Monday, September 30, 2013

How Did They Not See This Coming?

Gary Stern:

Myers said she studied the past test scores of her current ninth-graders, about 60 percent of whom got 2s and 1s on their eighth-grade tests in math and ELA. Then she compared their scores to those of Valhalla graduates who have gone on to college.

“Many of the students who were successful in college had parallel scores,” Myers said. “But now we have to tell parents that their child is not college-ready? We have a problem with the validity of the tests.”

You can even do the same thing with PPSD students college success statistics and the NECAP, but nobody will really believe that. Suburban parents will believe it about their own kids though.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Finding Common Ground: Can We Agree That Testing All Students and Evaluating All Teachers Every Year is a Stupid Waste?

Marc Tucker, Bob Linn and Howard Everson:

MT: What is your advice on the right balance between validity and reliability, especially if we want to embrace the goals implicit in the Common Core?
HE: I think the importance of reliability has been overblown.
BL: I agree it is less important than comparability and validity and fairness. It would be highly desirable to go where the two state testing consortia want to go. They want to include, in addition to multiple-choice items, items where kids are required to do things, solve problems and show how they come up with solutions to the problems they are given. But the realities of timing and cost are pushing them in a direction that will likely force them to come up short.

MT: Is this country getting ready to make a profound mistake? We use grade-by-grade testing in grades 3-8 but no other country is doing it this way for accountability; instead they test 2 or 3 times in a students' career. If the United States did it that way, we could afford some of the best tests in the world without spending any more money.

BL: Raising the stakes for our test-based accountability systems so that there will be consequences for individual teachers will make matters even worse. Cheating scandals will blossom. I think this annual testing is unnecessary and is a big part of the problem. What we should be doing is testing at two key points along the way in grades K-8, and then in high school using end-of-course tests.

HE: I am in the same place as Bob. The multiple-choice paradigm first used in WWI and eventually used to satisfy the NCLB requirements has proven to be quite brittle, especially when applied in every grade 3-8 and used to make growth assumptions. The quick and widespread adoption of multiple-choice testing was in hindsight a big mistake for this country, but—now — states will tell you it is all they can afford.

Keeping the Buses Running on Time

Dan Lawlor:

Angel Taveras and Susan Lusi: As a recent "Student Transportation Assessment" flatly stated, "The present method of enrolling students is both inconvenient and confusing for parents." This is after several generations of supposedly rock-star, reform Superintendents. Maybe Mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza's plan to decentralize the central office isn't half bad.

Apparently the bus routes are more SNAFU-ed than usual this year in the PPSD. Unfortunately all the talk about school administrators as "instructional leaders" tends to go out the window when the bus comes an hour late, and it is hard to tell what knock-on effects on Providence's fragile education politics might be, particularly with a mayoral race approaching.

I would certainly note that one good thing about Sue Lusi is that she is not supposedly a rock-star, but a steady hand on the tiller (not that I'm thrilled with the course), and this would not be the best time to turn the district upside down with a Bloombergian structural reform.

Also, you can't really decentralize the transportation system, unless you want something even less parent-friendly, and if you offer more choice -- and more charters -- you're making transportation more difficult and expensive. On the other hand, if you use this as an excuse to push for a more neighborhood schools oriented system (except for magnets and charters), that's another can of worms.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Everyone Wants to Talk "Common Core," Nobody Wants to Talk About "Standards"

To the Point:

Olney: Let me read you from some "kid friendly" Common Core standards that were distributed in a school here in California. This is for kindergarten:

I can use capitalization, punctuation and spelling when willing. I can use prepositions when I talk to tell where. I can capitalize the first word in a sentence (maybe you could understand that one). I can recognize and name punctuation, and write a letter for each sound." Are those questions that kids six years old should be able to answer?

