and School Evaluation

Nate Silver:

But before we get lost in the weeds, let’s consider a more basic question. What did the polling look like at this stage in past elections, and how did it compare against the actual results?

Our polling database contains surveys going back to 1936. The data is quite thin (essentially just the Gallup national poll and nothing else) through about 1968, but it’s nevertheless worth a look.

This is a basic part of modeling at FiveThirtyEight or Football Outsiders; run historical data through your algorithm and see if it correctly predicted future performance.

You can't do this in education because you don't objectively know who the eventual winners are. You don't even know the object of the game, to be honest.

Even so, there seems to be little interest in this sort of historical sanity check in the world of data-driven ed reform. RIDE came up with a system for calculating student growth for teachers and students based on current test data -- that is, they could run the numbers six years back. They claim to have not done that; they certainly haven't released it. This is the foundation of their whole Race to the Top edifice, but they don't care to look very closely at it, and they don't want you to.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Students: They're Made Out of Meat

Tim Furman:

You can only probe people so much before they realize that they're just meat to you and that all the little measurements you're taking are being used to play out some other drama that really isn't about them.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Current Situation in a Nutshell

Anthony Cody:

Our schools are being starved of funding, at a time when taxes have never been lower, and the concentration of wealth has never been higher.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sit Alongside and Come to Know

Mary Ann Reilly:

More than half of the students I worked with demonstrated that they read much better than the single test suggested and there was another occasion where the difference between a student's actual performance and the test score was more than 7 years. I have suggested to the teachers I worked with that sitting alongside a child and hearing him or her read aloud from a text they actually are enjoying and then discussing the text together yields the potential for significant insights. It costs nothing additional to do this, can help to build community, and because it involves choice and performance, allows the teacher to build a more complex understanding of the learner, while affording the learner an occasion to deepen his/her metacognitive understanding.

The other potential problem with reliance on a computer generated 'reading level' is that some teachers and learners begin to doubt their own insights, especially if the test score is overly privileged. Whereas it's wonderful to help students make appropriate text choices and a test score can in some cases be helpful, we should not lose sight that lexile levels at best hint at performance. Prior knowledge, interest, confidence, and choice greatly influence how one reads.

My advice: sit alongside and come to know.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that at various points we're not challenging readers enough, but I'm deeply suspicious of the idea that a pervasive emphasis on quantitative measures of text complexity has much value.

Further Reading

If you're excited about the "extraordinary blossoming of student potential, across nearly every subject" spawned by The Writing Revolution, at New Dorp High School, you might follow up by perusing this free selection of three decades worth of NCTE books on writing across the curriculum. One way to get up to date on the latest cutting edge magic bullet in US education might be reading this 1997 study that:

...reports on the long-term impact of WAC programs on faculty. The authors draw on interviews, questionnaires, classroom observations, student evaluations, and course documents from more than 700 faculty, one to 15 years after their first WAC experiences.

It is like reading a book written in the future!

Portrait of a Romantic

Dana Goldstein:

Coleman counters this critique with the classic case for a liberal-arts education: that it teaches students how to think, providing a powerful intellectual foundation for any line of work. “Students need to be ready for their jobs to change,” he says, “and in order to be ready for change, students need the core tools of building knowledge: literacy and math.”

This passage is emblematic of the contradictions in Dana's Atlantic piece on David Coleman. What Coleman offers is not a case for liberal arts education, because the core of a liberal arts education is not "literacy and math." There are a variety of definitions, of course, but they are all much broader than that. In fact, what sets these standards apart from those of high performing countries is an emphasis on "literacy" at the expense of the disciplines of English/Language Arts and the humanities. The ELA Common Core is even weaker in the liberal arts than its immediate predecessor, Achieve's American Diploma Project, which was much stronger in rhetoric, for example.


Coleman was a lead architect of the Common Core standards, which emphasize canonical literature—think Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda—and serious nonfiction texts across all subjects, from math (Euclid’s Elements), to science (medical articles by The New Yorker’s Atul Gawande), to social studies (the Declaration of Sentiments from the feminist Seneca Falls Convention of 1848). He has spent the past year traveling from state to state, showing English teachers how to lead a close reading of great literature.

