Tuesday, October 30, 2012

SchoolTool 2.3 & CanDo

We released SchoolTool 2.3 last week, which wasn't a big update because most of or work this year was focused on re-writing CanDo, our skills, outcomes, standards, competencies, etc. based assessment system.

We've actually been working on CanDo with the Arlington Career Center and the Virginia CTE Resource Center since 2005. Virginia CTE has an absurdly complex set of competencies spanning 15 or so career clusters, hundreds of courses, cross-course competencies, and a rolling update cycle and no formal versioning process. With CanDo you can import the competencies (via a spreadsheet), associate them with courses (including a new feature to automate that process I came up with), score them in section gradebooks, create groupings of competencies for project-based grading, track changes in student acheivement over time and across sections, and generate graphical reports at the student and section level.

A lot of what we were doing was taking an open source application that was paid for, designed for and used only in Virginia schools, and, with philanthropic support from Mark Shuttleworth, creating a new version that would work just as well or better in Virginia and as many other scenarios as possible.

There's a pretty wide range of cases where you need to track student achievement of a list of outcomes, for example, in addition to 25 Virginia CTE sites, the Virginia Commonwealth University's Autism Center for Excellence is using SchoolTool to track social skills development in individuals with autism spectrum disorders, the Alexandria Seaport Foundation is going to record achievement of math standards via boat building projects in sites across the country, and the Fab Academy is going to monitor student progress in their sites across the globe.

For the current SchoolTool community, this is a big new addition to our standard application, yet it is also the most complete and tested.

Now that this is out I have to take off my project manager hat and put on my promotional juggernaut hat.

Never Forget What a Virus-Ridden Mess Windows Made of Your School Network

Brad Reed:

“During [the time that Apple was building the iPhone], Windows went through a difficult period where we had to shift a huge amount of our focus to security engineering,” said (Microsoft's) Mundie. “The criminal activity in cyberspace was growing dramatically ten years ago, and Microsoft was basically the only company that had enough volume for it to be a target. In part because of that, Windows Vista took a long time to be born.”


“We had a music player before the iPod,” he said. “We had a touch device before the iPad. And we were leading in the mobile phone space. So, it wasn’t for a lack of vision or technological foresight that we lost our leadership position. The problem was that we just didn’t give enough reinforcement to those products at the time that we were leading. Unfortunately, the company had some executional missteps, which occurred right at the time when Apple launched the iPhone. With that, we appeared to drop a generation behind.”

This has mostly been mocked as a lame excuse, and it is, but you're also going easy on Microsoft if you forget how completely and utterly they screwed the pooch on security, and you shouldn't underestimate the extent to which Apple's strategies are driven by security concerns. Security is a bigger driver for the App Store concept than getting a cut of all your $1.00 apps (although that cut is nice to have). Part of the reason all your iPhones are not part of a Russian botnet is sandboxing and other security features, but a lot of it is that they can review the code you can install on your phone and remotely disable it if the have to.

It is hard to imagine Microsoft getting away with that sort of thing in the first few years of the 20th century, so you can imagine how much their heads had to be spinning.

The Lack of Capacity for Any of This

Sherman Dorn:

The difference between outsourcing critical services and hiring employees to do one of your essential jobs is that you do have resident expertise when you hire people directly, when you staff up for what you say is essential. And for a state department of education, you would think that curriculum development and support for teachers comprise a core part of what it is supposed to do, the type of technical assistance that the majority of districts could not invest in before the recession, that even fewer can now. On occasion, it might be helpful to hire somebody in a state capital who knows what is in the Constitution and what is in the Declaration of Independence. For U.S. historians, that’s sort of like knowing your keister from your … well, you understand. Some things can be outsourced. Some things should not be. Florida’s gone too far in the direction of outsourcing important jobs to for-profit companies that have no commitment to the state.

Charter Schools are Not an Anti-Corruption Strategy

Trailer for John Merrow's upcoming film on New Orleans:

If you meet a starving man and all you have is a bag of Cheetos, by all means, give him the Cheetos, but it does not follow that Cheetos are the answer for malnutrition.

Merrow begins with the corruption of the New Orleans public school system before Katrina. I have no reason to think it wasn't that bad, but I don't really know. Perhaps it is less corrupt now; I can at least imagine that it is. But the idea that in general the right strategy to fight public corruption is to remove civil service protections in hiring and firing, reduce transparency, base high stakes decisions on tests which are often gamed or cheated on outright, and generally put control of the system in private hands, makes no sense on its face.

Maybe this is better for New Orleans right now (maybe not), but will it hold up in 10 years? It should be obvious that the end of these market-based reforms will be corruption, and while we may not notice it or care in, say, privatized prisons, we will notice and care in our children's schools. There are already many, many examples.

