Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Elisabeth Harrison:

Providence officials are considering closing down Alvarez High School and using the building for a new middle school, as they face an expected rise in middle school students.

The thing to get unabashedly angry about is that we just turned over an empty middle school to Achievement First.

On the other hand, Alvarez High School should never have been created in the first place. To review, the building in question was constructed specifically to house Feinstein High School. Unfortunately, the Evans administration at PPSD decided it was a better idea to take the faculty and students of a temporary "overflow" high school, Harrison Street, and move it permanently into the site as the new Alvarez High School.

Subsequently, Feinstein was closed when its building was deemed inadequate (a charter school has subsequently found it to be quite adequate), while Alvarez never overcame its substantial initial handicaps.

As The Proteun put it:

This was no easy task because the 600 students and the staff were plucked from high schools all over the district. Many of the students, however, came from Harrison Street, a shell of a high school where students and staff felt abandoned.

That is, PPSD (and the Gates Foundation) successfully turned around an urban high school at great expense, then closed it, and instead made permanent a temporary ad hoc school that had no realistic chance of succeeding as a permanent institution. It was tragically stupid.

And the problem with the lack of coordination inherent in the charter school strategy is that there is apparently no way to get anyone to at least consider opening a charter middle school in the near future. What are we going to have to do, call KIPP? Or are they afraid of 12 year olds now too? I can't say I trust the PPSD to successfully open a new middle school in South Providence.

Monday, October 28, 2013

No High Performing Country Publishes K-12 ELA Standards as a Single Document

Of the eight provincial, special administrative unit, and national documents that CCSSI has cited in their international benchmarking, seven only cover ELA in the last stage of high school, and one goes back to 8th grade. The Finns have a single document covering the core curriculum across 21 subjects and cross-curricular objectives for upper secondary levels.

Only the US has one document covering K-12, and in particular, only the US makes the fundamental structure of the standards a small set of skills traced back through the 13 years.

I would argue that the single K-12 structure of the Common Core is a major source of confusion and miscommunication. Even when on a basic level the problems at the primary and secondary levels seem to be the same, the causes and solutions are different. At the elementary level, it may actually make sense to just add more non-fiction to kids' reading selection, after all, they like dinosaurs and stuff! OTOH, if kids aren't ready to read their science textbooks in college, what's going on? They don't read their science textbooks in high school? There's some discrepancy between how high school texts and college texts are written? We have to teach high school science teachers to teach their students to read their science textbooks? Thinking of this as a single problem with a unified strategy is less helpful than dividing it up.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Writing New Standards is a VERY Indirect Way to Change Education

Sarah Carr:

MIAMI—In Chris Kirchner’s freshman English classes at Coral Reef Senior High School, novels like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Gatsby” have been squeezed off the syllabus to make room for nonfiction texts including “The Glass Castle” and “How to Re-Imagine the World.” For the first time, students will read only excerpts of classics like “The Odyssey” and “The House on Mango Street” instead of the entire book. And Kirchner will assign less independent reading at home, but will require students to write more essays, and push them to make connections across multiple texts.

I don't think swapping out early 20th century American literature for contemporary memoir and whatever How to Re-Imagine the World is was the original plan for post-Common Core English classes, certainly it isn't any more helpful in preparing student for college, but it is the result of pushing for more "informational texts" generically. I don't think they wanted people reading fewer complete books, but that's also gonna happen if you push hard on close reading. I'm sure they didn't want less independent reading at home, or at least that really doesn't make sense if you're trying to prepare students for independent reading of long, difficult texts in college, but more in-class reading seems to be the result of cranking up the text complexity. And while anchor standard nine directly addresses comparing two texts, at each grade level it almost always focuses on a very specific task (e.g., for 9th and 10th grade literature "Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work."), making the standards as a whole rather weak on cross-text comparisons in general (maybe they didn't do it at all in Florida before).

The standards do emphasize writing, I guess, but compared to what? Did their old ELA standards literally specify less writing? Or is this just what they are expecting from the tests?

I'm not saying this teacher is doing it wrong -- in 2013 what the standards actually say is irrelevant once you know what the questions on the tests will look like -- but even when teachers seem to be trying very hard to adapt to meet the standards, the actual changes seem almost arbitrary. It is just an example of why this approach to school reform is unlikely to produce significant gains.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Guess I'm Not the Only One Who Noticed Those Headings Didn't Make Sense

We have not provided numbers for reading headings such as "craft and structure" or "key ideas," since these headings were intentionally left un-numbered and since they do not strictly define different domains in reading.

OK... perhaps if they're not an accurate representation of anything in particular, you might have edited them out at some point, lest someone think they were meaningful.