Petrilli: Some of those do sound a little out of whack, and frankly don't sound to me like they're actually coming from the Common Core. If you look at what the Common Core is expecting, it is mostly expecting, especially little kids, to learn content. And there's been a big uproar about that. There are educators out there who say, there's a curriculum out there for example having first graders learning about Mesopotamia. And people say "how could they possibly learn about Mesopotamia? Well, they may not be able to read that word yet, but they can certainly listen to a story about Mesopotamia, and be very interested in what happened in the past in history. Again, these are kids who love hearing stories. I know my son could spend all day learning about knights, or learning about dinosaurs, and I'm sure he would be turned on to Mesopotamia if his teacher gave it a try. And it's that kind of information that helps young kids learn about the world, and also give them the vocabulary that will eventually allow them to be strong readers. [see a discussion about the Mesopotamia lessons in New York here]

And that is one of the key places we are falling down. Particularly for low income kids, we are not equipping them with the vocabulary they need to make sense as they get older and they read more and more complicated texts.

Olney: I have to contradict you with regard to the standards that I read. This is the "Kids-Friendly Common Core Standards," and we checked them against the Common Core web site, and they are in fact being distributed by the Common Core. One of the things they say that a kindergartner ought to be able to do is to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction. Is that a pretty high standard for a kid of six?

Petrilli: No, I don't think so at all. You ask a six year old is this story a make-believe story or is this something that actually happened - that's certainly a concept they can handle.

Petrilli doesn't seem to know what is in the standards at all, doesn't seem to agree with them, and he's perfectly happy to dish out bald-faced lies about the role of content in the standards. I don't understand how they think this is going to continue to play out. Don't they think anybody else has read the standards either?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

When I Hear "Months of Learning" I Reach for My Revolver

Gary Rubenstein:

The difference between a group scoring in the 27th percentile and the 30th percentile is very small, .07 standard deviations. To give you an idea of how small this is, a 27th percentile on the SAT math section is a score of a 430 while a 30th percentile is a score of 440, which is a difference of one question out of about 60. So how does this get converted to 2.6 months? Well, in a 2007 report by Hill, Bloom, Black, and Lipsey called Empirical Benchmarks for Interpreting Effect Sizes in Research, they estimated how much students in different grades generally learn in a year, in terms of standard deviations, where one standard deviation is roughly around an increase by 30 percentile points. They estimated that in earlier grades students progress more than they do in later grades. So if you were to give first graders a pretest at the beginning of the year and a post test at the end, they would, on average, go up by .97 standard deviations which is about 30 percentile points. But this report says that secondary math students are only expected, on average, to gain about .27 standard deviations, which equates to around an increase of 8%. So for secondary math, the .07, or 3% advantage that the TFA teachers got was equivalent to about 26% of .27 which meant they learned 26% more than the average secondary math student learns in a year, and since the school year is 10 months, that is 2.6 months.

Don't underestimate how crucial this "months of learning" rhetoric is to reformers, or how flimsy it is.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My View on How To Improve the Common Core ELA

Assuming for some reason you wanted to fix them rather than start over.

  • Start with a document that clearly defines the scope of the standards, how they are intendend to interact with the standards in other disciplines, explains the logical relationship between the enumerated standards and various forms of commentary, and clearly defines all the important terms used throughout the standards, both regarding the standards as standards (what exactly differentiates standards and curricula?) and literary terminology.
  • Return the overall goals of the educational process to the balance traditionally used in American schools and high performing schools around the world -- that is, beyond just "college (and career)."
  • Return to the intent of the first CCRS draft, and make clear that these are "literacy" and "disciplinary literacy" standards for academic subjects. Chuck out ELA content entirely -- but not disciplinary literacy skills for the ELA classroom. Begin drafting a completely different set of language arts and humanities standards. Literary reading and the art historical approach to teaching literature is probably overemphasized in later grades, but not so much compared to "informational text," but compared to other art forms, which are at least as important today, if not more so. I'd note that normally I wouldn't suggest a wholesale reorganization of the disciplines, but having separate "reading" and "ELA" classes or just double "Reading/ELA" blocks has been common for a long time, and there already seems to be a clear divide in the discipline, different organizations, etc. (with ELA people being largely excluded from the Common Core process).
  • Give up on the idea that a short list of tasks can or should be traced linearly back from college to kindergarten, and give up on the idea that collapsing the differences between primary and secondary education is helpful.
  • Drop year-by-year standards -- in fact, make it clear that if you're dictating a year-by-year progression, that is inherently a curriculum.
  • Just generally revise the things based on teacher feedback.

