Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Night Stoke

I only brought one deck to Scotland -- my Salba Cruz.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Keepin' the Old Truck Runnin'

Almost eight years ago I bought a cutting edge ultra-portable laptop -- the Lenovo X60s. It was, in fact, the same computer my billionaire boss was using. In Scotland, it is still my workhorse, driving an external monitor, recharging half my life via USB, etc. My $120 in upgrades from a year and a half ago is holding up quite well.

I was starting to get worried about it running hot all the time, so when I got here so I bought an external cooler, but the CPU fan is getting very rattly now, so I ordered a replacement on eBay and opened the thing up again. Turns out I had the wrong part, so I'll have to try again. It is certainly nice though to have a laptop that you can operate on without too much trouble. At this point I've been in and out of it enough that I have to remember the parts I've discarded along the way (fingerprint reader, modem wiring) or I get confused comparing mine to the how-to pictures on the internet. So far I've only lost one screw.

A big question though over the past decade or so has been "How much laptop is enough?" If you ask me, a 2006 Lenovo with an SSD and 3gigs is pretty much the sweet spot.

Unfortunately, I didn't test the Model M2 keyboard I brought with me (it is smaller than my regular M1), and it has bad capacitors. I imagine Jennifer doesn't miss my clacking keys in our flat here.

Down the Turkish Rabbit Hole

John Hannah:

Then, in a major escalation of the conflict that amounted to more or less a declaration of all-out war, Erdogan proposed eliminating the dershanes, a system of exam-prep courses that serve as a major source of revenue and influence for Gulen's empire.

Gaze into the future of American educational politics...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The True Meaning of Christmas

The sun at 11:30 today, scene shot from the local bus stop. 
In Stirling, not only is this the darkest month, my phone says it is also (marginally) the coldest on average. And it isn't actually that cold. Average low here is 35F, 8 degrees higher than Providence's. It is dark and damp, but there is still plenty of green. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Measure of This Trip

Is riding over the Forth on a 16th century cobblestone bridge still kinda fun in the dark, in a cold rain, with 50 pounds of groceries in your pannier bags?


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Size of the Team is Not What Matters

Gary Rubinstein:

The fact is that the original intent of the common core , was to address this very concern (number of topics). The problem, though, is that they didn’t actually cut anything (in math), as far as I can tell. Why this happened is tough to say. One complaint that teachers have about the common core is that they were developed by a very small group of people without input from teachers. Perhaps that small group didn’t have the heart to cut any topics.

Or maybe the committee, even if it was small, was unable to come to agreement on which topics should be cut. You see, the issue isn’t so much the size of the group or whether or not they got input from teachers, the issue is that the ability of that group wasn’t up to the task. Perhaps it would have been better if the task were left up to one very clever individual who understood the needs of teachers and of students and could be trusted to do this right. So, yes, I’m suggesting that rather than whatever group they formed, the common core standards would have been much better if they had just hired one person, namely me, to do the whole thing.

The ELA situation is more vexing -- they did brutally cut out a lot of stuff, but somehow ended up with almost as many minutely varied standards covering less ground -- but similar insofar as a small, insular team could work for standards writing, if they were particularly experienced, inspired and focused. That doesn't describe who we had working on Common Core.

One Might Conclude That US Schools are Chronically Understaffed

Ryan Fuller:

As an engineer, I dealt with very complex design problems, but before I decided how to solve them, I had a chance to think, research, and reflect for hours, days, or even weeks. I also had many opportunities to consult colleagues for advice before making any decisions. As a teacher, I have seconds to decide how to solve several problems at once, for hours at a time, without any real break, and with no other adults in the room to support them. There are days of teaching that make a day in the office seem like a vacation.

Of course, the evidence is that American schools are understaffed, at least compared to schools in higher performing countries, private schools, urban vs. suburban, etc. And it would seem to be in TFA's direct interest to advocate for increased staffing. It would improve their argument for growth, dampen opposition, and generally make them look less like self-absorbed, privileged pricks. It also seems like something TFA as we know it would never do.

Also, another STEM graduate who decides his engineering job just isn't worth bothering with...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kind of Obvious Once You Think About It

It is meaningless to try to compare reading in Chinese with reading in Danish.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Medium is Great for Writing

Matt Yglesias:

Everything changed for me over the weekend when I took the time to write a blog post on Medium. Or to write a Medium? To medium? Verbing is important, and I'm not sure Medium has it down. What they do have down is writing stuff. This is, by far, the best tool for simply writing that I've seen. You type, you edit, you format, you toss some images or headers in. It's really nice. I came away from writing the post wanting to proclaim Medium the greatest CMS (that means "content management system" if you're not in the business) in the world. But that's actually wrong. The genius of using Medium as a writer is that it isn't a content management system. It's a writing tool that has a "publish" button and a "share" button. But precisely because it isn't taked with a lot of difficult content management problems, it focuses very effectively on being a text editor.

I'd been becoming more and more conscious of how terrible everything I'd been trying lately for writing, mostly but not entirely web-based editors, was just terrible. Just cutting and pasting from one window into another is somehow a nightmare in 2013. Part of the reason Medium is nice is because the task is so constrained, but it is very nice for writing and posting mid-length pieces online.

Fluid Intelligence and the NECAP Math

Anne Trafton:

In a study of nearly 1,400 eighth-graders in the Boston public school system, the researchers found that some schools have successfully raised their students’ scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). However, those schools had almost no effect on students’ performance on tests of fluid intelligence skills, such as working memory capacity, speed of information processing, and ability to solve abstract problems.

“Our original question was this: If you have a school that’s effectively helping kids from lower socioeconomic environments by moving up their scores and improving their chances to go to college, then are those changes accompanied by gains in additional cognitive skills?” says John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and senior author of a forthcoming Psychological Science paper describing the findings.

Instead, the researchers found that educational practices designed to raise knowledge and boost test scores do not improve fluid intelligence. “It doesn’t seem like you get these skills for free in the way that you might hope, just by doing a lot of studying and being a good student,” says Gabrieli, who is also a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

Gabrieli's point is key to understanding this. It doesn't show that the MCAS, or schooling as it is currently constructed, demonstrates less than it claims to, but that it doesn't give you more "for free."

I suspect this is highly relevant for understanding the 11th grade math NECAP scores, though. That test certainly seems to emphasize "fluid intelligence skills" as they're described in the article, which on one hand is admirable if that's what you really want kids to be able to do, but on the other hand, we genuinely don't seem to know how to teach those skills in school.

If you did have a test that emphasized skills that schooling doesn't currently affect, you'd get scores that not only were overwhelmingly based on out of school factors, even compared to other standardized tests, but that would remain remarkably resistant to any and all common interventions. As is the case with 11th grade NECAP math scores.

Depends on What You Mean By "Predict"

Anne Trafton, MIT News Office:

These high-stakes tests have also been shown to predict students’ future educational attainment and adult employment and income.

This does not mean, in effect, "Show me a kid's test scores, and I can make a good prediction of his adult income." At best, it means "Show me a kid's test scores, and I can make a good prediction about how much more or less he or she might make compared to socio-economically comparable students with different test scores."

That's not nothing, but it is less than it seems on first gloss.

My CC Piece on RI Future


I feel compelled respond to Julian(sic) Steiny’s recent GoLocalProv column Common Core Standards Freak Out Chicken Littles. I will focus on English/Language Arts, because that is my area of expertise.

It is a little weird because they ran a photo of Julia Steiny next to my response, which is just a little confusing. Also I just noticed I also accidentally called her "Julian," which I just fixed!

It is almost as if it is all calculated to annoy Julia Steiny...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fordham Has Strange Ideas About Standards Design

You might not be surprised that Fordham's ratings of state (and other) standards have, shall we say, a point of view on what kind of content and skills should be in there. Nor, for that matter, is that inappropriate.

However, I doubt informed observers realize that Fordham's ratings put a fair amount of weight on the organization and presentation of the standards. They are really rating the "document," not the standards themselves, and they have some very... specific ideas about what should and should not be done. For example, saying a standard applies to multiple grades (e.g., 4-5) is ok; listing the same standard twice, once in each grade, is not ok. The score does not even purport to directly represent the standards themselves.