Yes, these are so emphasized by the standards that they were pushed into an appendix.

Varying Degrees of Surprise

Amanda Ripley:

Of the 36 items included in the Gates Foundation study, the five that most correlated with student learning were very straightforward:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

When Ferguson and Kane shared these five statements at conferences, teachers were surprised. They had typically thought it most important to care about kids, but what mattered more, according to the study, was whether teachers had control over the classroom and made it a challenging place to be. As most of us remember from our own school days, those two conditions did not always coexist: some teachers had high levels of control, but low levels of rigor.

This is the inevitable turn in these articles that just rings false to me. I can believe that teachers might not pick these out of the list of 36 off a slide during a conference session, especially if it was not emphasized that what they were talking about was specifically which items correlate to test score gains. But I can't imagine people being too deeply surprised by these factors.

These paragraphs mainly exist to flatter everyone except teachers, who are made to look like idiots.

What if KIPP is Just Really Good at Remedial 5th Grade Math?

Jay Matthews:

“The best available evidence suggests that KIPP produces its largest impacts on students in their first year at KIPP — before selective replacement could possibly have any effect,” they say. Even students who leave early show positive impacts in later years, they say.

It would be a remarkably efficient way of making your whole school look good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Difference Between Consumer Choice and Public Policy

Tom Moran quoted by Stephanie Rivera:

If parents are lining up outside of Charters when they open to enroll their kids, doesn’t that mean that the community wanted it?

If everyone lines up to fill water bottles from a truck and runs their refrigerator off a generator after a hurricane, does it mean that's what they'd all prefer to do permanently?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

There's a Storm Blowing Up the Bay Tonight...

...but the swell was pretty high in Colorado yesterday morning.






Photo credit: George Cornelius.

Actually, They Only Believe That When Unionized Human Teachers are Involved

Alice Mercer:

When “reformers” say, they believe all kids can learn, what they are saying is, “I believe all kids can learn a set of standards based solely on their chronological age, within a finite time-frame, by using a common version of curriculum and instructional methods, as measured by a single standardized test.” Gates has shown their beliefs in the this series of posts and their actions. For example, the repeated use of the word “achievement” to mean test scores, their recent actions to identify “best methods” in teaching to promulgate throughout the profession like cookie cutters, and their support of a version of common core that will lead to vertical alignment (monopolies) of curriculum providers with testing providers. I do not believe in this school of thought. Here is what I do believe:

  1. I believe that all children can learn a variety of skills, tasks, and ideas but not at the same pace or with the same tools, and teacher inputs. They should be developmentally appropriate for the individual child, not just the average child in their age cohort.
  2. I believe that there will ALWAYS be successful students in high poverty schools that perform as well as students at schools serving fewer children in poverty, there will just be fewer of them for reasons not just beyond my control as an educator, but beyond their control, and their family and community’s control.
  3. I believe that students in poverty face a number of factors that will cause them as a whole to not perform as well as non-poverty peers on curriculum and tests designed for middle-class children.
  4. I believe that trying to solve poverty through education alone is like giving a camp of starving refugees fishing poles when they living in the middle of a desert wasteland. It’s unproductive and wasteful. It’s not just that it doesn’t solve the underlying problem, it’s blind and deaf to the conditions on the ground that will guarantee failure.

These factors are real, and saying you believe in John Dewey does not stop the effects of endemic exposure to lead in Oakland, where I started teaching and Anthony had his career. This cannot be overcome by a “great” teacher (whatever that means).

Actually, reformers like to maintain plausible deniability about most of the standardization Alice refers to in the first paragraph. As far as they know, they're paragons of personalization. Just wait until they get their software working.

Wait, What's a "Successful Turnaround?"

Sarah Sparks:

About half the schools identified as initially low-performing were able to show some signs of improvement within three years; another 35 percent showed no increase in student-achievement status or growth.

But 15 percent of schools were considered true turnarounds: They improved the number of students reaching proficiency in math or reading by at least 5 percentile points, with student growth rates in the 65th percentile statewide.

