Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Did Gist Lose Her PR Funding?

Linda Borg:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist has offered to skydive with the principal or another adult from the winning schools in a statewide summer reading challenge.

Gist's challenge, "Dive into a Book!: The Summer Reading Challenge," will be to see which schools get the highest percentage of students to complete all of their summer reading goals. ...

The skydive will take place in September from Newport/Middletown or Lincoln. The cost will be about $225 per person. Gist hopes that a parent or community organization will pick up the cost for each winning school.

I've long figured that Deborah Gist was getting outside PR help, just like Angus Davis once paid someone $10,000 to write a speech for her. Getting on the Time 100 doesn't just happen, people.

Well, if that's true, perhaps the money has run out, because that story above reads like an idea that wouldn't make it out of a Veep brainstorming session. An opportunity to skydive with the Commissioner at your own expense? How is that even a reward? How can anyone think it is a better investment then, I don't know, buying books for the school?

Worrying about Wikipedia (Again)

Mark Bernstein:

A community that tries to govern itself through consensus must have a mechanism for addressing those who, through error or stubbornness, cannot or will not accept any consensus. The Wikipedia of myth has Jimmy Wales, but Jimmy hasn’t scaled and Wikipedia has nothing beyond the vague hope that people of good will can outsmart the fools. Unfortunately, in the Qworty affair and many parallel situations, one side of the argument employs zealous ideologues who have years of experience manipulating wiki-law. The other side may be right, but in the new Wiki way, that’s beside the point. The institutional structures favor zealotry over good will and advantage unemployed cranks (who have all the time in the world) over sensible people (who have other things to do).

We can wreck the long tail in precisely this way; this is precisely the scenario for destroying the Web that I identified in my 2011 Web Science paper. Drive lots of traffic to wikipedia, and let a million weblogs wither. Then, let a scandal (or chance) dent Wikipedia and all that’s left are the old broadcast networks and the cable companies and the spammers and the Government of Syria.

Indeed, this is one reason Facebook has been out-competing the open Web: for all its flaws, Facebook does have a good mechanism for letting you check up on your nieces and nephews without having the trolls and spammers and Pajamas in your face. Until Google and Bing turn down the traffic to Wikipedia, Wikipedia is unlikely to change. If we wait for a major scandal to occasion this, the damage to Wikipedia may be irrecoverable.While we wait, the damage to the Real Web continues daily.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Something to Keep an Eye On

Kathleen Meghan:

Amistad Academy in New Haven and Achievement First Hartford Academy are both public charter schools run by Achievement First, with very similar enrollment numbers in the early grades. But while Amistad had 38 instances of suspension during the last school year among children age 6 and younger, Achievement First Hartford Academy had 114 in the same age group.

An even more dramatic comparison: The incidence of suspension of kindergartners and first graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy last year was an estimated nine times the rate in Hartford public schools.

Put another way, an estimated 11.7 percent of kindergartners and first-graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy were suspended last year an average of 5.4 times each. In the Hartford public school system, 3.3 percent of kindergartners and first-graders were suspended an average of 2.1 times.

Asked about Hartford's numbers, district spokesman David Medina said in an email response that "there are times that suspension is necessary for appropriate reasons. They are typically temporary and instruction is provided."

Marc Michaelson, regional superintendent for Achievement First, said the school, where students annually out-perform their Hartford peers by significant margins on state standardized tests, has "a very high bar for the conduct of our students and that's because we've made a promise to our scholars and our families that we are going to prepare them for college."

The cool thing is that if this is a problem at AF Providence, it can become a direct issue in both the mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns in 2014, thanks to our mayoral academy law.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Deconstructing "Disruptive Innovation"

Audrey Watters:

Like so many millennialist entities faced with the harsh realities of faltering predictions, the Innosight Institute (now under its new name) offers a new prediction.

But, let's be clear, the organization doesn't just predict the future of education. The Clayten Christensen Institute does not just offer models -- business models -- for the future. It does not simply observe an always changing (education) technology market. It has not simply diagnosed the changes due to technological advancements. It has not simply prophesied or predicted what future outcomes might be.

It's written a best-selling book (or two) about disruptive innovation. It has actively lobbied governments for certain aspects of its agenda (its mythology?), becoming a vocal proponent for its particular vision of a disrupted and innovative future. The Clayton Christensen Institute is a member of ALEC, for example, a corporate lobbying organization whose education initiatives include writing and pushing for legislation that enables the outsourcing of education to for-profit, online education providers and that eases the restrictions of entry to the market of the very virtual schools.

"Over time," the new white-paper reads, "as the disruptive models of blended learning improve, the new value propositions will be powerful enough to prevail over those of the traditional classroom." And so, according to the Christensen mythology, despite any sort of hesitatation about the hybridity of disruption, disruption will prevail. And so, indeed, it is written. And so, it is told.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Students on the Fringe

Jean Ann W. Guliano:

With 83% of the state’s special needs students and 90% of the state’s limited English students scoring substantially below proficient on the last NECAP math test,* even with remediation many of those students will likely not graduate in 2014. Even more troubling is that the gap between these students and ‘average’ students has actually increased over the past 4 years; as has the gap for low income students.** Let’s be honest, many people, including several in the business community, aren’t that concerned whether these kids graduate or not. These aren’t the young people they will want to hire. Those who do care, the students and their parents, are confused, bewildered and genuinely afraid for their future – and many are close to giving up. Teachers who work with these students have been so overwhelmed with data reporting, effectiveness ratings, outcomes, forced curriculum, test prep and standardized tests (which they know are not valid or reliable assessments for these students***), are close to giving up, too.

Sometimes School "Choice" Means Choosing to Site Your School on Toxic Waste

Steve Ahlquist:

DSC03811Last year the General Assembly unanimously passed the “Environmental Cleanup Objectives for Schools” sponsored by Senator Juan Pichardo and representative Scott Slater. The bill, which took over three years to pass, was signed into law by Governor Chafee on June 6, 2012, nearly a year ago. Commonly referred to as the “School Siting Law,” this was an important and landmark piece of legislation that prohibits school construction on contaminated sites where there is ongoing potential for vapor intrusion.

