Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Night Stoke

I only brought one deck to Scotland -- my Salba Cruz.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Keepin' the Old Truck Runnin'

Almost eight years ago I bought a cutting edge ultra-portable laptop -- the Lenovo X60s. It was, in fact, the same computer my billionaire boss was using. In Scotland, it is still my workhorse, driving an external monitor, recharging half my life via USB, etc. My $120 in upgrades from a year and a half ago is holding up quite well.

I was starting to get worried about it running hot all the time, so when I got here so I bought an external cooler, but the CPU fan is getting very rattly now, so I ordered a replacement on eBay and opened the thing up again. Turns out I had the wrong part, so I'll have to try again. It is certainly nice though to have a laptop that you can operate on without too much trouble. At this point I've been in and out of it enough that I have to remember the parts I've discarded along the way (fingerprint reader, modem wiring) or I get confused comparing mine to the how-to pictures on the internet. So far I've only lost one screw.

A big question though over the past decade or so has been "How much laptop is enough?" If you ask me, a 2006 Lenovo with an SSD and 3gigs is pretty much the sweet spot.

Unfortunately, I didn't test the Model M2 keyboard I brought with me (it is smaller than my regular M1), and it has bad capacitors. I imagine Jennifer doesn't miss my clacking keys in our flat here.

Down the Turkish Rabbit Hole

John Hannah:

Then, in a major escalation of the conflict that amounted to more or less a declaration of all-out war, Erdogan proposed eliminating the dershanes, a system of exam-prep courses that serve as a major source of revenue and influence for Gulen's empire.

Gaze into the future of American educational politics...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The True Meaning of Christmas

The sun at 11:30 today, scene shot from the local bus stop. 
In Stirling, not only is this the darkest month, my phone says it is also (marginally) the coldest on average. And it isn't actually that cold. Average low here is 35F, 8 degrees higher than Providence's. It is dark and damp, but there is still plenty of green. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Measure of This Trip

Is riding over the Forth on a 16th century cobblestone bridge still kinda fun in the dark, in a cold rain, with 50 pounds of groceries in your pannier bags?


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Size of the Team is Not What Matters

Gary Rubinstein:

The fact is that the original intent of the common core , was to address this very concern (number of topics). The problem, though, is that they didn’t actually cut anything (in math), as far as I can tell. Why this happened is tough to say. One complaint that teachers have about the common core is that they were developed by a very small group of people without input from teachers. Perhaps that small group didn’t have the heart to cut any topics.

Or maybe the committee, even if it was small, was unable to come to agreement on which topics should be cut. You see, the issue isn’t so much the size of the group or whether or not they got input from teachers, the issue is that the ability of that group wasn’t up to the task. Perhaps it would have been better if the task were left up to one very clever individual who understood the needs of teachers and of students and could be trusted to do this right. So, yes, I’m suggesting that rather than whatever group they formed, the common core standards would have been much better if they had just hired one person, namely me, to do the whole thing.

The ELA situation is more vexing -- they did brutally cut out a lot of stuff, but somehow ended up with almost as many minutely varied standards covering less ground -- but similar insofar as a small, insular team could work for standards writing, if they were particularly experienced, inspired and focused. That doesn't describe who we had working on Common Core.

One Might Conclude That US Schools are Chronically Understaffed

Ryan Fuller:

As an engineer, I dealt with very complex design problems, but before I decided how to solve them, I had a chance to think, research, and reflect for hours, days, or even weeks. I also had many opportunities to consult colleagues for advice before making any decisions. As a teacher, I have seconds to decide how to solve several problems at once, for hours at a time, without any real break, and with no other adults in the room to support them. There are days of teaching that make a day in the office seem like a vacation.

Of course, the evidence is that American schools are understaffed, at least compared to schools in higher performing countries, private schools, urban vs. suburban, etc. And it would seem to be in TFA's direct interest to advocate for increased staffing. It would improve their argument for growth, dampen opposition, and generally make them look less like self-absorbed, privileged pricks. It also seems like something TFA as we know it would never do.

Also, another STEM graduate who decides his engineering job just isn't worth bothering with...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kind of Obvious Once You Think About It

It is meaningless to try to compare reading in Chinese with reading in Danish.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Medium is Great for Writing

Matt Yglesias:

Everything changed for me over the weekend when I took the time to write a blog post on Medium. Or to write a Medium? To medium? Verbing is important, and I'm not sure Medium has it down. What they do have down is writing stuff. This is, by far, the best tool for simply writing that I've seen. You type, you edit, you format, you toss some images or headers in. It's really nice. I came away from writing the post wanting to proclaim Medium the greatest CMS (that means "content management system" if you're not in the business) in the world. But that's actually wrong. The genius of using Medium as a writer is that it isn't a content management system. It's a writing tool that has a "publish" button and a "share" button. But precisely because it isn't taked with a lot of difficult content management problems, it focuses very effectively on being a text editor.