That's funny, because I remember the PPSD and Deb Gist's RIDE shutting down (with extreme prejudice) reforms in Providence high schools that raised reading proficiency rates forty and fifty points. Heck, Central Falls High School went up twenty-five in the two years prior to beginning their turnaround (they've gone down again subsequently).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Visible From Space

View Larger Map

Wait, What? Can't We Do This for Teachers?

Alex Wayne:

With a shortage of doctors in the U.S. already and millions of new patients set to gain coverage under President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, American medical schools are struggling to close the gap.

One major reason: The residency programs to train new doctors are largely paid for by the federal government, and the number of students accepted into such programs has been capped at the same level for 15 years. Medical schools are holding back on further expansion because the number of applicants for residencies already exceeds the available positions, according to the National Resident Matching Program, a 60-year-old Washington-based nonprofit that oversees the program.

My understanding is that one reason that Finnish teacher preparation is so competitive and of such high quality is that they only train as many as they actually need. Also, it is free.

It is a pretty straightforward formula which we already apply in medicine, apparently (well the residency part of it...) albeit apparently it is somewhat over-limited.

District Charters as a Triage Mechanism

I don't really know what's going on with the PPSD district charter push, but I have long thought that given the pressures put on the district and its limited support resources, letting successful schools (regardless of why the school is successful, demographics or organizational performance) pretty much run themselves made sense. This is often framed as "rewarding" high performing schools, but it is also just triage.

Site-based schools made more sense for this than charters, because they distort the enrollment patterns less, and that was pretty much the strategy when Lusi was here before under Diana Lam. Brady crushed site-based management, but this is pretty much the same thing.

Holiday Weekend Plans: Big Game Hunting in Colorado

Not Exactly Helicopter Parenting...


Second best story of the day was a phone call:

"Hi, my teenage daughter went to see the Korpiklaani show at your club last night, and apparently after the show, she got on the tour bus and went to Arizona."

"And... how can I help you?"

"She asked me to call and see if her bike is still locked up outside?"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

RI Law Regarding District Charters

If you're scratching your head over the PPSD's sudden hard-on for creating district charters, it is worth noting that most of the announced process has little to do with the actual legal requirements for creating such a charter. You can find links to the law and RIDE's regulations here.

One significant problem is that the regulations posted on RIDE's website are inconsistent with stated requirements for the application process elsewhere on the site. So I may be wrong insofar as RIDE's site is inaccurate and/or incomplete.

The most important point is that converting an existing school requires the support of 2/3rds of the teachers and more than 50% of the parents in the school. That's been more or less consistently reported. One puzzling aspect of this clause is that it just says that it must be done "prior to implementation," so theoretically the Regents could grant preliminary approval without this, although in practice it seems unlikely. Or perhaps that could come into play if parents revoked their support midway through the process as happened in California?

Applying to convert a school to a district charter does not actually require the cooperation of the District's board or the union, although both are probably helpful. There is no requirement for collaborating partners in the process; that's strictly PPSD's idea.

There is no requirement in statute or regulation or otherwise posted on RIDE's site requiring that a prospectus be submitted to RIDE by October 1. By law, full applications are due December 1, 2012 for schools opening fall 2013. Prospectuses were not required for other charters applying for fall 2013 opening.

RIDE has posted a document stating that prospectuses for schools opening in fall 2014 are also due December 1, 2012, with full 2014 applications due in March 2013 (nine months ahead of the legal deadline). Those deadlines are not backed up by law or posted regulation, so... ?

I'm not sure what is going on with this:

And (PPSD Board Chair) Oliveira says interested charters need to apply by the state's charter deadline of October 1st. He says the state refused to give Providence more time.

Basically, if RIDE likes you, they can waive all the non-binding requirements they've posted. If they don't like you, they'll make more up.

I can't figure out what the rush is anyhow, other than setting up Taveras's gubernatorial campaign in 2014.


It seems unlikely to me that a district charter can weight enrollment by neighborhood.

A new school can be created by a group of district teachers and parents representing 2/3rds of the teachers and over half the students who will attend the school.