This common sense piece of legislation, that keeps our children from attending schools where toxic gases can wreak havoc on their health, is doubly important because the bodies of children are still developing, and triply important in poorer communities where children already face greater levels of hazardous environmental poisons such as lead.

It’s therefore even more baffling that this legislation is being challenged and potentially weakened by two new bills that have been introduced to the General assembly, House Bill 5617 and Senate Bill 520. These bills would allow construction of schools on vapor intrusion sites, completely gutting the intent of the original bill. This legislation is being introduced on behalf of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA),which wants to expand a charter school on potentially hazardous land.

RIMA wants to manage the contamination by leaving it in the ground, and then monitoring the vapor intrusion with sophisticated and largely untested technologies that they hope will protect children, teachers and staff from unhealthy levels of exposure to toxins. The technology and monitoring will be an additional expense that the school will have to manage, money that will not go towards education.

I'm sure this will all turn out well for everyone in the end. Smell the freedom!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

There's No Spinning Away the Ratliff Victory


Underdog LAUSD classroom teacher Monica Ratliff has won a surprising upset victory in her school board runoff agaainst rival Antonio Sanchez...

Ratliff only campaigned part-time (she's a 5th grade teacher) and didn't have any outside campaign contributions (compared to Sanchez, who had boatloads of money). She didn't even have the unequivocal endorsement of her union (UTLA endorsed both candidates). In the March primary, she was a whopping 10 percentage points behind Sanchez, 34 percent to 44 percent. This time around, it was 52-48 in her favor.

Dumping Gist and Heightening the Contradictions

Bob Plain at RI Future has a good rundown on the state of play leading up to the likely renewal of Deborah Gist's contract as Education Commissioner. I'm all in favor of dumping Gist, but it is an awkward time to do it. We've got a newly reconstituted Board of Education which does not seem to have a charge to change direction on education policy overall. Or maybe there is a quiet voting majority for change, but if so, it is quiet. Maybe insiders know Gist doesn't have the votes on the board and this push is designed to provide political cover and justification, but I don't think that's what's going on.

As it is, we're just getting to the point where you can say Gist's policies have had enough time to start showing real results, and the lack of serious improvement in outcomes is just starting to become clear. We're also right in the middle of this graduation requirements mess.

If the alternative is just a new Broadie following the same playbook, I'd rather keep Gist. If we're really ready to change direction, I don't think the political foundation is built yet.

I'd rather have this settled through next year's gubernatorial election -- although there is a real risk all the candidates will still be pro-reform, since Chafee has been so... patient with Gist.

The most important point here is that Deb Gist isn't Omar from the Wire; this isn't a "You come at the king, you best not miss" situation.

Even if she survives this, Gist and her allies will come out weaker than at any point in the past four years.

I would note that I am susceptible to wanting to wait for events to "heighten the contradiction," for example, by leaving Gist in place and letting the new graduation policy controversy fully come to a head over the course of the next year.I have to try to resist that because I don't think it works as a tactic and hurts a lot of vulnerable students in the meantime.

But in thinking about it, it does seem like a lot of reformers, Gist included, have that same revolutionary tendency themselves. It is like they'd rather take risks to draw the teachers' unions into a decisive battle than collaborate and actually improve schools. I don't think "heightening the contradictions" is working out for them either.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Comments Which Don't Inspire Responses

Me, commenting on Grant Wiggins On close reading, part 2:

The CC standards do not call generically for close reading as it is broadly defined in the discipline. They *could have* and other standards have done so, but they chose not to. Standard one only calls for students to “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it,” that only refers to a single aspect of the close reading process.

Most of the rest of the reading standards address a small number of specific tasks which would commonly be part of the close reading process, with a multitude of variations on these tasks piling up over the grade levels.

Discussing close reading generically misses the point. The question should be whether close reading as systematically specified by the Common Core is the best, or at least sufficient, approach for a complete K-12 course of study in ELA. Indeed, the examples of other descriptions of close reading cover a wide range of interpretations.

I would argue that Dr. McClennen’s definition is very different than what the CC asks for (and I would prefer something like hers): “‘Reading closely’ means developing a deep understanding and a precise interpretation of a literary passage that is based first and foremost on the words themselves.” The CC is very consistent in not requiring students to create an original interpretation of a text as a whole — and they could, there are many examples of standards that do. For that matter, they avoid requiring “understanding” as much as possible.

The CC’s overall approach to reading is more like the UW one “..close reading does not try to summarize the author’s main points, rather, it focuses on “picking apart” and closely looking at the what the author makes his/her argument, why is it interesting, etc.” That is, focusing on textual analysis, craft and structure.

So, for example, if we look at your Frog and Toad example, I certainly like your questions, and they do require close reading. However, how well aligned with the Common Core are they? In general you’ve hit standards 1-3 pretty well, although way above the second grade level (if that’s the reading level of the text), but you’re missing the other five relevant standards.

This may seem like a pedantic technical point, but from reading the responses of NY teachers to their first Common Core ELA test, I suspect that a lot of them were generically teaching close reading as you demonstrate, when in fact they needed to be preparing their students for lots of tasks like “Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action (RL2.5).” Or whatever multiple choice question asks students to “Acknowledge differences in the points of view of characters (RL2.6).”

Monday, May 20, 2013

For a Polarized Debate, a Lot of People are on Both Sides

Dan Meyer has called our attention to the recent NCTM keynote by Uri Treisman:

This is the core of Treisman's critique:

So the notion was: "Let's focus on teachers as the central driver of reform and rethink how we evaluate teachers." They had the view that teachers were the single most important in-school factor in student achievement. And math people know that was just an artifact of the way they modeled the problem.

This goes well with my conclusion that Rhode Island does have a problem with math instruction and learning, but we're largely applying these intrusive unproven systemic solutions instead of investing in math instruction.

