Thursday, January 31, 2013

Depends on How You Define "Educator"

Arne Duncan:

“I don’t know any educator who wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to close schools,’ ” Duncan said.

AF Billboards and Bus Shelter Signs Up In Elmwood

In case you were wondering.

It is funny though to be able to context switch and see this from the parents point of view. One thing that is bizarre for a parent already trying to maintain some mental balance around the idea that they are raising their children in a moderately dangerous neighborhood is the idea that the great "college prep" elementary school is in a worse neighborhood across town.

As an ed policy person, I understand why you put a "no excuses" charter in a bad neighborhood on purpose, and if you live in that neighborhood, it would be nice. But if I was going to send my child to a school outside the neighborhood, I'd prefer if it was not such an awful neighborhood.

Below you can see the crimes reported in the past two weeks around the former Perry Middle School (A=assault, T=larceny theft, Q=disorder):

I Give Them Credit for This

from CREDO:

Charter schools can start off with high-quality programs, “disproving the notion of a universal rocky start-up period.” Strong starters can grow into successful charter school networks.

It is their one real innovation.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

AFPMA Board Agenda Posted

For the January 31 meeting. The main news is that it looks like Morgan Carter, (former?) academic dean of Amistad Elementary is going to be principal. Also, I guess the site is Perry.

I Write Letters

Mayor Taveras,

As the parent of a kindergartener in Providence (thus eligible for the AFPMA lottery), I am concerned and distressed that Benjamin Smith, of Achievement First, was unable or unwilling to explain to me the school's lottery process when I contacted him last week, claiming that at this late date, the process had still not been finalized.

I see that the subject of the lottery is on the agenda for Friday's board meeting.  I strongly urge you, as chairman of the school's board, to take action to resolve the issue and make the information publicly available as soon as possible.

I am particularly concerned about my rights as a Providence parent and that the process respects the legal requirement for an equal number of enrollments to be offered to Providence, and each additional participating community.  We should be guaranteed 1/4 of the seats.

As our representative, I rely on you to ensure that we (and the other communities) are offered the required number of seats as the first step in the lottery process.

Thank you,
Tom Hoffman

Depends on How You Define "Feedback"


Closer to home, despite innovation in measuring teacher performance world-wide, more than 90% of educators in the U.S. still get zero feedback on how to improve.

Of course, teachers get constant feedback, every day, and at least a little about how they might improve, unless they try hard to avoid it. Kind of illustrates the limitations of billg's "data."

Pretty Much Sums it Up

Tim Furman:

Let's review. They're raising the cut scores on a test that's going away in order to prep people for the future horrors of a test not yet written, based on standards that will not fully filter through any given child's education program for a range of three to eight years.

Can anyone calculate the cost of all of this? Then multiply by the opportunity cost for a nation focused on the wrong things. Then raise that figure to the appropriate exponent for the damage incurred by all the resulting disinformation. When someone arrives at a figure, just write it on the coffin of our public education system.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Why must we make children settle for so stingy a literacy?"

Mary Ann Reilly:

Attending with intention makes sense. Close reading offers learners one method, but not the only.

Here's a list of critical approaches we can and some of us use with/alongside and in the composing of text:

Now ask yourself: Why would 9 out of 10 methods be removed from public education and only one privileged for 13 years?  Whose voice is privileged? Muted?  In such scenarios what happens to one's language?  (Language is more important than love, for language is how we know and name love.) 

You know what would help with this issue? A little international benchmarking!

Seriously, it would have helped.

The Interim Assessments

The Unknown Commenter:

We have a proxy now for the coming PARCC test, the RI "Interim Assessments," designed by Measured Progress. Each fall, winter and spring assessment is three days long. Each ELA session consists of 13 questions. There is a "constructed response," limited to 800 characters, a sort of bastardized essay, at the end of each session. We have just gotten back the raw results. In the 10th grade, for example, not one kid in the state met proficiency. The 7th grade results---where I teach---were hardly better. Among other texts far above the reading competency of 99% of 7th graders, was "A Vindication of the Right of Women: with Strictures Moral and Cultural" by Mary Wollstonecraft. Ask around and find out more. I would guess that when the Interim Assessment results hit the news, there will be widespread outrage.

Just passing that along...

A Bill of Rights for What the What?

As someone with a considerable personal and professional interest in education, "open" blah blah "open," and who is a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I have no idea of what "A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age" is even supposed to be about.

For example, this is just hopeless:

The right to privacy

Student privacy is an inalienable right regardless of whether learning takes place in a brick-and-mortar institution or online. Students have a right to know how data collected about their participation in the online system will be used by the organization and made available to others. The provider should offer clear explanations of the privacy implications of students’ choices.

OK, so I have in "inalienable" right to privacy, now let's get down to discussing how important it is for "the online system" to inform me of how my privacy is being compromised by "the organization," based on my "choices."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hang in There, David

Unfortunately this refers to my friend and collaborator David Welsh:

Arlington County police are investigating a serious pedestrian accident on Carlin Springs Road, in front of Kenmore Middle School.

Around 7:00 p.m. (Wednesday), a man in his 30s was struck by a car on Carlin Springs Road just south of Route 50, according to Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. The man suffered “severe head trauma” and was transported in critical condition to Inova Fairfax Hospital.

The last I heard, his situation is still grave, but hasn't deteriorated. If a positive attitude and force of will can pull you through something like this, he will be fine.

David is the driving force behind CanDo, which is the actually successful part of SchoolTool, the project I manage. David is a born salesman, unabashed fundraiser and great trainer, and our skillsets have meshed well.

One interesting thing I learned a few years ago over dinner with David and our co-conspirator Jeff Elkner was that they both came to teaching after intense involvement with the homeless. David in particular went from doing video production to teaching homeless people to document their lives, to (in order to support a family) teaching video production in the Arlington Career Center.

