Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Expanding the Extended Family Education Resume

We were happy to welcome Sasha Yudkovsky, Executive Director of the School for Strings ("New York’s premiere Suzuki-based music school") into the clan last weekend. We wish Sasha and Sarah all the best!

Don't Count on Anyone Taking Lessons from RI's Charter Sector

Stephanie Simon:

The CREDO study found vast differences in quality. Charter students in the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Louisiana posted strong gains in reading and math, far outpacing peers in local schools. But charter students in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Texas and Arizona lost significant ground.

So... I guess no CMO's, restrictive charter laws, strict authorization, slow growth, prevailing wage requirements, participation in the state pension system and a partially unionized workforce is the way to go?

The Core Problem in American Schools


On average, primary school teachers spend almost 1 100 hours a year teaching (the OECD average is 790 hours); lower secondary teachers teach for about 1 070 hours a year (the OECD average is 709 hours); and upper secondary school teachers spend about 1 050 hours a year in the classroom (the OECD average is 664 hours). In most OECD countries, the number of hours of teaching per year tends to decrease as the level of education rises; but in the United States, the number of teaching hours is roughly the same in primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education.

It makes everything harder -- for no apparent savings in the end.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Technology Industry has Utterly Failed Schools

Hillel Aron:

Not only did the iPad receive the highest rating, it was also the cheapest of any device, at $678 per unit – which includes the software, cases and a 3-year warranty. That price represents a discount for the district, since they are buying the tablets in bulk.

This is a case study of the need for "disruptive innovation," which somehow never quite arrives in ed tech.

$678 per unit in 2013? Absurd.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Another Small Victory

Now that there is no principal's union in Providence, school administrators are all on one year contracts, and it is much easier to get rid of them. This is not an entirely bad thing, of course, but somehow the guns always get aimed at the wrong target.

Thus KC Perry, former principal of Feinstein High School, now serving as an assistant principal in the district, had his contract not renewed for next year. For whatever reason, there is an appeal process involving a formal hearing with the board, which was scheduled for Monday night.

So I prepared a full report on the data illustrating the success of KC's leadership at FHS, which you can read here. I dug up some older college enrollment data we had and came across some new stuff -- basically FHS students were the tops among PPSD neighborhood high schools in enrollment immediately after graduation, returning after 1 year, and earning 1 year's worth of credit within two years in all the years I looked at, which was actually before the test scores even went up. So if anything the whole process made me even more impressed with what the school accomplished before being named "persistently low-performing" and closed.

The middle managers trying to get rid of KC did a half-assed job, and really had no evidence or coherent argument, so after wasting about 4 hours in the life of the board, a couple of lawyers, the stenographer and witnesses, not to mention KC, the board voted 7-1 to reverse its previous decision and give KC a contract for next year.

Nice to win, even if it is a rear guard action.

I Leave Comments

Me, at Common Core Watch:

Is there a more recent version of "Stars By Which to Navigate" or just the preliminary 2009 version looking at the CCRS? If so, I can't find it.

Regardless, that report rejects the fundamental premise of "international benchmarking" in ELA because it does not accept the premise that PISA Reading is even any good. It is just an opinionated comparative evaluation arguing that CC ELA is better.

To quote Achieve: "International benchmarking is important from a national perspective to ensure our long-term economic competitiveness. The successes of other nations can provide potential guidance for decision-making in the United States, and many, appropriately, believe American students should be held to the same academic expectations as students in other countries. "

It is clear to me that both Fordham and CCSSI fundamentally reject that premise in regard to ELA, because they DO NOT LIKE the standards of high performing countries. The few superficial specific international comparisons I've seen for CC ELA simply explain away differences with other countries by stating that they believe the CC approach is superior. Fine, but that's not the way they said "international benchmarking" was supposed to work. If we have already discovered the best way, why do we need to benchmark?

Or a more charitable explanation is that high performing countries in ELA don't have "standards" as defined in the US at all. They have curricula with course outcomes, and we can't have a national curriculum, so the whole venture becomes dislocated.

Regarding the "[a]nalyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama" example. Stotsky is slightly off point in her criticism, it is not simply that it is too abstract, but that it is conceptually muddled. The main object here is "the impact," but the impact ON WHOM? The student? The imaginary modern prototypical reader? The author's contemporary audience? It is a fundamental issue in criticism.  If it is asking about the impact on "the student" we're getting pretty close to reader response.