Tom Sgouros on


Now think about trying to resolve problems like this among a few hundred databases run by insurance companies who are not necessarily going to be the most cooperative folks out there. Think about it: you’re an insurance company IT executive and the folks ask you if you might change the format of your data reporting to coordinate with the other companies in your state. Your immediate response? Why should we change and not them? That’s more work for us and besides our system was designed better.

So not only are the folks working against a few hundred different design decisions, but they’re also counting on having been able to anticipate all the data entry errors that might be lurking in hundreds of databases out there, and hoping that everyone has decent support staff, too.

It is hard to appreciate how bad humans are at this kind of interoperability. It seems to not be in our nature at some fundamental level.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tom Friedman Finds The Answer, Shrugs

Tom Friedman:

After visiting Shanghai’s Qiangwei Primary School, with 754 students — grades one through five — and 59 teachers, I think I found The Secret:

There is no secret.

When you sit in on a class here and meet with the principal and teachers, what you find is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children’s learning, an insistence by the school’s leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers.

Shanghai’s secret is simply its ability to execute more of these fundamentals in more of its schools more of the time. Take teacher development. Shen Jun, Qiangwei’s principal, who has overseen its transformation in a decade from a low-performing to a high-performing school — even though 40 percent of her students are children of poorly educated migrant workers — says her teachers spend about 70 percent of each week teaching and 30 percent developing teaching skills and lesson planning. That is far higher than in a typical American school.

Actually, providing more time out of class is as close to The Secret as you're going to get, although it is a meta-solution more than a solution. It is the fix that allows all the other fixes to possibly work. It directly solves a few otherwise intractable issues, like burnout. Nobody (even the unions, really) wants to say "Hire a lot more teachers and make them work less," but we have invented a few euphemisms like "career ladder."

And it means spending a lot of money, so Tom Friedman lucidly explains what needs to be done, shrugs, and walks away.

Necessary Common Core Docs

OK, here's what I'm thinking at the moment.

We need an updated and consolidated document focusing on international benchmarks to high performing countries' reading standards. That is, excluding states, other "non-high-performing" countries, etc. The ones CCSSI used first time around were:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Ontario
  • Victoria, Australia
  • New South Wales, Australia
  • Ireland
  • Hong Kong
  • Finland

By the way, did you notice that six of the eight of CCSSI's exemplars are not "national" standards?

That's a manageable body to review and update if I make some printouts. I don't think there would be any point in doing this as some kind of table or hypertext, just something like:

  • Final CCRS version
  • Grade 11-12 versions of the standards (since that's what we're really comparing in an apples to apples benchmark in most of these cases)
  • Draft CCRS (since we'll note which benchmarks were ones that CCSSI came up with themselves)
  • Short commentary on the above
  • Best "counterpart" standards from each of the docs listed above
  • Short commentary on each
  • Summarizing commentary

That seems like an insane amount, but there are only 10 anchor standards in reading, and each one would take a few hours in a discrete chunk. I do think a print-formatted document would make more sense than a web page. I guess the one advantage of doing it as a web page is you might make each section collapse-able... hm...

Anyhow, separately, we really just need a Common Core annoyances wiki where people can vent about specific standards. Basically just a wiki page per standard. I can't believe that at this point there is still no official standard by standard commentary, but there isn't right? There is no official "ok, this is what we meant by reading standard 1" text, right?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Smell the Quality!

To be honest, I'd forgotten why I get so sucked into these things.

Why is this a writing standard?

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

And this a separate reading standard?

Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Aside from the redundancy, the reading standard is the one that asks you to write or speak, while the writing standard does not.

I don't understand why it is still exceptional for a critic of these standards to focus on the basic structural flaws, Robert Shepherd notwithstanding.

But you know today, all across America, students and teachers are being evaluated on these two separate standards as if they make some kind of sense. And they don't!

Left on the Cutting Room Floor

I'd forgotten this was originally CCRS #16:

Draw upon relevant prior knowledge to enhance comprehension, and note when the text expands on or challenges that knowledge.

Someone should ask David Coleman why he included that and then took it out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The NECAP Situation in a Nutshell

Gary Rubenstein:

Nobody ever consulted me when designing the common core, so I never got a chance to propose my two reforms. So instead of my ideas, we have ‘higher expectations’ with more ‘rigor’ and more ‘rigorous’ assessments. States that have started on these assessments, like in New York, have seen proficiency rates drop from 60% on the old tests to 30% on the new common core tests. The politicians assure us that when schools get used to the higher expectations, the scores will increase over the years. Those politicians, however, know nothing about teaching and learning. Higher expectations will not cause the scores to increase. Teachers are too constrained by the number of topics they have to teach and the number of students who hate math. So my prediction is that unless they change the tests or the cutoff scores to make it look like they were right, the percent proficient will remain around 30%. Maybe then they will go back to the drawing board and come up with a math education reform plan similar to what I just outlined.