But it is worth highlighting here that Dr. Treisman is the founder and director of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin. The Dana Center has had a big consultant role in Rhode Island I think pretty much since Gist arrived, for example:

$2.86 million, the second largest contract so far, has been awarded to the Dana Center for an intensive review of the Common Core Standards, a set of national standards Rhode Island has pledged to adopt. The Dana Center will also look at how local districts can align their curricula to meet the new standards.

The Dana Center has been working with the State Department of Education on aligning local curricula to state standards for several years and participated in a multi-million dollar curriculum re-design in Providence. Since the district introduced its re-vamped Math and Science courses in 2009, proficiency rates on state science tests have increased from 9.4% to 16.8%. Math results have been slower to improve, but only one year of data is available.

Dr. Treisman is also on the board of The New Teacher Project, which has been reforming teaching hiring in Providence for years now with absolutely no discernible positive effect on student performance.

My point here is not to try to brand Dr. Treisman as a hypocrite or undermine his message in this keynote. What all this illustrates is the incredible institutional momentum that was created for Race to the Top. The Dana Center doesn't belong to Dr. Treisman, it is essentially a business run by UT, so yeah, it is going to follow the money and try to do what's best for kids along the way. Treisman doesn't have the option of shutting down the Center and laying off its employees if he doesn't like the direction the wind is blowing.

Maybe Dr. Treisman is a useful "critical friend" to TNTP, I don't know, I'm not saying he has any power there.

I guess what I'm trying to point out here is that this is a very pointed critique of the country's -- and Rhode Island's -- overall reform agenda by someone who should be considered one of Deb Gist's key allies when it comes to actual teaching and learning issues. Might be another sign the wind is changing.

Comment Liberation

Robert Shepherd:

I think that two things are being confused here. What the Common Core State Standards (more exactly, the Publishers’ Criteria that accompanied the standards) attacks is not the necessity of background knowledge for reading comprehension but, rather, a kind of prereading activity that has become ubiquitous in educational materials that is typically called something like “Activate Prior Knowledge” that does not, typically, address the background knowledge issue. This is an extremely important issue, so I hope that people will bear with me while I explain it in some detail.

Going Into the College Readiness Weeds

I'm somewhat suspicious about all the statistics and rhetoric about "college readiness," not so much because I believe all our students are ready for college -- or that we thought it was the minimum standard for getting a high school diploma until the day before yesterday -- but because there is no particular reason to take numbers reported by colleges at face value. They certainly have their own interests and biases, and neither college administrators, professors, or especially adjuncts or TA's have any particular training or expertise in the subject of "college readiness."

Anyhow, The Readiness is All has a good post illuminating some of the practical complexities entitled THE FOG OF COLLEGE READINESS: ALARMING FACTS ABOUT THE CSU EAP/EPT:

This year Assistant Principal Kirk Kennedy and I attended an informational meeting on the CSUF campus regarding the EAP and EPT. When I found out that 95% of all students pass the EPT after taking a three week course on their campus I raised my hand and asked, “Can you please distribute the curriculum of this course because I would like to see how you get students prepared to pass this test in three weeks with a 95% pass rate when we have students for four years and can only achieve a 55% pass rate.” This question was met with stony silence. I then asked a follow-up question, “Can you at least show us our student scores disaggregated by multiple choice section and essay component so we can see what we need to work on at the high school level.” This question was answered by an emphatic “No we are not going to do that.” I found this shocking since the college board does this for the AP and SAT test and the entire purpose of the EAP test as stated by the CSU system is to help students see what they need to work on senior year to get ready for the CSU system, but yet they won’t tell the schools where the students need more assistance.

What's the Rush?

Erik Robelen:

Rhode Island may prove to be the first state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards issued in final form last month. The state board of education is expected to vote on the standards at its next meeting, on May 23.

I waste too much time on standards in subjects I actually know something about, so I'll keep my mouth shut other than to wonder what the rush is?

This is a national PR move.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Skate Providence

A little tour with some legends, starting at my beloved Neutaconkanut.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Student & Task Models in the Common Core Revisited

I tried using the basic psychometric concept of student and task models to look at the structure of the Common Core ELA standards. My premise was that an individual grade level standard represents the student model, or "what we want to say about what a student knows or can do—aspects of their knowledge or skill." For example the grade 9-10 version of reading literature standard 5:

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

This is a particular manifestation of the anchor College and Career Readiness Standard 5:

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

Which is rather similar to a standard from the English (that is for England) 2007 Programme of Study for Key Stage 4:

Students should be able to understand how meaning is constructed withinIt’s not too late for the Washington Post to insist that the City Council put Dr. Sandy Sanford, former Chancellor Rhee, Chancellor Henderson, former OSSE head Deborah Gist and others under oath. sentences and across texts as a whole.

I would note that deleting the word "understand" from standards is a very important ideological point in American standards politics. It is kind of a dog-whistle, but also emphasizes the collapsing of the student and task model in American standards, particularly the Common Core. The goals of learning, this approach says, should avoid fuzzy abstraction and focus on observable outcomes (but don't say "outcomes," that's another dog-whistle).

On the other hand, however, I keep forgetting that the standards also say "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 "narrow" grade 9-10 literature standard 5 really also includes:

  • Recognize common types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems).
  • Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.
  • Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
  • Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
  • Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.
  • Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
  • Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.
  • Analyze how a drama’s or poem’s form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning.
  • Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.

Exactly how this ever growing list of standards is meant to be addressed is not spelled out. Should there be 10th grade questions about the kindergarten "types of texts" standards, just with an appropriately 10th grade range of text types? There's no real indication that there shouldn't be, or particular reason not to.

If we want to do a full comparison with the single standard from the English Programme of Study, we would also include the informational text standards:

  • Identify the front cover, back cover, and title page of a book.
  • Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, tables of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text.
  • Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.
  • Use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a given topic efficiently.
  • Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
  • Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.
  • Analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas.
  • Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.
  • Analyze in detail the structure of a specific paragraph in a text, including the role of particular sentences in developing and refining a key concept.
  • Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).

And we also have History/Social Studies versions:

  • Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
  • Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

And science (I'm just going up to 10th grade, btw):

  • Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to an understanding of the topic.
  • Analyze the structure of the relationships among concepts in a text, including relationships among key terms (e.g., force, friction, reaction force, energy).