Anyhow, I got a bit deeper into the weeds on that than I intended in a post over at Common Core Annoyances.

Also, you might not be shocked to know that all three states using the same NECAP GLE's got different scores...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Watch Dr. David Pook Mislead NH Legislators about the Common Core and NECAP GLEs

Dr. David Pook, starting at 6:40:

I thought it would be just useful since again, I don't think we spend enough time just reading the standards themselves, to actually look at a former New Hampshire standard and one of the new ones.

I could have done this with any one, I happen to be reading Julius Ceasar right now, so I'm thinking about character. So I took the character standard from New Hampshire and took the character standard from the new standards, the Common Core standards, and just put them up here.

The old standard in New Hampshire said "Demonstrate initial understanding of a literary text by identifying, describing, or making logical predictions about the character or setting, problem/solution, or plots, or subplots, as appropriate to text; or identifying any significant changes in character, relationships, or setting over time; or identifying rising action, climax, or falling action."

There is, I think, a wealth of "right there" type of activities, and the idea of making a prediction as, to find out whether it is true or false. You'd have to read to find out, but that prediction is not necessarily rooted in the text.

The standard that replaces that in the Common Core Standards uses words like "analyze," or "develop," "interact," "advance." It asks students to not just identify but then to pull that identification(?) together and make that inference, to show how that inference develops, pushes the plot forward, pushes the setting forward, advances our understanding in that way.

We sometimes hear that the standards aren't rigorous enough, and I think sometimes that happens without having the standards in front of us. And, say what you want, there is something about a cleanliness, a cleanness about understanding the purpose of that as a teacher helping my students to analyze, whereas there is an awful lot of things to do right here that makes it sometimes challenging to process.

So we'll be looking at these standards today and working with this version of the standards, but I think it is useful to have that as a background.(8:50)

To be clear, the Common Core standard Dr. Pook references is this one:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

The big problem with Dr. Pook's illustration is that he does not cite the correct NECAP GLE standard used by New Hampshire, as well as Vermont and New Hampshire. The NECAP "characterization" standard is clearly this one:

R–10–5 Analyze and interpret elements of literary texts, citing evidence where appropriate by...
R–10–5.2 Examining characterization (e.g., stereotype, antagonist, protagonist), motivation, or interactions (including relationships), citing thoughts, words, or actions that reveal character traits, motivations, or changes over time (State)

The relevant NECAP standards are on page 9 and 11, if you want to see for yourself.

The standard Dr. Pook refers to is one of the heading of "INITIAL UNDERSTANDING of LITERARY TEXTS" The "characterization" standard is two pages later under "ANALYSIS and INTERPRETATION OF LITERARY TEXTS/CITING EVIDENCE." Those are the two main focuses of literary reading in the NECAP GLEs, and anyone with a passing familiarity with the standards knows the biggest focus is on analysis and interpretation.

We could certainly discuss which standard is better worded and conceptually stronger, but it should be clear that the two standards focusing on analysis of characterization are very close, both have notable weaknesses, but mean to address very similar points. They do not support an argument that there are significant differences between the two sets of standards.

We can logically infer from our reading that one of two things is true. Either Dr. Pook is unfamiliar with the NECAP GLEs and negligent in his preparation for this presentation to legislators in his home state, or he intentionally misrepresented the NECAP GLEs when illustrating the differences between the two sets of standards.

I Wonder if Common Core Advocates Curse Coleman Behind His Back

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

Coleman’s approach set off a firestorm among educators. Some teachers were angered, not by his pedagogical vision per se but by the fact that the author of the standards seemed to be telling them how to teach, even when the standards themselves are agnostic about pedagogy. Others rejected the view that pre-reading is a waste of time, contending instead that pre-reading activities are essential to helping disadvantaged students access the kinds of complex texts that the Common Core demands.

The important part, really, is that the person with the biggest bully pulpit to explain and sell the standards themselves to the educational community decided to expound on his own pet ideas about teaching instead. It was just sloppy and vain.

Monday, December 09, 2013

I've Started a Blog!

As you might have noticed, I've been struggling with getting my thoughts about the Common Core standards out to the wider audience of people finally paying attention to the issue. In addition to the standard critiques at this point, I've just got a diffuse set of concerns about structure and quality which are... fairly abstract, particularly if you haven't broadly read ELA standards from around the world (which I don't encourage you to spend your time doing).

So I did talk to a prominent blogger about writing a piece for his site, and he was interesting, but frankly, trying to refine a single or small group of big or medium sized pieces is just impossible for me as a hobby. I go crazy and write in circles.

So... last week I got the bright idea to start a blog, but since it turned out to be the 1.0 "release" day for Medium, I figured I'd give it a look, and actually it seemed like a good fit. You have "collections" of "stories," an very pleasant text editor, good simple layout and it seems like the right combination of collaborative facilities to end up with something that I can curate without it seeming like my personal blog.

Of course, one of the main things that makes this plausible is that I have a ton of raw material in the form of posts from here that can be tidied up and made a bit more self-contained and accessible, with links to other background material for people who want more context.

The idea here would be getting more stuff prominently linked and reprinted, and ideally other people can contribute as well.

So anyway, here it is: Common Core Annoyances. Atom feed here.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

Running inBloom on Your Laptop

Following the instructions here, I was able to get the major parts of the inBloom backend running in a few hours (mostly spent waiting for things to build). There were a few gaps in the docs, but definitely better than average for this kind of thing, especially considering it is a giant pile of Java.

I didn't actually get it to work, the import sample data and testing step failed, although because the test suite exited, so it might not literally have been a server issue. But essentially I was just wondering how plausible it is for third parties to run this thing -- without handing your data to inBloom the unaccountable non-profit organization. It seems pretty clear that it isn't a big deal. So why are we talking about giving them our data at all? Just hire some hackers and keep it local!

Or, focus your energies elsewhere...

A Family Business; A Union Shop

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The American English teacher's PISA 2013 Takeaway

Massachusetts outscored everyone outside of the Pacific Rim. If you want to increase reading scores for high school students, the our model is what Massachusetts used to do.

Unlike math, there are significant cultural differences embedded in Language Arts instruction between the US and Asia -- different language, different... letter systems? I don't even know the correct term offhand. Completely different literary traditions. I don't know where one would start. That leaves no better model than Massachusetts a few years ago.

This all assumes your goal is raising test scores, of course, a premise I don't actually share.

When this push for national standards started, I figured it was a non-starter because no way The South would agree to use Massachusetts' standards. The idea that they could just pull something out of the air that Massachusetts would agree to never occurred to me.

So, Other Than That, How Did You Like the Lesson, Mrs. Lincoln?

Tim Shanahan:

The second issue that the debate over the Gettysburg Address lessons raises is over what role—if any—pre-reading should play in Common Core–aligned instruction. On that point, the SAP lessons contain some well-meaning but silly ideas about the role of knowledge in reading (this doesn’t harm the lessons and can easily be ignored). A truth that is self-evident about reading is that readers use what they know to interpret text. Yet the SAP lesson suggests that if we don’t talk about such information prior to reading, then we have leveled the playing field and given all students an equal chance to understand the lesson. This simply makes no sense. You can’t stop readers from using what they know, nor would you want to.

New rule: You can't defend a lesson while also pointing out that its central feature makes no sense.

Where We're Headed

David Atkins:

It mustn't be understated what is at stake here. There's a reason the big money boys want to cut "entitlements" so much. Under the current social and economic order, in 20 years or so there really won't be enough tax revenue from jobs to support the welfare state we have. And the welfare state we have won't be half as big as will be needed to take on the social need when the natural unemployment rate is 20%.

The big money boys can see where all of this is headed: either the developed world's middle classes start learning to live with a lot less, or their tax rates are going back up to Eisenhower levels. Or there will be a revolution and dramatic re-ordering of the social and economic contract.