Here's a nice closing quote from Paul Carr:

And there’s the rub. Given their Randian origins, we kid ourselves if we think most Disruptive businesses are fighting government bureaucracy to bring us a better deal. A Disruptive company might very well succeed in exposing government crooks lining their pockets exploiting outdated laws, but that’s only so the Disruptor can line his own pockets through the absence of those same laws. A Disruptive company may give you free candy in your 50-dollar cab but, again, that’s only because doing so is good business. If poisoning that same candy suddenly becomes better business (like encouraging New York cab drivers to be distracted by their phones, or putting vulnerable people at risk of attack is better business)… well maybe that’s an option worth exploring too. After all, food safety legislation is just another attempt by the government to drive Disruptive businesses off the road.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Learning Styles are a Myth That Warns Us That Not All of Our Students are the Same

Stephen Downes:

If we think about learning styles as the magic shortcut to more effective learning, we are deluding ourselves. Even if it is true that people learn differently, and it is true that people learn differently, we don't achieve magical results simply by catering to that.

A learning style isn't a shortcut to memory because learning isn't about remembering at all. It's a myth, but it's useful. It's a myth that tells us, that warns us, that not all of our students are the same. They're not going to react the same, and most importantly, they're not like us.

What if the Value for Big Data in Education is Not in Learning, But Testing?

Dan Meyer:

I don't have a lot of hope for a system that sees learning largely as a function of time or time of day, rather than as a function of good instruction and rich tasks. It isn't useless. But it's the wrong diagnosis. For instance, if a student's clickrate on multiple-choice items declines at 9:14 AM, one option is to tell her to click multiple-choice items later. Another is to give her more to do than click multiple-choice items.

It seems to me that the low hanging fruit here might not be relying on this kind of data to teach better, but to increase test performance. If the learning software tells the data warehouse that a student will score highest on an assessment of standard 3 administered Tuesday at 10:00 in the morning, if the subject of the prompt is basketball, and the answer is multiple choice, is there any reason the high stakes test couldn't or shouldn't use that to increase (or decrease) the student's score (in math or ELA)? If we're going to have high-stakes embedded, adaptive assessments, this all gets pretty blurry.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Green Lantern Theory of School Reform

John Merrow:

If you had the power to make one change in public education right now, what would it be? I’m not talking about some sort of magic wand fantasy, so suggestions like “End Poverty” are not appropriate. What I am looking for are changes that could be made.


Dave Levin (of KIPP) had the simplest — and perhaps the most profound — suggestion. “Change the sign,” he said. He reminded us that virtually every school has signs trumpeting a familiar slogan, “All Children Can Learn.” That should come down, Dave said, and be replaced by signs reading “All Will Learn.” Not ‘can’ but ‘will,’ reflecting a new determination and responsibility. And ‘all’ means ‘all,’ he said, including the adults! Changing the sign was, for Dave, an important first step toward changing the way adults in schools approach their jobs.

We certainly could "end poverty," at least to the extent that European social democracies have, and that would be virtually guaranteed to increase aggregate academic achievement over time, barring some other simultaneous screw up. And while we may not have the political will for the task, actually executing it would not be that hard. Increase the scale of various extant social programs.

On the other hand, Levin's plan is pure fantasy. Levin is literally calling for a triumph of the will in American education. Believe and it will happen!

How did we get to the point where such things are taken seriously?

Too Bad There are No Educational Technology Standards for TECHNOLOGY

Carl Franzen:

“The almost instantaneous obsolescence of the new iPad was a bit of a surprise,” said Vineet Madan, senior vice president at McGraw Hill Education, in a phone interview with TPM. “If I were a teacher who had spent the last pennies of his or her budget buying new iPads for students a few months ago, I don’t know if I’d be too happy waking up and finding out that there’s a new iPad with a completely different connector cable now.”

What's especially galling is the way Apple's decision flies in the face of the National Educational Technology Plan which specifically calls for portable devices in schools to standardize on mini-USB chargers by 2014... oh, no, I'm sorry, I forgot, there is nothing of the sort in the plan, because the people who work on those kind of things are much, much too smart and important to waste their beautiful minds on such issues, especially since it may inconvenience present or future corporate (or recently corporate) benefactors.

As a consumer, I applaud Apple's willingness to always rip open the scab to move forward. I can afford to keep up. Schools have entirely different requirements.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Maybe Gates Could Pay to Start ANOTHER Non-Profit

Tim Daly, president of The New Teacher Project (TNTP):

More than anything, the strike was a howl of frustration from teachers. What started as a dispute over salaries evolved into one over everything from air conditioning to the intricacies of teacher recall rights. Now that the dust has settled, it is difficult to argue that these issues justified the cost and damage of a strike, the nuclear option of labor disputes. But it is undeniable that it exposed legitimate discontent that city leaders need to take seriously.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) seized the opportunity for a strike and made it a referendum on lack of respect and poor working conditions, big-tent themes that resonated even with teachers who generally support education reforms. Unfortunately, the deal that ended the strike is unlikely to truly address teachers’ concerns or their hunger for respect. Based on our review, it’s more likely to take schools and teachers a step backwards.