So... what the hell does all that add up to? Who knows? It isn't "fewer, clearer," that's for sure. And I don't understand people who say these standards make more sense the longer you study them.

But anyhow, if we're looking at this in terms of a student model/task model frame, I think one can read the individual grade level standards as the task model and the CCRS anchor as the student model. If you read the individual standards as "the situations we can set up in the world, in which we will observe the student say or do something that gives us clues about the knowledge or skill we’ve built into the student model," it all hangs together better, and it would make sense that the people from ACT and The College Board who we were originally told designed the standards would like that structure.

Unfortunately, Not Out In Time for Teacher Appreciation Day

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Providence Grays 2013 Brochure


New National

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First Murdoch, Now Bloomberg

Natasha Lennard:

Following revelations that Bloomberg News reporters had used the Bloomberg terminals — ubiquitous in the finance sector — to spy on some banker activity, the Financial Times reported Tuesday that thousands of private messages sent between terminal users have been leaked online and available for public view for some time. The latest news “undermin[es] he company’s attempts to restore faith in its ability to keep client data confidential as it scrambles to allay clients’ privacy concerns.”

Yes, the case for giant databases of sensitive student information just gets better and better.

What Jobs Are These Kids Going to Get? WHAT JOBS, WHERE, PAYING WHAT?!?

Mike Petrilli:

Let's imagine that our schools can help the average child born into poverty do somewhat better. Let's say that with a combination of talented and well-trained teachers, a rich and rigorous curriculum, lots of supports, and strong leadership, we're able to get poor students, on average, to a 10th-grade level by the time they graduate high school. Suddenly they can attend a community college, or even a four-year university, without starting in remedial education. They are much more likely to graduate, at least with an associate's degree or a technical credential. Rather than making minimum wage, they will make a living wage.

They are less likely to get pregnant as teens, or end up in prison, or drop out of the workforce. Their children wouldn't be born poor—they would be born middle class. This would be transformative.

Notice the key assumption built into this "theory of action": reading and math matter a lot. Getting to the 10th-grade level instead of the 8th-grade level (even as measured by rinky-dinky standardized tests) would make a meaningful difference in real lives. With that assumption in place, it's not crazy—in fact, it's perfectly rational—to hold schools accountable for helping their students make progress every year with their reading and math skills. It's smart to put in place clear, high standards—let's call them common-core standards—that will delineate the path from poverty to prosperity, that will help schools and teachers focus on the knowledge and skills that matter most, and will get students to true readiness for college and career by the age of 18.

So Deborah, are you ready for the big question, the kicker, the heart of the matter?

The key assumption, the kicker, the heart of the matter is, would there be jobs paying a living wage for all these community college graduates? Even the kids who pick exactly right and get, say, the exact kind of welding certification that is needed when they graduate, how secure is a job like that now? Think it'll last 10 years? Do you know how mediocre the pay for those jobs is now even though the employers can't fill them? Think about how much less they'd pay if there was a glut of newly certified applicants.

And that's leaving out the fact that all the jobs that are currently held by the working poor still have to be done by somebody. Are we going to massively expand low-wage immigration to make up for the ever increasing pool of jobs native-born Americans "won't do?" And then, once our awesome new education system gets their children through college, will we have to import a whole new batch of immigrants for the next generation of service workers?


The typical high-poverty school is, and has always been, pretty mediocre. That's not an indictment of the people who work in these schools; the problem is the system. And it's not unique to education. Any big, bureaucratic government agency is going to struggle to achieve effectiveness, much less excellence. (Think the DMV.) Heck, even most large, private-sector companies are pretty lame, especially ones that don't face much competition. (Think the electric company.) Layer on top of that all of the distracting demands placed upon schools, the fragmented nature of education governance, and, in some places at least, too few resources, and it would be a miracle if the typical high-poverty public school were good, much less great.

Yes, "the typical high-poverty school is, and has always been, pretty mediocre," BECAUSE OF THE HIGH-POVERTY. If the problem was "the system," all of our schools would be equally bad, and in fact, all the schools everywhere would be bad, because "the system" per se isn't that different around the world.

If the argument has to end up with "and pretty much all large organizations suck anyway, so whatever," you're losing.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Last Gasp of the Old Guard

I Hate Music Too!

Student & Task Models in the Common Core

Tom Sgouros keeps dragging me into the psychometric weeds and was trying to explain the concept of "theta" in psychometrics last week. I ended up reading some of this paper on Psychometric Principles in Student Assessment, including this paragraph:

The assessment design framework provides a way of thinking about psychometrics that relates what we observe to what we infer. The models of the evidence-centered design framework are illustrated in Figure 1. The student model, at the far left, concerns what we want to say about what a student knows or can do—aspects of their knowledge or skill. Following a tradition in psychometrics, we label this “θ” (theta). This label may stand for something rather simple, like a single category of knowledge such as vocabulary usage, or something much more complex, like a set of variables that concern which strategies a student can bring to bear on mixed-number subtraction problems and under what conditions she uses which ones. The task model, at the far right, concerns the situations we can set up in the world, in which we will observe the student say or do something that gives us clues about the knowledge or skill we’ve built into the student model. Between the student and task model are the scoring model and the measurement model, through which we reason from what we observe in performances to what we infer about a student.

This gives me a little more language to describe my most basic reaction to the Common Core ELA. I think the most fundamental design principle in the CC is to collapse the task model and student model as much as possible.

Picking one example quickly, here's 2.2b from the English (that is for England) 2007 Programme of Study for Key Stage 4:

Students should be able to understand how meaning is constructed within sentences and across texts as a whole.

You can see that a broad range of tasks could address this student model. You can also see that it would be easy to end up with a task model which does not completely cover to the theoretical student model.

The equivalent in the Common Core would be:

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

If this is the student model, and the task model is "the situations we can set up in the world, in which we will observe the student say or do something that gives us clues about the knowledge or skill we’ve built into the student model," how much difference is there between the two here?