The next few decades are going to be a very interesting time, particularly with climate change thrown into the mix. It's going to entail a dramatic battle of ideas between two very different solutions to a vexing problem complex human societies have never really faced before. In that battle, the neoliberal "New Democrats" aren't all that different from the hardcore conservatives. When you have 25% real unemployment/underemployment and massive climate disruption, all of a sudden a bunch of other issues that separate the corporate New Dems from the Bible-thumping Republicans start to become trivial by comparison.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Overall, the US seems doing ok in reading, less well in science achievement. So, to address this shortcoming, one of the major features of our new standards is a requirement for science class to focus more on teaching... reading!

How to Tell if Someone is Serious About PISA (from the US perspective)

Do they talk about Canada? Do they talk about Massachusetts?

In Honor of PISA Day

I suggest we adopt the "compulsory part" of the Hong Kong senior secondary level English curriculum:

Below is a list of suggested modules and units for senior secondary level:

  • Getting along with Others
    • Friendship and Dating
    • Sharing, Co-operation, Rivalry
  • Study, School Life and Work
    • Study and Related Pleasure/Problems
    • Experiments and Projects
    • Occupations, Careers and Prospects
  • Cultures of the World
    • Travelling and Visiting
    • Customs, Clothes and Food of Different Places
  • Wonderful Things
    • Successful People and Amazing Deeds
    • Great Stories
    • Precious Things
  • Nature and Environment
    • Protecting the Environment
    • Resources and Energy Conservation
  • The Individual and Society
    • Crime
    • Human Rights (personal rights, civic rights, respect)
  • Communicating
    • The Media and Publications
    • International Network (Internet)
  • Technology
    • Changes Brought about by Technology
  • Leisure and Entertainment
    • The World of Sports
    • “Showbiz”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Most Important Thing to Understand about Future Economic Growth (and Inequality)

Matt Yglesias:

The point in both cases is to take a look at the myths and realities of the 1990s economy. They show that the full employment era of the late-1990s really delivered on the promise of equitable and broadly shared growth. It is true that there was a stock-market bubble, but it is also true that most people didn't own much in the way of stock and nonetheless shared in prosperity. Wages rose for working people. And in some ways even more incredibly, jobs became available for people who weren't previously working. With wages on the rise, employers were suddenly willing to invest in training or in taking risks on the "unemployable."

And they show that while of course the economy is a complicated place, this happy era of full employment was largely driven by a single factor—as the unemployment rate hit about 6 percent, conventional wisdom starting braying about the need for tighter money to head off incipient inflation, and Alan Greenspan ignored the conventional wisdom. Some other good things were happening in American public policy at the time, but none of them would have produced this wage growth and growth in job availability if Greenspan had deliberately kept unemployment high as an anti-inflation tactic.

Even if school reformers are right and their policies increase the skill base of the workforce and all sorts of happy feedback loops start happening, the default response would be to raise interest rates to slow the economy to raise unemployment and lower the risk of inflation. Also, too, cut taxes and steal pensions.

Trying Vs. Not Trying

At some point, I will begin doing some Scotland blogging, but in the meantime, I'll just say that one of the interesting things about living in a foreign country that is, overall, quite similar to home is that the subtle differences stick out. In particular you can see what a difference it makes when a country simply tries to do one simple thing that the other does not. For example, in Scotland, they make some effort to have public toilets available in places that are convenient to the public. They aren't perfect or omnipresent, or I imagine evenly distributed, but having some public toilets is a hell of a lot better than essentially none, as in the US.

If you never leave the country, you aren't aware of things we might be doing, but simply don't. Teaching science fits into this category, too!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Update on the World's Most Annoying Hobby

Tim and Cynthia Shanahan:

Another example of a disciplinary difference with profound implications for literacy has to do with the role of the author. Research has shown (Shanahan, 1992; Shanahan & Shanahan, under review) clear differences in whether or how those in the various disciplines think about author during reading. For example, it has been shown that in history reading, author is a central construct of interpretation (Wineburg, 1991, 1998). Historians are always asking themselves who this author is and what bias this author brings to the text (somewhat analogous to the lawyer’s common probe, “What did he know and when did he know it?”). Consideration of author is deeply implicated in the process of reading history, and disciplinary literacy experts have hypothesized that “sourcing”: (thinking about the implications of author during interpretation) is an essential history reading process (Wineburg, 1991, 1998) and studies show that it can, at least under some circumstances, be taught to students in a way that improves their learning (Hynd- Shanahan, Holschuh, & Hubbard, 2004).

Since there's clearly the audience for more substantive Common Core analysis and routes to get it out to people (other than this intentionally unpopular blog) I'm trying to come up with something reasonably short and coherent together that will contribute usefully to people's understanding of how we got to this point. The above quote from Tim and Cynthia Shanahan is a bit of a Rosetta Stone for illuminating the fault lines inside the Common Core process. Tim Shanahan, as you may know, was fairly heavily involved in the CC process, and is probably mostly responsible for the sort-of heavy disciplinary literacy emphasis of the standards. I'm not aware of any other standards, at the state level, international or otherwise, that makes literacy in the content areas a top-level concern, so it is a big deal, sort of.

Here's the catch: look at what he and Cynthia use as their example of a distinctive feature of reading in history class -- the author as a central construct of interpretation -- then look at the CC standards for reading in History and Social Studies. Is it in there? No. Why? I'd say literally because there is no anchor standard for it, and since every grade level standard must be aligned directly to an anchor standard, that's it. There may have been more complex arguments in play, but the anchor standard issue should have been sufficient to nix any disciplinary literacy standards that genuinely addressed the current scholarship on disciplinary literacy as understood by the experts working on the standards.

That is, this particular example shows the fault lines between the data and assessment geeks -- who got to establish the strict structure of the standards that everyone else had to work around -- and the people with a direct interest in pedagogy, even those experts who had a prime "seat at the table" and who have significantly enhanced their careers at least temporarily, by aligning themselves with the standards.

This is a kind of discrepancy that never happens in standards of our higher performing international peers. Not that they're perfect, but the Common Core ELA process found unique ways to in its own way.

I'm not really trying to criticize Shanahan here or say he's being a hypocrite, by the way. Nobody who understands American education treats standards with any respect, from Bill Gates to classroom teachers. Nobody expects them to be any more than "close enough for government work," and just tries to do the least harm (as they see it) with whatever the current bullshit is. You don't resign in protest, you get what you can and hope to do better next time around. I get it.

Unnecessarily Pissy Unused Comment

It is a little insulting to say you're paying a teacher $20,000 to take a certain job when you are really paying them $10,000 over two years. You might as well say "What happens when you pay a great teacher half a million dollars (over seven years)?" That applies to quite a few teachers in Providence.

$10,000 is not that much money. We would be happy to take a $10,000 pay cut to get OUT of urban education at this point, and take a job teaching, oh, ANYWHERE SANE, as would thousands of teachers across the country.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Oh, Barf

Seth Andrew:

Cat's out of the bag. I'm honored to have joined @arneduncan & @usedgov as Senior Advisor.

Friday, November 22, 2013

They Ran Out of Time

I've paused in my CC benchmarking review to write an explanation of structural problems in the Common Core Reading standards, so I'm jumping around the whole thing more and one thing that is becoming painfully obvious is that they just ran out of time. As much as we'd like to think of David Coleman as the evil puppet-master, the fact of the matter is that in this kind of document any small correction takes a long conversation, and there are thousands of things that could be reviewed. And big corrections quickly become impossible, especially corrections in the underlying structure.

This wouldn't have been so bad if they hadn't decided that the CC ELA/Literacy needed a bunch of new, unprecedented features, but they did, and then they ran out of time.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bloom-Washing and the Bad Man Theory

I've finished my benchmarking of CC standard R.2, and have been mulling over my conclusions at this point in the process. I've come up with two things:

  • Bloom-washing: In the IT world, there are standard benchmarking suites. You run a standard set of calculations, etc. on different hardware or software to see which is objectively fastest. Which of course leads to optimizations/cheating specific to the benchmark tasks (see also Campbell's Law). We're used to thinking about how curriculum can be overly-focused on "teaching to the test," but there is also the question of whether the standards themselves are manipulated to score higher on common methods of evaluating the rigor of curriculum.

