Friday, August 30, 2013

The Charter School Tapes

Juan Gonzalez:

The parent of a special education kindergarten pupil at the Upper West Side Success Academy charter school secretly tape recorded meetings in which school administrators pressed her to transfer her son back into the public school system.

The tapes, a copy of which the mother supplied the Daily News, poke a hole in claims by the fast-growing Success Academy chain founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz that it doesn't try to push out students with special needs or behaviour problems.

The "no excuses" charter school edifice circa 2013 is dependent on unhappy parents simply choosing to leave and go on with their lives. Quite a lot of rhetorical work goes into ensuring this process goes smoothly for the charters, and at the end of the day, the charters in question are run by politically connected people with whom you generally don't want to tangle with and lose.

One suspects, however, that there is a downside to the aggressive charter marketing. The more the big name charters sell themselves as saviours, the more likely it is parents aren't going to just walk away quietly. Bad press and scandal will follow, or, at best, increased costs to provide services they're currently short-changing.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I May Have to Have a Cup of Tea with @theorylab

Ben Williamson (University of Stirling):

Exploring these matters would mean taking a close critical interest in the material and virtual form of, for example, policy texts, curriculum guides, and school websites, and particularly in the social media tools and resources now commonly used to share and distribute information and knowledge about education. Drawing from literary theory, it would require us to examine the bibliographic codes of educational texts—the various textual, typographic, visual and material techniques they deploy—and to explain how these ultimately transform the linguistic codes they contain. This kind of approach would examine the radial social factors that surround and shape the physical production of a text—such as the role of publishers, editors, typographers, designers, distributors and so on—and their effect on its reception and meaning. In order to capture the distinctive forms of digitally mediated educational sources, it would also take up a software studies approach to the political, cultural and conceptual formation of software and a close analysis of its layers of computer code, algorithmic logic, programming languages, visualization, and ordering. If education can be tweeted, then how does the computationally coded form of the tweet affect it?

Paying close attention to the bibliographic codes, linguistic codes and computer codes which shape the distribution, reception and meanings of educational matters would be valuable given the extent to which we now find education scattered kaleidoscopically across a variety of material print forms, electronic resources, social media and, increasingly, in myriad forms of data presentation.

Our Critiques Are Becoming More Focused

James H. Nehring:

If we want to compare education to medicine, we should look instead at the field of public health. Teaching children and adolescents is akin to what a community health professional faces in trying to get people to brush their teeth, eat less junk food, and exercise more. While this comparison is more apt, it is less appealing since the United States has epidemic rates of preventable diseases stemming from our poor habits regarding diet and exercise.

Public health in America is a disaster, no doubt for a host of complex reasons that go well beyond anything public health professionals have or have not done. Much like education. But the comparison that we continue to make is with medicine per se, which causes problems.

For example, unlike medicine, effective teaching cannot be discerned strictly on the basis of scientific studies. The more we insist that it can—and we insist a great deal—the more we deny teachers the crucial element of judgment. It would be wonderful if effective teaching could be defined by research-based standards of practice written in a manual. But that, to use our public-health analogy, would be like writing a manual for the best way to run an anti-obesity campaign for any town large or small, rich or poor. In public health and in public education, context matters a lot.


John Savage:

A few months ago I stopped at a Greek fast food restaurant on the way home from work. Standing in line to order, I recognized the young man stuffing pita bread with lamb and vegetables, but couldn’t quite place him. He knew who I was as soon as he we made eye contact. “Mr. Savage,” he said with a smile on his face, “it’s me, Daniel.” Daniel, the malcontent from my seventh period class, had grown at least a foot since I last saw him. He took the glove off his right hand and reached over the counter to shake mine.

Daniel insisted on paying for my meal, and then we sat down and talked. He apologized for being such an “asshole” in class, and proudly told me about his wife and two children. He seemed genuinely happy. He also said he quit school to support his family but wished he could have finished.

Before leaving I told Daniel I was proud of him and gave him a handshake and half-hug, the way men do.

Driving home from the restaurant the image of Daniel lingered in my head. If instead of vilifying teachers, we tackled the real causes of educational inequality, perhaps we could provide students like Daniel a better chance — a chance to do more with their lives than stuffing pita bread.

One thing about spending a couple weeks in Helsinki, as I did about 10 years ago (without visiting any schools), is that pretty much everyone you see "stuffing pita bread" or otherwise helping feed or provide services for you is an attractive, white, obviously well-educated and healthy person. Now, I'm not saying that Finland or Finns are perfect, but the fact of the matter is, it is a reminder that in the end these jobs have to be done by someone, even if you do improve your schools and other social services. So maybe you actually have to start by asking if "bad jobs" have to be "bad jobs," and why.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I Guess There Weren't That Many "Shovel Ready Projects"

Let us recall that Race to the Top was ostensibly a stimulus program.