I'd been becoming more and more conscious of how terrible everything I'd been trying lately for writing, mostly but not entirely web-based editors, was just terrible. Just cutting and pasting from one window into another is somehow a nightmare in 2013. Part of the reason Medium is nice is because the task is so constrained, but it is very nice for writing and posting mid-length pieces online.

Fluid Intelligence and the NECAP Math

Anne Trafton:

In a study of nearly 1,400 eighth-graders in the Boston public school system, the researchers found that some schools have successfully raised their students’ scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). However, those schools had almost no effect on students’ performance on tests of fluid intelligence skills, such as working memory capacity, speed of information processing, and ability to solve abstract problems.

“Our original question was this: If you have a school that’s effectively helping kids from lower socioeconomic environments by moving up their scores and improving their chances to go to college, then are those changes accompanied by gains in additional cognitive skills?” says John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and senior author of a forthcoming Psychological Science paper describing the findings.

Instead, the researchers found that educational practices designed to raise knowledge and boost test scores do not improve fluid intelligence. “It doesn’t seem like you get these skills for free in the way that you might hope, just by doing a lot of studying and being a good student,” says Gabrieli, who is also a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

Gabrieli's point is key to understanding this. It doesn't show that the MCAS, or schooling as it is currently constructed, demonstrates less than it claims to, but that it doesn't give you more "for free."

I suspect this is highly relevant for understanding the 11th grade math NECAP scores, though. That test certainly seems to emphasize "fluid intelligence skills" as they're described in the article, which on one hand is admirable if that's what you really want kids to be able to do, but on the other hand, we genuinely don't seem to know how to teach those skills in school.

If you did have a test that emphasized skills that schooling doesn't currently affect, you'd get scores that not only were overwhelmingly based on out of school factors, even compared to other standardized tests, but that would remain remarkably resistant to any and all common interventions. As is the case with 11th grade NECAP math scores.

Depends on What You Mean By "Predict"

Anne Trafton, MIT News Office:

These high-stakes tests have also been shown to predict students’ future educational attainment and adult employment and income.

This does not mean, in effect, "Show me a kid's test scores, and I can make a good prediction of his adult income." At best, it means "Show me a kid's test scores, and I can make a good prediction about how much more or less he or she might make compared to socio-economically comparable students with different test scores."

That's not nothing, but it is less than it seems on first gloss.

My CC Piece on RI Future


I feel compelled respond to Julian(sic) Steiny’s recent GoLocalProv column Common Core Standards Freak Out Chicken Littles. I will focus on English/Language Arts, because that is my area of expertise.

It is a little weird because they ran a photo of Julia Steiny next to my response, which is just a little confusing. Also I just noticed I also accidentally called her "Julian," which I just fixed!

It is almost as if it is all calculated to annoy Julia Steiny...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fordham Has Strange Ideas About Standards Design

You might not be surprised that Fordham's ratings of state (and other) standards have, shall we say, a point of view on what kind of content and skills should be in there. Nor, for that matter, is that inappropriate.

However, I doubt informed observers realize that Fordham's ratings put a fair amount of weight on the organization and presentation of the standards. They are really rating the "document," not the standards themselves, and they have some very... specific ideas about what should and should not be done. For example, saying a standard applies to multiple grades (e.g., 4-5) is ok; listing the same standard twice, once in each grade, is not ok. The score does not even purport to directly represent the standards themselves.

Anyhow, I got a bit deeper into the weeds on that than I intended in a post over at Common Core Annoyances.

Also, you might not be shocked to know that all three states using the same NECAP GLE's got different scores...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Watch Dr. David Pook Mislead NH Legislators about the Common Core and NECAP GLEs

Dr. David Pook, starting at 6:40:

I thought it would be just useful since again, I don't think we spend enough time just reading the standards themselves, to actually look at a former New Hampshire standard and one of the new ones.

I could have done this with any one, I happen to be reading Julius Ceasar right now, so I'm thinking about character. So I took the character standard from New Hampshire and took the character standard from the new standards, the Common Core standards, and just put them up here.