    For example, one common tool for "objectively" assessing the complexity of the tasks in a set of standards is Bloom's Taxonomy, which focuses on a set of verbs, with an increasing presumption of rigor and sophistication. This is the revised (2000) version:

    • Remembering
    • Understanding
    • Applying
    • Analyzing
    • Evaluating
    • Creating

    The unique feature of standard R.2 compared to its counterpart standards from outside the US is its call for students from seventh grade on to "analyze the development" of central ideas or themes in a text. That is, most high-performing province, nation or special administrative district has an outcome that asks students to identify the main and supporting ideas. What is unique about the Common Core is the requirement to "analyze the development." So... why?

    Determining the central idea or theme is, I would argue, an "understanding" task, as is summary. In the vast majority of cases, I can't see why "remembering" or "understanding" is not sufficient to describing the "development" of the theme or main idea. For almost all "informational texts," the development of the main idea is no different than a summary of the text. For most literary texts, it is a fairly linear process. If you've determined the theme, you should be able to come up with a sequence of citations related to the theme. In a small number of cases, this is much more complex. You can easily get a master's thesis over the development of themes in Hamlet, but mostly "analysis" isn't necessary to this task, which is why other outcomes don't use the term.

    It is becoming increasingly clear that the most common assessment of this standard in high-stakes tests will be a two part multiple choice question, asking the student to identify the theme or main idea and select passages which contribute to its development. Is this "analysis" more than "understanding" and "recall?"

    If you ask me, "analyze the development" is in R.2 to get a higher score on Bloom's and other simplistic analyses of standards, which in the end is mostly harmless, but certainly obscures and complexifies the plain meaning of the standards.

    While we're at it, here's a gem of an example task from Appendix B:

    Students summarize the development of the morality of Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain’s novel of the same name and analyze its connection to themes of accountability and authenticity by noting how it is conveyed through characters, setting, and plot. [RL.8.2]

    Can someone diagram that sentence for me?

  • The Bad-Man Theory: I learned about this concept last week on Fred Hess's blog! According to

    Bad-man theory is a jurisprudential doctrine or belief, according to which a bad person's view of the law represents the best test of what exactly the law is because that person shall carefully and precisely calculate what the rules allow and operate up to the rules' limits.

    This nicely encapsulates the difference in tone between the Common Core standards and its counterparts from outside the US. The Common Core standards in many ways big and small, from imposing percentages of "informational text" and valid ranges of automated measures of textual complexity, to including requirements that "two or more" central ideas or themes must be found by 11th and 12th graders, assumes that teachers, parents, assessment developers and other actors are all trying to undermine their vision, and seeks to predict and block their routes. The authors of curricula in high-performing provinces, nations and special administrative districts simply do not take this approach.

Essential Background Reading for the NECAP Struggle

Sherman Dorn:

I remember the sequence a little differently: the primary pushback came from parents when their children’s high school graduation was threatened. When the test was crafted in the mid-90s, the original plan was for AIMS to become the graduation test for the high school class of 2001. But when there were problems guaranteeing instructional validity (i.e., making sure all students required to take the test had been taught what the test covered), Keegan proposed a one-year delay, almost 15 years ago to the day. Then in 2000 and 2001, as it was clear that students were failing the exam in well-off communities such as Scottsdale, there was enormous pressure on legislators to modify the implementation of the graduation requirement. Keegan left her position, AIMS was delayed, and the cut-score thresholds were dropped quite a bit in terms of the number of students who were failing. On that last point, Ladner and I agree, but not on the cause. While educators were deeply concerned with what they saw, nothing would have changed without suburban parents who complained to their legislators. I think it’s clear in retrospect this was a classic case of Keegan’s system brought down by a politically-unacceptable failure rate.

Monday, November 18, 2013

You Know This Is Exactly What They've Been Saying to Each Other Behind Closed Doors for Years

Valerie Strauss:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote Monday that “clumsy phrasing” was behind controversial comments he made Friday when he told state schools superintendents meeting in Richmond that it was “fascinating” that some opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

The odd part is that he'd say it is "fascinating." It is the completely predictable decisive point in the whole process. You'd think they'd have the talking points ready for this moment.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Common Core Advocates Lack All Conviction


The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Like most people, I'm sensitive to being on the losing ("best") side of Yeats' quote, e.g., of course Obama care kind of sucks, we should just have single-payer, but it's better than nothing!

I can't think of a time when the other side in a major public debate has displayed as little passionate intensity as Common Core advocates are managing to muster.

For example:

So, I will be in Chicago on January 11 to speak to the Modern Language Association at its annual convention on the subject of the Common Core. Originally, I was scheduled to debate David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, but he said he had to attend a board meeting in California and withdrew.

Or the warmed over leftovers served up at Common Core Watch lately.

The problem, of course, is that they can't argue specifics, particularly in ELA, because ultimately nobody likes or cares about the specifics. It is an uncomfortable position to find oneself in, even if many of your loudest opponents are cranks.

School Reform as Feudalism

Henry Farrell:

The cosy relationship between corporations like CGI Federal and Booz Allen and the government bears a strong resemblance to feudalism (which, stripped of the pageantry, was a complex web of relations and privileges between a small and privileged elite of nobles and the state). It bears an even stronger resemblance to Old Corruption, the strangling web of sinecures and emoluments that radicals like William Cobbett inveighed against in the early nineteenth century. Government – even at the best of times – has many clunky and inefficient features (the American version particularly so – many of the worst inflexibilities of the US government have their origins in people’s distrust of it). Yet the replacement of large swathes of government with a plethora of impenetrable subcontracting relationships is arguably even worse – it has neither the efficiencies (sometimes) achieved by markets, nor the accountability (sometimes) achieved by democratic oversight.

Combine this with pension-raiding and you've got at least 80% of the motivation for contemporary school reform.

Look at Blackstone Valley Prep. If Dan McKee named himself Duke McKee, Lord of Blackstone Valley Prep, how would that be any different? He can be voted out of the Mayor's office, but he's not going to be voted out of his Mayoral Academy. It is his publicly funded fiefdom for life. Unless the other lords turn against him, ofc.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Profiles in Intellectual Cowardice

Wendy Holmes:

Why does the Commissioner want to shield her work from public scrutiny? Why would anyone? As embargoed dissertations are increasingly common across the country, a primary impetus comes from doctoral candidates hoping to publish their research in book form in order to compete for teaching jobs in colleges and universities. Electronic access to dissertations jeopardizes future publications, they claim, and some disciplines, faculties, and scholarly groups are inclined to agree and advocate for long or renewable embargo periods. Others in academe challenge this position on factual grounds or on behalf of the traditional scholarly values of openness and interchange. This is a controversial issue and every aspect of academic embargo is subject to debate. How long? Renewable or not? What reasons? Who decides? The answers are different for various degree-granting institutions and, sometimes, for different sectors of the same institution.

We know from that interesting title that Gist has completed a case study of her role in devising an evaluation system for Rhode Island teachers. From the dissertation abstract, which is now available from ProQuest (free through university libraries), we know a little more: that she studies “adaptive” change, required by new situational factors and often accompanied by feelings of loss or disorientation on the part of the changees, that she has developed a model of “Elementary Leadership,” and that she intends to use this model in “future leadership of large-scale change.” Her future leadership may be in another state or in the national Department of Education. She may become a more active Change Chief and work with Jeb Bush or the Broad Academy or the Gates Foundation. She may consult or head a charter school group or invent an entirely new educational organization.

So why doesn’t she want her dissertation read now? Wouldn’t its new input be of value in current discussions of testing, accountability, and teacher evaluation? Wouldn’t it add to her stature as a prominent education reformer? Does she plan to revise it and publish a book? What privacy issues could be involved? As a high-ranking state employee writing about her own job and her own staff, doesn’t she owe some account of her leadership model to the people of Rhode Island? Who would be more interested in her Ocean State Voyage than Rhode Islanders? Who would be better equipped to compare the dissertation’s view of her leadership with its practical results than Rhode Island teachers, parents, and students?

It is kind of weird coming from the wife of "transparency's sidekick."