What Happens When a District Intentionally Converts its Best Schools to Charters?

Linda Borg:

Providence is facing a tough deadline, however. The nine schools that have applied to be charters — seven elementary schools, Nathan Bishop Middle School and E3 High School — have to submit preliminary information to the state Department of Education by Oct. 1. The final applications are due Dec. 1.

Setting aside the elementary schools, whose identities have been inexplicably omitted here, E-Cubed and Nathan Bishop are the two strongest schools in the district without a test-in component (i.e., Classical and Greene).

This all has way more political import than substantive, because there just isn't that much difference between a district charter and a normal district school, especially given how much teacher hiring and evaluation has changed, and how much more intrusive RIDE is at both the district and charter levels. It is a kind of win/win insofar as the mayor gets a handwavy "portfolio district" and the union gets to not be destroyed.

Unfortunately one important issue will also be who gets credit for the subsequent performance of these schools. If E-Cubed's scores remain exactly the same, they'll soon go from a closely held secret in the district to a trumpeted example of the superiority of charters. So... whatever.

The biggest change will be in enrollment, and this is the most dubious part. There is no question that there is an advantage in not having to take random "over the counter" enrollments and requiring explicit application to a school. Even if it is not a huge advantage, it is definitely an advantage, so this change will tend to make the strong stronger and the weak weaker within the district. Probably not a good idea.

I don't think charters can have neighborhood enrollment preferences, so this would probably will make it more likely that our girls would be able to get into Bishop for middle school, which is a good option to have. Currently they'd be competing for the 20% of the slots reserved for students from outside the neighborhood with other district students who selected the school as their first choice. As a charter, I think it would be one big lottery for the whole city. On the other hand, then you're competing against everyone who spams their individual lottery, instead of people who chose the school first in the district choice system, so it could actually be harder for us depending.

It'll Be Even Better When Everyone's Job Depends on Reliably Giving High Stakes Assessments on These Things

Bill Fitzgerald:

Over the last several weeks, as schools have returned to session, there have been a slew of discussions about how to best control the apps on iPads, how to provision student accounts (even though the App store appears to actively prevent mass account creation), how to prevent student work from being wiped out, replacement cycles, and other edge cases as personal devices get shoehorned into an institutional management process.

The stories have been pretty incredible - one school built a Filemaker database (which, even as I say it, feels like a contradiction in terms) to manage redemption codes for apps purchased through the Volume Purchasing Program, and then distributed through the Configurator. Using this custom built system, an app could be requested by a teacher, and it only required around an hour of an IT person's time to push the app to the iPad. One hour to install an app is what success looked like.

Other stories included the Volume Purchasing Program failing unpredictably and intermittently - some of the nicer things said about the Volume Purchasing Program included statements pointing out that you could generally get it to work if you only used Safari, and cleared your cache before every attempted use of the program. This type of flexibility exemplifies the ease of use that Apple is known for.

Strike Writing

Alice Mercer:

The strike doesn’t make the kids victims, the system did that already, when it closed schools, and sent rival gang members to the same campus resulting in chaos and death. The system did when it spent money on consultants, and testing, instead of counselors and social workers. The system did when it refused to set class-size limits, packed students in classrooms with no air-conditioning, then tried to say that classes weren’t that big. Then, the system refused to honor agreements made with teachers, refused to bargain on these issues, and tried to make the union look like the bully. I know what side I’m on in this fight, with the children and the union. Which side are you on?

Charlie Pierce:

I am not flexible about this. If you want to look tough at the expense of public-school teachers, you are a snob or a coward, or perhaps both. Every member of this MSNBC panel that Digby found, including all the liberals and all the Democrats thereon, can bite me, seriously. If I have to read one more smug, Ivy League writer from Slate talking, as the big strike goes on, about public-school teachers as though they were unruly hired help, I may hit someone with a fish. Let Matt Yglesias do 20 percent more work for four percent less pay and see how he likes it. The idea that, say, "Chuck" Lane cares more about "the kids" than do the people walking the picket lines in Chicago is damned near close to obscene.