To be clear, I don't think my observation here is controversial. However, I haven't seen it discussed -- because there has been little serious analysis of the structure or design of the Common Core ELA. My complaint is that as a result, the student model is way to narrow, specific and incomplete to represent what we really want students to know and be able to do.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Everything Is Worse When You Don't Have Enough Money

Carol Lloyd:

When Lutz opened her letter from the San Francisco Unified School District to learn her daughter had landed a spot at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, she felt optimistic — lackluster test scores notwithstanding. On the tour Lutz had noticed the small class sizes, the beautiful classrooms filled with light, and the civil rights theme embodied by the rainbow coalition of children beginning their day with a “pledge of allegiance to the world.”

She joined a fundraising nonprofit founded to help raise money for the school from the surrounding neighborhood. That's when Lutz got a glimpse of the hostility between a few of the parents — mostly white and middle-class — and the new African-American principal. “I thought, what have I gotten myself into?”

The fighting was “so unpleasant,” Lutz shifted her focus to co-chair the parent-faculty club. Compared to neighboring schools with turbocharged PTAs, the school’s fundraising paled in comparison. “Teachers even complained about not having the most basic of supplies,” explained one mother. So with a small group of zealous parents, Lutz helped organize events that brought in some $16,000. While the money would have been needed either way, the rising enrollment of more affluent families tipped the scales and changed the school's budgeting for the worse. As the percentage of low-income students and English language learners fell, the school lost funding that helped support teacher aides and the other extra staff. “I think there was a lot of resentment about that,” says long-time Harvey Milk parent Jennifer Friedenbach. (Tracy Peoples, the principal, did not respond to requests for an interview.)

When the YMCA aftercare program asked the parent club to send an email about how to sign up for the program, Lutz found herself on the defensive. One mother — who, like Lutz, is white — objected that email communication would exclude families who most needed aftercare. When Lutz explained that there was room for every child and no one would be excluded, she says she received emails “accusing me of being racist and being an elitist and catering to certain parts of the school. The level of vitriol was off the chart.”

On one hand, yes, these are complex issues, and as it turns out, I don't feel very comfortable with either the affluent white parents at the girl's pre-school or the parents at our daughter's public school, so I've avoided getting very involved with either, which just means I'm a cranky, opinionated misanthrope. I'm sure everyone mentioned in the article would just get on my nerves.

But anyhow, reading over Lloyd's article, it is clear that everything is worse because the school doesn't have enough money:

And for parents whose school becomes a spectacle of infighting, the solution is often to lie low and reduce involvement, or move schools. “Now nobody wants to get involved or raise money,” says Lutz, with a weary sigh. “Since then we’ve lost our parent liaison, our reading specialist, and I think our arts, science enrichment, and civil rights camps will go by the wayside, too.”

We can wring our hands over the nuances of diversity and gentrification, but the fundamental problem is that the school's budget isn't covering a full program, and distracting people's attention away from that fact ensures it will not be addressed.

And indeed, one of the main reasons you want a mixed income student body is so that more affluent parents will lobby the government for increased school funding. If they think they're there to run bake sales, they're missing the point.

The Progressive Reading Instruction Straw Man

Deborah Meier:

Progressive preschools never rejected a rich reading culture or knowing facts as "developmentally inappropriate." They just didn't think you needed direct instruction to kick in this love of reading, of hobbies, of facts, of curiosity, of indefatigable and repetitive practice in subjects and skills they were fascinated by. The kids come to us with curiosity—and our job is to extend it. Progressives understood that the playful mindset that serious learning depends on is too often silenced in school. For example, I frequently step into classrooms where well-meaning teachers are doing as they are told: stopping at the end of every paragraph or page to ask didactic questions that turn great stories into "lessons" with "objectives" that can be "measured." That's hardly likely to whet children's appetite for "more, more."

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

How Are Those SIG Schools Doing?

Well, all the "persistently low performing" elementary and middle schools that received SIG-funded interventions are clocking in under 50 for mean student growth percentile in reading, so, I guess not so good? At least according to RIDE's favorite metric.

Pleasant View and Sackett Street are doing a bit better in math, at least.

Also, I have seen measurable improvement in my ollie technique after practicing the last three days in the Sackett Street school parking lot.

2012 RI Principal of the Year's School Posts Second Lowest Math Growth in the State

Unless I'm reading this wrong, last year while Veazie Street School Principal Susan Chin was named RI Elementary Principal of the Year, her students were well on their way to posting the second lowest student growth percentile in math in the state (23).

Chin is considered one of the most successful leaders in Providence. A 26-year veteran of the Providence school system, Chin came to Veazie Street in 2007 when it was the worst-performing elementary school in the state.

Veazie Street is now one of the schools that is making substantial gains in English and math, among the highest in the state.

What does any of that mean? Who knows!?!

Anyhow, if you follow the link, I've highlighted Veazie, Reservoir and Vartan Gregorian Elementary. If you flip between subjects and years (above the graph at right), you can see how much the scores can jump around, and if you're actually comparing two schools, it can be pretty extreme. Veazie and Gregorian had the same reading SGP last year, and they're 25 points apart this year.

The Story from Pawtucket: Business as Usual from RIDE


At the start of last year, both Shea and Tolman High (the only two non-charter public high schools in Pawtucket) were told that they had failed to make AYP as per NCLB and would have to undergo transformation. Note that since RI has accepted RttT, last year was the last possible year that this could have happened.

Despite high poverty, transience, ESL population, etc. the only AYP target that Shea had failed to meet was for graduation rate. It had remained stagnant at about 59% for three years, just barely failing to meet the target of 60%.

When the announcement was made last year that we were to undergo transformation, we were told that this would involve at the very least the removal of our principal (a fantastic, very bright, and driven man who had been principal for about ten years and whose leadership was one of the greatest reasons we had managed to make AYP in every other required category). As we had only failed to make AYP by a fraction of a percent, and we knew that a high transience rate contributed greatly to our low graduation rate, teachers and other stakeholders scrambled to locate students who had simply disappeared over the years.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


Linda Borg:

PROVIDENCE,R.I. -- Angela N. Romans, the senior education advisor to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, will join the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Providence Schools announces that Chief Academic Officer Paula Shannon has tendered her resignation from the district in order to pursue other professional opportunities.