But he still brought that experience of try to empower people to tell their own stories, and he became passionate about competency tracking (of all things) when he saw that he could use it to essentially ensure that he was providing enough structure to his students inquiry. There aren't too many people who can keep those two things balanced in their minds, but it is often necessary to make progressive pedagogy work.

So... get well, David. We're not done with you yet.

The Damnedest Thing You'll See Today

Understanding Common Core ELA's Text Complexity Curve

Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris had a great post last week outlining just what the Common Core ELA is talking about when it refers to research on text complexity. I think it could use a punchier summary that I'll try to provide here while still being accurate.

Basically a company called MetaMetrics did two related studies, summarized here. The first looked at the complexity of texts used in post-secondary schools, workplace training, "citizenship" tasks like reading the instructions for tax forms, newspapers, etc.

The second tracked the progress of reading scores in students in North Carolina between grades 3 and 8, to plot out essentially the standard growth curve.

Then they extrapolated the curve above and below those grade levels, and superimposed it on a chart with the post-secondary expections:

That's... pretty much it. That's your staircase of reading complexity. It isn't based on any particular ideas about what's developmentally appropriate at any point, other than as is implicitly expressed in this curve.

What I don't understand is that this grade 3-8 curve is supposed to be based on what was actually observed under North Carolina's old standards in 1999-2004 (which Checker Finn and friends gave a B in 2000). Nonetheless, the above curve is a bit more ambitious than the latest Common Core lexile recommendations would indicate. This just takes one back to "I have no idea what this argument is even supposed to be about."

As a former high school English teacher, I'm not sure what to say about the relative flatness of the curve throughout high school, but it meshes with my overall impression of the Common Core, that it is very ambitious up through the end of middle school and then, relatively speaking, coasts.

The Problem with Resisting the Common Core Right Now

One big problem with the idea that teachers ought to be personally drawing some kind of line in the sand over the Common Core is that the entire notion of what standards are and how they are to be used is so vaguely defined. It is like gearing up to protest the passage of a new law in a country with no constitution or functioning judiciary or even police force.

For example, one group of people are all wound up about the importance of the fidelity of implementation of the standards, but if you'd ask them, say, why literature standard six for grade 9-10 ("Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States...") does not apply to literature from inside the United States, they'd have no interest in answering the question, aside from possibly pointing out that I'm not supposed to read the standard so literally. Which is fine, but can I ignore the words I find inconvenient too?

The Common Core just isn't that different than what it replaces, and frankly it isn't worse than some of the other existing standards, and in the past teachers have readily ignored the impractical parts of academic standards with no bad results for themselves or their students.

The implementation is the catch, as always, and in particular, the tests are what will deserve a higher level of scrutiny and, let's be frank, internet-scale leaks of content, than any test has before.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Preparing Students for Common Core ELA

It should be fairly straightforward, really (says the ex-teacher).

Increase the complexity and volume of reading as much as you can. Unfortunately there are no new tricks for making this happen.

Don't let anyone say or write anything without citing evidence from the text, ever.

Focus on structural analysis of logical arguments and authoritative-looking supporting evidence.

Probably do more writing than you were, but not more than you should have been doing anyhow.

Look closely at exactly what special analytical tasks students are supposed to be performing at their grade level; hope that the tests stick to those.

Continue ignoring the kind of standards you always did (media, speaking & listening, etc.) until you actually get bad test scores because of it (if you do).

Do a condensed mini-research project every quarter as close to the ultimate form in the tests as you can.

Note: if your school does not have enough computers to give the test online, you may be able to skip the research part.

AF: You Can't Challenge Our Lottery Procedures Because We Don't Have Any Yet

Ben Smith (via email):

To your question about lottery process – we continue to work with RIDE to ensure that our lottery is consistent with both our approved charter application and state charter law.

Of course, the time to sort this out with RIDE would have been between the initial submission of the application and RIDE's initial review, prior to the application even getting to the Board of Regents.

It seems pretty clear that as the parent of a child eligible for enrollment in the lottery, I can initiate a formal appeal to the Commissioner on this matter, without having to hire a lawyer, based on the possibility that my child would be denied the proper chance in the lottery due to non-compliance with the legal requirement to offer an equal number of enrollments to each sending district. That is, if that's what the policy ends up being.

So... quoting RIDE's FAQ, "The next step is to be heard at the next meeting of your local school committee." The AF board's next meeting is next Thursday, so I'll see if I can get in on that.

While we're on the subject, as of last week, the still incomplete board was made up of:

  • Mayor Angel Taveras
  • Reverend Jeffrey Williams
  • Macky McCleary

Also, the first of three currently scheduled informational meetings is tonight:

  • 1/23 (6:00 p.m.) – Boys & Girls Club (50 Laurel Avenue, Providence)
  • 2/2 (11:00 a.m.) – Blackstone Valley Prep (291 Broad Street, Cumberland)
  • 2/13 (6:00 p.m.) – South Providence Library (441 Prarie Avenue, Providence)

Of course, it is hilarious that they're holding an information session in the middle of the day at BVP in Cumberland, a town that doesn't even border on any of the communities served by AFPMA, and is literally half way across the state from Warwick.

Skills Mismatch!

Matt Yglesias:

And it turns out that with a little extra work it's perfectly possible to train someone up who doesn't have 100 percent of the exact qualifications you're looking for. In an even more dramatic example you might think of World War II and the Rosie The Riveter phenomenon. Rosie was not a skilled aerospace engineer before she got that riveting job. The whole point was that the government needed both a massive expansion in the quantity of aircraft produced and also needed to divert a huge share of the male labor force into the military. But the Roosevelt Administration didn't just throw its hands up, say "skills mismatch", and lose the war.