We are at a point at which teachers are clearly seen as the biggest assholes in the world who should be happy to work in terrible conditions and be willing to be fired when kids don't thrive in that environment. I could never have imagined that when I was a kid. Seriously, teachers used to be considered the backbone of our culture and one of the foundations of the middle class. Now they are "retrograde and ridiculous" according to the privileged chattering classes who can't even be bothered to inform themselves of the real issues.

Greg Palast:

In a school with some of the poorest kids in Chicago, one English teacher–I won't use her name–who'd been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn't do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year. Under Chicago's new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.

In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire. No teachers' union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field - for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.

You've guessed it by now: It's the same teacher.

Corey Robin:

In my childhood world, grown ups basically saw teachers as failures and fuck-ups. “Those who can’t do, teach” goes the old saw. But where that traditionally bespoke a suspicion of fancy ideas that didn’t produce anything concrete, in my fancy suburb, it meant something else. Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game; they weren’t in this world for money. There could be only one reason for that: they were losers. They were dimwitted, unambitious, complacent, unimaginative, and risk-averse. They were middle class.

No one, we were sure, became a teacher because she loved history or literature and wanted to pass that on to the next generation. All of them simply had no other choice. How did we know that? Because they weren’t lawyers or doctors or “businessmen”—one of those words, even in the post-Madmen era, still spoken with veneration and awe. It was a circular argument, to be sure, but its circularity merely reflected the closed universe of assumption in which we operated.

Like my teachers, I have chosen a career in education and don’t make a lot of money. Unlike them, I’m a professor. I’m continuously astonished at the pass that gets me among the people I grew up with. Had I chosen to be a high-school teacher, I’d be just another loser. But tenured professors are different. Especially if we teach in elite schools (which I don’t.) We’re more talented, more refined, more ambitious—more like them. We’re capitalist tools, too.

So that’s where and how I grew up. And when I hear journalists and commentators, many of them fresh out of the Ivy League, talking to teachers as if they were servants trying to steal the family silver, that’s what I hear. It’s an ugly tone from ugly people.

Every so often I want to ask them, “Didn’t your parents teach you better manners?” Then I remember whom I’m dealing with.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When Teachers Have Nothing to Lose

From my seat in Providence I'm not sure I have much of value to say about the strike in Chicago, beyond expressing my support (and contributing to the solidarity fund).

I do think Mike Klonsky hits the right tone today:

Yesterday Rahm hauled a few of his pet principals, (including Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North) in front of the TV cameras, to claim that in order to be "successful" they need the unchecked power to hire and fire whoever they choose, regardless of qualifications and experience and without any due process. This is a recipe for City Hall-style patronage and going back to the days when teachers (and principals) worked at the pleasure of ward politicians. It is also a recipe for principals getting rid of teachers who may be the wrong color or political persuasion. It's interesting to note here that principals already have lots of authority over faculty hiring and that black and Latino teachers have been the victims of these kinds of hiring practices. Today, just 19 % of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, down from 45 % in 1995.

This is what happens when you make the school system a wing of City Hall, weaken collective bargaining, take power away from popularly-elected school boards and Local School Councils, and dismantle public space and public decision making.

This strike really represents a last stand for teachers and all public employees against moves by Tea Party governors and their Democratic Party counterparts in urban districts like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, to eliminate teachers collective bargaining rights altogether. This was the original idea behind SB7 which made it illegal for teachers in Chicago (nowhere else in the state) to bargain over anything except salary and benefits -- two issues that could easily be reneged on after the contract was signed for budgetary reasons. Remember, the board agreed to a 4% raise in the last contract only to take it back once the contract was signed.

All this leaves Chicago's teachers with only one option. Dig in and fight back with the only tactic left to them under SB7 -- the power to withhold their labor and put their bodies on the line in defense of their profession and of democracy. What happens here in Chicago will ultimately determine the fate of teachers and public worker unions everywhere.

Extrapolating from our experiences here -- and Chicago is quite a few years further down this reform road than we are -- I think a big factor is that teachers just don't have much left to lose at this point. Striking is always a big risk, but what is the alternative? Hoping you can skim between the Scylla of a hostile and statistically dubious evaluation system and the Charybdis of an endless sequence of school closures where everyone loses their job?