A little while after I read that dickish and condescending piece on Eduwonk, my wife tossed me the PPSD booklet that accompanied this afternoon's professional development which I immediately noticed prominently credits TNTP in the introductory matter. I don't see how it is helpful to anyone to have TNTP wearing the advocacy and implementation hats at the same time.

I think Daly is aware of that more than most, but can't help himself. People kind of forget that:

  1. however much people want to paint the unions as intransigent opponents of reform, the cover of the next copy of American Educator to fall through 900,000 mail slots won't feature an expose on the spread of TNTP's anti-union agenda into urban school districts across America.
  2. At any point, next copy of American Educator to fall through 900,000 mail slots could feature an expose on the spread of TNTP's anti-union agenda into urban school districts across America, and a call for resistance to everything its name is attached to.

Not Ready for a Fresh Hype Cycle


All in all, I was 0 for 14 in finding educators who felt confident that they could get reliable information about what works in ed tech.

The Opportunity Cost of Chasing Grants

Councilman Sam Zurier:

I am researching the application by the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School for "in-district charter" status. I have met with the principal, who explained the gains in autonomy and funding he hopes the school can achieve through this application. I expressed to him my view that it is critical that the school retain its neighborhood identity. I stated that of course everyone would support a neighborhood school with greater resources and autonomy, but it would not be acceptable to trade off one for the other. I introduced a resolution at the City Council stating the view that neighborhood schools are critical to a community's fabric. You can read the resolution by clicking on this link: Neighborhood School Resolution. The entire City Council joined the resolution as co-sponsors. The City Council assigned the resolution to the Education Committee. On November 7, 2012 at 5:45 p.m., the Education Committee will hold a hearing on the subject of "in-district" charter schools. I am hopeful we will be able to obtain more information about this issue by then, if not sooner. In the meantime, I would like to encourage parents in the neighborhood to get more involved on this issue.

I'm ambivalent to mildly supportive regarding the issue of starting some new district charters in the PPSD. On the other hand, if you made a list of 100 education issues for City Council to spend its time studying, whether or not you can create a "neighborhood charter" would be at or near the bottom in terms of usefulness. I see no ambiguity on this issue in RI law or regulation that would suggest that you can have in effect a neighborhood charter, nor do I see any reason that RIDE would allow such a thing. Neither Deb Gist nor the Regents need votes from the East Side.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Khan is an expert BECAUSE he knows nothing about learning theory.

Mike Caulfield:

The idea of TED is that you’re smart enough to get it in 10 minutes or less, and the story that TED-ites love (b/c it supports that narrative) is the story of someone outside the “industry” or research area coming in from another area and declaring at a glance what everyone has missed.

So we get economists talking about global warming, game designers talking about learning, techies talking about political gridlock, and choreographers talking about physics. It’s so simple, they tell us.

Ah, say the TED-sters — us outsiders to the system, we can all see what the insiders can’t! Salman Khan is an expert because he knows nothing about learning theory. Lomborg is worth listening to because he doesn’t know about climate science. And I’m probably an expert too!

via Stephen.

Or, Maybe We Could Just Actually Use the Writing Tests We Already Give?

Tom Kane:

When it comes to measuring teachers’ effectiveness, the state ELA assessments are less reliable and less related to other measures of practice than state math assessments (or the assessment of students’ short-answer writing responses we used to supplement the state tests). The implementation of new literacy assessments in line with the Common Core state standards may help. In the interim, schools might adapt their classroom observations and student surveys to look for evidence of student writing or add questions to the student survey asking students to describe the quality of feedback they receive on their writing.

Every time RIDE creates another high stakes evaluation based only on reading scores and not using the writing scores they already collect (that we already paid for), they're just saying "We. Don't. Care." About kids. About communities. About teachers. About data. About integrity. We are not curious about schools. We're all just cogs in this machine.

That's how we shut down and shame urban high schools that completely closed the income and racial achievement gaps vs. the state in writing, which oh, sorry! turns out to be more reliable measure of quality.

Why, Indeed?

John Thompson:

... if evaluators were not up to the simpler task of removing teachers whose observable behavior was wanting, why place them in charge of a multidimensional Super Model, utilizing a variety of proxies for student achievement, to achieve multiple goals, in a system that had yet to be studied, much less designed?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Your Moment of Zen

I Was Not, In Fact, There

I arrived in Pittsburgh in 1987, in what was obviously, even to a kid from the sticks of Central PA, the post-punk era. WRCT was a great place to get up to speed on the local punk history. Frank Boscoe and I did a series of interviews and historical articles for our Cubist Pop Manifesto fanzine. Dave Martin and Mike LaVella were always happy to talk your ears off about the good old days.