Our Mother of Perpetual Lines

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

If Great Standards Didn't Help, Try Some Worse Ones

Mike Petrilli:

Second, it’s not clear that returning to your old standards would put Indiana on a path toward higher student achievement. For while you had some of the best standards in the country for over a decade, you also had one of the worst student achievement records on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Indiana was a classic case of good standards not actually having an impact in the classroom. You need a different way forward.

A Peculiar Common Core Non-Example

J. Martin Rochester:

While visiting a local high school as a liaison between my department at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and the high school’s Advanced Credit program, I had occasion to speak with its young principal—a newly minted doctor of education. I told him about a challenge facing those of us who teach in K–16 education: the difficulty of getting students to summon the patience, stamina, and will to read dense text, particularly book-length writings, in an age of instant gratification, sound-bites, jazzy graphics, and condensed versions of knowledge. In short, I asked him, do students still have the capacity for deep reading, followed by deliberation and reflection? Can they conduct serious discourse?

Rochester, blogging at Flypaper, no less, manages to go from this beginning for five paragraphs on "the progressive view of school choice" as if progressives are, were, and will always be in charge of our nation's schools.

You get no indication whatsoever that we're in the middle of an unprecedented nationwide drive to increase "the patience, stamina, and will to read dense text" at all grade levels via the Common Core standards. Text complexity is the real emphasis of the standards, not the other stuff people are prattling on about.

Monday, January 21, 2013

That Depends Which Education Reform Movement You're Talking About

Alexander Russo:

Someone else, really, should be the one to write about Anil Dash's thought-provoking blog posts, The Web We Lost, and Rebuilding the Web We Lost.  Ideally, it would be someone who's worked inside the reform movement, and remains sympathetic, but is reflective and independent enough to point out where things seem to have gone wrong and what needs to happen next.

I'm actually well qualified to handle this one, for example, in 2003 I gave a talk at the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference -- Dash was an attendee -- entitled "We're All in this Together, Kid: Social Software in School Reform:"

Successfully implementing progressive school reforms is an infamously difficult task. Traditional American high schools are atomically organized to minimize interdependence between different classes and exchange flexibility for predictability.

Progressively structured schools seek to make student inquiry the center of their work, often through interdisciplinary projects tailored to individual student needs. This is a riskier process, requiring a high level of coordination between teachers, students, administrators, and parents.

Typically, progressive schools have employed loose or open-ended forms of evaluation, such as pass/fail or narrative assessment. Today, however, public schools and their students are being held accountable for achievement of standards, often simply measured through high-stakes testing.

Ten years ago, "school reform" at least equally applied to Deborah Meier and Ted Sizer as it did to, say, Joel Klein.

In the intervening decade, I've become a social software curmudgeon -- you'll pull Blogger from my cold, dead hands -- and yielded the "ed reformer" tag to people and practices I hate.

Basically, in both cases, the money men started to roll in and roll over the geeks and the teachers who were building tools and schools with an eye to something other than the market, or market-based logic. We're only just now hitting the point where it is clear the grifters are rolling into schools like Visigoths, but even when the point hasn't been to make money directly, it has been to apply the methods of business to education.

It has taken a while to sort out, but at this point many of the leading figures in screwing up the internet are also leaders in screwing up education (reform): Gates, Zuckerberg, Jobs (RIP), etc. It isn't hard to tease out the common thread. The earnest geeks who do things, understand how things work, and care about actual people get rolled by the big money guys. That's it.

Another Peculiar Common Core Example


To get students to think deeper about a story, for example, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel with deceptively simple language, is paired with Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece that alleges it is an elitist story.

"So the students find that there's a purpose in the reading that may not have been as apparent before," she says.

That's nice, but it is not supported by the reading literature standards, which are pointedly uninterested in historical context, and especially uninterested in criticism based on race, class and gender.

To be clear, I'm not saying "Don't do that assignment," I'm saying, "Isn't it peculiar that over and over again the examples of new assignments to meet the demands of the Common Core don't reflect the emphasis of the actual standards?"

I'm not even sure what this means.

Progressives' Leverage


I will say this: Inaugural speeches are often legacy speeches and based on this speech I'm going to guess that whatever his policies actually were and are, he told us today that he would like to be remembered by most people as a progressive president, not a centrist technocrat. Certainly, it won't be centrists or the conservatives who bestow it on him --- positive legacies are sustained by the members of your own party and ideology. If he wants to be in the liberal pantheon beyond the obvious (and very real) accomplishment of becoming the first African American president and some movement on gay rights, the second term will have to be different from the first. From the sound of today's address, it would seem that he wants it to be. And if that's true, progressives have some leverage.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

This Should Be the Centerpiece of the Teachers' Unions' Legislative Strategy for 2013

Jennifer Keyes-Maloney:

Bill Would Require Public Disclosure of Private Funding of State Services
Assembly Budget Chairman Vincent Prieto and Assembly Education Chairman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. announced  December 14 that they have introduced legislation to establish legislative oversight of private money being used to pay for state services. 

The legislation comes on the heels of press coverage outlining several grants provided by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to the New Jersey Department of Education in recent months.  The grants total over $430,000 education grant, and include a stipulation that the funding is available only as long as Gov. Chris Christie remains in office (Private education grant tied to Gov. Christie staying in office, NJ Star Ledger, December 13, 2012).