The old standard in New Hampshire said "Demonstrate initial understanding of a literary text by identifying, describing, or making logical predictions about the character or setting, problem/solution, or plots, or subplots, as appropriate to text; or identifying any significant changes in character, relationships, or setting over time; or identifying rising action, climax, or falling action."

There is, I think, a wealth of "right there" type of activities, and the idea of making a prediction as, to find out whether it is true or false. You'd have to read to find out, but that prediction is not necessarily rooted in the text.

The standard that replaces that in the Common Core Standards uses words like "analyze," or "develop," "interact," "advance." It asks students to not just identify but then to pull that identification(?) together and make that inference, to show how that inference develops, pushes the plot forward, pushes the setting forward, advances our understanding in that way.

We sometimes hear that the standards aren't rigorous enough, and I think sometimes that happens without having the standards in front of us. And, say what you want, there is something about a cleanliness, a cleanness about understanding the purpose of that as a teacher helping my students to analyze, whereas there is an awful lot of things to do right here that makes it sometimes challenging to process.

So we'll be looking at these standards today and working with this version of the standards, but I think it is useful to have that as a background.(8:50)

To be clear, the Common Core standard Dr. Pook references is this one:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

The big problem with Dr. Pook's illustration is that he does not cite the correct NECAP GLE standard used by New Hampshire, as well as Vermont and New Hampshire. The NECAP "characterization" standard is clearly this one:

R–10–5 Analyze and interpret elements of literary texts, citing evidence where appropriate by...
R–10–5.2 Examining characterization (e.g., stereotype, antagonist, protagonist), motivation, or interactions (including relationships), citing thoughts, words, or actions that reveal character traits, motivations, or changes over time (State)

The relevant NECAP standards are on page 9 and 11, if you want to see for yourself.

The standard Dr. Pook refers to is one of the heading of "INITIAL UNDERSTANDING of LITERARY TEXTS" The "characterization" standard is two pages later under "ANALYSIS and INTERPRETATION OF LITERARY TEXTS/CITING EVIDENCE." Those are the two main focuses of literary reading in the NECAP GLEs, and anyone with a passing familiarity with the standards knows the biggest focus is on analysis and interpretation.

We could certainly discuss which standard is better worded and conceptually stronger, but it should be clear that the two standards focusing on analysis of characterization are very close, both have notable weaknesses, but mean to address very similar points. They do not support an argument that there are significant differences between the two sets of standards.

We can logically infer from our reading that one of two things is true. Either Dr. Pook is unfamiliar with the NECAP GLEs and negligent in his preparation for this presentation to legislators in his home state, or he intentionally misrepresented the NECAP GLEs when illustrating the differences between the two sets of standards.

I Wonder if Common Core Advocates Curse Coleman Behind His Back

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

Coleman’s approach set off a firestorm among educators. Some teachers were angered, not by his pedagogical vision per se but by the fact that the author of the standards seemed to be telling them how to teach, even when the standards themselves are agnostic about pedagogy. Others rejected the view that pre-reading is a waste of time, contending instead that pre-reading activities are essential to helping disadvantaged students access the kinds of complex texts that the Common Core demands.

The important part, really, is that the person with the biggest bully pulpit to explain and sell the standards themselves to the educational community decided to expound on his own pet ideas about teaching instead. It was just sloppy and vain.

Monday, December 09, 2013

I've Started a Blog!

As you might have noticed, I've been struggling with getting my thoughts about the Common Core standards out to the wider audience of people finally paying attention to the issue. In addition to the standard critiques at this point, I've just got a diffuse set of concerns about structure and quality which are... fairly abstract, particularly if you haven't broadly read ELA standards from around the world (which I don't encourage you to spend your time doing).

So I did talk to a prominent blogger about writing a piece for his site, and he was interesting, but frankly, trying to refine a single or small group of big or medium sized pieces is just impossible for me as a hobby. I go crazy and write in circles.

So... last week I got the bright idea to start a blog, but since it turned out to be the 1.0 "release" day for Medium, I figured I'd give it a look, and actually it seemed like a good fit. You have "collections" of "stories," an very pleasant text editor, good simple layout and it seems like the right combination of collaborative facilities to end up with something that I can curate without it seeming like my personal blog.

Of course, one of the main things that makes this plausible is that I have a ton of raw material in the form of posts from here that can be tidied up and made a bit more self-contained and accessible, with links to other background material for people who want more context.

The idea here would be getting more stuff prominently linked and reprinted, and ideally other people can contribute as well.