Better to risk take a beating in a real fight than get kicked like a dog every day.

Reality Intrudes

Robert Purchese:

The US official killed during a US consulate attack in the Libyan city of Benghazi was Sean Smith, otherwise known Eve Online player Vile Rat - director of the notorious Goonswarm alliance and former member of the player-elected Council of Stellar Management.

BBC News reported that armed militiamen raided the compound with grenades and then set it on fire. They had been protesting about a US-produced film they claimed insulted the Prophet Mohammed. One other American was injured.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Would it Kill You To Come Up with a Title

I'm going through the Common Core standards entering some of them into our new SchoolTool module, making up titles for them as I go. It isn't really that hard. Reading literature standard one is "Citing Evidence;" two is "Theme and Summary," etc. You'd think they'd give them standard titles though so it is easy to refer to them without using the number or entire text.

I'm just sayin'.



CandidateTotal votesPct
Gayle L. GOLDIN (DEM)222357.3%
Maryellen BUTKE (DEM)165742.7%

Bad Data

Amanda Milkovits:

(Omar Polanco) was the 15th person -- and fourth Met School alum -- murdered in the city this year.

Maybe an infusion of grit would help.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Do These People Come Up in Tough's New Book?

MOMwithAbrain1 in Rick Hess's comments:

Sorry Rick, but call me a skeptic!! Competency Based Ed is Outcome Based Ed.

We have it in NH and if you look at the competencies, many of them are NON-academic. ie...we are back to trying to change the attitudes, beliefs and values in students rather than giving them academic knowledge. I would suggest going through every competency in the school before praising it.

In one district in NH, the competencies for a Personal Finance class included having the students read a pro-Marxist book written by a Socialist. (remember, OBE is about changing the values in students)

It might not be the lazy hippies who have a problem with a character report card.

Somebody Should Remind Rick Hess That Deborah Meier is Still Alive

Rick Hess:

Basically, the idea (of School of One) is to take the kind of customized school model that Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier were talking about in the 1980s, and use new assessment, organizational, and instructional tools to make it more workable.

I think that would be more like this. Happily, we can find out without getting out the Ouiji board.

Anyhow, the question really is are we supposed to think of School of One as a cool idea (it is, actually) or an existing product? As a brand new idea that may rapidly improve, or an sustaining innovation in about 50 years of work on programmed instruction, and thus not likely to suddenly get much better? As a concept to be judged by data, or a product whose measure is whether or not its customers keep paying for it?

"Is 'Grit' Just an Excuse to Give Up on the Baby Einstein Flashcards?" or "Is IQ Making Us Stupid?"



“Is Artisanal Coffee Making Us Douchebags?”

And Who Doesn't Agree with This?

Paul Tough:

Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.

Maybe Malcolm Gladwell?

These results posed, for Mr. Heckman, a confounding intellectual puzzle. Like most economists, he had always believed that cognitive ability was the single most reliable determinant of how a person's life would turn out. Now he had discovered a group—GED holders—whose good test scores didn't seem to have any positive effect on their eventual outcomes.

I'm glad that economists have the economy running so smoothly they have go looking for other puzzles to solve, even if they have to be satisfied with questions any high school guidance counselor would be happy to answer.

My God, Think of the Value Added Scores!

Mark Guzdial:

Hake relates this story in an article about Louis Paul Benezet, an educator who ran a radical experiment in the 1930′s. Benezet saw how mindlessly young children were performing mathematics, so he made a dramatic change: Almost entirely remove mathematics from grades 1-5. Start teaching mathematics in grade 6, with a focus on problem-solving (e.g., start from estimation, so that you have a sense of when an answer is reasonable). Sixth graders can understand the problems for which one should use mathematics. The point is not to introduce the solution, until students understood the problem. Remarkably, the experimental 6th graders completely caught up in just four months to the 6th graders who had had mathematics all five previous years.

Intuitively, this has always made sense to me. Elementary math should be easy to make up later.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

In the End, Selling Off the Schools is a Lot Harder than Selling Off the Prisons

The rapid fall from grace of School of One is an important bellwether for the nascent ed tech bubble.