Unfortunately, the unions are on the take from the foundations, too.

via Jersey Jazzman.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Standards Within the Standards

Aida Walqui, Nanette Koelsch, and Mary Schmida:

Persuasion Across Time and Space

This unit shows instructional approaches that are likely to help ELLs meet new standards in English Language Arts. The lessons address potent literacy goals and build on students’ background knowledge and linguistic resources. Built around a set of famous persuasive speeches, the unit supports students in reading a range of complex texts. It invites them to write and speak in a variety of ways and for different audiences and purposes. To learn more, see the lessons below and read our Guidelines for ELA Instructional Materials Development.

Lesli Maxwell:

Susan Pimentel, a lead author of the English/language arts common standards—which 46 states have adopted—and a member of the Understanding Language team, said the persuasion unit is especially strong in its "range and quality of text." During a webinar on the unit last month, she called it a "model in what the common core means" by selecting text that is connected by purpose and topic.

I looked over the unit, and let me tell you, after looking at that bizarro crap Student Achievement Partners has been turning out as Common Core exemplars, it is a breath of fresh air, almost as if it has been written by people who have actually taught English to middle school students and find writing curriculum to be an interesting task.

At the same time, in reinforces my concerns about the design of the CC standards. Look, this unit is about persuasion, and persuasion is rather pointedly excluded from the Common Core standards, at least according to a strict reading of the text, and in comparison to similar documents. You can say I'm being overly pedantic, but look, why did they take it out? It wasn't an accident, it had to be a deliberate decision.

Similarly, the unit authors do exactly what I would and put ethos, logos, and pathos as the centerpiece of the unit with a three period lesson. The question is, do you need to teach that for the Common Core? It is hard to imagine not doing it when the standards are so focused on argument, but there are no standards that make it clear that students need to, even though there certainly could be. I'm honestly not sure what the standards demand here, particularly because there is this weird commentary about not teaching vocabulary specific to the discipline of English. Are we supposed to be ignoring that?

I can't tell if there is an entire second set of implied ELA standards that we're all supposed to know are required by phrases like "evaluate a speaker's... use of... rhetoric." Are we supposed to know that that implicitly requires something in particular? Can't someone write that down then?

Also, I find Pimentel's comment to be strange because these texts aren't connected by topic, just purpose. This is not the kind of thing that will systematically build subject area knowledge in, say, history.

To a great extent, my concerns are academic and don't matter: people will reasonably expand upon the literal wording of the standards, teach persuasion, etc., and it will be fine for the most part. And let me make it clear that I like this unit as a unit after a quick scan. But still, my main argument is that the Common Core ELA standards are just not very well executed standards. The issues I'm raising should not be debatable issues at all.

Mid-Year Shakeup at PPSD

Sue Lusi:

I want to alert you to a number of upcoming leadership changes in our district that will be effective as of Tuesday, January 29.

The appointments I am announcing today include:

  • Janelle Clarke-Holley as Principal of DelSesto Middle School
  • Robert Dimuccio as Principal of Central High School
  • Jeffrey Goss as Principal on Special Assignment at Mount Pleasant High School, supporting Principal Scott Sutherland
  • Edward Halpin as Principal of Stuart Middle School
  • John Hunt as Principal on Special Assignment overseeing professional development for the district
  • Michaela Keegan as Principal of Cooley-PAIS at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex
  • Dinah Larbi as Principal on Special Assignment at Roger Williams Middle School, supporting Principal Jennifer Vorro
  • Jennifer Vorro as Principal of Roger Williams Middle School

See also.

Can We Leave Everyone Else's Children Out of Michelle Rhee's Plans as Well?

Hari Sevugan:

Naming the school Michelle's daughter attends goes too far. It was unnecessary. We, as the adults helping shape our schools, can and should have a healthy discussion about issues like parental choice, class size, and other things. And while it is fine for the adults to disagree on such issues, we should leave our families, especially our kids, out of it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Read-Option QB's, They're Cheap!

We seem to be at the point where we know that the read-option offence run in college can work in the NFL, although it is hard for a QB in that system, or any running quarterback, to survive complete seasons without injury.

But as a result, they're much cheaper than other quarterbacks. Can't someone just pick up two or three of the best coming out of college and count on using all of them, as most teams do now at running back?

Is the practice time problem insurmountable?

Certainly Explains Declining High School Scores in the PPSD

Real Ed Reform DC:

A report from the new director of the Consortium for Chicago Schools Research says that the collaborative climate in a school is more important than the individual characteristics of teachers. What makes this report so interesting is that DCPS reforms since 2007 are premised on the opposite assumption -- rewarding individual teachers and principals when their students score better than the norm, and firing them when scores fall short. If the researchers behind this report are correct, the whole theory of reform in DCPS may be backwards, and the effect on staff morale and collaboration could be making the quality of education worse.

One Way of Looking at the Mayoral Academy Law

In Rhode Island, if you want to create the kind of public school where the teachers have the least rights, it has to be desegregated.

A weird tradeoff, but that's what it is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In a Couple Years Prof. Adelman's Students Should Be REALLY Ready for This Class

Joseph M. Adelman:

I do assign the Declaration on the syllabus, and when students arrive, I pull a simple trick to change how they encounter it. I give them a brief synopsis of the early months of 1776 and the push for independence (including the publication of Common Sense and essentially a synthesis of Pauline Maier’s argument about local moves for independence), make one cutting joke about John Adams’ poor prediction skills (I cannot resist, despite teaching in Massachusetts), and then ask students to stand up. Many people first encountered the Declaration, I note, not by reading it in a history textbook, but by hearing it—at their church, in a town square, at a public celebration. And then we read it. What could be more patriotic?

Once we’ve finished, though, students invariably notice things they never notice before. The first paragraph, that rhetorical icon passed down as the embodiment of the spirit of American freedom, now seems much more like a brief preface. What stands out in reading the document aloud are the grievances. Many had probably skimmed them (Lord knows I have many a time) because they just knew coming in that that part of the document wasn’t important. Many hadn’t even noticed the final paragraph, which is, of course, the actual act of declaring independence.