What Would You Do, Mr. Smarty-Pants?

Eric Westendorf, last week's guest blogger at Rick Hess's and co-founder of LearnZillion, was a classmate of mine in the Brown MAT class of 1999. He was Social Studies and I was English, but it is a little boutique program, and we had an unusually close-knit group, so we got to know each other fairly well. Played some ultimate. We haven't kept in touch though.

And if you read his last post, a lot of it is in my wheelhouse: Open Source! Lesson Study! Yet... now that LearnZillion has some secondary ELA lessons, they're... kind of awful. I participated in enough discussions of educational philosophy, psychology and pedagogy to figure that Eric would on some level agree with that (although I certainly wouldn't expect him to admit it, maybe even to himself). If you saw, for example, the work the Arts/Literacy project at Brown did with Central Falls High School students and teachers working with professional actors to interpret Shakespeare... it isn't even a fair comparison to a straitjacketed CC textual analysis whiteboard video.

The thing is, this is one case where I could send Eric an email outlining the above, perhaps a bit more tactfully, and expect that at least he would respond with a "OK, so how should we be doing this?"

The entire "lesson sharing" problem is much, much harder than it appears to the surface, so there's no glib answer to that question, but I would be willing to have a crack at it circa 2013, if it wasn't for the Common Core situation. A central problem with LearnZillion's secondary ELA lessons is they're just too closely aligned with the CC, which makes them deadly dull. I don't know how to get around that.

When we organized a curriculum around performance standards (The New Standards) at FHS, it was fine because it was inherently a project-based interdisciplinary curriculum with standards that emphasized applied learning and authentic student work. The themes and questions driving the curriculum were external to English class, but that worked fine.

The same sort of thing would work -- less well -- with CC, but you can't assume a multidisciplinary context if you're just publishing ELA lessons on a website.

If you already have an ELA curriculum, you can modify it to hit the CC notes, while still having the big themes and context coming from whatever it is already drives things, but again, these lessons are probably not going to be useful out of context.

If you're just starting from scratch with nothing but the Common Core standards... I have no idea what to do. Anything other than "Read text X, perform textual analysis task Y," just seems arbitrary, and there is no reason to think anything else would be applicable to someone else's Common Core ELA class.

Obviously, in real life, teachers successfully muddle through these issues every day. I'm not even making a principled stand here... I just don't get it. What is the basis of the ELA curriculum outside of the skill and task-driven CC even supposed to be? What is the nature of this dark matter? I have no idea.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Common Core Year Implementation Year 4+

I've been looking a few new Common Core aligned curriculum units floating around, and while much concern today is justifiably on the difficulty of transitioning kids to CC requirements mid-stream, I'm not sure if the situation gets better after everyone's been introduced to ELA class based on a narrow range of textual analysis tasks and skills that change relatively little year over year..

Kids are supposed to start finding the theme in literature in grade 4. Are you going to re-teach that every year? At a certain point can you assume it? If kids haven't gotten it after three years, what are you going to do to make them start getting it? Should there be an implicit assumption, eventually, that you don't have to teach most high school students big blocks of the standards?

Most importantly, are kids just going to lose it after doing the same thing over and over?

An Illuminating Juxtaposition

McKinsey (a few years ago):

A persistent gap in academic achievement between children in the United States and their counterparts in other countries deprived the US economy of as much as $2.3 trillion in economic output in 2008, McKinsey research finds. Moreover, each of the long-standing achievement gaps among US students of differing ethnic origins, income levels, and school systems represents hundreds of billions of dollars in unrealized economic gains. Together, these disturbing gaps underscore the staggering economic and social cost of underutilized human potential. Yet they also create room for hope by suggesting that the widespread application of best practices could secure a better, more equitable education for the country’s children—along with substantial economic gains.


According to the paper (with the unassuming title “Aggregate Supply in the United States: Recent Developments and Implications for the Conduct of Monetary Policy”), our seemingly endless slump has done long-term damage through multiple channels. The long-term unemployed eventually come to be seen as unemployable; business investment lags thanks to weak sales; new businesses don’t get started; and existing businesses skimp on research and development.

What’s more, the authors — one of whom is the Federal Reserve Board’s director of research and statistics, so we’re not talking about obscure academics — put a number to these effects, and it’s terrifying. They suggest that economic weakness has already reduced America’s economic potential by around 7 percent, which means that it makes us poorer to the tune of more than $1 trillion a year. And we’re not talking about just one year’s losses, we’re talking about long-term damage: $1 trillion a year for multiple years.

Are these complimentary, contradictory, or what? Well... more McKinsey

>We made three noteworthy assumptions: test scores are the best available measure of educational achievement; educational achievement and attainment (including milestones such as graduation rates) are key drivers in hiring and are positively correlated with earnings; and labor markets will hire available workers with higher skills and education. While these assumptions admittedly simplify the socioeconomic complexities and uncertainties, they allowed us to draw meaningful conclusions about the economic impact of educational gaps in the United States.

Oh, I see... yes, if you assume higher paying jobs will magically appear for all educated workers, that's... quite an assumption.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

If Doyle Were King...

Every screen would be (over)balanced with direct access to the outdoors. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Who Was Project Manager of the Common Core?

All you really have to do is line up the reading anchor standards with their 11-12th grade instances to realize that there was a serious lack of overarching project management in the Common Core ELA/Literacy process. Nobody disciplined the grade-level teams to keep things aligned vertically and horizontally. Nobody said "No, you can't just change that language without a clear and compelling reason." There are other countries with standards that are extremely redundant, but they at least maintain some discipline and consistency.

OTOH, pointing this issue out isn't that helpful in stopping the Common Core insofar as fixing the problems definitively would take about a week of cut/copy/pasting.

It is one of the most devastating lines of attack though if you just want to undermine the authority of the CC's authors and advocates.

Four Ways of Saying "R.2"

Students should be able to:

  • (apply) ...different ways of analyzing texts.
  • ...identify the main and supporting ideas of texts.
    • Give an account of the gist of a text.
    • Specify appropriate details for relevant purposes.
    • Summarise the information they obtained from a text.
    • Develop an awareness of their own response to texts and analyse and justify that response.
    • Indicate aspects of the narrative which they found significant and attempt to explain fully the meaning thus generated.
    • Compare texts in different genres on the same theme.
  • Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

That's Finland, New South Wales, Ireland and Common Core. If you ask me, the Irish are the clear winner here both in terms of decomposing the issue and and just superior writing. NWS's version seems sufficient. Finland is kind of on its own planet. It is the tone of CC that is most jarring. It is the only one that says "I am a controlling, rigor-obsessed asshole."

One Good Result of the Common Core Rollout: More Teachers Blogging Pointedly About Why The Proprietary Curriculum They're Forced to Use Sucks

Katie Lapham:

I know of no teacher – including one in Ohio – who is satisfied with ReadyGEN’s ELA program. The anchor texts (literature) may be authentic, but the reading and writing tasks are not. Pearson’s ReadyGEN is a poorly and hastily designed test prep program to get students ready for next year’s high-stakes Common Core ELA assessment. The NYC DOE could have saved a lot of money if they had instead provided schools with just the copies of the anchor texts, class sets of titles such as Rachel Carson: Pioneer of Ecology. Sample reading and writing questions and suggested performance tasks could have been posted online. From what I’ve observed, the Student Materials workbook (see below photo) is being used minimally.

One reformy cliche has been that we need an "Amazon for curriculum." It should be clear to anyone who uses Amazon that this will never happen, insofar as the latest and greatest from Pearson or the College Board will never prominently display the results of be a minimally regulated five-star rating and comment system, where the unwashed masses have as much say as their betters.

Ten years ago, I figured the time was ripe for teachers to use their own blogs to slag the crap they're forced to use in their own classroom, but apparently the right combinations of technology, policy and conciousness have only recently come to fruition.

I don't think reformers (or anyone) understand what has been unleashed.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Brain Worms

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

In the case of the Common Core, the standards say, for instance, that fourth-grade students should “determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text” and that second graders should “estimate lengths using units of inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.”