What is the implication of the phrase "of the author's choices" here? Would it change the standard if it said "Analyze the impact of how elements of a story are developed or related in the text?" Is that phrase anything more than a philosophical head fake or dog whistle toward divining the author's intent without actually requiring it?

I would also argue that "analyze the impact of" pushes teachers toward a bunch of useless or at best obtuse questions. Analyze the impact of Melville's decision to set Moby Dick in New Bedford and on a whaling ship. Analyze the impact of Melville's decision to order the action sequentially, etc.

Of course, yes, an experienced teacher wouldn't ask those questions, a little professional judgement will save the day, but there are plenty of examples of much better worded standards, like from MA, "8.32: Identify and analyze the point(s) of view in a literary work. 8.33: Analyze patterns of imagery or symbolism and connect them to themes and/or tone and mood." Much clearer, and pretty much just work for any piece of literature you can shake a stick at.

The problem with the individual CC ELA standards is not that they are abstract but that they are just poorly executed.

Performance Assessment of Doyle Core Science Standards 1, 4, and 6; Kindergarten Level

Standard One: Be amazed by the world around you.

Vivian, leaving the house to walk to school:
So, what do you think those ants are up to today?

Standard Four: In the spring, graze.


Standard Six: Wear your safety goggles.


I can't remember standards 2, 3 and 5.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

As a Parent, I've Found This to be Generally True

Bill Fitzgerald:

And this is my single biggest take away from the event: teachers are left explaining a system they didn't develop and didn't choose. Teachers become the public face of policy decisions that originate thousands of miles away. When policy makers create a mess - and I would describe a set of standards that are poorly understood, backed by curriculum that is not yet defined, assessed by testing instruments that do not yet exist, as "a mess" - teachers are the ones who attempt to explain it. Our teachers are doing a great job. I hope, at some point, our policy makers catch up.

Not about Common Core specifically, but what's going on in general with curriculum and instruction. They tend to be parroting too much technical detail to parents that the teachers probably don't fully understand/believe.

I guess that it doesn't bother me too much indicates that (like everybody else) I do believe in the importance of some abstract "teacher quality." They seem like good teachers to me, so a little annoying technical jabber I can ignore.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I Was Thinking It Is Time for a March on Harrisburg


What are you doing on Tuesday, June 25th? Our new coalition – called Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh – is partnering with other groups around the state for a large rally in Harrisburg. (Philadelphia is planning to send ten bus loads of people!) This will be right at the time the legislature is negotiating the final state budget and we need to be there to tell them to put students, schools, and communities first.

If you want to really get the attention of Central PA, though, you'd need to literally march to Harrisburg.

Wanna Live in a Funky Elmwood Victorian for a Year while We're in Scotland?

Contact Armory Revival:

Available August 13: Wonderful, furnished Victorian in the Elmwood Historic District! This lovingly restored home features over 2400 sqft of living area, tons of period detail and original hardwoods throughout. Front door opens to grand central staircase, double parlor, formal dining room, modern eat in kitchen with marmolium flooring, gas range and dishwasher, and full bath with high efficiency, front loading, laundry. Head upstairs and find large master bedroom, two additional bedrooms, vintage full bath and library. Plus...awesome perrenial garden and play set in the yard. This home was evaluated by RISE engineering for energy efficiency, is insulated and heated by a gas fired, high efficiency furnace.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

One of the Weirder Things About the Whole Project

Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus:

For all its impact, the Common Core is essentially an invisible empire. It doesn’t have a public office, a board of directors or a salaried staff. Its Web site lists neither a postal address nor a telephone number.

I can't tell you how many times in the past few months I've seen personal emails from David Coleman cited as authoritative statements about the Common Core. Literally, if you have a question, email the President of the College Board and hope he gets back to you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How Transformation Ends.

Ah, WordPress.

I'm Baffled by This

Fred Clark:

So again, almost every big corporation you deal with is collecting data about you. A lot of data. And yet almost every one of those companies is absolutely terrible about figuring out what to do with any of that information.

That shouldn’t mean that all of this data-collection isn’t still disturbing. We’re making a precarious bargain with all of these companies, accepting “special coupons” or cool new wireless or Internet features in exchange for providing them with massive amounts of information about our interests, expenses, patterns and relationships. But to some extent we’ve all been lulled into not worrying that they will abuse this access to our information simply because they’ve been so incompetent at using any of it.