In this case, I haven’t invoked race, class, or gender. I suppose it’s a bit of a bottom-up interpretation to ask students to hear the Declaration rather than read it, but not by much. Yet that simple act opens up a world of questions that students can address. Instead of staid language the conveys some inherent notions about America, we can discuss why the Declaration looks the way it does. What purpose does that first paragraph serve? Why so many grievances? Who were the audiences?

Now we don’t get very far in fifty minutes, which includes fifteen to read the whole thing aloud, and the survey moves fast – I’m probably unusual in setting aside a full class period for it. But it opens a series of questions about American politics in 1776 that are far more interesting than simply conveying a narrative about America’s creation.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Talking to the Finch

I lost round one with my finch robot, trying to control it by sending raw USB messages from Python (so I can write a Turtle Art module for it). I just ran out of gas and put it away a while.

Sometimes in the open source world, just waiting a bit is the best strategy, and sure enough, when I checked back there was a new C library, courtesy of Steve Strom at Penn State Behrend. This has proven to be a lot easier to access from Python than the original C++ library (based on my very minimal understanding of such things) and it appears I have it working now after an hour or so of fiddling with Python ctypes.

So now I can leave behind tedious USB hacking and get onto the more interesting Turtle Art hacking. I'm trying to get something together for Vivian's birthday, so that gives me nine days.


Burkins and Yaris:

As far as the first concern, how does one respond to a statement that there is “no actual data?” , particular when this non-data has formed the basis of a big idea influencing instructional decisions across the country.

Cory Doctorow Spits Out What I Can't Manage to About the College Bubble

Cory Doctorow (on, probably blocked at your school):

So we have a situation now on both sides of the Atlantic where there’s a disincentive to get educated.
Well, they share a certain common heritage. You mentioned for the first time there’s a disincentive to get an education, but what you don’t mention about the UK situation is that for the first time poor people have been given access to tertiary education. It’s not a coincidence that when tertiary education ceased to be the exclusive province of people who had a lot of political influence, that education ceased to be untouchable as an area for defunding by government. In other words, when universities were the exclusive province of rich people who were in close contact with the political classes, nobody took seriously the idea of defunding free education in this country. But when it became more broadly democratized, you could start talking about education as almost like a market proposition.
Right, it is a class issue. After having a fairly egalitarian system for three decades in the UK, with means tested grants being replaced by student loans 1998, we now have a situation where poor people are once again excluded from places like Cambridge.
Well, not just that…One of the reasons to let poor people into university was in the name of social mobility. So when we start talking about universities particularly –– I’m not talking about apprenticeships, I’m not talking about trade schools and I’m not talking about polytechnics –– when we start talking about universities as vocational programs that exist, not primary because of an interest in scholarship but because of a positive return on investment in the employment world, and also because of the perception that the best jobs leave you out if you haven’t gone through university...I’m leaving aside for the moment here a few parts of the university which are the tracks that lead into the professions, medicine, law and a couple of others. When you say the reason to go and get a double first in English and German at UCL is because having a double first degree is itself a ladder into –– not the professions –– but a better job, a white collar job, then it starts to become a market proposition. You are not funding the university because you value scholarship.

Scholarship is inherently not a market activity. You fund scholarships for the same reason you fund basic research. You could call scholarship basic research. It does have a positive return to the economy, but that return isn’t possible to recoup through normal investment. No rational market actor invests in pure research. No one wants to fund a super collider, and yet, super colliders actually do produce more money for the whole economy than they cost because of all the spin offs that come out of it. That’s why we fund scholarship. That’s why we fund basic research. The two of them are very closely related. But once you start funding it because it gets people better jobs, then all of a sudden you can talk about them returning a piece of their better job back to the economy.

When it was just rich people going, it wasn’t about just getting a better job, because you were already rich, you already had the entré into the better job. You could already do unfunded apprenticeships and your parents’ friends were the people offering you the unfunded apprenticeships. You had a good five ways within the system. But now it’s a market transaction, and once it’s a market transaction we start applying cost benefit analysis to it. We start saying, well if the university degree earns you so many pounds, then it makes sense to start talking about you paying so many pounds. And if the objective here is to take people whose lifetime income expectancy was so many pounds, and make it a little bit higher –– which is what we call social mobility –– then why shouldn’t that be a virtuous cycle and they pay back into it. That way the university can expand the number of students they take on and all the rest of it, right?

The problem with that is that it’s become a Ponzi scheme, especially in America. We haven’t quite gotten there here. But in America, you have this crazy thing where it is somewhat true and it’s also universally received as true, that you can’t get a good job without a university degree. It’s also the case that universities, including many state colleges –– that are actually owned by the public –– can act as loan originators, which is to say they lend you the money but where those loans are then backed by the federal government. They can lend you any amount of money because there’s no risk to them because the government will take the loan off their hands. Those loans are then further secured by the federal government when they float them as bonds. So you have this weird perverse incentive where the universities, the more they charge the more they get –– which is a bit weird right? Because in real market economies, the more you charge the more you get up to a point, and then people start going, wait a second, that’s not worth it anymore, and they stop paying in. But if I tell you that you can’t get a job unless you get a degree, and then I tell you that no matter how much the degree costs I can get you a loan for that much, all of a sudden you start getting takers for those crazy propositions and that starts to look like a bubble, like a pyramid scheme.

