Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Overheard in a Conversation Between Paul Goodman and Jesus

Pope Francis:

A young man who doesn’t protest doesn’t suit me. A young man is essentially a nonconformist, and that is a very beautiful thing. You need to listen to young people, giving them outlets to express themselves and ensure they don’t get manipulated.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bruce Baker Writes it So I Don't Have To

Bruce Baker:

But here are my main reasons why I don’t roll with the whole “corporate reform” lingo. That the education reforms being pushed – that are cast as “corporate reforms” – a) really aren’t that common in private sector for profit business and b) they suck – even in (perhaps especially in) private for profit business. The supposed “corporate reforms” being advocated for the takeover of public education are reasonably well understood among analysts of private for profit business to be failed models. Models of desperation forcibly implemented by CEOs of businesses in decline – CEOs who often are on the verge of their own ouster due to their persistent failures of leadership. Thus, their solution – their secret sauce – blame the employees – force groups of employees to beat the hell out of each other – distracting from the failures of leadership. Sound familiar? Well, here are two vivid cases that should sound familiar.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Americans Need Not Apply

Stirling Observer:

Teachers from Canada and Ireland could be recruited to work in Scotland in an attempt to tackle a shortage of classroom staff.

Education chiefs in Aberdeenshire Council said they are taking "innovative" action to fill teaching vacancies in the area.

A team of three interviewers from the local authority has already travelled to Dublin and Toronto where they have spoken to more than 30 newly qualified teachers. The council hopes the move will help them recruit high-quality staff looking for their first teaching job.

The authority's spring teacher recruitment campaign saw 138 vacancies in primary and secondary schools filled. But there are still around 40 positions which are vacant, with councillor Isobel Davidson, chair of Aberdeenshire Council's education, learning and leisure committee conceding that they are "continuing to struggle to fill these posts".

Both Ireland and Canada are said to have high levels of newly qualified teachers who have not yet managed to find work in the classroom.

Teachers recruited from there to work in Aberdeenshire will be allocated a teaching role in either a primary school or a secondary in the area. They will receive a full induction, covering Scottish education standards, a temporary work visa and will have their accommodation and travel costs paid. At a cost of £4,000 to £5,000 per teacher, the council hopes this will provide a short-term solution to its recruitment difficulties.

The Real "Crisis"

Nicholas Meier:

The real “crisis” within schools today is that we are in the process of literally throwing away the carefully constructed ideas that flowed from these (and other) giants’ work. The garden for children (kindergarten) was a late 19h century invention that we are fast abandoning. The ideas behind such “gardens” are not only wise, but critical to imagining that democracy needn’t be utopian—that it’s possible with “ordinary” people who are all really quite extraordinary. Reminder: democracy was “invented” as an answer to “who is accountable.” But “for what” faces each generation anew.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What Atrios Said


As I've written before, an issue in American politics isn't just that too many whites can't stand the idea of blah people getting any of "their" money, it's that they truly think there is some secret welfare system that only blah people have access to. Plenty of white people have had whatever it is amounts to "welfare" in this country and have found it to be quite stingy. All those young bucks with their cadillacs and t-bone steaks must be getting the really good welfare.

The Limits of Graduation Requirement Reform

As this debate heats up again, it is worth noting that minimum graduation requirements are inherently a very weak lever. It seems more responsible to suggest better, more progressive alternatives to high stakes graduation exams, and you kind of have to, but it is good to keep in the back of your mind that this is simply the wrong argument and none of these things makes much difference except as a fully integrated supporting component of more comprehensive reforms (see also MCAS).

"Proficient" on NECAP Math Far Exceeds "College and Career Ready"

Diane Kern:

Concerns about the NECAP’s accuracy in measuring college readiness were echoed by students like Sol Camanzo, an alum of Cranston East High School who just finished her second year at McDaniel College. “I graduated from high school with honors back before the NECAP was being used as a graduation requirement. Although I did well with the reading and writing portions of the NECAP, I scored below proficient on the math portion,” Sol said. “This did not prevent me from getting my high school diploma, nor did it prevent me from getting accepted to an institution of higher education. Today, I am proud to say that I am a biology major and I am doing well in all of my classes – including all of the math-based courses. My hopes are to one day go to medical school and become a pediatrician. I am living proof that this policy is premised on false assumptions.”

I spent enough time eyeballing college enrollment/retention/credit-earning data from PPSD schools recently to be confident that the rate of college success for RI students (low as it may be) far exceeds the NECAP math proficiency rate.