And of course a lot of people from that period were still around playing music, although actually putting your hand on just 5-10 year old records or tapes could be almost impossible.

So anyhow, I wasn't there, but was just one step removed.

Meanwhile, in the past few years, I've watched and read more than my share of punk documentaries and docu-dramas. Most of these just leave me conscious of the fleeting ephemerality of what they're trying to describe. The great moments were incredibly... momentary, and if you try to make them carry too much weight or meaning, well, ever get the feeling you've been cheated?.

YOU WEREN'T THERE: A HISTORY OF CHICAGO PUNK 1977-1984 manages to bring across the spirit of the times as I understand it. It covers a long enough sweep of time and range of bands that it doesn't have to convince you that any one of them is better than they seem. There's unusually good archival live video and sound of the bands. Good interviews, spare editing. It is all about Chicago, but to varying degrees the same storyline was playing out to varying degrees in cities all over the country, including Pittsburgh. It is really a national story.

What I like the most about the You Weren't There is the way it pulls you through the rapid progression from anything goes 1977 full on freak show punk rock to the terminal point of by-the-numbers hardcore (on the cusp of The Great Crossover). It is a path that was followed all over the country, and in retrospect it seems both improbable and somehow inevitable.

Peter Margasak's review is pretty accurate, and I can't really disagree with his criticisms and those of some of the commenters, but I'd say You Weren't There's flaws as entertainment work to its advantage as documentary. You might find, say, aging punks picking the scabs of 30 year old internecine grudges to be tiresome, but honestly, a lot more time is always spent talking shit than actually playing and listening to music, especially since you can do both at the same time. That's the kind of thing that makes a punk rock scene real.

Now I Know Why They Make Them Wear Red

The Nation:

In this moving letter to Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, ten elementary school students from Reservoir Avenue Elementary School in Providence, Rhode Island share their experience reading a Nation editorial together in their school principal's office. Many thanks to the students for writing and to Principal Socorro Gomez-Potter for hosting the conversation

Seems like a pretty good fit so far.

First Draft College and Career Readiness Standards on the Wayback Machine

Bill Fitzgerald reminded me that the first draft of the Common Core ELA standards is findable through the Wayback Machine. I'd been kicking myself over not being able to find a local copy. This should include an active link to the pdf version, which includes the only benchmarking documentation for the standards, although unfortunately all the highly convenient copies of the reference standards are not on the Wayback Machine.

This is particularly useful if you want to understand the motivations of the standard's authors. For example, the idea that the Common Core standards put a new focus on content starts to fall apart when you see that there is nothing about content in the first draft. You can't deny that what content is there was grafted on later.

I'm a little fuzzy on the whole sequence... there was the first draft with only the College and Career Readiness Standards (i.e., the end-of-school standards) and then were there two drafts of the grade level standards? The CCRS were heavily re-arranged but there wasn't a separate final draft of those.

You Can Always Move to the Suburbs

The lamest thing about Mike Petrilli's public soul searching about moving from the inner-ish ring suburbs to the outer-ish ring suburbs when his kids approached school-going age is that, while for private schools or charters you probably need to make that decision before you start kindergarten, if your option is moving to the suburbs, you can do that any time, and they have to take your children. No lottery or anything!

If you are too much of a pussy to even try starting your kid in kindergarten and seeing how it goes, you were never really serious. Especially since in 2012, if anything the urban kindergarten might be even more academically focused than the suburban one. It isn't like your kid is going to fall fatally behind in kindergarten.

Your Moment of Zen

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Is Anyone Less Interested in the Common Core Standards than David Coleman and Susan Pimentel?

Fellow Brown MAT ('99) Eric Westendorf:

We just launched our new Common Core Navigator tool!

The Common Core Navigator gives you a birds-eye view of what a student needs to learn in each grade level. It's a simple way to see how the new Common Core State Standards work!

My helpful comment:

Hi Eric,

Your ELA navigator is inaccurate because the standards state "Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades."

So the number of standards per year should increase considerably, although it will take some work to figure out exactly which standards this is supposed to apply to (since the standards have such poor organization and editing) and which should be considered equivalent and overlapping and which are different.

Before I wrote this I figured I should double-check the Revised Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades 3–12 by David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, where you would expect such issues to be clarified. Of course, this does not come up. Nor, for that matter, is there clarification of the requirements for any single reading standard other than standard 10, one of the two Coleman and Pimental seem actually interested in (the other is 9).

While I'm at it here are a couple more gems from the publisher's criteria:

Specifically, in alignment with NAEP, the standards require that in grades 6–12, student reading across the curriculum must include a balance of texts that is one-third literary, one-third history/social studies, and one-third science.