These are outcomes—outcomes that demonstrate no preference for traditional pedagogy over constructivism, even if we at Fordham have our own preferences. They are outcomes that do not indicate how long you spend on particular topics, what order they should be taught, and on. Nor do the standards provide sample practice items or guidance about how to introduce or reinforce the concepts and content behind these expectations.

And so, when we say that Common Core do not prescribe curriculum, we mean very simply that those decisions—decisions about what books will be taught, about what writing assignments students will do, about how to introduce concepts, about how to build knowledge, about whether to use discovery learning or traditional methods—are made by local leaders and teachers.

But... what's the deal with that fourth grade standard, particularly (my emphasis):

Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text...

I read these things and even now they seem perfectly reasonable at first, but then they worm around in my brain for a day and a half or so and stop making sense. Why would you tell a fourth grader to determine the theme from details? Wouldn't you determine the theme from considering the work as a whole? CC ELA/Literacy wants you to teach it this way from grades 3 through 6. After that you have to start analyzing the development of the theme. I'm not sure exactly what that entails, but at least it sounds better.

The thing is, what really is in play here is not so much a conflict between describing what students should be able to do (determine the theme) and how to teach/do it (from details in the text) in terms of this standards/curriculum dichotomy. I'm sure it is just the testing guys throwing in the "details in the text" so they could write the kinds of questions they had in mind, e.g.:

Part 1: The theme is a) Love; b) Death; c) Both

Part 2: Which of the following details support your answer...

Won't You Help Preserve the My Drumming Discography for Posterity?

I did some of my better drumming for Vehicle Flips, before quitting in a fit of pique. I'm not even sure how many of these songs I drummed on, but I like my playing on this one.

Apparently I'm Not the Only One Who Noticed This

Sherman Dorn:

And, on the other side, why are Common Core proponents so passionate about everything except the standards themselves? You are wedded to the standards as a solid planning document and are missing the fact that talking up the standards without mentioning anything specific is like telling younger teenagers they should read Romeo and Juliet as “great literature” without mentioning that the plot revolves around forbidden love, gang warfare, and suicide pacts. Good grief, folks, if you like the repeated and close reading ideas in the English/language arts standards, could you memorize a few of the standards and be willing to recite and defend them in public?

Not So Surprising to People Experiencing Obama's Education Policy


But it's something of a surprise to read that the neo-liberal technocrats of the Obama administration apparently just thought all this was going to come together without a certain set of skills and experience to make it happen. Experts tried to warn them.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Elisabeth Harrison:

Providence officials are considering closing down Alvarez High School and using the building for a new middle school, as they face an expected rise in middle school students.

The thing to get unabashedly angry about is that we just turned over an empty middle school to Achievement First.

On the other hand, Alvarez High School should never have been created in the first place. To review, the building in question was constructed specifically to house Feinstein High School. Unfortunately, the Evans administration at PPSD decided it was a better idea to take the faculty and students of a temporary "overflow" high school, Harrison Street, and move it permanently into the site as the new Alvarez High School.

Subsequently, Feinstein was closed when its building was deemed inadequate (a charter school has subsequently found it to be quite adequate), while Alvarez never overcame its substantial initial handicaps.

As The Proteun put it:

This was no easy task because the 600 students and the staff were plucked from high schools all over the district. Many of the students, however, came from Harrison Street, a shell of a high school where students and staff felt abandoned.

That is, PPSD (and the Gates Foundation) successfully turned around an urban high school at great expense, then closed it, and instead made permanent a temporary ad hoc school that had no realistic chance of succeeding as a permanent institution. It was tragically stupid.

And the problem with the lack of coordination inherent in the charter school strategy is that there is apparently no way to get anyone to at least consider opening a charter middle school in the near future. What are we going to have to do, call KIPP? Or are they afraid of 12 year olds now too? I can't say I trust the PPSD to successfully open a new middle school in South Providence.

Monday, October 28, 2013

No High Performing Country Publishes K-12 ELA Standards as a Single Document

Of the eight provincial, special administrative unit, and national documents that CCSSI has cited in their international benchmarking, seven only cover ELA in the last stage of high school, and one goes back to 8th grade. The Finns have a single document covering the core curriculum across 21 subjects and cross-curricular objectives for upper secondary levels.

Only the US has one document covering K-12, and in particular, only the US makes the fundamental structure of the standards a small set of skills traced back through the 13 years.

I would argue that the single K-12 structure of the Common Core is a major source of confusion and miscommunication. Even when on a basic level the problems at the primary and secondary levels seem to be the same, the causes and solutions are different. At the elementary level, it may actually make sense to just add more non-fiction to kids' reading selection, after all, they like dinosaurs and stuff! OTOH, if kids aren't ready to read their science textbooks in college, what's going on? They don't read their science textbooks in high school? There's some discrepancy between how high school texts and college texts are written? We have to teach high school science teachers to teach their students to read their science textbooks? Thinking of this as a single problem with a unified strategy is less helpful than dividing it up.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Writing New Standards is a VERY Indirect Way to Change Education

Sarah Carr:

MIAMI—In Chris Kirchner’s freshman English classes at Coral Reef Senior High School, novels like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Gatsby” have been squeezed off the syllabus to make room for nonfiction texts including “The Glass Castle” and “How to Re-Imagine the World.” For the first time, students will read only excerpts of classics like “The Odyssey” and “The House on Mango Street” instead of the entire book. And Kirchner will assign less independent reading at home, but will require students to write more essays, and push them to make connections across multiple texts.

I don't think swapping out early 20th century American literature for contemporary memoir and whatever How to Re-Imagine the World is was the original plan for post-Common Core English classes, certainly it isn't any more helpful in preparing student for college, but it is the result of pushing for more "informational texts" generically. I don't think they wanted people reading fewer complete books, but that's also gonna happen if you push hard on close reading. I'm sure they didn't want less independent reading at home, or at least that really doesn't make sense if you're trying to prepare students for independent reading of long, difficult texts in college, but more in-class reading seems to be the result of cranking up the text complexity. And while anchor standard nine directly addresses comparing two texts, at each grade level it almost always focuses on a very specific task (e.g., for 9th and 10th grade literature "Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work."), making the standards as a whole rather weak on cross-text comparisons in general (maybe they didn't do it at all in Florida before).

The standards do emphasize writing, I guess, but compared to what? Did their old ELA standards literally specify less writing? Or is this just what they are expecting from the tests?

I'm not saying this teacher is doing it wrong -- in 2013 what the standards actually say is irrelevant once you know what the questions on the tests will look like -- but even when teachers seem to be trying very hard to adapt to meet the standards, the actual changes seem almost arbitrary. It is just an example of why this approach to school reform is unlikely to produce significant gains.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Guess I'm Not the Only One Who Noticed Those Headings Didn't Make Sense

We have not provided numbers for reading headings such as "craft and structure" or "key ideas," since these headings were intentionally left un-numbered and since they do not strictly define different domains in reading.

OK... perhaps if they're not an accurate representation of anything in particular, you might have edited them out at some point, lest someone think they were meaningful.

Tom Sgouros on


Now think about trying to resolve problems like this among a few hundred databases run by insurance companies who are not necessarily going to be the most cooperative folks out there. Think about it: you’re an insurance company IT executive and the folks ask you if you might change the format of your data reporting to coordinate with the other companies in your state. Your immediate response? Why should we change and not them? That’s more work for us and besides our system was designed better.

So not only are the folks working against a few hundred different design decisions, but they’re also counting on having been able to anticipate all the data entry errors that might be lurking in hundreds of databases out there, and hoping that everyone has decent support staff, too.

It is hard to appreciate how bad humans are at this kind of interoperability. It seems to not be in our nature at some fundamental level.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tom Friedman Finds The Answer, Shrugs

Tom Friedman:

After visiting Shanghai’s Qiangwei Primary School, with 754 students — grades one through five — and 59 teachers, I think I found The Secret:

There is no secret.

When you sit in on a class here and meet with the principal and teachers, what you find is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children’s learning, an insistence by the school’s leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers.