In particular, it reminds me that while the recent wave of prison privatization is an important precedent for school privatisation (of varying degrees), they're very different institutions. Prisons are almost by definition out of the public eye, while schools are right in the middle of it. Micro-managing local school budget proposal is the third most popular springtime hobby among white male seniors, after fishing and golfing.

Add the current test score obsession to the mix, and there will be real pressure for online vendors to produce substantial test score gains for less or the same amount of money, in a short period of time.

I don't think they can deliver.

We're looking at more of a wave of corruption and waste than an existential threat, unless they can also cycle through enough waves of SIG upheaval that confidence in urban public schools collapses completely. Believe it or not, we're still a ways away from that.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Is This What Happens When Nobody Studies Education Anymore?

Above is a notated diagram from my copy of the 1996 Handbook of Educational Psychology. You see, even then as far back as the turn of the century we knew that the educational process involved a complex interaction of knowledge, skills, values, character traits, interests, relationships, styles, etc.

Now, the particulars are always in flux and up for debate. And there is a constant tendency to over emphasize one aspect or another and turn it into a short-lived trend, or an individual fixation. That's to be expected.

I can't really believe we're at the point where the hot topic in the education conversation is essentially rediscovering the affective and conative domains. Is this just what happens when teachers get to skip those boring educational psychology requirements? Does the entire profession just begin a 20 year process of wheel rebuilding, with big cheers all around when each spoke is recycled?

Not Isolated Cases

Robin Kuykendall in comments:

I work for an NEA affiliate. Three months ago, we faced your Teacher B scenario exactly, except it was THREE teachers at once.. We did save the jobs of all 3, but not as reading specialists. They are, instead, back in classrooms & the $Millions+ invested in them & their fabulous literacy library is just abandoned for an IPad infusion, for teachers only, by Wireless Generation. The sup't could not tell how this "technology" would actually touch students. The steady gains in literacy over the past 6 years, which exceeded state norms for African-Americans, had NO bearing on the decision to spend more money and to "go in a different direction," in the words of the sup't. the small district has several certified reading specialists, one with a doctorate in ELL, but none of them were consulted in this decision. The sup't, himself, stated that he has never personally taught anyone to read. He has a postgraduate degree in something, but I really don't know what or from where.

So, I spoke. There are many more, but time for another person to join here.

To Paul Tough, the Whole World is New

Paul Tough:

Although Spiegel’s teaching style might not have been the right fit with an English class, her experience teaching English did help her understand better what she wanted to do in chess class. Rather than follow a set chess curriculum over the course of the year, she decided she would construct her academic calendar as she went, planning lessons based entirely on what her students knew and, more important, on what they didn’t know. For instance, she would take her students to a weekend tournament and notice that many of them were hanging pieces, meaning they were leaving pieces undefended, which made them easy targets. The following Monday, she would organize the whole class around how not to hang pieces, reconstructing the students’ flawed games on the green felt practice boards hung on hooks at the front of her classroom. Again and again, she would go over her students’ games, both individually and as a class, analyzing exactly where a player had gone wrong, what he could have done differently, what might have happened if he had made the better move, and playing out these counterfactual scenarios for several moves before returning to the moment of error.

Sensible though this process might sound, it’s actually a pretty unusual way to teach chess, or to learn it. “It’s uncomfortable to focus so intensely on what you’re bad at,” Spiegel told me. “So the way people usually study chess is they read a book about chess, which can be fun and often intellectually amusing, but it doesn’t actually translate into skill. If you really want to get better at chess, you have to look at your games and figure out what you’re doing wrong.”

That pretty much sounds like coaching to me. Good, intense coaching, but yes coaching. It is hardly an unknown quantity in American education, although less so in schools that don't have the resources to, say, hire coaches, buy specialized equipment and send teams traveling to competition.

Perhaps someone could introduce Paul Tough to high school football.


Like students at KIPP, IS 318 students were being challenged to look deeply at their own mistakes, examine why they had made them, and think hard about what they might have done differently. And whether you call that approach cognitive therapy or just plain good teaching, it seemed remarkably effective in producing change in middle-school students.