I'm not saying I'd want to live in that house, but at least it'd have some structural integrity.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Important Bit is the "Fear of Retaliation"

BVP Parents Only Page:

This is intended to be a true parents page, unedited and uncensored space for all to share their true views, ideas and experiences. We can ask questions, complain, give praise, ask advice in an open setting, unencumbered by the worry that administration is watching and/or monitoring. The only rule is that there is to be no staff or administrators of the school on here. It is a page solely for parents. If you are a staff member that happens to have a child in BVP, you are welcome to join but please retain confidentiality so as not attract undue pressure on parents who just want to vent without fear of retaliation. Maybe this works, maybe not.

Two Great Pieces Today

Andrea Gabor:

But even for students who don’t fall through the cracks or get expelled, it bears asking: have the pressures and incentive systems surrounding charter schools taken public education in the direction we want it to go? Anthony Recasner, a partner in founding New Orleans Charter Middle School and FirstLine, is visibly torn between his hopes for the New Orleans charter experiment and his disappointment in the distance that remains between today’s no-excuses charter-school culture and the movement’s progressive roots. “Education should be a higher-order exploration,” says Recasner, a child psychologist who left FirstLine in 2011 to become CEO of Agenda for Children, a children’s advocacy organization. The typical charter school in New Orleans “is not sustainable for the adults, not fun for kids,” says Recasner, who is one of the few African-American charter leaders in New Orleans; his own experience as a poor child raised by a single parent mirrors that of most students in the charter schools. “Is that really,” he asks, “what we want for the nation’s poor children?”

Heather Vogell:

Quality-control breakdowns have become near commonplace on the state tests taken in public schools across the country, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. Faulty tests undermine reforms seeking to rescue American schools and risk harming them instead. The exams have grown so critical that test companies’ errors can — and have — cost children something as valuable as a diploma.

In a year-long national investigation, the newspaper examined thousands of pages of test-related documents from government agencies — including statistical analyses of questions, correspondence with contractors, internal reports and audits.

I'm having some technical difficulties with my regular Pinboard links. I'll let you know when I have that sorted.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hopefully California Is Clearing the Way for Some Sanity Here

Bob Plain:

“We need to change the outcome of the test,” Mancuso wrote, “not the tests.”

The truth is that Rhode Island needs to change both the outcome AND the test – this is demonstrable by the fact that Rhode Island is changing the test, next year.

I can’t think of any reason not to hold off on implementing this very controversial state mandate until at least the state’s preferred test is in place – other than that it would put federal funding in jeopardy. In other words, the NECAP graduation requirement isn’t about testing or math. It’s about budgets.

We'll have to watch how the feds respond to California's decision to skip a year of high stakes testing as part of their Common Core transition. Also, I'm not even sure it is really about budgets as much as just the optics of "losing" our Race prize money. Most schools would no more miss the absence of their remaining share of the RttT money than they can currently detect it's presence.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Vision of the Common Core ELA is Fundamentally Opposed to Innovation in Post-Secondary Education

Ian Bogost:

A traditional classroom has readings before class, lectures during class, and assignments after class. A flipped classroom has lectures before class, assignments during class, and assessments after class. Flipped classroom supporters like to argue that traditional classrooms only provide first exposure to materials via lecture, but that claim assumes that nothing whatsoever happens before such classes, that students enter class blind. In reality, digging deeper than hearsay is a hallmark of university education. Classes in all disciplines ask students to engage with primary and secondary materials beforehand.