At the end of the day, the politicians assume the scores will go up in the end. So far they've been wrong. So... ?

A Bit of a CFHS Whitewash from The Ed. Alliance and Annenberg Institute

There are some major issues with the Third Year Transformation Report on Central Falls High School from The Education Alliance and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, both well respected institutions based at Brown.

First, the report generally uses data for the 2010-2011 as the baseline, that is, the first year of the transformation, not the year preceding it. Considering how this process was undertaken by Deborah Gist and RIDE, that's pretty much like evaluating the success of a kitchen renovation by comparing the end result to the demolition phase. Of course, climate, test scores, etc. have improved since the year the school was turned into a national pariah. What is lacking is a comparison to the baseline prior to the intervention.

In particular, the school's decline in reading and writing scores is whitewashed, despite the fact that the second of three strategic goals at the heart of the report states "Improve student proficiency in mathematics and maintain improvement in English language arts (ELA) proficiency." Indeed, the report repeatedly restates goal #2 omitting the reference to ELA. There is a single 10 line paragraph and a table on NECAP Reading achievement, bearing the heading "Broadening the Focus on Teaching and Learning." Pre-transformation reading (and writing) scores are omitted, so the reader has no indication that in October 2009, 56% of CFHS students were proficient in reading, up 23 points since 2007, and still six points above the 2012 rate. Writing remains 13 points under the 2009 peak proficiency rate (35% vs. 22%).

It is kind of ridiculous that we've been living in a world where three pieces of data loom above all others: state reading and math test scores and graduation rate, but that's the world we're living in, so for a summative report like this to elide all discussion of one of those three components causes the reader to wonder if he or she is reading a scholarly report or a public relations document, especially when everyone in the room knows graduation rate is most susceptible to manipulation, and when one is at a loss to try to parse the significance of an increase in math proficiency from 7% to 14%.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Etymology of a Standard

  1. Find evidence in support of an argument.
  2. Support or challenge assertions about the text by citing evidence in the text explicitly and accurately.
  3. Cite specific textual evidence... to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  4. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text...

The first is from the NAEP framework for 12th grade. It is straightforward and plainspoken as such things go, and is rather clearly the inspiration for this part of CC Reading standard 1.

Second is the first draft of the Common Core anchor standard. It is actually better than the NAEP version in some ways -- "support or challenge" "cite" vs. "find" evidence. Somehow now though we're just supporting or challenging "assertions about the text" instead of "an argument," which seems unnecessarily limiting and hostile to the larger content and context.

Moving on, the third version is the relevant part of the final anchor standard 1. Now we are supporting "conclusions," which is significantly more vague than "argument" or "assertions." I think "conclusions" has to be read as "whatever," because I don't see that it has any specific meaning at all in this context. I can't imagine why they made that choice.

The last one is the final relevant grade 11-12 reading standard. I've never understood why it is different than the college and career readiness anchor standard. Now the rigor is turned up to 11, "strong and thorough," etc., but seemingly even less scope: "what the text says explicitly as well as inferences..."

We've started with, essentially: "I should be able to give you an informational text that supports an argument, and as a reader you should be able to pull out the evidence for that argument." And ended up with something more like "I should be able to give you a text and you should be able to pull out evidence telling me what it says." It is just peculiar. I don't understand why they would take that path.

Here is something much more typical of high performing countries, cited as a "counterpart" standard in CCSSI's draft benchmarking:

  • Assess the appropriateness of own and others’ understandings and interpretations of works of literature and other texts, by referring to the works and texts for supporting or contradictory evidence

This is similar, yet, fundamentally, philosophically different, because it focuses on "understanding" and "interpretation," particularly by the student. These words are not used in the CC Reading standards. This is one of the CC standards' key defining features. This standard is essentially incompatible with the Common Core, and significantly more "rigorous."

Examples drawn from here (here).

Vocabulary and Language are Important! (except words used to describe literature)

Kathleen Porter-McGee:

There is almost no hope of preparing our students—particularly our most disadvantaged students—for what lies ahead if we don’t ask them to do rigorous work that is worth doing every day. In English class, that means actually reading great—often challenging—literature. In science and history, it means ensuring that all students have access to real content and the academic vocabulary that goes along with it. ...

At the same time, we scratch our heads and wonder why our students are ill prepared for the rigorous work they will be asked to do in college and beyond. But we need look no further than these examples to understand why they aren’t ready: it’s because we haven’t prepared them. ...

The reality is that if you flip through the SAT or through the table of contents of any conventional literature textbook, you’ll find page upon page of esoteric vocabulary: circular plot, denouement, elegy, epigram.