Then you get the bond traders who actually buy these loans and securitize them and turn them into bonds and float them around. Those people actually have it in their interest to keep tuition high and to keep the economy in such a state that indeed unless you have a degree you can’t get a good job, because that brings more people into the system who take out more loans. Those loans get bigger, that turns into more bonds, those bonds produce more coupons and those coupons continue to fund the private equity funds and whoever else is buying those bonds. And again, the federal government guarantees those bonds, and to the extent that the federal government is there guaranteeing the bonds, there’s a lot of money to be spent on lobbying the federal government to continue guaranteeing those bonds.

Also, the federal government can be successfully lobbied to do what they’ve done now over the last 10 years, which is make student debt the only kind of debt you can’t be relieved from in bankruptcy, and the only kind of debt that can be taken out of social security. This is a perfect storm of awful, where in order to get any kind of a good job you have to take a loan out for a hyper inflated university degree and that loan is then visited upon you forever.

You can’t be relieved of that debt through bankruptcy, even if it turns out you made the wrong decision, and the debt collection practices are set up so there’s almost no limits on them and they can impose arbitrary fees and penalties on you. Whatever your student loan was, you actually can never escape it because if you miss a single payment or even if a payment goes astray, suddenly you have these ballooning charges that could double or triple your student debt and those keep recurring through the life of your student debt, such that it becomes almost a form of indenture.

People also who carry a lot of debt are much more beholden to their employers. Especially a kind of debt where if you miss a payment you have ballooning charges and penalties, because you can’t afford to be made redundant, you can’t afford to be taken off the job, you certainly can’t afford to risk being fired. Those people become a more pliant workforce. So you have, again, this perfect storm of awfulness where all of these awful interests are aligned into making people indebted and unhappy and unable to fulfill their lives, fulfill their potential.

For one thing, people don’t start businesses if they can’t afford to quit their jobs. So all of that economic creativity that America has often benefited from…I mean, for all that America is a nation of military adventurism and conquest, it’s also a nation of entrepreneurship and an enormous amount of its economic mite has been driven not just by resource extraction from foreign economies, but also from the exporting of entrepreneurial ventures. You know, inventing stuff that other people in the world want a buy, that entrepreneurial zeal is increasingly locked up behind people who struggle with debt and can’t afford to quit their jobs to do something cool. This is why you have dot com millionaires who are actually offering cash prizes to people who have good grades not to go to university. They want those people unlocked from debt so they can go off and invent cool things and make jobs and unlock new economic growth for the country.

The Future of Learning Will Be Unevenly Distributed, Mostly Shoved on the Poor

Will Richardson:

Before too long, schools will figure out how to put technology into the hands of every student and teacher, whether that’s via a BYOT program or budget allocations that cover the price of a device considering the fast reduction in cost. (Is a robust, $100 or less tablet really more than five years away? Laptop?)

You would think, wouldn't you, but I've been thinking that for the past 10 years, and I'm not sure we're any closer. There is no decision process for making this happen; the institutions and institutional will to do it don't exist.

We don't want to give every kid a cheap, 3-5 years behind the curve device. High speed networking at home is expensive and not even available everywhere. Are we going to give every kid free cellular data plans? It isn't like anyone can just order any of that to happen. Nobody in ed tech wants to be caught talking about tech anyway, it is beneath them, so who is going to solve the technical problems and keep industry in line?

Schools will also begin to contract with data collection/analytics services that begin to capture every keystroke of every user in the school, delivering real time data on student progress, interests, time allocations, and about a million other things that may or may not be interesting and relevant. Sooner rather than later, these data analytics services, drawing on a global repository of “learning content” in various formats, begin to deliver “personalized” lessons covering required concept and skill mastery to each learner based on the immediate needs and “what works best” for that learner in any given moment. Textbooks become unnecessary.

Two things.

One, we need to be clear about who owns, collects and has access to the data. When I was doing a lot of thinking about these issues, I was thinking about all the data going into the school and district's own data warehouse. What has actually happened is it is all going to the corporations, which is problematic in a number of ways.

Two, we don't know that this approach will work; it is just a promising idea.

The services do constant, competency based assessment through the curriculum aligned with standards, remediating as required, rendering cumulative, standardized tests unnecessary. Grades give way to levels achieved.

The problem is that, like most of the above, this only even theoretically works in math, where at least a lot more attention has been paid to the process of writing standards. The ELA/Literacy Common Core standards lack the basic organizational rigor you'd want for the foundation of an automated system like this, e.g., all standards specifying what texts should be read should be contained in the "range of reading" section, and in practice, they'll be found to be overly narrow and constrained. We don't have standards for all the required subjects, and there's no reason to think doing so is politically possible.

We've not made the investment in making the academic standards writing process sufficiently rigorous for use as technical specifications for learning systems that people will be satisfied with. You can write a system to teach Common Core ELA, but it will literally ask kids the same couple dozen questions with minor variations thousands of times, because that's all that's required by the standards. Not that they are easy questions, the reading is hard, and you might have to write an essay, but it is still the same damn thing over and over and over.

We're a long way from anything that would satisfy people who have access to good, more traditional schools.

Unity of Command

There definitely seems to be a lack of... enthusiasm about getting the word out about the forthcoming Achievement First Mayoral Academy in Providence. Kindergarten registration has already started in Providence, there are only six weeks to enroll in the AF lottery, and essentially no public information has been released about the school.

Let's look at each of the major players here:

  • Mayor Taveras: He'd certainly like to be able to take the credit for AF in the long run, particularly in an upcoming gubernatorial campaign. On the other hand, he's in the uniquely awkward position of asserting his role in leading the school district (via his appointed board), including the recent closures and subsequent revelation that enrollment is now expected to go up in coming years, and he is the founder and chair of the board of the AF schools.