The flipped classroom abstracts these materials, overloading them into the lecture, which itself is usually shortened and condensed into modules less than 20 minutes in length. This condensed primary material then becomes fodder not for discourse or practice, but for evaluation.

A cynic might say that the flipped classroom ushers in the CliffsNotesfication of university courses. Slate's Will Oremus has offered a more moderate take: the MOOC-style flipped classroom lecture might be best understood as a replacement for textbooks and other reading materials students traditionally encounter in university.

But "replacement" is an imprecise characterization, particularly for courses in which a singular, canonical textbook doesn't (or shouldn't) exist (hint: most of them). More specifically, video lectures compress both primary materials (readings) and their clarification (lectures) into a single format, one shorter and necessarily less detailed than would be possible with a combination of pre-class readings and in-class lectures or discussions.

In essence, the flipped classroom is really a condensed or an abstracted classroom, one in which primary and secondary materials are refactored into pre-built lectures for the sake of value propositions other than the student's direct encounter with the currency of ideas. A condensed classroom is a compromise.

The argument of the Common Core standards is that independent reading of long, difficult texts within the disciplines is the most important thing for college readiness. This makes sense, given the narrow goal of "college readiness" and the "traditional classroom" model Bogost describes above. But let's be clear -- the flipped model and to a lesser extent the other "innovations" in post-secondary education being promoted today all seek to de-emphasize the importance of the kind of reading and analysis the Common Core situates as decisive.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Oh Look, Connected Businsessperson is RI Teacher of the Year

Linda Borg:

EAST GREEWICH — An East Greenwich high school teacher with an unorthodox path to the classroom has been named Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.

Not only that, she received a Smart car (no pun intended) for her travels as Rhode Island’s education ambassador. The car, cherry red with the phrase “Teacher of the Year” emblazoned on the door, was provided by Inskip’s Warwick Auto Mall. ...

Page has tapped into her private-sector experience, including a job with the Economic Development Corporation, to help students make connections between the real world and the classroom.

During her three years at East Greenwich High, where she teaches business and computer education, Page’s students were finalists in the Rhode Island Life Smarts competition and Federal Reserve Cup Challenge. She also developed the school’s senior project program.

But it’s Page’s 180-degree shift in careers that is the most striking part of her personal story. Page, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bryant University, began her career in corporate communications. Later, she landed a job as director of human relations for the EDC.

At that point, Page was serving on several boards whose mission was to improve adult literacy...

This is the kind of thing that makes you wonder what on earth the state's educational leadership even thinks that it is doing. Or maybe it is just perfectly clear that the teacher of the year needs to be someone who will be good a the Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mmmm... Sausage

Alice Mercer:

I want you to think about how truly screwed-up the entire process and implementation of these standards must be that the authors are reduced to explaining themselves in a blog post comment. I want you to think of how screwed up the process must be if the final arbiter of what the standards mean is not a curriculum committee, or the state board of education, or a department of education, but one of the two listed authors. The last set of state ELA standards in California did not even have a listed author. You have to look on the publishing page to see two folks listed as editors. People make fun of documents written by committee, but what it does get you is some consensus, slightly broader input, and some expertise in the subject. These standards have NONE of those things if they have only two authors. IF the standards were written by more than Ms. Pimentel, and Mr. Coleman, they should have listed themselves as editors. The fact that they didn’t explains a lot about what is wrong with this whole enterprise, and why it was a mess from the very beginning. I’m guessing that one of the things that the Common Core organization was seeking to avoid by developing standards so secretively was having the public see the “sausage-making” part of getting to the standards. Guess what? You can’t avoid it, and now we’re doing it even as the standards are implemented. Way to go!

Officially there simply is no "Common Core organization" at all.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What We're Talking About When We Say "Corporate Education Reform"

Steven Pearlstein:

While it was this new “market for corporate control,” as economists like to call it, that created the imperative to boost near-term profits and share prices, an elaborate institutional infrastructure has grown up to reinforce it.