Romans seemed entirely useless and blandly malign. Opinions of Paula Shannon diverged wildly depending on whether you were an elementary or secondary person. My elementary friends seemed to like her, at least.

How difficult is the 11th grade NECAP math test, especially compared to the MCAS?

The following is based on my testimony to the RI Senate Education Committee a couple weeks ago.  I've been working on getting it all cleaned up and laid out on two sides of a sheet of paper, and I'm almost done with that layout challenge, but in the meantime, here's the blog post version.

How difficult is the 11th grade NECAP math test, especially compared to the MCAS?

This analysis is simply based on outcomes, not item analysis, test design, curriculum alignment or other technical features.

The question is: from the point of view of past students, how difficult is it to get a passing grade?

First, note the importance of specifying the grade level.  RI (and NH/VT) students have consistently scored lower on the 11th grade math test than the grades 3-8 tests.  The pattern is easily discernible from last year's results for RI, in figure 1.

This difference in difficulty was understood and intended by the test designers (see page 308 of the 2007-2008 NECAP Technical Report).  It does not necessarily indicate a difference in teaching and learning performance between 8th and 11th grade.

It is important to acknowledge that if you look at the totality of math testing data for Rhode Island, we do underperform somewhat, even controlling for demographics.  There is no good national test for comparing high school mathematics, so we have to use some proxies.

The “gold standard” for cross-state comparisons is the federal NAEP test.  Unfortunately, 8th grade is the highest level at which it is regularly administered.  As you can see in figure 2, Massachusetts is #1 in the nation, but Minnesota, Vermont and New Hampshire are close to each other and not far behind MA.  Rhode Island lags MA by 10-15% across the achievement levels.

You can also see a similar pattern in SAT scores in figure 3. Minnesota is an outlier because of a low participation rate, but otherwise Massachusetts has the highest mean score (523) with Vermont (522) and New Hampshire (516) close behind, and Rhode Island trailing at 480.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire both particpated in a 2009 pilot of a a 12th grade math assessment. They ranked first and second respectively out of 11 particpating states.

Massachusetts and Minnesota participated as states in the international 2011 TIMMS exam, ranking sixth and seventh in the world.

To summarize: Massachusetts is generally recognized as the highest performing US state for mathematics through high school and a world class performer, but Minnesota, Vermont and New Hampshire are all follow closely behind the Bay State.

The next step is to compare, in figure 4, the scores of each of these states and Rhode Island on their respective high school math assessments. That’s the MCAS for Massachusetts, MCA-II for Minnesota, and NECAP for Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

What we see is that students in Massachusetts score much better on the MCAS than students do on the NECAP or MCA-II. The difference is far more dramatic than any of the differences in performance indicated by same-test comparisons.

The straightforward conclusion is that despite the MCAS’s reputation, the NECAP (and the MCA-II) is much more difficult for students to pass.

One argument often raised when comparing NECAP to MCAS performance is that the difference is explained by student motivation, as the MCAS has been an established graduation requirement in Massachusetts for years, but the NECAP has not been until this year in RI. This may play some part, but if it explained most of the difference a similar distribution of scores would been seen in reading, and it is not, as can be seen in figure 5.

MCAS scores, and other test scores for Massachusetts, did increase significantly over time reflecting a coordinated reform program started in the late 1990’s. In the first year that 10th grade students were required to pass the MCAS in order to graduate, the percentage of students scoring the minimum “2” or more jumped 20 points.

As can be seen in figure 6, NECAP math scores simply have not increased the same way when added as a graduation requirement in Rhode Island, nor have they increased much in Vermont or New Hampshire. I included RI NECAP reading scores as a purple dotted line to underscore the difference in difficulty between the reading and math tests.

Of course, we do not know the future. Next year might be the year that RI NECAP scores will jump 20% if we just keep the faith and hold the line. On the other hand, the evidence suggests that, like NH and VT, we could jump to the top rank of states in math and still have over a third of our students scoring "Substantially Below Proficient" on the NECAP.

Data references:

Monday, May 06, 2013

Fun with Dancing Dots

RIDE's student growth percentile (SGP) browser has been updated with this year's test score data. This is important because SGP's are the basis of all the new data-driven ratings of schools and teachers. Having two years of data allows one to get a sense of the overall volatility. Of course, RIDE has the data to extend this back five or six years, which would make it a lot easier to judge the validity of these scores against actual experience, but they've decided not to load that data into the system.

It is hard to make sense of it in aggregate, and the details seem fairly idiosyncratic. A lot of whole schools are jumping around 10-20%, which seems pretty volatile.

The most useful and interesting thing you can do is break down elementary or middle schools (no high schools) that you are familiar with by grade level and see if that patterns make any sense in terms of individual teachers or cadres of students. Do the big swings in growth scores correspond to actual changes on the ground, or is it the same teachers doing the same things with (supposedly) different results?

Smart Shopping Won't Save Us

L.V. Anderson:

The food movement ran into trouble when it began insisting that good taste was also capital-G good: Food that is good for the environment, for animals, for workers, for community-building, and for health will also taste the best. The argument is seductive but specious—what tastes good to one person won’t taste good to another—and dangerous. In the final section of her book, Pearlman notes that food-focused publications have increasingly covered issues related to environmentalism, labor, and politics over the last decade—but only “as problems to be solved not by collective political action but by individual shopping choices—in other words, consumption.” If consumption is virtuous, only those with the economic means to consume discriminately can have virtue. Which is how restaurant menus became infected with the elite farm brand-names and modernist amuse-bouches that proclaim how much less accessible they are than the food of the masses. The less accessible, the better.