As far as I can tell, that "balance" is completely made up. At least, it doesn't appear in the NAEP Reading Framework, nor is it consistent with the NAEP Distribution of Literary and Informational Passages by Grade cited in the introduction to the Common Core standards, nor does it seem like usable practical advice for anyone, unless they are in the unusual situation of writing the science, history and English textbooks at the same time.

Come to think of it, that may apply to more people than I realize. Kind of reminds you of who Coleman and Pimentel regard as their audience and peers.

They deserve some kind of chutzpah award for this paragraph:

Curriculum materials must have a clear and documented research base. The most important evidence is that the curriculum accelerates student progress toward career and college readiness. It can be surprising which questions, tasks, and instructions provoke the most productive engagement with text, accelerate student growth, and deepen instructor facility with the materials. A great deal of the material designed for the standards will by necessity be new, but as much as possible the work should be based on research and developed and refined through actual testing in classrooms. Publishers should provide a clear research plan for how the efficacy of their materials will be assessed and improved over time. Revisions should be based on evidence of actual use and results with a wide range of students, including English language learners.

Also, they don't address one tricky issue: if you want students to analyze arguments, particularly limiting them to a single text, you would have to intentionally give them some bad ones, or else you leave yourself open to having to always accept a stereotypical polyanna-ish analysis ("The quality of the (NAME OF PROMPT) is high — I found it to be worth reading closely, and it exhibits exceptional craft and thought and/or provides useful information for these three reasons..."). The Publisher's Criteria does not recognize this issue.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lest We Forget

Renee Moore:

Some of you will recall that a similar (education debate by presidential surrogates) was held at Teachers College and hosted by Fuhrman prior to the last Presidential election. That one featured Linda Darling Hammond representing President Obama. Many of us hoped that her highly visible presence as an adviser during the campaign signaled she might be our next Secretary of Education. Given that history, I'm a little skeptical (aren't you surprised) that what we hear from the surrogates in this debate will be an accurate reading of what we can expect in terms of policy after the election dust settles.

It wasn't all just projecting our hopes on a blank slate.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In These Times on the Walmart Strikes

Micah Uetricht:

When workers voted in a union in Quebec and they were actually forced to negotiate with a union, the union did not ask for wage or benefits increases. They simply wanted to give workers predictable shifts—to make it possible for workers to have lives. Instead of doing this, Walmart shut the store down. Walmart was saying, “We cannot operate when workers are sure of a regular shift.”

Definitely read the whole thing. A good reminder of who is funding school reform and their aims.

Common Core ELA, Khan Academy and the Flipped Classroom

I don't think very many people have noticed that the "flipped classroom" concept is in basic contradiction to the Common Core Literacy/ELA standards.

The fundamental logic of Common Core ELA is:

  1. Preparing students for success in college is the primary goal.
  2. Disciplinary literacy -- literally being able to read your textbooks and other assigned reading independently -- is the most important factor leading to success in college.
  3. Therefore, the central focus of the K-12 curriculum across all subjects should be subject-area reading (and writing).

On the other hand, the Khan Academy-style flipped classroom says:

  1. Homework should be watching videos, not reading.

OK, maybe that's not the explicit message of Khan Academy, which is more like:

  1. Don't try to work at home by yourself and listen to lectures at school.
  2. Listen to lectures at home and work in school.

They just skip over the part where you always have been able to read at home, but apparently there is some problem with that now.

Also, kind of funny that the only major subject that didn't have a set of disciplinary literacy standards imposed on it by the ELA people -- math -- was also the only one that would have had the power to block the move. Maybe the math people were insisting on some "math across the curriculum" standards in English in exchange.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Josh Eidelson:

For the second time in five days – and also the second time in Walmart’s five decades – workers at multiple US Walmart stores are on strike. This morning, workers walked off the job in Dallas, Texas and Laurel, Maryland; Walmart store workers in additional cities are expected to join the strike in the coming hours. No end date has been announced; some plan to remain on strike at least through tomorrow, when they’ll join other Walmart workers for a demonstration outside the company’s annual investor meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas. Today’s is the latest in a unprecedented wave of Walmart supply chain strikes: From shrimp workers in Louisiana, to warehouse workers in California and Illinois, to Walmart store employees in three states – and counting.

“A lot of associates, we have to use somewhat of a buddy system,” Dallas worker Colby Harris said last night. “We loan each other money during non-paycheck weeks just to make it through to the next week when we get paid. Because we don’t have enough money after paying bills to even eat lunch.” Harris, who’s now on strike, said that after three years at Walmart, he makes $8.90 an hour in the produce department, and workers at his store have faced “constant retaliation” for speaking up.

On Thursday, as first reported at Salon, southern California Walmart store workers staged a day-long walkout of their own. Organizers say over sixty workers from nine stores signed in as on strike. About thirty of them were from the same store in Pico Rivera, where strikers and supporters rallied with labor leaders, clergy, politicians. “I’m still thrilled about what happened,” said Harris, who flew in for last week’s walkout. “And it’s given me a lot more energy and a lot more drive.” Other workers were visiting from further away than Texas: When the striking workers returned to work Friday morning, international Walmart workers marched into their nine stores with them, carrying their own countries’ flags.