This infrastructure includes business schools that indoctrinate students with the shareholder-first ideology and equip them with tools to manipulate quarterly earnings and short-term share prices.

It includes corporate lawyers who reflexively advise against any action that might lower the share price and invite shareholder lawsuits, however frivolous.

It includes a Wall Street establishment that is thoroughly fixated on quarterly earnings, quarterly investment returns and short-term trading.

And most of all, it is reinforced by gluttonous pay packages for top executives that are tied to the short-term performance of the company stock.

The result is a self-reinforcing cycle in which corporate time horizons have become shorter and shorter. The average holding periods for corporate stocks, which for decades was six years, is now down to less than six months. The average tenure of a public company chief executive is down to less than four years. And the willingness of executives to sacrifice short-term profits to make long-term investments is rapidly disappearing.

A recent study by the consultants at McKinsey & Co. and Canada’s public pension board found alarming levels of short-termism in the corporate executive suite. They reported that nearly 80 percent of top executives and directors reported feeling most pressured to demonstrate a strong financial performance over a period of two years or less, with only 7 percent feeling pressure to deliver a strong performance over a period of five years or more. They also found that 55 percent of chief financial officers would forgo an attractive investment project today if it would cause the company to even marginally miss its quarterly earnings target.

The real irony surrounding this focus on maximizing shareholder value is that it hasn’t, in fact, done much for shareholders.

Just replace "share prices" with "test scores."

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bored Now

I think the significance of The New Republic's new cover story is that the reform story line is just getting stale, Eventotheliberal New Republic. I'm not saying any great ideological shift has happened or it represents even a disorganized pushback, just how many years in a row can you run the same article on KIPP, or whatever.

Because "Grit" Sometimes Means Persisting in Telling Your Teachers to Pound Sand

Sarah D. Sparks:

Overall, Golann found the school's approach to teaching social-emotional skills led to orderly classrooms and students with good study and work habits associated with high self-regulation—but not the sort of autonomy, self-motivation, and goal-setting also associated with self-regulation and grit.

The focus on self-control as defined specifically by following rules prevented students from gaining autonomy and taking on more adult leadership roles, she said. "Middle-class students develop a sense of ease with adults; they talk to adults as though they were adults themselves. In contrast, at the no-excuses school, the boundaries between teachers and students were emphasized rather than blurred ... and they lost 'middle-class skills' of ease, flexibility, assertiveness, and leadership," Golann said. "Because students didn't get these things, they started to lose their motivation, especially at upper grades."

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Standards, Curriculum, Outcomes, Content, etc.

E.D. Hirsch:

That principle of building coherent, cumulative content animates the most effective school systems in the world, and for good reason: The systematic development of student knowledge from earliest grades in history, literature, science, and the arts is essential to high verbal ability—which in turn is the key to social mobility and college readiness.

The words italicized above don’t define the specific historical, scientific, and other knowledge that is required for mature literacy. (If they did, no state would have adopted the CCSS, because specific content remains a local—or teacher—prerogative in the U.S.) But those words are an impetus to a brave and insightful governor or state superintendent to get down to brass tacks. In early schooling, progress cannot be made without coherence and specificity.

First, of course specific content in history, literature, science, and the arts can be and is specified by the states -- in the standards for each discipline. What makes no sense is the idea that the ELA/Literacy standards would be the proper place to address the issue. Especially since these standards are so hostile to content within the discipline of English.

Beyond that, it is deeply problematic to pretend that "standards" act the same way across all grade levels and disciplines. I'm not losing any sleep over a curriculum that teaches ancient civilizations in first grade ELA -- I'm sure it is done well some places and poorly in others -- but I think what we can all agree on is that it would be absurd for a first grader who was a fluent reader in general to fail English class and repeat the grade because they did not remember enough about the pharaohs to meet the English standard for knowledge of Egyptian history.

Sure, that's an absurd straw man scenario that nobody is proposing... I think... but all our terms in this debate are so badly defined, I'm not sure why such a scenario isn't the logical implication of a system of strict standards, content-focus and viewing knowledge as a component of "literacy."