These are words that are perfectly good to know. But, let’s be honest, these are not words that our children need to master to prepare for the rigors of college and careers.

What’s worse, for students in the Latino community, these can become unnecessary barriers. These are not words that deepen student understanding or that help propel them into more advanced coursework. And so, we need to help teachers and students focus on the first things first.

Finally, this effort—this fight—demands that we give our students the support they need to meet the expectations we’ve set. In English language arts, the standards focus on reading texts that are worth reading. It means emphasizing the importance of content and vocabulary. And it means bending instruction and support to meet students where they are, rather than bending work to meet what we think they can handle.

You can argue that you don't need to know literary terms if you don't think literature is important. Or if you don't think school is important. Or if you're some kind of reader response purist perhaps. But it makes no sense at all to argue that literary terms are unimportant when you are also emphasizing reading complex literary texts for the purpose of creating analytical arguments about the texts, with the objective of preparing students for college.

It just makes no sense.

Is the World Ready to REALLY Study the Common Core Standards?

Long-time readers may recall that what really got me upset about the Common Core standards was reading the CCSSI's own published benchmarking material for their initial draft of their College and Career Readiness Standards. Like most people, I didn't fully appreciate how idiosyncratic these standards are internationally, because who sits around reading the standards of other countries? Also, like most people, I don't think it is particularly important how our standards compare to those of other countries'.

But you know who does think it is important, ostensibly? Achieve, CCSSI, the federal Department of Education, and the whole contemporary reform movement. The differences between the CC ELA and the standards of high performing countries should be a problem for CC advocates. It should at least have been something they have to talk about and defend. Instead, this has turned out to be too deep in the weeds for essentially everyone, other than me.

The question is, are enough people now obsessing about CC to dive into this crap? I don't know. I did spend some time diving back into The Wayback Machine to pull out all the state and international benchmark references for reading standard one CCSSI helpfully provided in the first draft of the CCRS standards and copy/pasting it with minimal reformatting into a Google Doc. It runs seven pages, and actually only covers half of the current reading standard 1.

If other people were clearly interested in this kind of thing, I could be talked into continuing. Coming up with a legible formatting scheme would be important to distribution beyond extreme obsessives. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tell Us What You Really Think, Robert

Robert D. Shepherd:

And that would be bad enough, but this particular list, the list of literary skills that makes up the CCSS in ELA for Reading Literature, is simply inept. It doesn’t demonstrate any literary scholarship or understanding on the part of the “standards” authors. There’s a breathtaking amateurishness and tone-deafness to the CCSS in ELA, as though they had been written not by experts in literary studies but by undergraduates based on very crude notions of what “study of literature” might mean. If the authors knew more about literature and its origins and history and its forms, they would have been able to envision more clearly how a skills map covering this area of human endeavor might unfold over 12 years’ time, building upon true literary fundamentals of a number of different kinds. (Hint: phylogeny should recapitulate ontogeny here.) These standards instantiate no new insights into such a rational progression of literary study. One might as well have thrown darts at a handbook of literary terms from some hack-written junior-high-school lit text from one of the big-box publishers. I look at the CCSS in ELA and I see no coherence and no instructional vision. I see, instead, randomness and misconceptions and glaring lacunae and crude, unexamined assumptions about matters that are actually quite interesting, quite deep, and quite controversial—assumptions that they authors have made as though they were completely oblivious that they were making assumptions at all or that these were at all controversial.

And what happened to the writing standards? Looks to me like the authors ran out of time or money or energy and just said to hell with it and made a list of three “modes” and copied and pasted it into each grade level of the “standards,” and, of course, doing that just encourages the sort of awful, formulaic five-paragraph theme writing that everyone has been doing since NCLB turned most writing instruction in the U.S. into instruction in producing the canned essay response for the state test. News flash: most writing is narrative writing. News flash 2: most of the rest of it is multimodal. News flash 3: there are reasons why it is multimodal. And that five-paragraph theme in one of the three modes sort of crap is the antithesis of decent writing—it’s what any writing teacher worthy of the name teaches students TO AVOID DOING.

Monday, October 14, 2013

You Can't Recommend Someone for a Job They're Not Qualified For

Catherine Michna:

The simple fact is that students who apply to TFA are not trained to be teachers. So by refusing to write TFA letters of recommendation, we’re merely telling our students that we can’t recommend them for a job they’re not qualified for.

Like TFA, the Brown MAT program started with an intensive six week summer "bootcamp," where you teach real students in a somewhat unrealistic context for a few hours a day for four weeks. Brown undergrads from the UTEP program also participated in the summer program.