One lesson that we can take from Occupy Wall Street is that successful direct action in the 21st century requires a lot of preliminary groundwork, grassroots demand, and then complete surprise.

Short, sharp wildcat strikes along the supply chain make a lot of sense. Will this take off, who knows?

I hope this is correct:

Before these work stoppages, “the other stuff had been so predictable from Walmart’s point of view,” Columbia University political scientist Dorian Warren said yesterday. They’ve always had activists coming to Bentonville. They’ve never had a disruption in their supply chain.” Warren, who’s co-writing a book on Walmart, said the strikes by warehouse workers and store employees are a game-changer: “There was ‘Before,’ and there was ‘After,’ and we just crossed that line.”

Monday, October 08, 2012

Drink Your Part

My DIY coping repair at Neutaconkanut seems to have worked:


Following these instructions.

Cyclocross Cyclorama

"Compared to the iPhone 5, all other products will feel cheap"

Farhad Manjoo:

I’ll go even further: When I pick up the iPhone 5 and examine it closely, I find it difficult to believe that this device actually exists. The iPhone 5 does not feel like a product that was mass produced. In a strange way, it doesn’t feel like it was built at all. This is a gadget that seems as if it fell into the box fully formed. If you run your hands around its face, you scarcely feel any seams or other points of connection; there’s little evidence that this thing is a highly complex device made from lots of smaller things. Instead it just feels like a single, solid, exquisitely crafted piece of machinery, and once you pick it up you never want to put it down.

I've had an iPhone 5 for a couple weeks. It is not only my first smartphone, but the first mobile phone I've had that wasn't an amusing anachronism the day I acquired it. I agree with Manjoo completely. As an object, it is utterly uncanny.

You can easily imagine the precision required to create it would drive its Chinese builders mad.

The Impossibility of Preschool

Robert Pondiscio:

“All of this would seem to argue for a system in which we spent ever more of our energies and money on early, preschool education rather than less,” concludes Bellafante.

Yes, but let’s be VERY clear: What is needed to close the verbal gap is not just preschool. Not even “high quality” preschool. What is needed is high-quality preschool that drenches low-income learners in the language-rich, knowledge-rich environment that their more fortunate peers live in every hour of every day from the moment they come home from the delivery room.

Am I the only one who sees a disjuncture between what Pondiscio is calling for for low-income kids and what he says works for "more fortunate peers?" Because literally, the difference is not some plan or curriculum, but simply more time in contact with and talking and listening to caring, educated adults. So providing this in pre-schools for low-income students shouldn't be that hard, just kind of expensive.

Paul Goodman Changed My Life

Paul Goodman:

The essence of an honest scholar is to point out to people what could be done, how it could be done, why that conception is the most direct and probably the only one which really works in the end and then hope that you educate the public. Just what the professional has to do is to elevate the public to sense. ...
Most professionals are finks. They don't begin to remember what it's like to be a real professional; an engineer who'll say when they tell him that we've decided to build a road here and there say "That's a rotten place to build a road, it's bad for the communities, take your road and fuck yourself."

Available on Netflix.

40 Year Old Paper on Math Instruction Cuts to the Heart of My Critique of Common Core ELA

S.H. Erlwanger via Dan Meyer:

Individualization in (Individually Prescribed Instruction Mathematics) implies permitting (the student) to cover the prescribed mathematics curriculum at his own rate. But since the objectives in mathematics must be defined in precise behavioral terms, important educational outcomes, such as learning how to think mathematically, appreciating the power and beauty of mathematics, and developing mathematical intuition are excluded.

This is what struck me about Common Core ELA as soon as I started looking at their early international benchmarks: Common Core had edited out everything that couldn't "be defined in precise behavioral terms." Basically, they're trying to make ELA as testable as our math curriculum.

That's the core of the problem. We need a better story to explain it.

I would also note that I don't think it is a controversial statement. I'm sure they're proud of the extent to which they stuck to "precise behavioral terms."

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Corey Bunje-Bower:

Last Thursday, the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools (a research center led by Vanderbilt's Peabody College with partners at UNC-Chapel Hill, Florida State, Wisconsin-Madison, Georgia State, and the Educational Development Center, funded by a five-year, $13.6 million federal grant, which aims to identify and then explore ways to scale up, characteristics of effective high schools) released a new report examining the differences between high-and low-performing high schools in Broward County, Florida.