So anyway, here it is: Common Core Annoyances. Atom feed here.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

Running inBloom on Your Laptop

Following the instructions here, I was able to get the major parts of the inBloom backend running in a few hours (mostly spent waiting for things to build). There were a few gaps in the docs, but definitely better than average for this kind of thing, especially considering it is a giant pile of Java.

I didn't actually get it to work, the import sample data and testing step failed, although because the test suite exited, so it might not literally have been a server issue. But essentially I was just wondering how plausible it is for third parties to run this thing -- without handing your data to inBloom the unaccountable non-profit organization. It seems pretty clear that it isn't a big deal. So why are we talking about giving them our data at all? Just hire some hackers and keep it local!

Or, focus your energies elsewhere...

A Family Business; A Union Shop

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The American English teacher's PISA 2013 Takeaway

Massachusetts outscored everyone outside of the Pacific Rim. If you want to increase reading scores for high school students, the our model is what Massachusetts used to do.

Unlike math, there are significant cultural differences embedded in Language Arts instruction between the US and Asia -- different language, different... letter systems? I don't even know the correct term offhand. Completely different literary traditions. I don't know where one would start. That leaves no better model than Massachusetts a few years ago.

This all assumes your goal is raising test scores, of course, a premise I don't actually share.

When this push for national standards started, I figured it was a non-starter because no way The South would agree to use Massachusetts' standards. The idea that they could just pull something out of the air that Massachusetts would agree to never occurred to me.

So, Other Than That, How Did You Like the Lesson, Mrs. Lincoln?

Tim Shanahan:

The second issue that the debate over the Gettysburg Address lessons raises is over what role—if any—pre-reading should play in Common Core–aligned instruction. On that point, the SAP lessons contain some well-meaning but silly ideas about the role of knowledge in reading (this doesn’t harm the lessons and can easily be ignored). A truth that is self-evident about reading is that readers use what they know to interpret text. Yet the SAP lesson suggests that if we don’t talk about such information prior to reading, then we have leveled the playing field and given all students an equal chance to understand the lesson. This simply makes no sense. You can’t stop readers from using what they know, nor would you want to.

New rule: You can't defend a lesson while also pointing out that its central feature makes no sense.

Where We're Headed

David Atkins:

It mustn't be understated what is at stake here. There's a reason the big money boys want to cut "entitlements" so much. Under the current social and economic order, in 20 years or so there really won't be enough tax revenue from jobs to support the welfare state we have. And the welfare state we have won't be half as big as will be needed to take on the social need when the natural unemployment rate is 20%.

The big money boys can see where all of this is headed: either the developed world's middle classes start learning to live with a lot less, or their tax rates are going back up to Eisenhower levels. Or there will be a revolution and dramatic re-ordering of the social and economic contract.

The next few decades are going to be a very interesting time, particularly with climate change thrown into the mix. It's going to entail a dramatic battle of ideas between two very different solutions to a vexing problem complex human societies have never really faced before. In that battle, the neoliberal "New Democrats" aren't all that different from the hardcore conservatives. When you have 25% real unemployment/underemployment and massive climate disruption, all of a sudden a bunch of other issues that separate the corporate New Dems from the Bible-thumping Republicans start to become trivial by comparison.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Overall, the US seems doing ok in reading, less well in science achievement. So, to address this shortcoming, one of the major features of our new standards is a requirement for science class to focus more on teaching... reading!

How to Tell if Someone is Serious About PISA (from the US perspective)

Do they talk about Canada? Do they talk about Massachusetts?

In Honor of PISA Day

I suggest we adopt the "compulsory part" of the Hong Kong senior secondary level English curriculum:

Below is a list of suggested modules and units for senior secondary level:

  • Getting along with Others
    • Friendship and Dating
    • Sharing, Co-operation, Rivalry
  • Study, School Life and Work
    • Study and Related Pleasure/Problems
    • Experiments and Projects
    • Occupations, Careers and Prospects
  • Cultures of the World
    • Travelling and Visiting
    • Customs, Clothes and Food of Different Places
  • Wonderful Things
    • Successful People and Amazing Deeds
    • Great Stories
    • Precious Things
  • Nature and Environment
    • Protecting the Environment
    • Resources and Energy Conservation
  • The Individual and Society
    • Crime
    • Human Rights (personal rights, civic rights, respect)
  • Communicating
    • The Media and Publications
    • International Network (Internet)
  • Technology
    • Changes Brought about by Technology
  • Leisure and Entertainment
    • The World of Sports
    • “Showbiz”