So the UTEP's in particular would be fairly similar in teaching experience to TFA-ers, although they'd probably taken a few more education courses. But the point is, we never would have thought at the end of the summer, "Oh, yeah. These UTEP's are ready now." I mean, they were Brown students, so they mostly seemed like they'd be very good teachers eventually, but it is still hard for me to believe that people can look at a bunch of untrained undergrads and think "Yeah, this is going to solve the problem."

For When You Press "Play" and Nothing Happens

Mark Osborne:

Simple, fast and powerful media player:

  • Plays everything: Files, Discs, Webcams, Devices and Streams. 
  • Plays most codecs with no codec packs needed:
  • MPEG-2, DivX, H.264, MKV, WebM, WMV, MP3... 
  • Runs on all platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Unix... 
  • Completely Free, 0 spyware, 0 ads and no user tracking. 
  • Can do media conversion and streaming."

Get VLC here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When Your Friends Have Truly Terrible Ideas

Noam Scheiber:

Yellen’s social circle, on the other hand, consists mostly of tweedy professors and government officials. She strikes me as sufficiently devoid of attachments to bankers and money managers that she can imagine them having some truly terrible ideas—even the smart, witty, seemingly upstanding ones. This is in fact more true of her than the average senior Fed official in New York or Washington.

Also a problem in school reform.

inBloom Datastore on GitHub

Looks like they uploaded it 10 days ago. I'll have to see if I can get it running at some point...

This is the inBloom Datastore. It contains the backend for the inBloom project. The main projects that are to be used are ingestion-service, api, simple-idp, search-indexer, dashboard, admin-tools and databrowser. All of the projects are Maven driven with the exception of admin-tools and databrowser. Those are both Rails applications. This project runs on Java 6 and Maven 3. For Ruby, version 1.9.3 is the most tested version.

*Note - These instructions were written using Ubuntu 12.04 and above.

Taking a Wild Guess a the Underlying Cause of New Tablet Rollout Problems

I really don't know, but it seems to me that people pushing for a new wave of 1-to-1 tablet (or laptop) deployments in schools underestimate how much we just went through a lost decade (or a lost 15 years) in building tech infrastructure and expertise in many districts. From a distance, it just looks like LAUSD and Fort Bend simply had no idea what to do. Insufficient experience, staffing, management, just not enough of anything. I suspect a lot of districts would need about a five year ramp up to really be ready for a big 1-to-1 deployment.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Providence's Charter Sector: Still Idiosyncratic!

Linda Borg:

In other business, the board gave preliminary approval to three charter schools: the engineering early college academy, a Providence high school; the Southside Elementary Charter School in Providence, and the Hope Academy, a mayoral academy that would draw students from Providence and North Providence.

Two of those are essentially expansions of successful, well-regarded private schools into charter components.

Apparently the Hope Academy one is what was originally called the Grace School Mayoral Academy, which I commented on when it first came up. I don't know how much in the proposal has changed since the last time, other than the name change, because I haven't seen it on RIDE's website. It is likely to be a weird arrangement financially, but without knowing what proposal the board was voting on, I'll keep my mouth shut.

It will be the second Providence-dominated mayoral academy, which means that either the next mayor of Providence will appoint the PPSD board AND chair the boards of two completely separate mayoral academy organizations, or some suburban mayors are going to chair the boards of academies attended by only a handful of students from their town. This is an obviously idiotic situation.

Southside Elementary is essentially the new charter wing of Community Prep, which, as I've said before, is fine aside from the fact that elementary schools are what Providence needs least and everyone knows it, but even though CP has a long track record of success with middle school aged students they decided to make a K-5 school. Thanks guys!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Rhyming Issues: Tipping Waitresses and Teacher Merit Pay

This five-part piece by restaurateur Jay Porter on tipping and running a tipless restaurant is fascinating on its own, but also interestingly resonates with ongoing discussions of teacher compensation, particularly insofar as they're both jobs dominated by middle and working class women. Some choice tidbits:

Now, let’s say that on a typical shift, a restaurant sells $1000 in food and drink. It would be reasonable that, to make that revenue, a restaurant has 2 cooks who work 8 hours each, a dishwasher who works 8 hours, and two servers who work 6 hours each. We can extrapolate from standard industry models that, of the $1000 in sales, there will be $300 available to cover the 36 hours of labor. It just so happens that this math means that everyone in the house will make $8/hour, which is of course both minimum wage and a poverty wage. But that’s just how the pie divides.

And yet, wait! We’ve forgotten something. There are also 220 extra dollars paid by the guests as tips. (This 22% is typical for restaurants like ours in San Diego — the exact amount will change with restaurant style and location.) This tip money could add another $6/hour to everyone’s wage, getting everyone up to $14/hr. While $14/hr isn’t enough to live well in San Diego, it starts approaching realistic money.