I was briefly impressed that YouTube played a Nick Cave commercial when I was cuing up Swan Lake for the girls, until I remembered that I'd watched the video for the first single of the album a few weeks before. Even that meager level of sophistication is enough to notice.

On the other hand, I walked into Ebisu to get some ramen a few months ago, and, unfortunately, it was completely empty. As I was waiting for my takeout, I noticed that "Angelfuck" by the Misfits was playing. This seemed like a strange choice for a Japanese restaurant at 5:00, and I assume it was a Pandora artifact or something, but it also felt like the future. I mean, if you ID'd my phone and scanned my digital dossier and thought "What song might make Tom just decide to sit down at the bar by himself and order a sake before driving home?" That tune would be a good choice.

Full disclosure: I did not get the sake.

Also, David Warlick's performance in the Nick Cave video is damned impressive.

I Leave Comments

Bob Plain wonders if charter schools like Blackstone Academy can be "scaled."
I reply:

Hi Bob,

If you want to understand the inner dynamics of school reform battles in RI today, you have to have some background on the mostly Gates-funded, mostly small high school reforms of the early aughts (and related CES-related efforts throughout the 90's).  It isn't a coincidence that many of the leading figures opposing Gist and RttT come from Hope High or, in my case, worked at Feinstein High School.  Feinstein, Hope Arts, and E3 (the only one that survived) all had NECAP reading scores comparable to Blackstone Academy's:

Blackstone Academy (2011-12): 80%

Feinstein High School (2008-09): 77%

Hope Arts (2008-09): 76%

That was 144 seats in *neighborhood* PPSD schools that were getting the same kind of performance in reading, and close to it by other measures -- except math -- when Tom Brady's PPSD and Deborah Gist's RIDE *aggressively* moved in to end these programs.

In Feinstein's case, Gist named Feinstein "persistently low-performing," and the PPSD decided to close it in the year it had the highest NECAP reading score any PPSD neighborhood high school had ever gotten or will ever get, exceeding the state average.  The year its low-income students entirely closed the writing achievement gap vs. non-FRL students statewide.  The year FHS completely eliminated the writing achievement gap in for its African American students vs. whites statewide and FHS's hispanic students vs. whites statewide.

Hope Arts (and IT) had similar achievements, nonetheless, RIDE and PPSD killed them, with RIDE and Gist pointedly refusing to enforce RI law and at least retain Hope's block schedule despite losing a lawsuit in the RI Supreme Court.  For years, no successes at either school would be publicly acknowledged by the state or district.  Did you know that Feinstein sent about a third of its graduating seniors to URI Talent Development year after year?  Of course not.  You can't praise a school you're trying to close.

Creating these programs was long, difficult, frankly expensive work.  Destroying them also took a lot of planning and a coordinated bureaucratic assault by the city and state, which scattered communities, wrecked the careers of dozens of teachers and administrators and pushed students into lower-achieving programs.

This was Deborah Gist's defining moment for many of us.  It was cold, brutal and remorseless, we lived through every minute of it, and we won't forget it or pretend it didn't happen.

That Blackstone Academy has similar performance is no coincidence.  The scenes Steiny describes would be familiar to any Hope or Feinstein (or E-Cubed) alum.  In fact, at least one long-time member of the BA faculty, Brian Fong, did his student teaching for Brown at Feinstein and taught there for two years before moving to Blackstone Academy, where he continued to use projects and lessons developed at Feinstein.

Deborah Gist likes to say we have the same goals for kids and schools, and to some extent that is true, because she will praise one school that is doing the same things as schools she is villifying.  It isn't about what is being done in the schools, but who has the power, and it can't be unionized career educators.  I can't think of any other explanation.

Friday, June 07, 2013


Catherine Gewertz's profile of one DCPS teacher's attempt to implement the Common Core in ELA is intriguing to those of us viewing the process from a distance:

For nearly an hour, Dowan McNair-Lee has been walking her 8th grade English/language arts students through ways to identify the central idea of a text. She's come at it from several angles, and no light bulbs are going off.

Using an article about labor leader Cesar Chavez's grape boycott and hunger strike, these students at Stuart-Hobson Middle School are doing a "close read," a skill prized by the new Common Core State Standards being put into practice in the District of Columbia. Ms. McNair-Lee had read the article aloud, then students read it on their own. Now, the class is diving into it together, analyzing word choice, structure, and other features of the text to determine its main idea.