    So any public campaign to raise support for AF by him is likely to be met by some still very bitter parents (including white parents, btw) bringing up those closures and generally venting on his parade. Not to mention the teachers who still remember being (temporarily) fired by him a few years ago. Despite that, he may actually be the more appealing of the two Democratic front-runners for governor, if Chafee runs for re-election as a independent. So

  • The mayors of Cranston, Warwick and North Providence: They all picked up a nice resume line and maybe someone owes them a favor, but they have no reason whatsoever to actually encourage anyone from their suburban city to attend a high poverty inner city school. Especially if there is no public information about the location, etc., etc. They'd just sound crazy.
  • RIMA: The actual charter holders currently have one sentence about their new network of schools on their website (with no link):

    An Achievement First Mayoral Academy, serving Providence, Cranston, North Providence and Warwick is planned to open in 2013.


    Blackstone Valley Prep is their baby. They have no interest in coming down here and engaging with the community in Providence in an open forum. They haven't yet through this whole process, and they probably never will. I think they'd rather see this whole thing fail than deign to admit that the opinions of people who actually live in the city are even relevant.

    That makes outreach a little difficult.

  • Achievement First: I don't really know but I wonder how excited they are about Rhode Island at this point. Five schools wouldn't be chicken feed, but they practically run Connecticut now. They've never had any interest at all in running the kind of urban/suburban school called for in the kludgey mayoral academy model. They've also never come and talked to us at all, but at least I don't think it is because they are literally afraid of us (unlike say, RIMA).

    Everyone has pretty much dumped this on their lap, so I guess we'll see how interested they are.

  • RIDE: I'm probably reading too much into everyone's websites (since that's what I'm looking at), but RIDE is sufficiently unconcerned about the whole thing to list any information about AF on RIDE's site, including in their directory of existing charters and of those in the application process. I'm sure they assume (correctly) that nothing will stop this since it is backed by Race to the Top, so whatever.
  • The New State Governing Board for Education: I don't know what it is called, but the Governor just nominated the whole slate, so they're likely to be friendly to his interests. This probably does not extend to blocking AF outright, since it would be a big federal case, but on the other hand, the main political beneficiary of the school is probably his toughest opponent in the re-election campaign, so they'd have some incentive for tweaking them about some of the rather obvious deficiencies thus far.
  • PPSD: Oddly, at this point, everyone seems to be relying on the PPSD's registration form to generate applications for this school, since AF has been given a checkbox (or whatever) on the standard PPSD form. How many people check that box will be heavily influenced by the advice given by the employees of the registration center. Meanwhile, none of the suburban systems will undertake their registration process before the AF lottery deadline, so expect the overwhelming number of applicants to be from Providence.

So... at least for kindergarten, they should have no problem getting their 88 students. First grade might take a little extra effort. But on the whole, the decision seems to be to just keep things quiet. Or maybe they're just disorganized. I do think many of the people advocating for this school had an overly strong reaction to the opposition to the school and the very moderate amount of work they had to do to push it through. They really don't like people talking back to them.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Clearly, We're All On the Same Page

The PPSD 1 page elementary school profile sheet for parents of incoming kindergarteners, helpfully lists Achievement First Mayoral Academy, despite the fact that it does not list any other charters, including Times2 elementary, which is a PPSD charter school. All you can discern from this, however, is that there will be uniforms at AF, everything else, address, principal, after-school programs, etc. is "TBD," or "Not Applicable."

One imagines that this will all be straightened out in time, but sheesh!

When Did We Start Thinking of Ourselves as an Intellectual Nation?

This talk by Amanda Ripley is more appealing to me than her writing, but I'm still struck by the fundamental premise that we should be shocked and surprised that we don't have the highest test scores in the world (on PISA, at least). Beyond the technical matter of the history of our rankings in international testing, when did we start thinking of ourselves as a country whose power derived from its intellectual superiority?

One useful thought experiment is to just roll the question back 1900 and go decade by decade:

  • Do you think we had the best system of primary and secondary education in the world in 1900? Any particular reason? Did people think that in 1900?
  • OK, how about 1910?
  • 1920's?
  • 1930's?
  • 1940's?
  • 1950's?
  • 1960's?
  • 1970's?
  • 1980's?
  • 1990's?
  • 2000's?

To be sure, the Cold War and all those ICBM's had a way of focusing one's attention on not falling too far behind. But even just looking at Western Europe, when did we start thinking that we were supposed to be the towering intellectuals? When we think about what has made America great, we've never focused on our intellect, for better or worse.

I Leave Comments: Nobody is Interested in Standards

The problem is that most of what Ms. Jago discusses here is peripheral to the standards themselves, and when she points out a specific activity: "students compare the lives of the Joads as they left the Dust Bowl to travel west to California in “Grapes of Wrath” with the lives of those who stayed behind through seven years with no rain in Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time” (winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Nonfiction)," it is one that is NOT covered by the Common Core standards.

One of the outstanding features of the CC standards is that the omit almost all "intertextual" activities. This is very different than the approach taken in high performing countries and formerly in many states.

In many, many schools in the US today, teachers are expected to document what standard each lesson addresses. And all the materials are expected to be strictly aligned to standards. So yes, you could still teach this lesson, but particularly if you were in a school under pressure to raise test scores, you could get a bad evaluation for doing it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Gist Track Record

When Deborah Gist arrived in Rhode Island in 2009, the gap in 11th grade reading scores between Providence and Central Falls and the rest of the state was closing. Since her dramatic intervention in Central Falls, and her implicit and explicit support of PPSD's decisions to end several successful high school reforms, that gap has grown again. Will the trend continue in the 2012 tests? We'll know in about a month.

If Only This Were True

Stephanie Banchero:

Common Core co-author David Coleman, who participated in the study and teaches eighth grade English at Walker Middle School in the Hillsborough district, said he watched videos of himself in the classroom and noticed he "looked wooden" and "talked too much." Once, he spent 10 minutes teaching his students the meaning of "hierarchy" and saw on the video that students appeared bored, and one remarked, "This is stupid, man."