However, to give the tip money to every worker would be illegal. The law is historically very clear — the $220 in tips belongs to the two servers only, and cannot be distributed to any other employees. So, the two servers make a total of about $26/hour each, while everyone else in the restaurant is stuck at $8/hour. ...

One night a few months into the Linkery’s existence, I asked our best server about a table of high-maintenance guests who had just left the restaurant. Specifically, I was curious, given how demanding they were, if this group had tipped high or tipped low.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I never look at the tips until the end of the night. It basically always evens out, if one table tips low, someone else tips high. You always make about the same percentage of sales.”

Another of our better servers joined the conversation to say that she did the same thing. Because, she said, “there’s too much to think about already. You have to not think about the money so you can take care of your tables.”

I wasn’t expecting this attitude from high-performing servers; I had accepted on faith that it was only the tips that motivated them to do good work. Now curious, I started an informal study of our team, watching how they handled the tipping part of the job over the weeks and months. Without exception, the best servers never talked about their tips — as far as I could tell, they never even thought about their tips — until after their shift was over. The best performers were fully engaged with simultaneously filling the needs of 25 people in a busy, crowded restaurant. It’s a complex job and they brought their full selves to it.

Meanwhile, I found that if a server did talk about tips during service, that server would invariably be among our weaker team members. Which made sense once I understood it — how can you be thinking about your guests’ needs when you’re thinking about your money? By raising the thought tips during service, these poor performers were, I think, subconsciously trying to bring their coworkers down to their level. The better servers would have none of it — they would reliably decline to take the bait of discussing money instead of hospitality. ...

Lastly, if she instead focuses her attention on increasing her section size — something which can be done in many ways, from coaxing/bullying the host or swooping in on tables, to emphasizing to the shift manager that it would save labor costs, or even telling a manager that the server next to them is overloaded and should cede some of his section — our server could bump her section from five, to say, eight tables, increasing the number of guests she serves in a night from 40 to 64. If she maximizes her section size, this will at some point stretch her to a point where her guests start getting poor service and are unable to purchase as much as they want. Let’s that happens here: sales per guest drops to $22 (a huge drop from the business’ point of view), tip percentage drops to 19%, and guests are less excited to return. This is a nightmare scenario for the business, and also lousy for the guests, but our server’s income before tip out has risen to $268, by far her highest yet. By pushing number of guests to the maximum possible, she’s made a raise of $58 on the night. ...

I began to notice that his hostility was not the frustration of a consumer who’d paid for a faulty product — we would occasionally encounter that kind of frustration, and this was different. No, this anger was much more evocative of a man betrayed. As we watched the scene repeat, I started to draw assocations with certain cultural archetypes — the rage of a man who finds out he’s been cuckolded, or the man whose lover tells him she’s always faked her orgasms. In time I drew the conclusion that our tipping ritual is only nominally a business arrangement. Under the surface, it is much more a convention about sex and power. ...

To sum up: I’m proposing that tipping allows us to assign women a role where any sexuality they display can be attributed not to their desires but instead to their greed for money. In doing so, we both dehumanize and desexualize women, in large numbers. We do this to shield ourselves from the cultural memory of a time not too long ago, when virile women called the shots and nobody was too concerned if your wife was getting around. (Because she was.) (Maybe she still is.) ...

I don’t see how anyone can defend a method of compensation that has as a primary function ensuring poorer treatment for every person who isn’t a adult white male. But apparently it’s important to us as a culture, that every time a nonwhite person, or a woman, or a teenager or an old person, goes into a restaurant, they be reminded that they just don’t matter as much as white men. Perhaps it’s because we’ve outlawed overt racism in our daily life, that we love the way tipping puts its boot on the neck of the outsider and reminds her who’s still in charge. ...

That made it all clear. She, like some other patrons, felt the burden of having to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Obviously, some people like that role, and some people don’t, but at the very least our culture has trained diners that it is their job. When you go to restaurants, you are responsible for rewarding and punishing your server.

This certainly doesn't prove that all monetary incentives don't work, just that tipping is a particularly bad system. But our new "scientific" teacher evaluation systems share a lot of the same characteristics, including, most importantly a strong disincentive toward serving disadvantaged children.

A very, very strong disincentive. Don't kid yourself.

Friday, October 04, 2013

But Everyone Knows Test Prep Doesn't Work!


“Test prep starts in November: ELA test prep starts in November for two periods a week. After winter break, we have daily hourlong ELA test prep. Then we add math. By late February, we spend several hours a day on it. The last few weeks are almost all day test prep.

“Custom Test Prep Materials: I think many schools use practice workbooks from publishers like Kaplan, etc. We have people whose job it is to put together custom test prep packets based on state guidance. Much more aligned to common core and closer to the test than the published books I’ve seen. Also, teachers are putting together additional worksheets and practice based on what we see in the classroom. Huge volume of practice materials for every possible need (and we use it all, too). Also many practice tests and quizzes that copy format of the test.