It goes on with this thread for a while:

Remember, Ms. McNair-Lee tells the students, you can combine the text with your own knowledge to make inferences that can shed light on the main idea. She models it for them, pointing to the last paragraph, which reports that 50,000 people attended Mr. Chavez's funeral. "So I'm gonna make an inference here," she says, writing it on the board: "He made a difference."

The problem with this is that you shouldn't need to close read, make inferences, or anything else to get the main idea of an "article." Either the kids just don't understand the article, they have no interest in engaging with this lesson at all, or both. Or perhaps it is a poorly written article.

This may well be true:

"I know that this way of doing things takes a lot more effort than what we're used to doing," the teacher says. "But you need to know this."

But it is not clear that it is really driven by the standards. Maybe the most important role for the standards here is providing the right conceptual framework for aspects of learning. When I hear teachers complaining that students can't find the main idea or can't make an inference, it feels like a lousy model of the problem.


Today, the class is discussing types of allusions. "If I say I want to click my heels and go home, what kind of allusion is that?" Ms. McNair-Lee asks. "Literary," a couple students call out. Most recognize that a cartoon about the dangers of dating Henry VIII is a historical allusion.

Mikel doesn't seem clear on the concept. The teacher shows another cartoon, this time of a sad little train engine begging for change near a sign that says, "I Thought I Could, I Thought I Could."

"What kind of allusion is that, Mikel?" she says. Startled, he ventures: "Pop culture?" No, she says, it's literary. But she wonders: Did anyone read this story to him as a child?

I'm not sure that I'd be clear on the concept either if you asked me that question, but more importantly, is this going to be on the test? Do you need to know the types of allusions? I don't know that I know them. It seems to me this kind of terminology is actively discouraged by the CC standards. To be clear, here's the relevant standard:

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

First off, this is a good example of the lousy editing and poor "specific word choices" used in the standards. Are we only supposed to study allusion only within the context of "the impact of specific word choices?" Yes? No? Who knows?

Anyhow, I like the idea of using cartoons to cover allusions quickly and in an accessible context, but I think the better question, and more in line with the intent of the standards, would be simply "What's going on here? Is this a joke? Why is it funny or sad or whatever it is? Use evidence from the text!" The impact is what the standard is looking for. It is not the author's intent, clearly. Nor is it really asking for the individual reader's response. The standard is philosophically mealymouthed, the "impact" is an ill-defined abstraction. But that's what the questioning should focus on: What's the impact on the hypothetical and/or actual reader? You shouldn't have to teach this "tier 3" academic vocabulary covering a taxonomy of allusion.

The main point of this information text is that these, or any, standards are a very indirect lever for changing pedagogy, but the Common Core ELA is still just swathed in a haze of confusion, much of it self-inflicted.

Reader Juxtapositions

Jill Barshay:

The studies covered more than 8000 students in 11 states and found that students who used the (Saxon math) curriculum, on average, did 3 percentile points better on math assessments than those who did not use the curriculum.

Gretchen Reynolds:

But men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

MCAS in Context

Perhaps you've heard of Diane Ravitch:

I was sad to see that former Massachusetts Commissioner David Driscoll told Iowans that Massachusetts achieved high performance because of high-stakes exams.

He knows the improvement of Massachusetts’ public schools involved a huge new public investment, more than $1 billion, equalizing funding across the state; tough new exams for new teachers; a heavy investment in early childhood education; and strong curriculum standards (which have since been abandoned for the Common Core standards). To pick out only testing as the cause of the state’s improvement is misleading.

The True Brilliance of NCLB was that the Republicans Could Make This Turn Whenever They Wanted

Lamar Alexander:

What they are really saying is they don’t trust parents and they don’t trust classroom teachers and states to care about and help educate their children, and they want someone in Washington do it for them. I just completely reject that.

Actually, That's the Central Premise of Common Core ELA

Rachel Levy:

There is not some dial on the rigor-o-meter that you turn up and presto our "scholars" are all career and college ready.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

“You have to remember, white people are strange: They think hiking and camping are fun.”

Andrea Gabor:

Each of the tests for grades 6, 7 and 8 are completed in 90-minute segments over the course of three days. The seventh grade test, for example, is about 72 pages long (there are a few blank pages added for essay questions.) It includes 14 passages, the vast majority of which are one-to-two pages in length. There were also eight short-answer questions that require writing about one long paragraph each, as well as two essay questions. Then there were the endless multiple choice questions—over 100 of them, far more than the number on earlier test, according to education experts. (More on this later.)