Shanghai’s secret is simply its ability to execute more of these fundamentals in more of its schools more of the time. Take teacher development. Shen Jun, Qiangwei’s principal, who has overseen its transformation in a decade from a low-performing to a high-performing school — even though 40 percent of her students are children of poorly educated migrant workers — says her teachers spend about 70 percent of each week teaching and 30 percent developing teaching skills and lesson planning. That is far higher than in a typical American school.

Actually, providing more time out of class is as close to The Secret as you're going to get, although it is a meta-solution more than a solution. It is the fix that allows all the other fixes to possibly work. It directly solves a few otherwise intractable issues, like burnout. Nobody (even the unions, really) wants to say "Hire a lot more teachers and make them work less," but we have invented a few euphemisms like "career ladder."

And it means spending a lot of money, so Tom Friedman lucidly explains what needs to be done, shrugs, and walks away.

Necessary Common Core Docs

OK, here's what I'm thinking at the moment.

We need an updated and consolidated document focusing on international benchmarks to high performing countries' reading standards. That is, excluding states, other "non-high-performing" countries, etc. The ones CCSSI used first time around were:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Ontario
  • Victoria, Australia
  • New South Wales, Australia
  • Ireland
  • Hong Kong
  • Finland

By the way, did you notice that six of the eight of CCSSI's exemplars are not "national" standards?

That's a manageable body to review and update if I make some printouts. I don't think there would be any point in doing this as some kind of table or hypertext, just something like:

  • Final CCRS version
  • Grade 11-12 versions of the standards (since that's what we're really comparing in an apples to apples benchmark in most of these cases)
  • Draft CCRS (since we'll note which benchmarks were ones that CCSSI came up with themselves)
  • Short commentary on the above
  • Best "counterpart" standards from each of the docs listed above
  • Short commentary on each
  • Summarizing commentary

That seems like an insane amount, but there are only 10 anchor standards in reading, and each one would take a few hours in a discrete chunk. I do think a print-formatted document would make more sense than a web page. I guess the one advantage of doing it as a web page is you might make each section collapse-able... hm...

Anyhow, separately, we really just need a Common Core annoyances wiki where people can vent about specific standards. Basically just a wiki page per standard. I can't believe that at this point there is still no official standard by standard commentary, but there isn't right? There is no official "ok, this is what we meant by reading standard 1" text, right?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Smell the Quality!

To be honest, I'd forgotten why I get so sucked into these things.

Why is this a writing standard?

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

And this a separate reading standard?

Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Aside from the redundancy, the reading standard is the one that asks you to write or speak, while the writing standard does not.

I don't understand why it is still exceptional for a critic of these standards to focus on the basic structural flaws, Robert Shepherd notwithstanding.

But you know today, all across America, students and teachers are being evaluated on these two separate standards as if they make some kind of sense. And they don't!

Left on the Cutting Room Floor

I'd forgotten this was originally CCRS #16:

Draw upon relevant prior knowledge to enhance comprehension, and note when the text expands on or challenges that knowledge.

Someone should ask David Coleman why he included that and then took it out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The NECAP Situation in a Nutshell

Gary Rubenstein:

Nobody ever consulted me when designing the common core, so I never got a chance to propose my two reforms. So instead of my ideas, we have ‘higher expectations’ with more ‘rigor’ and more ‘rigorous’ assessments. States that have started on these assessments, like in New York, have seen proficiency rates drop from 60% on the old tests to 30% on the new common core tests. The politicians assure us that when schools get used to the higher expectations, the scores will increase over the years. Those politicians, however, know nothing about teaching and learning. Higher expectations will not cause the scores to increase. Teachers are too constrained by the number of topics they have to teach and the number of students who hate math. So my prediction is that unless they change the tests or the cutoff scores to make it look like they were right, the percent proficient will remain around 30%. Maybe then they will go back to the drawing board and come up with a math education reform plan similar to what I just outlined.

At the end of the day, the politicians assume the scores will go up in the end. So far they've been wrong. So... ?

A Bit of a CFHS Whitewash from The Ed. Alliance and Annenberg Institute

There are some major issues with the Third Year Transformation Report on Central Falls High School from The Education Alliance and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, both well respected institutions based at Brown.

First, the report generally uses data for the 2010-2011 as the baseline, that is, the first year of the transformation, not the year preceding it. Considering how this process was undertaken by Deborah Gist and RIDE, that's pretty much like evaluating the success of a kitchen renovation by comparing the end result to the demolition phase. Of course, climate, test scores, etc. have improved since the year the school was turned into a national pariah. What is lacking is a comparison to the baseline prior to the intervention.

In particular, the school's decline in reading and writing scores is whitewashed, despite the fact that the second of three strategic goals at the heart of the report states "Improve student proficiency in mathematics and maintain improvement in English language arts (ELA) proficiency." Indeed, the report repeatedly restates goal #2 omitting the reference to ELA. There is a single 10 line paragraph and a table on NECAP Reading achievement, bearing the heading "Broadening the Focus on Teaching and Learning." Pre-transformation reading (and writing) scores are omitted, so the reader has no indication that in October 2009, 56% of CFHS students were proficient in reading, up 23 points since 2007, and still six points above the 2012 rate. Writing remains 13 points under the 2009 peak proficiency rate (35% vs. 22%).

It is kind of ridiculous that we've been living in a world where three pieces of data loom above all others: state reading and math test scores and graduation rate, but that's the world we're living in, so for a summative report like this to elide all discussion of one of those three components causes the reader to wonder if he or she is reading a scholarly report or a public relations document, especially when everyone in the room knows graduation rate is most susceptible to manipulation, and when one is at a loss to try to parse the significance of an increase in math proficiency from 7% to 14%.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Etymology of a Standard

  1. Find evidence in support of an argument.
  2. Support or challenge assertions about the text by citing evidence in the text explicitly and accurately.
  3. Cite specific textual evidence... to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  4. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text...

The first is from the NAEP framework for 12th grade. It is straightforward and plainspoken as such things go, and is rather clearly the inspiration for this part of CC Reading standard 1.

Second is the first draft of the Common Core anchor standard. It is actually better than the NAEP version in some ways -- "support or challenge" "cite" vs. "find" evidence. Somehow now though we're just supporting or challenging "assertions about the text" instead of "an argument," which seems unnecessarily limiting and hostile to the larger content and context.

Moving on, the third version is the relevant part of the final anchor standard 1. Now we are supporting "conclusions," which is significantly more vague than "argument" or "assertions." I think "conclusions" has to be read as "whatever," because I don't see that it has any specific meaning at all in this context. I can't imagine why they made that choice.

The last one is the final relevant grade 11-12 reading standard. I've never understood why it is different than the college and career readiness anchor standard. Now the rigor is turned up to 11, "strong and thorough," etc., but seemingly even less scope: "what the text says explicitly as well as inferences..."

We've started with, essentially: "I should be able to give you an informational text that supports an argument, and as a reader you should be able to pull out the evidence for that argument." And ended up with something more like "I should be able to give you a text and you should be able to pull out evidence telling me what it says." It is just peculiar. I don't understand why they would take that path.

Here is something much more typical of high performing countries, cited as a "counterpart" standard in CCSSI's draft benchmarking:

  • Assess the appropriateness of own and others’ understandings and interpretations of works of literature and other texts, by referring to the works and texts for supporting or contradictory evidence

This is similar, yet, fundamentally, philosophically different, because it focuses on "understanding" and "interpretation," particularly by the student. These words are not used in the CC Reading standards. This is one of the CC standards' key defining features. This standard is essentially incompatible with the Common Core, and significantly more "rigorous."

Examples drawn from here (here).

Vocabulary and Language are Important! (except words used to describe literature)

Kathleen Porter-McGee:

There is almost no hope of preparing our students—particularly our most disadvantaged students—for what lies ahead if we don’t ask them to do rigorous work that is worth doing every day. In English class, that means actually reading great—often challenging—literature. In science and history, it means ensuring that all students have access to real content and the academic vocabulary that goes along with it. ...

At the same time, we scratch our heads and wonder why our students are ill prepared for the rigorous work they will be asked to do in college and beyond. But we need look no further than these examples to understand why they aren’t ready: it’s because we haven’t prepared them. ...