Upside Down Land

Stirling Observer:

At age three, children from ethnic minorities had lower literacy levels on average than those from a white background, but by the time they were seven the situation had changed, with ethnic minority children ahead in reading.

It adds that children in London were behind their peers in other parts of the country in literacy at age three, but surged forward in the next four years and by age seven were ahead not only of other youngsters in England but also those in the rest of the UK.

The researchers warned that the performance of youngsters in the capital may have an influence on England's overall reading levels.

"It is not entirely clear whether the apparent 'benefit' of living in England on literacy at age seven can be attributed to its distinctive national education policies," the study says.

"For example, differences found between England and the rest of the UK may in part be due to the significant improvement in cognitive development of children living in London.

"In turn, however, the differences between London and the rest of England may be due to the significant improvement of ethnic minority children who are concentrated in the capital."

The study did find that Welsh pupils are ahead of those in England and Wales at age seven in reasoning, and in maths, English and Welsh seven-year-olds had similar performance levels, with those in Scotland slightly behind.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

There Was No Richard Stallman for Open Educational Resources, and There's Nothing To Be Done About It Now

SNAFUs and misunderstandings around open licensing seem to be more pervasive and persistent in the content realm than in software. No doubt this is partly because software is especially well suited to the concept, since it is both a textual expression and a practical tool, and the tool utility of free software offers a constant reminder of the value you gain from the free use of everybody else's contribution.

But another difference is that there was no Richard Stallman figure in open content. That is, someone brilliant, detail oriented and obsessive who was decades ahead of the curve on the issue. And capable of personally creating canonical practical examples of open content or educational resources. The equivalent would have been if an economics professor had come up with the full economic model of free and open source development as we understand it today, written the definitive text on the subject and freely licensed it, and written a full freely licensed text on IP law that was eventually adopted by many top law schools and almost all of the rest, and written an Econ 101 text book that was widely excerpted in the standard texts of many other major publishers.

And all that is well underway before almost anyone else is talking about the issue at all.

That is to say, the entire conversation for decades is on the very rigorous, if somewhat eccentric, terms laid out by one person. That's pretty much what happened in free software, and while everyone does not love Richard Stallman, the software world would be very different without his contributions. Without Stallman, I would have had to read a lot more blog posts by software developers who were upset about how their software was being redistributed.

Reformers' Errors of Composition, Volume XVIII

Sara Mosle:

While I wouldn't go so far as to say no nonparent can be a great teacher—several of my favorite high school teachers were childfree—I cannot imagine sending my daughter to a school where not a single grown-up in the building has any direct comprehension of the inner workings of adult family life. Schools need both youthful energy and seasoned wisdom to succeed over the long haul and on a broad scale.

Don't create monocultures.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Occam's Razor Applied to School Reform

Mike Elk:

Elk: I’ve been focusing heavily on the Patriot Coal bankruptcy, which is an interesting case of a company, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, spinning off all their retiree obligations into a subsidiary, and this subsidiary had three times as many retirees as current workers, so it was a spinoff company designed to fail. And five years after spinning it off the company did fail and as a result Peabody and Arch are now getting out from nearly a billion dollars in liabilities to these workers.

Why shouldn't I believe that the school reform agenda is now just a different version of this scam? It explains the whole thing quite tidily.

Spinning Up the Reform Centrifuge

Michelle McNeil:

States getting a waiver renewal must also continue implementing new teacher-evaluation systems by the 2014-15 school year—but the waiver renewals would take these requirements a step further. States must, by October 2015, use teacher-evaluation data to ensure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers. This issue of teacher distribution is a very important one to civil rights groups.

Of course, if teacher evaluation systems disadvantage teachers of poor and minority students -- as is extremely likely that they do but inherently unprovable -- this will just quicken the death spiral of urban school districts. I doubt that a system that does not discriminate against teachers of high poverty students is politically viable. And, of course, this will not affect charters.