Taken together, the 6 to 8 grade tests are weighted two-to-one in favor of non-fiction, far more than even the common core standards require for these grade levels. The common core calls for a 45/55 fiction-to-non-fiction ratio in the eighth grade. David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, lead authors of the common core, argue that this will not work against the teaching of literature because “the bulk” of the responsibility for nonfiction reading “will be carried by non-ELA disciplines” such as science and social studies. “Said plainly, stories, drama, poetry, and other literature account for the majority of reading that students will do…”

Even if you leave aside the small detail that only ELA teachers will be judged, VAMed and, perhaps, fired for poor performance based on the assessment, there is very little fiction or poetry in the NYS test.

Deborah Gist in a Nutshell

Bob Plain:

Deborah Gist was and is great at managing up; hence the call from Duncan. But she hasn’t proven herself to be very good at managing down; hence the teacher revolt.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

How to Fire an Education Commissioner Without Firing Her

Elisabeth Harrison:

Deborah Gist has been a target of criticism lately from some teachers and students who say they don’t like her leadership style and they disagree with her focus on test scores. Now that her contract is expiring, there’s speculation the State Board of Education will offer a one-year extension, instead of a three-year contract. Gist says that would be difficult to accept.

Not picking up Gist's contract at all never seemed a possibility, and a one-year contract is pointless from everyone's point of view... unless you want to fire her without firing her, in which case, that's what you'd do.

So... a three-year contract is a big win for Gist, pushing her well into the next governor's term. A one-year contract is getting rid of her. A two-year contract is a compromise which lets the new governor (or Chafee) make a decision in 2015. Two-year extension seems most likely to me, and the only real bummer is none of the gubernatorial candidates will actually run on replacing her. Chafee is friendliest to teachers in the likely field, and he's kept her this far.

On the other hand, offering her a one year extension and letting her turn it down might lock up teacher support for Chafee while at least giving him a bit of cover, so, we'll see.

Also Infiltrated by Gülenists: American Charter Schools

Josh Marshall's Turkish correspondent:

Supposedly the police are the biggest arm of the state that’s been “infiltrated” by the Gülenists. Many people are convinced that the police is a largely Gülenist organization, if not at the absolute leadership levels then certainly among the rank and file of the police force. Pretty much everyone in the police does a stint in the Southeast where they spend a few years beating the crap out of Kurdish protesters, so this is not a new change of tactics for them; sadly, this is the same playbook they’ve always used against Kurds, but now that it’s against middle class and elite protesters it’s getting more media attention outside of the country.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Amos Earley Park

View Larger Map

There is a sore lack of public spaces in our neighborhood here between Elmwood Ave. and Broad Street. One of the livelier spots is Amos Earley Park, which is tucked unpromisingly between some apartment buildings and empty parking lots about 200 yards from Route 95.

You've got a scrubby soccer field that mostly African guys seem to use, an older and thus slightly gnarlier and more interesting swing and monkey bar setup, a running track that someone was inspired to add a twisty loop at one end that adds some variety for Vivian on her bike and me doing some LDP, a community garden, a muraled handball court I've not seen used, and tennis/basketball courts. So it is actually pretty dense.

The best part though is that it is where the Hmong guys in the neighborhood play Tuj Lub. I'd tried to figure out what they were playing without asking, and was kind of pleased that my Googling was completely stumped, and I finally asked about it today.

So despite the slightly out of the way location, on a good day you can get a nice wide range of people from all over the world pursuing all sorts of esoteric recreation.

Or Maybe Tear Down the Skatepark and Put Up a Charter School

Marcia Green:

CUMBERLAND - Mayor Daniel McKee readily agrees that it was his idea to put the 1.3-acre Currier Playground up for sale this year.

The land at 52 Broad St. is too valuable not to develop for commercial use, he told The Breeze in a story last month. It was listed with broker Tom McNulty for $250,000.

Tonight, May 30 at 7 p.m., the Planning Board will see its first proposal for the site - a new, tax-exempt elementary school building by the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy that McKee founded.

Up for their review is a 40,000-square-foot, two-story school building where the skateboard ramps are currently located. Parking is provided at the rear of the lot and on the northern side, backing up to Titus Street properties.

It is a shitty little skatepark anyhow.