This technique, though, is actually quite rare in contemporary American schools. If you believe that your school’s mission or your job as a teacher is simply to convey information, then it probably doesn’t seem necessary to subject your students to that kind of rigorous self-analysis. But if you’re trying to help them change their character, then conveying information isn’t enough. And while Spiegel didn’t use the word character to describe what she was teaching, there was a remarkable amount of overlap between the strengths emphasized by David Levin and Dominic Randolph and the skills that Spiegel tried to inculcate in her students. Every day, in the classroom and at tournaments, I saw Spiegel trying to teach her students grit, curiosity, self-control, and optimism.

Who brought us to the point of thinking that a school's mission is to convey information? Hopefully the good people at KIPP and their friends in the reform movement can save us from them!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

It's Too Bad They're Liars

Paul Tough:

Right now, for almost political reasons, people like Michelle Rhee and Dave Levin and lots of other educational reformers aren’t willing to say, “We don’t have the solutions for those kids at the very bottom, but we’re going to create them.” And I think that would be a great conversation to start having because, actually, I do think those people are some of the smartest, most determined people in the education world—but I think for political reasons, it is difficult for them to say, to admit, that we’ve got the solution for some but not all.

Kind of hard to make productive use of those smarts when they're unrepentantly dishonest.

Oh please Brer Fox, don't make us teach non-cognitive skills!

Tom Toch:

To Tough, the logic of the importance of noncognitive qualities to students’ futures is clear: we need to rethink our solutions to the academic plight of impoverished students. The studies of Dweck, Duckworth, and others support conservative claims that individual character should be an important part of policy discussions about poverty. “There is no anti-poverty tool that we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable that (sic) character strengths,” Tough writes, a claim that won’t be easy for liberals to stomach.

I puzzled over this paragraph all weekend. Let's set aside the question of whether these character strengths would really be the most powerful anti-poverty tool if we could, in fact, reliably instill specific traits in poor children.

Why exactly would liberals hate this? We're talking about, for example, "resilience, optimism, perseverance, (and) focus." These aren't things that liberal or progressive teachers oppose. At all. They might emphasize some other traits like open-mindedness, creativity, fairness, active citizenship and kindness, but nobody is, say, actively anti-perseverance (lots of anti-creativity articles lately though).

I eventually figured out that what was happening here was that Toch silently flipped the frame from "useful things to try to teach children" to "the reason people are poor," specifically that liberals don't like the idea that people are poor because of the flaws in their character. That this is the proper reading is reinforced by the next paragraph:

But, Tough adds, the contributions of character traits to students’ success goes a long way toward refuting conservative “cognitive determinists” like Charles Murray, who claim that success is mainly a function of IQ and that education is largely about sorting people and giving the brightest the chance to take full advantage of their potential.

I've never really understood why, say, Joel Klein talks as if his friends used to think poor children were un-educatable, because I never got the idea that it was the majority opinion among actual educators or decent folk in general. Is the whole subtext I've missed that the billionaire boys club are all semi-refomed Charles Murray fans? I find it difficult to remember that people take Murray seriously, because I don't hang out with assholes.

Anyhow, Toch continues:

The research that Tough explores also undercuts claims by Klein, Rhee, and other signers of the Education Equity Project manifesto that we can get impoverished students where they need to be educationally through higher standards, stronger teachers, and other academic reforms alone.

Now we've flipped back to the question of educating students, and what you won't get is a parallel admission that the Broader, Bolder Agenda is also being proved right. Instead we get praise for KIPP handing out character report cards.

OK, fine. Whatever. The reformers won the policy round but they're going to lose the war because their policies won't work, and they're helpfully providing the data that demonstrates it. So all that is left is the slow process of congratulating themselves for adopting their now-marginalized opponents ideas.

This is annoying of course, but overall an improvement.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

On What Planet is This the Definition of a Public Institution?

Judy Weightman:

Charter schools are public schools, meaning they are funded by public money and cannot discriminate on the basis of race or religion.