Just Having Wonkier Wonks Might Help, or Not

P. David Pearson:

The evidence in support of the first assumption is compelling. Williamson (2006, 2008) has undertaken extensive analysis of the level of complexity and difficulty in the texts required in high schools and college. Measuring complexity in Lexile levels, he found that the gap between 12th grade (1220L) and the first year of college (1350L) is about 130L. The typical grade-to-grade increase in the secondary years is about 50L; thus, if we want students to enter college or the workplace ready for the texts they meet, we will have to close about an 80L gap, or about 1.6 grade levels, on a readability scale.

OK, if we'd start increasing the complexity by 10 points in 5th grade, and continue building between 5th and 12th grade so that there would be a 60 point increase in complexity each year instead of 50, that would be sufficient to close the gap, right? So why are we raising expectations in early elementary reading?

Also, if this is all so neatly quantifiable, can't we also phase it in over eight years so that nobody has to deal with a sudden jump in complexity, since the entire premise is that a big jump in complexity (in college) is bad?

Or maybe all these numbers aren't nearly as precise or useful in practice as they are in constructing academic studies.

Problems We Could Solve

Red Queen in LA:

No one’s child should spend their day sitting in such grunge and grime. It is disgusting. It is wrong. It is unhealthy. While researchers spend millions to parse the determinants that contribute to our epidemic of pediatric asthma in Los Angeles, I have to wonder about the contribution simply of sitting in dusty, moldering, deteriorating portables. Just walking in to the room induces a sneezing fit; imagine then rag upon rag saturated with blackness from just a superficial cleaning. This is settling into the lungs of your children and mine.

Why are the classrooms so foul? No doubt someone will have the temerity to blame a teacher for this, but the ultimate explanation is neither complex nor derivative. The classrooms are cleaned twice per year, because there is insufficient personnel to do so more frequently. Never mind that in some rooms there are 500 trips across a classroom threshold per morning – yet these receive cleaning every five months. In some cases there are fewer than 200 occupants in the room per day, though this room, too, will wait five months for cleaning.

I know the state of my house after just one week with merely four occupants diluted throughout a fairly large space. Imagine – just imagine – the accumulation of grit in such close quarters shared by hundreds of young, energetic bodies. I have little doubt that if I were to clean my house just twice per year, Child Protective Services would remove my children from my care. How then can it be that vast swathes of children are sent day after day to sit in government-provided classrooms that no responsible adult has cleaned in months? Where is Child Protective Services? The health department?

Of course, there has been some extracurricular cleaning in many classrooms – undertaken by your own children of their classroom, and by your child’s teacher. I am appalled that my children are sent to school, underage for employment of course, to be asked to clean their classroom. But the alternative is more horrifying in fact, that they should stew in this mire unremediated. As a taxpayer I am also upset that my tax dollars are invested so inefficiently that the salary of a teacher should be squandered on cleaning. This latter is an unskilled job and traditionally, our democracy has supported a system of remuneration that tracks skill. My tax dollars are hardly optimized when overqualified people are tasked with cleaning. Not, that is, unless that labor is extracted for free.

So while legions are unemployed, desperate for a job, we opt, as a democracy, not to pay anyone to clean these classrooms. Instead, every other conceivable work-around is employed: volunteer labor from parents and the community at-large, conscripted, unremunerated child labor, unacknowledged, unremunerated teacher labor. Worst of all is if none of this is utilized; the crud instead just accumulates relentlessly.

Let’s take stock here: Cry for the children marooned in filth. Cry for the adults crying “uncle”, relegated to cleaning for no compensation. Cry for the workers, displaced and unvalued.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Taylorism, Again

Shawn Gude:

There’s a special resemblance between the struggles against scientific management, or Taylorism, and today’s teacher resistance to corporate reform schemes. Just as factory workers fought top-down dictates, deskilling, and the installation of anemic work processes, so too are teachers trying to prevent the undemocratic implementation of high-stakes testing and merit pay, assaults on professionalism, and the dumbing down and narrowing of curricula.

There are more obvious parallels: Proponents of scientific management counted some prominent progressives in their ranks, just like the contemporary left-neoliberals hawking education reform. The nostrums of both Taylorism and the education accountability movement paper over foundational conflicts and root causes. Many of those who espouse education reform cast their solutions as unimpeachably “scientific” and “data-driven,” yet as with scientific management partisans, the empirical grounding of their prescriptions is highly dubious. And proponents of scientific management and corporate school reform share an antipathy toward unions, often casting them as self-interested inhibitors of progress.

The unions-as-impediment framing is correct in one respect, and here the case of Taylorism is instructive: only organized workers can thwart agents of dehumanization.

Spot on Answer to "Now What?"

Elaine Weiss:

The question, then, is not just how these three districts should change course, but how we can derive lessons from the findings that other districts, states, and the federal government can use to advance smarter policies.

We would say, first, look to the districts’ own small, less visible successes, which tell the flip side of the quick-fix reform story. New York City’s small schools delivered their best results by focusing on strong, sustained teacher-student relationships and hands-on learning experiences. Chicago’s multifaceted college-and-career readiness strategy contrasts sharply with test preparation that deprives students of real knowledge and skills. DCPS’ high-quality universal pre-kindergarten program nurtures all of children’s developmental domains and increases the diversity of the early childhood education setting.

Second, listen to teachers and principals. Stripping teachers of their morale and professionalism, and the teacher pool of the expertise that principals need to build strong teams, is a recipe for disaster. Montgomery County, Maryland’s Peer Assisted Review system, which leverages excellent teachers to assess and mentor novices, builds trust and promotes continuous improvement, not churn.

Third, pay attention to poverty. In urban, rural and, increasingly, suburban districts, student and community poverty pose impediments that, unaddressed, stymie even the best reform efforts. New York City and Chicago both house large clusters of full-service community schools that acknowledge, tackle and alleviate the effects of poverty. If the next mayor advances this supports-based approach, outcomes could look more like those in Cincinnati — more engaged, higher-achieving students, taught by satisfied and motivated educators.

Achievement gaps are driven by opportunity gaps: in kindergarten readiness, access to health care, qualified teachers, the capacity to navigate the college application process, and others. Only reforms that address those gaps in opportunity can deliver real change.