For example, the back of the envelope calculation based on available data is that probably about 40% of the 11th grade students in the Feinstein High School class of 2007 obtained at least a years worth of college credit two years after graduation. Now, that's probably way, way off because it comes from piecing together several data sets of unknown reliability, but that's from a school that averaged about 5% proficiency on NECAP math. And it is not an unusual case in general. In the past Classical has had NECAP proficiency around 50% (it is up now). Nobody really believes that 50% of Classical graduates are incapable of getting a "C" in CCRI's lowest credit bearing math course.

In the context of the current debate over graduation requirements, of course the rebuttal would be "That's why we're only requiring 'partially proficient' for graduation." OK, but as thin as the validity research is for NECAP math in general, it is even thinner to non-existent regarding the validity of the "partially proficient" designation.

If we wanted to have a rational discussion about this, we'd have to start by noting that empirically NECAP "proficent" in math is way out of line with reality.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Don't Be Upset that Flashy, Attention-Grabbing Ideas Grab Attention

Charles Kenny, Justin Sandefur:

Not content with dominating IPOs on Wall Street, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are taking their can-do, failure-conquering, technology-enabled tactics to the challenge of global poverty. And why not? If we can look up free Khan Academy math lectures using the cheap, kid-friendly computers handed out by the folks at One Laptop per Child, who needs to worry about the complexities of education reform? With a lamp lit up by an electricity-generating soccer ball in every hut, who needs coal-fired power stations and transmission lines? And if even people in refugee camps can make money transcribing outsourced first-world dental records, who needs manufacturing or the roads and port systems required to export physical goods? No wonder the trendiest subject these days for TED talks is cracking the code on digital-era do-gooding, with 100 recent talks and counting just on the subjects of Africa and development.

When criticizing techno-philanthropism, it is important to keep in perspective how much actual money is being spent and what it is displacing. OLPC took off because it captured people's imaginations, including those of political leaders in the developing world. USAID did not propose replacing food aid with little green computers. Nicholas Negroponte pitched a product people got excited about buying, and in the end, the product just didn't deliver.

The even smaller flashier ideas like the generator soccer ball are even more harmless. Maybe they're distractions, but, compared to what? Isn't everything a frivolous distraction compared to whatever idea will actually lift the world's poor out of poverty?

One thing that you discover when you're in, say, a rock band that starts getting a fair amount of press is that you don't necessarily make a dime off attention. Press is just... press. They write about all kind of stuff that never actually happens or brings in a dime.

Choice, Data and Competition Between BVP Schools

Following up on a post from last week, at this point only Blackstone Valley Prep Elementary School 1 has third graders taking the NECAP and thus a classification, and RIDE's PDF report cuts off the name of the school before you see if there is a "1" at the end. They don't use the "1" in the NECAP reports from Measured Progress, and Information Works! says "Blackstone Valley Prep Elementary School" and "Blackstone Valley Prep Elementary 2 School."

So in the long run, it seems like they'll be reporting data separately, which will be interesting. My question is whether you can apply specifically to one or the other. I've never seen any indication that you can. They certainly don't encourage you to think that way.

It's no great scandal -- although certainly you should be able to apply to the school you want -- but it will be interesting to see how this plays out over time. Will they play up the differences, foster competition and choice, or work to keep everything balanced and a uniform front?

Time will tell.

You Can Guess Where This One is Going

The Public Educator:

A good friend of mine who was a master teacher in midtown Manhattan was a year away from retirement when her principal retired. Under this principal, she became a coach and mentor to many teachers. She was a published author, won awards, and when she was in the classroom, countless parents requested her as a teacher. In the 29 years she was in this school, many of her former students ended up achieving at very high levels. Over the years, her former students would visit her. She told me that a student she taught a quarter century ago came to the school just to see her. When this boy was in her sixth grade class in 1980, he had great difficulty reading. She discovered that he loved science fiction and whenever she had a free period, she would read with him short stories from Ray Bradbury. This was just the spark to help this children read on his own. And what did this former student bring to this teacher, but a copy of a science fiction novel that he authored and was just published along with a donation to the school.

However, the following September a new principal came to the school from what we in New York calls the principal’s academy...

NCEE: "College and Career Readiness" is a Mess

OK, the NCEE wouldn't put it so bluntly, but this is a conceptual mess.

Kenneth Terrell has a good summary:

While the researchers found that “the reading and writing currently required of students in initial credit-bearing courses in community colleges is not very complex or cognitively demanding,” the report’s math findings are even more striking. The report also states that middle school math—“arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations”—were more central to the community college math courses than the Algebra II most high schools emphasize in college readiness programs. “What really is needed in our community colleges—and really for the majority of Americans in the work that they do—is middle school math,” Tucker said.