The reality is that if you flip through the SAT or through the table of contents of any conventional literature textbook, you’ll find page upon page of esoteric vocabulary: circular plot, denouement, elegy, epigram.

These are words that are perfectly good to know. But, let’s be honest, these are not words that our children need to master to prepare for the rigors of college and careers.

What’s worse, for students in the Latino community, these can become unnecessary barriers. These are not words that deepen student understanding or that help propel them into more advanced coursework. And so, we need to help teachers and students focus on the first things first.

Finally, this effort—this fight—demands that we give our students the support they need to meet the expectations we’ve set. In English language arts, the standards focus on reading texts that are worth reading. It means emphasizing the importance of content and vocabulary. And it means bending instruction and support to meet students where they are, rather than bending work to meet what we think they can handle.

You can argue that you don't need to know literary terms if you don't think literature is important. Or if you don't think school is important. Or if you're some kind of reader response purist perhaps. But it makes no sense at all to argue that literary terms are unimportant when you are also emphasizing reading complex literary texts for the purpose of creating analytical arguments about the texts, with the objective of preparing students for college.

It just makes no sense.

Is the World Ready to REALLY Study the Common Core Standards?

Long-time readers may recall that what really got me upset about the Common Core standards was reading the CCSSI's own published benchmarking material for their initial draft of their College and Career Readiness Standards. Like most people, I didn't fully appreciate how idiosyncratic these standards are internationally, because who sits around reading the standards of other countries? Also, like most people, I don't think it is particularly important how our standards compare to those of other countries'.

But you know who does think it is important, ostensibly? Achieve, CCSSI, the federal Department of Education, and the whole contemporary reform movement. The differences between the CC ELA and the standards of high performing countries should be a problem for CC advocates. It should at least have been something they have to talk about and defend. Instead, this has turned out to be too deep in the weeds for essentially everyone, other than me.

The question is, are enough people now obsessing about CC to dive into this crap? I don't know. I did spend some time diving back into The Wayback Machine to pull out all the state and international benchmark references for reading standard one CCSSI helpfully provided in the first draft of the CCRS standards and copy/pasting it with minimal reformatting into a Google Doc. It runs seven pages, and actually only covers half of the current reading standard 1.

If other people were clearly interested in this kind of thing, I could be talked into continuing. Coming up with a legible formatting scheme would be important to distribution beyond extreme obsessives. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tell Us What You Really Think, Robert

Robert D. Shepherd:

And that would be bad enough, but this particular list, the list of literary skills that makes up the CCSS in ELA for Reading Literature, is simply inept. It doesn’t demonstrate any literary scholarship or understanding on the part of the “standards” authors. There’s a breathtaking amateurishness and tone-deafness to the CCSS in ELA, as though they had been written not by experts in literary studies but by undergraduates based on very crude notions of what “study of literature” might mean. If the authors knew more about literature and its origins and history and its forms, they would have been able to envision more clearly how a skills map covering this area of human endeavor might unfold over 12 years’ time, building upon true literary fundamentals of a number of different kinds. (Hint: phylogeny should recapitulate ontogeny here.) These standards instantiate no new insights into such a rational progression of literary study. One might as well have thrown darts at a handbook of literary terms from some hack-written junior-high-school lit text from one of the big-box publishers. I look at the CCSS in ELA and I see no coherence and no instructional vision. I see, instead, randomness and misconceptions and glaring lacunae and crude, unexamined assumptions about matters that are actually quite interesting, quite deep, and quite controversial—assumptions that they authors have made as though they were completely oblivious that they were making assumptions at all or that these were at all controversial.

And what happened to the writing standards? Looks to me like the authors ran out of time or money or energy and just said to hell with it and made a list of three “modes” and copied and pasted it into each grade level of the “standards,” and, of course, doing that just encourages the sort of awful, formulaic five-paragraph theme writing that everyone has been doing since NCLB turned most writing instruction in the U.S. into instruction in producing the canned essay response for the state test. News flash: most writing is narrative writing. News flash 2: most of the rest of it is multimodal. News flash 3: there are reasons why it is multimodal. And that five-paragraph theme in one of the three modes sort of crap is the antithesis of decent writing—it’s what any writing teacher worthy of the name teaches students TO AVOID DOING.

Monday, October 14, 2013

You Can't Recommend Someone for a Job They're Not Qualified For

Catherine Michna:

The simple fact is that students who apply to TFA are not trained to be teachers. So by refusing to write TFA letters of recommendation, we’re merely telling our students that we can’t recommend them for a job they’re not qualified for.

Like TFA, the Brown MAT program started with an intensive six week summer "bootcamp," where you teach real students in a somewhat unrealistic context for a few hours a day for four weeks. Brown undergrads from the UTEP program also participated in the summer program.

So the UTEP's in particular would be fairly similar in teaching experience to TFA-ers, although they'd probably taken a few more education courses. But the point is, we never would have thought at the end of the summer, "Oh, yeah. These UTEP's are ready now." I mean, they were Brown students, so they mostly seemed like they'd be very good teachers eventually, but it is still hard for me to believe that people can look at a bunch of untrained undergrads and think "Yeah, this is going to solve the problem."

For When You Press "Play" and Nothing Happens

Mark Osborne:

Simple, fast and powerful media player:

  • Plays everything: Files, Discs, Webcams, Devices and Streams. 
  • Plays most codecs with no codec packs needed:
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Get VLC here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When Your Friends Have Truly Terrible Ideas

Noam Scheiber:

Yellen’s social circle, on the other hand, consists mostly of tweedy professors and government officials. She strikes me as sufficiently devoid of attachments to bankers and money managers that she can imagine them having some truly terrible ideas—even the smart, witty, seemingly upstanding ones. This is in fact more true of her than the average senior Fed official in New York or Washington.

Also a problem in school reform.

inBloom Datastore on GitHub

Looks like they uploaded it 10 days ago. I'll have to see if I can get it running at some point...

This is the inBloom Datastore. It contains the backend for the inBloom project. The main projects that are to be used are ingestion-service, api, simple-idp, search-indexer, dashboard, admin-tools and databrowser. All of the projects are Maven driven with the exception of admin-tools and databrowser. Those are both Rails applications. This project runs on Java 6 and Maven 3. For Ruby, version 1.9.3 is the most tested version.

*Note - These instructions were written using Ubuntu 12.04 and above.

Taking a Wild Guess a the Underlying Cause of New Tablet Rollout Problems

I really don't know, but it seems to me that people pushing for a new wave of 1-to-1 tablet (or laptop) deployments in schools underestimate how much we just went through a lost decade (or a lost 15 years) in building tech infrastructure and expertise in many districts. From a distance, it just looks like LAUSD and Fort Bend simply had no idea what to do. Insufficient experience, staffing, management, just not enough of anything. I suspect a lot of districts would need about a five year ramp up to really be ready for a big 1-to-1 deployment.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Providence's Charter Sector: Still Idiosyncratic!

Linda Borg:

In other business, the board gave preliminary approval to three charter schools: the engineering early college academy, a Providence high school; the Southside Elementary Charter School in Providence, and the Hope Academy, a mayoral academy that would draw students from Providence and North Providence.

Two of those are essentially expansions of successful, well-regarded private schools into charter components.

Apparently the Hope Academy one is what was originally called the Grace School Mayoral Academy, which I commented on when it first came up. I don't know how much in the proposal has changed since the last time, other than the name change, because I haven't seen it on RIDE's website. It is likely to be a weird arrangement financially, but without knowing what proposal the board was voting on, I'll keep my mouth shut.

It will be the second Providence-dominated mayoral academy, which means that either the next mayor of Providence will appoint the PPSD board AND chair the boards of two completely separate mayoral academy organizations, or some suburban mayors are going to chair the boards of academies attended by only a handful of students from their town. This is an obviously idiotic situation.

Southside Elementary is essentially the new charter wing of Community Prep, which, as I've said before, is fine aside from the fact that elementary schools are what Providence needs least and everyone knows it, but even though CP has a long track record of success with middle school aged students they decided to make a K-5 school. Thanks guys!