As only one small piece of the puzzle, we shouldn't get carried away with the findings. But I was struck with what was -- and was not -- included in their list of differences between the schools. Below is the Executive Summary's list of differences:

We identified one major theme that cut across all ten components: personalization for academic and social learning. In the area of personalization, our findings show that the higher value-added (VA) schools made deliberate efforts through systematic structures to promote strong relationships between adults and students as well as to personalize the learning experience of students. In addition, the higher VA schools maintained strong and reliable disciplinary systems that, in turn, engendered feelings of caring and, implicitly, trust among both students and teachers. Leaders at the higher VA schools talked explicitly about looking for student engagement in classroom walkthroughs as well as in their interactions with students. Teachers at the higher VA schools were more likely to discuss instructional activities that drew on students’ experiences and interests. The higher VA schools also encouraged stronger linkages with parents (p. 5).

Included: "soft" factors like trust and relationships.

Not included: virtually everything currently discussed in ed policy circles (school choice, teacher evaluations, merit pay, data-driven decision-making, etc.)

And some, like closing schools, firing teachers, rating teachers based on test scores and student surveys, parent triggers, etc. actively work against creating schools built around strong, trusting relationships.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Another Look at the Brevity of the Common Core Standards

Robert Pondiscio posts approvingly on Common Core ELA reading literature standard 9 in 11th & 12th grade's requirement to "demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature." I don't, for the record, have a problem with a manageable canon of American literature. However, this standard is very weak for a number of reasons, some of which I've gone into recently.

One thing I haven't spent much time considering, however, is the potential impact of this requirement (from the header for reading standards):

Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades.

In this case, just in standard 9 for literature this would then include:

  • Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories)... (grade 6)
  • Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history (grade 7).
  • Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new (grade 8).
  • Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (grades 9-10).

You can start to see the problem with throwing "oh yeah, and familiarize yourself with the history of American literature" into a single grade level standard. It is just one of dozens.

Wouldn't any serious cost/benefit analysis indicate that anyone at risk of not meeting these standards should simply write off standard 9 for 11th & 12th grade, or at best just try to cram in some basic facts about Poe, Twain, Hawthorne, etc. and try to fake it? Otherwise, you can't justify reading all those books for such a small fraction of the overall standard corpus. Especially since American literature is not required by the range of reading standard.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Paul Bruno: Concern Troll

Paul Bruno:

Given that all signs point to the movie being completely forgettable on its own terms, it's probably safe to say that all of the hand-wringing and protesting by parent trigger opponents was much ado about nothing. In fact, I'd go so far to say that the movie's opponents probably shot themselves in the foot by turning a movie nobody was going to care about into a "nationwide conversation" in which parent trigger advocates could make their case.

Because Your First Sexual Experience Wasn't Awkward Enough

Gary Wilson:

If you're wondering how you, or someone you love, came to find bestiality, gang rape, transsexual porn or anything else arousing, wonder no longer. In the laboratory, researcher Jim Pfaus has even successfully used the reward of sexual jollies to condition mammals to love cadaverine (the odor of decaying flesh):

Four days [after males' first sexual experiences, with females "perfumed" with cadaverine], males received a wooden dowel that had been saturated in cadaverine into their home cages. Males in the control ... groups avoided the dowel, and some attempted to bury it. In contrast, all males in the cadaverine-paired group made contact with the dowel and more than half picked it up and gnawed on it, as they would if the dowel had been laced with something hedonically positive like estrous vaginal secretions or chocolate.

So what is giving Newcomers the biggest sexual kicks? Not real peers. Just as rats an humans really don't like the smell of rotting flesh, many of today's porn users don't really like what they've escalated to. "It's complicated."

Here's the scary bit for Newcomers: Early sexual conditioning can stick around. Adolescent brains are at their peak of (1) dopamine levels, (2) sensitivity to dopamine signaling and (3) vulnerability to addiction. Novel, startling, arousing stimuli can rock their world in a way it won't an adult brain. This neurochemical reality primes young brains. They learn to define sex according to whatever stimuli offer the biggest sexual buzz. This lesson is a powerful one, as can be seen from the rats that cherished cadaverine-scented dowels.

In contrast, sexual conditioning is far more elastic if it occurs after normal mating patterns are established. For example, when scientists yanked receptive females away from male rats, the rats swiftly learned to ejaculate with fewer intromissions. Once this pattern was established, the males continued their hasty ways even when given free (uninterrupted) access to females.

On the other hand, males given all the time they wanted with hot females first—and then subjected to disappearing females—also learned to speed up. However, they resumed a normal pace when returned to free access.

Today's teens first train their mating skills to pixels rather than real partners. Their training does not prepare them to experience normal pleasure during intercourse (or even oral sex) with a real partner. It's like hitting tennis balls to improve one's jump shot. Guys are training for the wrong sport, so when (if?) they switch to real partners they have to learn a whole new game.

If Only I had the Choice of a School that Fails Kindergarteners

Beth Fertig:

Another parent, Angela Dupree, agreed and said she’s grateful for options like Harlem Link.