It’s a discovery that raises many questions. Should community colleges raise their admission standards? Tucker said that’s not the way to go , given that “many students “can’t meet the current standards.” Plus, as the NCEE research suggests, only a minority of students will ever need to use advanced math skills in college or the workplace, comparing today’s college-prep math requirement to previous generations’ being forced to learn Latin.

Similarly, the report found placement tests two-year colleges use to determine whether students should be in developmental education or credit-bearing courses also mismatch standards with the skills actually needed.

“It looks like we’re denying high school graduates the opportunity to take credit bearing courses because they can’t master math that they don’t need, and that seems very unfair,” Tucker said.

One of the foundations of my dislike of the Common Core ELA standards is that when I got to Providence we were just adopting the NCEE "New Standards," which were a much more reasonable balance of academic, personal and practical reading and writing. You could argue that the New Standards had even less of an emphasis on literature than the Common Core, they just didn't do it in such a strange, off-putting, pseudo-quantified way.

Anyhow, the idea that "college and career readiness" is some kind of stable benchmark concept is ridiculous. It is another abstract political construct subjected to manipulation, like all the others. Why should anybody trust the opinions or motives of community college teachers or administrators more or less than anybody else? The fundamental concept we seem to be working under is that the people closest to kids are least likely to understand their real needs and abilities. This is the opposite of real situation.

What's Tested is What's Taught

Daniel Engber:
“Toothpaste has always been a secondary consideration within hospitality,” said Tim Kersley, senior vice president at Gilchrist & Soames, the high-end toiletries provider. Like the hotel executives, he attributes this neglect at least in part to the influence of the ratings guides. But when I contacted AAA to ask why they’re throwing diamonds at bars of soap but holding back on toothpaste, I got the runaround.
“The diamond ratings come from what we typically see,” a AAA employee told me. “Toothpaste is not something they typically put out.”
“So you don’t give ratings based on toothpaste because hotels don’t give toothpaste to their guests?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“But the hotels told me the same thing—they said they don’t give toothpaste because of your ratings.”
“So I guess it’s a chicken-or-the-egg situation?”
“A what?”
“A chicken-or-the-egg.”
“I’m sorry, a what?”

Friday, July 05, 2013

These Are Not Isolated Incidents

Jill Saia:

I have deleted the "Dream School" folder on my computer. I am hoping that enough time has passed since our school was closed that I can write about it clearly and rationally, even though what was done to us was neither clear nor rational. For the last ten years that folder on my computer has contained all our plans, hopes, and ideas for a school run by professional educators for children who need it most. We knew that if we could put the highest-quality team of teachers together that we could affect true change in the lives of children in an at-risk school.

Two years ago when I was given the opportunity to become principal of Delmont Elementary School, I cautiously accepted the position. You see, I never wanted to be a principal. My graduate work in Educational Administration and Supervision confirmed this for me: being a school principal was too stressful and too far removed from teaching and learning. So I finished my degree and became certified, although I was certain I would never use this credential.

After 28 years in public education, I was offered the chance to become the Instructional Leader of Delmont. This would give me the chance to put into practice everything I had learned about high quality instruction and ongoing professional development. The position had been very carefully designed so that I would have autonomy in decisions and would be able to focus my time on classrooms and instruction instead of administrative duties. I would never have accepted this position if those guidelines weren't clear.

Those guidelines remained in place for about two months. I was able to hire a very skilled staff, six of whom were National Board Certified Teachers. But my request for an Assistant Principal and Dean of Students was denied, even though there was money in the budget for it. I very quickly encountered resistance at all my personnel suggestions, and it began to seem as though the district didn't really want us to succeed. The next two years were the most rewarding of my educational career, but also the most disheartening.

Any "reformer" wanting to find common ground with me has to explain why this happens over and over and over again to career educators.

By the way, test scores in year two were outstanding. While we don't yet have a final SPS from the state, preliminary data from our chief of accountability show that we made AYP and would no longer be a "failing" school. Our fourth-graders had a 20% jump in the number of students rated proficient; the district average growth was 6%.

So, this is what "reform" has done; it has transformed our dream school into a nightmare. I hope that we all wake up from it soon in a better place, but I know that for a few years, there was no better place than Delmont.

Scanning the New RI Charter Proposals

OK, new charter proposal time. One thing they all share language that either explicitly or implicitly says something like this:

The Southside Elementary Board will hold the school’s charter, not Amos House. Eileen Hayes from Amos House will be the first board chair. As sponsor of Southside Elementary Amos House, like other partner organizations, will have the opportunity annually to recommend potential board members to Southside Elementary’s Governance Committee of the board. Amos House will also help Southside Elementary by helping to serve its homeless population.