Linda Borg:

To date, Rhode Island has spent $44.4 million (of the $75 million grant), of which $21 million was awarded to local districts, according to Gist’s spokesman, Elliot Krieger. The grant allowed the state Education Department to hire 22 staff to develop and roll out the new programs.

Obviously blowing it in a frenzy would be stupid, but the pace here is weirdly slow, especially considering how many millions of literally shovel ready projects could easily be done in Providence, starting with, say, turning the block where Young and Woods, Roger Williams and Juanita Sanchez into an actual campus instead of an expanse of blight.

Well Put

Carol Burris:

And that is why educators across the country are boiling over in anger and resentment. They have become the proverbial scapegoat set out in the desert with the sins of a society in denial on its back. Of course billionaires and hedge-fund managers adore these new “reforms”—they tell them what they want to hear. The myth that “three effective teachers in a row” will make it all better, removes the responsibility and the culpability. Reformers can put tax deductible dollars on the table, take out the tux and gown for the fundraiser, and claim they are “all about the kids”. And with those dollars they fashion reforms that will not threaten their lifestyles, the private schools to which they send their own children, or the segregated neighborhoods in which they live.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Getting All the Essentials in Place...

OK, I can get to the skatepark from campus now. Note Stirling Castle in the background.

I'm feeling like I may have enough mental space freed up to start blogging about the trip so far... We'll see how this week goes.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Thought Common Core Advocates Were Focused on Implementation

Alex Costello:

The data that the tests provided the district, Johnson said, is “uninterpretable and unusable.” He gave an example: in eighth grade, Rockville Centre students take the algebra Regents exam, which is usually administered in ninth grade. This year, about 95 percent of students passed it. The eighth-grade state math exam is supposed to determine how prepared students are to take algebra, yet only 39.5 percent of them passed that exam.

I don't know why Common Core advocates didn't just immediately cut bait on Pearson's New York exams. They were obviously a massive fiasco, and that crew loves nothing more than criticizing someone else's flawed interpretation or implementation of the standards, so it would have been easy enough to just blame Pearson for screwing up? Right?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Raimondo is the Worst

Bob Plain:

If the way Stand for Children is throwing money at local politics sounds a bit like the way the pro-pension cutting political group Engage RI did so here, well that isn’t the ed reform’s group only connection to pension politics. Gina Raimondo’s husband Andy Moffitt is also a member of (Stand for Children's) board of directors.

I can't believe I might have to vote for that asshole Angel Taveras in the gubernatorial primary next year.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Fate of Knowing

The Problem with Algebra II is Not So Much the "Algebra" as the "II"

One of the strong points of Nicholson Baker's sceptical piece on Algebra's role in the curriculum in Harpers is that he does a good job of consistently referring to a requirement for "Algebra II" as the issue. It is extraordinary to require two years of any subject that narrowly defined in the curriculum. The question is not "Any algebra?" but "How much algebra?"

You might ask "whether kids should have to read anything above Romeo & Juliet, and not Macbeth or Othello. Or the script to the Leonardo DiCaprio version of the movie. Or the manual to the VCR that once played the movie." But it isn't an apples to apples comparison insofar as "British Literature" isn't a course anymore, and "English Language Arts" is a contested grab bag anyhow.

A better comparison might be the standard science curriculum. We don't require two years of biology, chemistry or physics. Does any state require two years of American History? Is two years of anything as specific as "Algebra" required anywhere?

Looked at one way, this implies that Algebra is a uniquely important subject, essentially the most important thing young people need to learn. Of course, nobody really believes that. On the other hand, two years of algebra is probably essential in the march to Calculus, so what it really implies that calculus is uniquely important, which is also rather obviously not true.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What We're Doing in Scotland

Gareth Jones:

A research project has been launched to learn more about a Clackmannanshire river.

Academics wishing to research the history of the River Devon could benefit from one of four post graduate masters research projects jointly being funded by the University of Stirling and the Ochils Landscape Partnership.

The bursaries (£2,000 each) will run from September this year until the end of August next year. Anyone interested should email

Students can also study poisoned earths; historic transport networks and cultivation terraces.

Jennifer has one of these bursaries and is getting a Masters in Environmental History from the University of Stirling.

Winston Smith is a Pain in the Ass

Bruce Sterling:

But Snowden sure is a dissident defector, and boy is he ever. Americans don’t even know how to think about characters like Snowden — the American Great and the Good are blundering around on the public stage like blacked-out drunks, blithering self-contradictory rubbish. It’s all “gosh he’s such a liar” and “give us back our sinister felon,” all while trying to swat down the jets of South American presidents.

These thumb-fingered acts of totalitarian comedy are entirely familiar to anybody who has read Russian literature. The pigs in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” have more suavity than the US government is demonstrating now. Their credibility is below zero.