“Intensive organization-wide focus on test prep: For the last months and weeks before the test, everyone from Eva on down is completely focused on test prep. Just a few examples….

“We have to give kids 1/2/3/4 scores daily. Kids are broken up into small groups based on the data and get differentiated instruction. If they get a 1, they stay back from recess or after school for extra practice.

“Thousands of dollars spent on prizes to incentivize the kids to work hard. Some teachers have expressed concern about bribing them with basketballs and other toys instead of learning for the sake of learning. The response is “prizes aren’t optional.”

“We get daily inspirational emails from principals with a countdown, anecdotes about the importance of state tests, and ever-multiplying plans for “getting kids over the finish line” (these get old fast).

“Old-fashioned hard work: Teachers are working nonstop during test prep. Literally pour 100% of yourself into it day in and day out. We work hard all year, but test prep brings the hours and workload to a new level. I think the same is true of all staff in schools and at Network.

We're Happy With It So Far

Stirling Observer:

International students rate Scotland the top worldwide destination for overall satisfaction in their learning, according to a report.

Their experience in higher education is "superior" to those in the rest of the UK and other European study destinations, the report commissioned by British Council Scotland found.

The organisation's director, Lloyd Anderson, said: "This report tells a remarkable story of a national academic system that is world class and highly innovative, a story of which Scotland should be very proud."

Thursday, October 03, 2013

I'm Going to Go Out On a Limb and Suggest Mike Petrilli Doesn't Know Very Many Poor People


Let's do the math.

Today the federal income poverty threshold for a single person is $11,490. If that person works a minimum-wage job for 40 hours a week and for 50 weeks a year, she earns $14,500 per year. Ergo, she's not poor, at least according to the official definition. (To be sure, she's not living the high life either--and is almost surely sharing a home with family or friends to make ends meet.)

Setting aside the question of how far $11,490 actually goes today, I'd defy Petrilli to find someone in a full-time, permanent minimum-wage job. They barely exist at all now.

Here in Scotland, "zero-hour contracts," are relatively new and still controversial. It is just the way we do business in the US now.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Another Missive From the Real World Outside the Beltway

Accountable Talk:

Accordingly, one would think that any assessment of students aligned to the Common Core would focus on these things, as well. It makes sense that a CC test would afford students time to reflect on what they have read and to construct cogent arguments based on thorough analysis.

So that, of course, is the exact opposite of how students are actually assessed.

Rather than giving kids the time they need to savor and digest text, as they are instructed to do all year, the NYS Common Core tests crams copious amounts of complex text deeply down their throats and asks them respond in a rapid fire fashion.

The 8th grade test is the one I administered, so I'll show what I mean using that. The test takes three days, but the most egregious part is day two. On that day, students were asked to read three passages and answer 21 multiple choice questions. Following that, they were asked to do a second booklet that contained two different passages and required them to write three complete paragraphs and a full length essay.

The total time allotted for this amount of work? 90 minutes. So much for deep reading.

I taught some very bright kids this year, and my biggest challenge was not to get them to think deeply, but to get them to write quickly. Smart kids like to be thorough and original in their writing, and when I gave them a practice test of similar length prior to the real thing, I immediately noticed that not one of them finished it. Not one. Using that as my "data" I set about teaching them how to write quickly. As a result, on Day 2 of the actual test, 31 of 32 students finished the exam. In some other classes, virtually no one finished. So did I do my students a favor? I have no idea. I'm sure they passed, but I'm not sure I taught them much in April other than how to game the test.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Some Post-Ravitch/Tilson Threads

Sherman Dorn:

A different kind of confusion appears in the first chapter on charter schools. In a passage starting on p. 160, Ravitch presents the involvement of New York hedge-fund managers in charter schools at the beginning of a messy discussion of colocation of charter schools in New York City, the ties between charter schools and tax credits, similar ties with investment-based visas, real-estate operations with charter-school education as a loss leader, and the ideology of profit-motivated charter-school model laws pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The problem is not trying to figure out what connects these issues; they all do appear sort-of related to private interests and profit perspectives. The problem lies in presenting them as connected without explaining what those connections are precisely. A key hedge-fund involved in DFER recently (and severely) criticized K12′s involvement in virtual charter schools; that would not happen if the presentation of charter-school motives in Reign of Error were really true. What is true is that hedge-fund managers such as Whitney Tilson are biased in favor of charter schools because of their trust in entrepreneurialism. Can we criticize that trust? Absolutely. But that is a different problem from the bald exploitation of charter school laws by Imagine, White Hat, and other ripoff artists.