OK, fine, but the law says:

16-77.3-1. Entities eligible to apply to become independent charter schools. – (a) Persons or entities eligible to submit an application to establish an independent charter school shall be limited to:

(1) Rhode Island nonprofit organizations provided that these nonprofit organizations shall have existed for at least two (2) years and must exist for a substantial reason other than to operate a school; or

(2) Colleges or universities within the State of Rhode Island.

To be honest, I don't remember if any of the latest batch of approved independent charters had the same language in their applications. I sent RIDE an email asking for an explanation. A strict interpretation of the law is a strong and unusual disincentive to starting a charter, and RIDE has never explained publicly what their interpretation is -- it certainly isn't explained in their regulations. It certainly isn't obvious that the "entities eligible to apply to become independent charter schools" should be different entities than those who actually hold the charter and are accountable for the school.

In brief. Four proposals for independent charters. No mayoral academies, all "home grown," no outside CMO's. One in Newport, which might as well be Mars as far as I'm concerned.

Two smallish elementaries in Providence which are extensions of successful existing more or less progressive (by today's standards) local programs -- Community Prep and The Learning Community -- so relatively painless aside from the overall slow bleed on PPSD enrollment. The most annoying thing is we really need middle schools much more, and we understand that you're doing elementary because it is easier for you, not better for us.

And we've got the inevitable STEM high school which at best will become our first "weed out the feeble" 100% college enrollment, 75% attrition charter high school, based on their planned curriculum. That should at least keep the overall cost down to PPSD!

Maybe Next Time You Can Get a Quote from Ken Wong Explaining Why the Mayor Should Appoint the Board

Linda Borg:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Providence School Board President Keith Oliveira expressed his disappointment that he cannot get a quorum at board meetings.

In a letter to his colleagues, he wrote, "Once again, as a public body, we have demonstrated a collective disregard for the commitment that we each have made individually to serve the community of Providence and to conduct the people's business before the Providence School Board.

Or maybe it is because they're tired of sitting around until 10:00 PM listening to testimony about clumsy, spurious, unfounded administrator firings. Well, that and being nationally embarrassed by not being given sufficient information to follow through with firing a principal who was running a sweat shop for disabled students in a high school.

Or maybe the combination of the two?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Defining a "School" for the Purposes of Classification

The clearest indication that RIDE's school classification report is designed to serve the needs of the federal government rather than RI parents (other than understanding that it is just an artifact of getting a NCLB waiver) is the way it defines a "school," particularly in the case of charters. Schools are, of course, divided into elementary, middle and high, but how multi-level schools are categorized is an artifact of the chartering process.

Paul Cuffee is a K-12 charter, but it is not organized as one school in terms of location, leadership, etc., and officially it is one school on the charter (I presume). So it is listed as a high school and all the data across grade levels is aggregated. Same for Times2. Times2 is particularly annoying insofar as they get 20/20 for graduation rate despite huge attrition between their elementary level and high school graduation. Take out the inflated high school scores and they go from "Leading" to "Typical." On the whole though, I'm not claiming bias here, it is just that from the parents point of view, there is no possible advantage to not having this data split out by level. You can't make apples to apples comparisons

On the other hand, since Blackstone Valley Prep was formed under a revised charter law, it is currently considered two schools in the RIDE classification, an elementary and a middle school. That's better, except is isn't really one elementary school, it is two. Go look at the website footer. I don't know whether there is a difference in performance between the two schools, which is the point. I don't know. In general, two elementary schools that are part of the same system may well have significant differences, even if curriculum, etc. is the same. For that matter, are the two schools the same demographically? Again, the point is who knows?

For that matter, how are the students placed in each school? Is there actually a separate lottery?

I don't have any particular reason to think anything nefarious is going on, but there is no reason to report two schools as one, ever. As a parent, I don't want to be told I have been accepted to one of two schools, whose data is only available in aggregate. I wouldn't want it in a district or a charter.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

2013 RIDE School Classifications: Running Your Data Through a Fuzzbox

With an electric guitar you might have a bad cable or connection somewhere, adding clicks, pops or static, or dropping out erratically. This noise is almost always unintentional and reduced as much as possible. On the other hand, you may intentionally add a fuzzbox or another effects pedal between the guitar and the amplifier. This doesn't add new noise, but it distorts, exaggerates, filters, etc. the input to create a different sound based on the source input.

RIDE's school classification system's "multiple measures" approach takes relatively clean educational data (NECAP scores, plus grad rate for high schools) and runs it through about five different fuzzboxes and effects pedals (in parallel) to create an aggregate sound/score.