“I am very happy because it gives us the opportunity to shop around,” she said, noting that another daughter graduated Harlem Link last year and is now in junior high. “Like, I couldn’t believe some of the schools that she could possibly get into and she actually got accepted to the majority of junior high schools she wanted.”

But Dupree isn’t done shopping. She is thinking of moving her younger daughter out of Harlem Link, because she had to repeat kindergarten. She also thinks the uniform policy is too strict.

Providence Cyclo-Cross Festival This Weekend!

I highly recommend the Providence Cyclo-Cross Festival, taking place this Saturday and Sunday in Roger Williams Park. Cyclo-cross is kind of like a bike steeplechase, partly off-road, so moderately bad only weather makes it more fun (to watch). The best thing about it is that the course is extremely twisty and compacted into a small, easily accessible part of the park (above the Temple to Music), so, unlike most bike racing, you can almost always see at least some action.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Closest Thing to a “Normal” Educational Environment She Could Find

Benjamin Herold:

For the past six months, Lewis, 45 and divorced, has been navigating Philadelphia’s changing school-choice landscape. Dissatisfied with the neighborhood public school Cooper attended since kindergarten, Lewis set out to find something better. Her search has been fueled by anger and guilt.

“I had put my kid in a situation where he absolutely hated going to school,” she says. “I thought I had taken away his opportunity to be successful.”

In Pennsylvania and across the nation, reformers and politicians have been responding to parents like Lewis by expanding charter schools and pushing for publicly funded vouchers. Empower parents by giving them more school options, they argue, and fewer children will be trapped in failing schools.

But for the time being, at least, the practical realities of school choice in Philadelphia are far messier than that.

You could say that there have historically been two "brands" in American education: "traditional" and "progressive." Of course, in practice pretty much every school has some of both, which is probably for the best, but fundamentally, it is how we understand schools. Pretty much everyone has some intuitive sense of this.

Anyhow, I don't think even five years ago that I would have guessed that someone could sell a "choice" system that only included one of those two brands, but increasingly that's what cities are getting.

Monday, October 01, 2012

It is No Growing Up Absurd

I broke down and read How Children Succeed this weekend. Basically, if you've been following the excerpts and commentary, the book is unnecessary. To save me writing this stuff myself, here are some choice recent quotes:


The first two chapters, How to Fail (and How Not To) and How to Build Character were quite compelling. The third chapter, How to Think, is almost completely about one public school in New York City and its chess program. I found it mildly interesting but not nearly as much as Tough clearly did and it slowed my progress considerably (that and the end of my vacation and school starting). The final two chapters, How to Succeed and A Better Path were more interesting to me, but still paled in comparison with the first two.

One of the studies Tough references very early in the book, beginning on page nine, has haunted me for the past six weeks. It is the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. It was run by Kaiser Permanente in California beginning in 1995. Patients were asked to complete a questionnaire about their personal history in regards to adverse childhood experience, such as abuse neglect and various types of family dysfunction (ten total categories). This was requested when patients came in for a comprehensive physical exam. More than seventeen thousand questionnaires were returned, a rate of almost 70%. The individuals tended to be middle class, most were white and most had attended college.

They found that "the higher the ACE score, the worse the outcome on almost every measure from addictive behavior to chronic disease." (page 10) The statistics Tough states blew my mind.

The most astounding thing was that these adverse childhood experiences had a negative impact on health even for people who did not smoke, drink to excess, or were overweight. The new theory became that the cause of these health problems was the stress of these experiences. Essentially our bodies are not made to endure ongoing, constant stress and managing that stress day in and day out wears on our bodies.

Katie Osgood:

I am not clear on what all the hype is about regarding Tough’s book. I teach on a child/adolescent inpatient unit at a psychiatric hospital in Chicago. We teach very similar types of social skills (I refuse to call it “character” which adds an implicit deficit understanding of children’s behavior.) In the mental health field, clinicians and mental health workers have been teaching these skills for decades. This research is nothing new. As a trained special education teacher, I spent a large part of my education graduate program learning the direct instruction of social skills. Schools have emphasized social/emotional learning for as long as I have been a teacher.

To me, the biggest difference in what KIPP does and what happens at my hospital is that we teach these skills in a therapeutic context. That is, children spend the whole day discussing their personal lives, including abuse, trauma, neglect, violence, and home lives. We teach them ways to overcome frustration in the moment, so it does not blow up into aggression or self-harm. We connect their depression (lack of “optimism”), their feelings of hopelessness (lack of “grit”), and their anger (lack of “zest” or “self-control”) with their lives and then teach them ways to cope. We are always clear that these types of coping skills are intended as a momentary fix to get kids through difficult situations, but the real healing happens through the long process of directly dealing with the trauma by trained professionals.

Basically, the research he cites on the real, physical damage caused by adverse childhood experiences is solid and compelling; his case studies of things that might work to overcome that damage is hand-wavy in comparison.