These flaws are not Ravitch’s alone–they reflect the conversations in which she has been embedded for the past five years. In drinking from the discourse of reform critics, Ravitch has become as uncritical of these views as she once was of center-right arguments for choice and accountability. This is my greatest disappointment in Reign of Error–for the many chapters where she is articulate and clear, the broader framing is confectionary reasoning, clumping different objects together in a sticky mess. In the third chapter, Ravitch presents “corporate reformers” as a large mass of interest groups, foundations, think tanks, and ideologies. When she lumps the Center for American Progress and the Fordham Institute together with the Goldwater Institute and Heartland Institute, and there is no further analysis, my heart sinks. There are problems of putative reformers who do not hold each other accountable (witness the attempted resuscitation of Tony Bennett’s reputation), and there are important issues to raise with philanthropic foundations’ involvement in education reform. But chapter three is not a sophisticated argument, and its folk network analysis is a significant step back from the points Ravitch raised four years ago in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I understand the attraction of pointing at the connections and saying ,”This is one giant thing that Sure Explains a Whole Lot.” I have on occasion been tempted to call Checker Finn part of a center-right Reformy Blob as a jab at the “education blob” claims he helped spread in the 1980s. But surely Diane Ravitch could have done better than type my unexpressed snark.

Audrey Watters:

Where do we forge our education technology affinity politics? How do we build a movement from there? Where are we building political (and pedagogical) coalitions about learning and teaching with technology? With whom? Why?

What ed-tech alliances have we forged or have we inherited that, as painful as it might be, we should examine, that we should interrogate, that we should – perhaps – abandon? And why don’t we?

Not all of us can or would want to make a 100-slide presentation about the terrible investments (and mean this metaphorically, not just financially) that we're making in education. Not all of us are willing to pen a caustionary tale to our buddies about what happens if we don't adjust our efforts (again: this might be a metaphor). Many of us might bristle at framing education questions this way, I recognize. But I think Tilson's presentation is important and eye-opening nevertheless.

I actually thought this obliquely related post from digby was a useful counterpoint:

The truth is that it's very far from perfect here (in California). It's not as if the Democrats in Sacramento, including Jerry Brown, are free from conflict and corruption. But for the most part, they aren't insane which makes a huge difference when you're trying to drag yourself out of a hole created by greedheads and kooks in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis. Just denying lunatics the power to create chaos is enough to allow for some modest government actions to turn the ship of state a few degrees toward normal. Lord knows they could have done more. But Maher is correct that we were able to at least keep the state from completely melting down by refusing to empower this right wing freakshow.

More charitably, the real dividing line in K-12 at the present moment is between those who actually know what is going on in schools and the implementation details and those who very, very, very much don't want to know or pretend they don't, because lots of things are happening that nobody really believes in.

You can go straight back to Ravitch today:

Gary Rubinstein’s analysis of the charter schools founded by Congressman Jared Polis showed that the schools posted low test score growth. Congressman Polis responded in a comment (posted below) that this was understandable because his charter schools enroll very low-performing students, many of whom barely speak or read English, and many of whom are overage for their grade and far behind. It is understandable, he says, that these kids are not posting big score gains. He also notes that the teachers at his schools are not judged by value-added assessment, given the students they serve.

Congressman Polis is making my case for me but he doesn’t realize it. He should read my book.

He would discover that I support charter schools that enroll the kids who didn’t make it in public schools. They should exist to do what the public schools can’t do. They should exist to help kids who were left behind, not to skim the brightest kids from the poorest communities. Schools should not be closed because of their low scores, and their teachers should not be judged by test scores. Charter schools and public schools should collaborate, not compete. Charter schools should fill a need, as Polis’ schools seem to do, not fight public schools for market share.

Or for that matter, this:

Aside from bizarrely badgering Pareene to pick Dimon’s replacement, the extraordinary amount of money the company has been making was the anchors’ main explanation for why this CEO, who is the target of a billion different investigations and lawsuits, shouldn’t lose his job. Implicit in that defense is that major regulatory fines and federal investigations are nothing for banks to be ashamed of and certainly nothing to change big bank culture over. According to this reasoning, fines and investigations are just the “cost of doing business.” If the fines can be paid off without making a severe dent in the company’s bottom line, then there is absolutely nothing wrong happening here.

Or perhaps today's Common Core Watch post where Neerav Kingsland makes it perfectly clear he is completely uninterested in standards aside from if he's told they are more or less "rigorous."

Or Carole Marshall's piece in GoLocal Providence today.

Essentially, "Who the hell are these people and what the fuck do they even think they are doing?" has been the essential question driving this blog for the past eight years or so.

This post could go on forever, but let's end it with a quote from Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein via Ezra Klein which applies equally well to education reformers today:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics — it is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.