The Russians, by contrast, know all about dissidents like Snowden. The Russians have always had lots of Snowdens, heaps. They know that Snowden is one of these high-minded, conscience-stricken, act-on-principle characters who is a total pain in the ass.

Modern Russia is run entirely by spies. It’s class rule by the “siloviki,” it’s Putin’s “managed democracy.” That’s the end game for civil society when elections mean little or nothing, and intelligence services own the media, and also the oil. And that’s groovy, sure, it’s working out for them.

When you’re a professional spy hierarch, there are few things more annoying than these conscience-stricken Winston Smith characters, moodily scribbling in their notebooks, all about how there might be hope found in the proles somehow. They’re a drag.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Literacy vs. Literature

Diana Senechal:

Reading class emphasizes the process of reading. The Balanced Literacy versions focused on “reading strategies” and “just-right” books. A Common Core version goes something like this: During class, the students read a “complex text.” Then they answer “text-dependent questions.” Then they write an argumentative piece that uses concrete textual evidence.

In reading class, the teacher is not supposed to give presentations—or, if she does, she is to keep them brief. Instead, she assists the students as they read and write. Class time is work time.

In literature class, by contrast, students do the reading at home and come to class to discuss it. The teacher does give presentations, the length and substance of which will vary. Class discussion may focus closely on certain passages or relate different passages to each other and to the whole. Questions may move from simple to complex, and they may also take unexpected directions. For the most part, basic comprehension is assumed; the class discussion focuses on interpretation. Of course there are exceptions; certain texts present exceptional difficulties and must be read slowly in class. On the whole, though, one assumes that the reading has been done and that the class can now tackle the subtleties of the text.

There's a lot to chew on in this piece. Overall, it illustrates the underlying deep design problems in the Common Core ELA. The authors clearly wanted independent reading to be a primary focus, but even in the "official" guidance the past few years, the stereotypical "close reading" exercise is as heavily scaffolded as the one Diana describes. Arguably there is no alternative in the real world.

What do you think David Coleman or Susan Pimentel thinks or would think when they read Diana's piece? "Ah, yes, she gets it, we don't want literature classes focusing on interpretation, that's clearly the point," or "Nobody understands our beautiful minds!" I have no idea.

Monday, August 12, 2013

It is On

I have refrained from pre-trip blogging, because it seemed like a massive jinx, tedious reading and also, we've been super busy getting ready. 

We're now at Logan Airport waiting for our flight to Reykjav√≠k and on to Glasgow and finally riding to Stirling. 

We finally managed to rent the house yesterday to a Nepali family in the neighborhood who have members arriving this week. 

So... Onward to our year abroad!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Grading Schools When You're Not Sure What a School Is

I'd just like to note that Tony Bennett's Indiana school grading scandal ran into the exact same issues I flagged when this year's RIDE classifications came out: grading schools that don't have a full set of grades and are thus missing scores, and when multi-level schools, particularly ones that encompass primary and secondary grades, are treated as a single school (or not).

I'd argue that there is absolutely never any plausible reason for grading a K-12 school as a single entity. It is idiotic. I don't understand how or why anyone ever came up with that idea. I can't think of an ideological reason for it one way or another; I don't understand how it happened in the first place.

And I don't think schools without a full set of grades should get a formal classification at all. There is an ideological reason for wanting to do so, since otherwise you'd have to wait years to "prove" how successful a new startup school is, but it isn't an apples to apples comparison, and some of those multiple measures are inevitably easier than others to get good scores in.

So I'm almost a little sympathetic to Bennett's concerns, but then there's this:

Two Indianapolis Public Schools might never have been taken over by the state if then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett had offered the district the same flexibility he granted a year later to the Christel House Academy charter school.

So no, it is not OK on any planet.

But, if Indiana's system had originally designed with an ounce of sense, Christal House Academy would have had an "A" for K-8, no grade yet for high school and once they inevitably posted their 100% graduation rate in two more years, they'd probably have an "A" or at least a "B" for the high school, and everyone would be happy, including Tony Bennett. Too bad they're a bunch of technocrats with no interest in technical details.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Anyone Lose a Couple of Ducks?

After they hung out in our hedges all afternoon, I escorted these two across the Avenue back in the direction of Roger Williams Park.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Purpose of the Common Core is Creating "Better" Data

Sandra Stotsky:

Common Core was/is not about high-quality national education standards. It was/is not about getting low-income, high-achieving students into advanced math and science courses in high school and then into college. CCSSI was and is about how to lower the academic level of what states require for high school diplomas and for admission to public colleges.

It is incredibly important to reformers to be able to say things like "This teacher/school produced three more months of learning than that one." It is essentially the whole ball game. It is also pretty much a load of crap. But it is somewhat less bogus if you have the opportunity to authoritatively redefine the nature of learning on a year by year basis, limited to things that are relatively easily tested. That's the whole point of the Common Core, to tighten up and entrench their whole construct.