For example, here's the NECAP reading and math proficiency rates added together and graphed against the single proficiency score they received in the classification system:

Obviously there is a strong correlation, since they are supposed to represent the same data, but as you can see, two schools have the same classification score for overall proficiency while being 25% different in reading and math combined (sorry Frank E. Thompson Middle School). That's not noisy input, that's fuzzed out output.

And that would seem to be the simplest component of the whole thing. It is just the proficiency rate. Everything else is some kind of more complex variation.

Your "gap closing" scores depend heavily on how many categories have enough students of each sub-type to count as a potential gap. The best scenario is to have a very homogenous small school that does well in the one or two demographic categories that count for the school. Also, it doesn't do you any good if you have uniformly high growth across demographic categories. If your students start with large gaps and they have uniformly high growth scores, you're still screwed for gap score (sorry again Frank E. Thompson Middle School).

I'm not going to dig into how the 2017 progress targets were set for each school, but... I don't even know. If a school has good overall scores and good student growth scores but lower progress scores... what is that even supposed to mean to anyone? It reminds me of something the NFL would throw in to increase "parity." Slightly hobbling schools that peaked a bit a couple years ago and boosting those that hit a little trough.

The most annoying part of the system is that you get a full rating with incomplete data. So BVP elementary is rated "Commended" with data for only 3/5ths of the categories (no growth or progress scores).

Also, schools that are rated "Focus" or "Priority" can't move out of those categories in only one year, which would make sense if the system in general had any interest in historical data, which it pointedly does not.

If I was slightly motivated, I'd try to get a spreadsheet of the data so I could at least see how closely the final ratings correlate to the simple NECAP scores. I'm sure it is high enough to wonder what the point of all this is. They are far too weird for parents or educators to use to drive selection or improvement. The deeper you dig the more you find just weird mutually-cancelling artifacts. Put another way, what would you make of Central Falls High School and E-Cubed having almost the same classification score when E-Cubed's proficiency rate in writing is almost 40% higher than CFHS's?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

This Would be a Welcome Disruption: EOMA-68 & the "Flying Squirrel" KDE Tablet

Here's the premise: a standard form factor for a pluggable, swappable pc on a card.

Rhombus Tech:

The EOMA68 CPU cards have the CPU, GPU, system RAM, Flash drive, and IO controllers such as SATA, USB, Ethernet, SPI, HDMI, LCD, etc. all in a small self contained metal shelled card that is pluggable into all types of products.

The physical plug is the same as used for the old PCMCIA cards.

This is no great leap forward technologically -- just putting the guts of a smartphone into a card, essentially. And nothing to get too optimistic about, as getting a common standard adopted is much rarer and more difficult than creating a technical innovation. But let's talk about why this would be cool for schools.

The most obvious use case, and the first one that should actually arrive on the market soonish, is a modular tablet. That is, a pretty standard tablet similar to a Kindle Fire, but where you could repair or upgrade relatively easily. It would basically break down into these parts:

  • CPU card
  • simple motherboard
  • display
  • standard/replaceable battery
  • display

The most obvious advantage of this is just lowering the TCO by making it easier to fix or partially upgrade. The most obvious disadvantage is that it's going to be a bit bulkier than a sealed tablet. The architecture shouldn't make much difference in cost one way or another.

There are a few less obvious advantages:

  • If you make it possible for the user to swap CPU cards, it could address some of the increasingly divergent requirements between high stakes testing and security in schools, and giving students some sense of freedom, creativity, exploration and privacy in their computing lives. You could pop in a very strict, minimal, secure (un-networked) system for testing, have another for working in school (your Amplify card, perhaps), and students could buy their own for, say, under $50 if they want to be in complete control of their tablet at home.
  • It would also be easy to make cheap alternative form factor devices for any or all of the above cards. A little dock that would let you use your TV as a computer monitor, or simple laptop or desktop chassis when that would be desirable. Just pop the card out of the tablet and into one of the other devices. Your working environment follows you.
  • You could also use the cards as the brains of robots and other types of computer-driven projects.

The problem is that this model disrupts the tablet industry by breaking it up into commodity parts. They prefer the all-in-one model. Consumers like it to. Hey, I love that my iPhone feels like it is just a solid seamless block and don't mind that I can't open or upgrade it. But I also accept that essentially nothing used in a school is as sleek and refined as its best commercial version. It is just the nature of the beast.

Basically, we need a Jeep or Beetle version of the tablet for schools, and splitting the CPU card out into a cartridge would make that possible.