I don't think Deb Gist could make that pivot, but otherwise it wouldn't be very hard at all.

Achievement First Providence is a School for the Poor

Christina Couch:

Achievement First, a new charter elementary school opening this summer in Providence, Rhode Island, is one such school seeking to enroll an economically diverse student body. To do so, administrators are using a weighted lottery that gives priority to low-income applicants. They selected 176 attendees out of approximately 1,200 applicants this past March.

Giving priority to low income applicants would make the school more diverse if it was in any way appealing to middle or upper income students, for instance, in terms of location or curriculum. As it is, giving priority to low-income applicants just locks in segregation, despite drawing from a diverse regional enrollment area.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

It Also Causes You to Pay More Attention to STANDARDS

Dan Meyer:

But (Daniel Schneider) also diagnoses how this one change (standards-based assessment) to assessment then rolls along and affects every other aspect of his classroom. Curriculum, homework, relationships, the definition of math itself — nothing is spared. Assessment is only the first domino.

Perhaps the biggest influence on my reading of the Common Core ELA/Literacy standards, which isn't exactly the dominant one, is that I helped design a high school around the concept of standards-based assessment. My first question is "What would a school designed from scratch based primarily on this document look like?" Not a lot of people can really wrap their heads around that, or in particular do it in a comparative way.

A few words one way or another make a lot of difference in that context.

That's Gotta Sting a Little

From a survey of RI union teachers (click to expand):

Common Core Support is Soft in the Middle, Too

Me, in comments at Grant Wiggins':

Why are the ELA/Literacy standards so different from those of any high performing country, in almost every aspect, from fundamental goals (just college and career readiness?), to scope (far more narrow and academic), to organization (four sets of reading standards? different standards at almost every grade level), abandonment of basic disciplinary tools (genre analysis?), range of writing (not even a full concept of persuasive writing), and intellectual ambition (no real “criticism” in the literary sense, or even a full sense of “interpretation”)?

Has anybody ever explained even the changes between the American Diploma Project and the CCRS? The ADP’s “Logic” section was much stronger than the CC coverage, for example.


Frankly, the issue is not the content standards; it’s the performance standards, as I have long written. And BTW we disagree: I think genre studies are not a vital goal for the typical student. And I think the C Core emphasis on argument vs persuasion is spot on. So, I guess we disagree.


Sorry to go into the weeds here, but I’m genuinely puzzled by these positions in reference to genre and persuasion. If these were designed to be basic skills literacy standards, sure, but they are supposed to be college-prep standards focusing on textual analysis.

Are you really supposed to do this “Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.),” without using the concept of genre? Why? If you do need it, why was it omitted from the standards? Is this a college level concept now?

And while I can see that persuasive writing might not be so important for your college classes, understanding modes of persuasion beyond logical argument could not be more important for people living in a media saturated world, where the vast majority of messages are not based on logic and evidence.

For that matter, you don’t even have to leave the “informational” texts in the standards to hit that issue (“We hold these truths to be self evident…,” etc.).

And that seems to be the end.

I don't want to read too much in to one comment thread, but these exchanges about Common Core always go this way. Very few Common Core advocates are willing to back up the details of the CC ELA standards. The vast majority quickly punt to something like "No set of standards is going to be perfect – it’s an ugly committee document." as Wiggins does elsewhere in the comments. That works up to a point, but let's be clear, that's not exactly a strong fighting stance for what's supposed to be your base.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

You Can't Have He Said/She Said Coverage if Only One Side Puts Out a Press Release

Linda Borg:

PROVIDENCE — Two versions of Rhode Island’s state of education were on display Tuesday night.

The first, by state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, was an upbeat report on the state’s various accomplishments. The second, by Providence students, was a profound criticism of the state Department of Education’s philosophy and policies.

Minutes before Gist gave her annual State of Education speech before a joint meeting of the Rhode Island House and Senate, the Providence Student Union presented its “first annual State of the Student address.”

Don't underestimate the significance of simply moving school reform out of the realm of things all Serious People support in the media.

Walton Gave RIMA $500,000 in 2012

That's a pretty big chunk for Walton, given the small size of RIMA's network.

Some Raw 1880's Catching Video

Here's some clips from last weekend's Providence v. Atlantic game on Long Island:

Raw Catching Footage: Atlantic v. Providence, April 2013 from Tom Hoffman on Vimeo.

After a sample of the Atlantic's pitcher's quick delivery with men on base, the first catcher is an athletic but relatively inexperienced back-up (his name escapes me already, but I'll get it). The Atlantic are primarily a 1860's, that is, underhand pitching, team so they don't get a lot of practice at the overhand game, but overall they do an excellent job at it.

Gear-wise, he's got an early 1880's vibe going, with a big domed mask and single unpadded glove. This is an 1884 game so that's right when chest protectors hit the market, and catchers were adding as much padding to their still small gloves as they could as pitchers were allowed to throw fully overhand for the first time.

In terms of gameplay, he did a great job. Good hands, strong arm, alert, etc.

My concerns go directly to the reason I want to document this process and come up with some kind of guide for the prospective 1880-style catcher, which currently doesn't exist.

Mixing a more modern crouching style with 1880's equipment is neither accurate nor safe. Or, put another way, it is not accurate because catcher's at the time would have perceived it as unsafe.

If you crouch and stick your un-mitted hands out in front of yourself to catch, you're going to end up exposing your individual fingers too directly to foul tips and ugly fractures and dislocations. The first and most important rule in 19th century catching -- behind the plate or in the field -- is to keep your hands side by side at all times, whether your fingers are pointing up or down. You can still mess up your fingers, of course, but you minimize the risk, present a bigger target for the ball, and dissipate the shock of impact between your hands.

The Grays Gil Faria is the master. He's been doing this for 15 years -- longer than this style of catching persisted in the 19th century, since the mitt was invented after three years of overhand pitching in 1888. He is wearing a heavier glove on his left hand than would have been used in 1884, but I think that's a reasonable concession to safety and cost, as long as you also use accurate two-handed technique, as Gilly does. There's not much to say except he makes it look easy.