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

My Cynicism Fails Me

Julie Woestehoff:

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson, two national testing giants, have been charged with “serious ethical problems” in their dealings with the Chicago Public Schools in the 2012 Chicago Public Schools Office of the Inspector General’s report.

Oh Yeah, They've Got Their Act Together...


E-mail us: admissionsRI(at)achievementfirst[dot]org

And then:

Delivery has failed to these recipients or groups:
Your message can't be delivered because delivery to this address is restricted.

I really shouldn't be helping debug this stuff.

RttT has Made Reformers Overconfident and Lazy

It would have been easy for Achieve, etc. to put together Common Core ELA standards that would have, well, actually been made up of the actual, non-controversial core of the system of ELA standards that Achieve, etc., successfully created and promoted over the last decade. They never had any reason to open their mouths about, say, % of fiction/non-fiction reading because those issues have never been considered part of the standards anyhow.

I don't know why they didn't take the easy route and almost guarantee the successful culmination of Achieve's 10-year mission, but I'm sure the fact that they felt Race to the Top would guarantee that whatever they wrote would be initially accepted by the states made them feel like they could indulge other experiments which may well blow up in their faces in coming years.

Similarly, since RIMA and Achievement First justifiably felt that they could do whatever they wanted in opening their new charter because RI had already essentially promised the Feds that the school would open. As a result, not only did RIDE approve an application which was rather obviously out of compliance with the law (which could blow up on them at any point), but now, six weeks before the application deadline for the new school, not only have they done no public outreach, as required by their preliminary charter, no public information session, not even an online brochure, the basic details of the school's location, board, administration, lottery procedure, etc. are entirely unknown.

Of course, it is unlikely that this will derail the project, because of their RttT guarantees. I'm pretty sure that neither RIMA nor AF ran their other school openings this way, and the change is not going to be helpful to them, the community, or anyone.

Thanks Race to the Top. Thanks Arne!

Does This Mean CMU will have Free Tuition Forever?

Joe Mullin:

A Pittsburgh jury found that hard drive control chips made by Marvell Semiconductor infringe two patents owned by Carnegie Mellon University. Following a four-week trial in federal court, nine jurors unanimously held that Marvell should have to pay $1,169,140,271 in damages—the full sum that CMU's lawyers had asked for.

Yes, that's $1.17 Billion, with a B.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Checking In On Achievement First

KidoInfo reminds us that it's time for the PPSD's surprisingly early registation process for incoming kindergarteners. They also note:

This year, as an added convenience to the city’s families, parents will be able to use the standard public school registration form to indicate interest in the new Achievement First Mayoral Academy. Doing so will enter the child’s name in a lottery for one of that school’s 88 seats. The deadline to express such interest through the PPSD form is February 25, and the Academy’s lottery will be held on March 1.

I couldn't find anything on the PPSD site about entering the AF lottery through the PPSD registration form.

For that matter, as a parent, I can't really find any useful information about the school at all. RIMA, the ostensible charter holder, has a "Coming Soon!" sign up.

AF has very general info about their program and an enrollment form, but no upcoming information session, no location, no listing of board members, administrators, etc. They do list the deadline as February 22nd, which is different than what KidoInfo has (also the PPSD deadline is March 1). AF also says "All students will be admitted through a blind lottery that will include preferences for low-income families," which would contradict what RIDE told us during the AF preliminary charter process, where RIDE said that "all students in the application pool will have an equal opportunity to enroll."

Also, in case there is any ambiguity AF does still hope to "eventually open up to five academies (2 elementary, 2 middle, 1 high) in Rhode Island."

Mayor Taveras' secretive board has met once, apparently.

So... they've still got some time, but not a lot. It has never been clear to me how much AF has been meeting privately with various community groups, but they didn't seem to by trying very hard last year during the public meeting process. I'm sure they'll be able to get enough kids to open, but the total radio silence is a little weird. The biggest thing is that if they don't try hard they might get virtually nobody from Warwick or North Providence, and only a handfull of applicants from Cranston. That would not be helpful to them politically going forward, and integrating an existing urban school is even harder than creating one from scratch.

If you'd like to give me a heads up about any events or advertising you find, I'd appreciate it.

Also, for those of you outside Rhode Island, I should note that we are currently without a governing Board of Regents for K-12 at all, due to some crazy end of year legislative machinations that I don't even understand. So nobody is steering the boat through this channel.

Patent-medicine Remedies Pitched by For-profit Grifters and Hustlers

Charlie Pierce:

One problem with the education "reform" industry is not merely that it generally looks at "education" as though it were a commodity, like soybeans, and that the problems with how we educate a great many children of our fellow citizens can be solved if we just refine the delivery systems for the product. In other words, most education "reform" proponents treat "education" as though it exists in a vacuum unaffected by the factors — like, say, joblessness and poverty — in the real world outside the classroom. (How many prominent school "reformers" have stepped up and said anything about the increasingly effective campaign by the NRA to arm public school teachers? Thought so.) Thus do we come to the second problem with the education "reform" movement — it is shot through root and branch with patent-medicine remedies pitched by for-profit grifters and hustlers.

I Don't Know What Anyone is Talking About

Robert Pondiscio:

Which brings me to what’s next for your humble blogger. Effective this month, I will be continuing to make the case for content, but in a slightly different form and venue. I will be leading an effort, along with some of the leading thinkers in education and public policy, to launch a new organization to advocate for civic education, to renew and revitalize the civic purpose of education. You will find me here shortly, and for now you can also follow me on Twitter here and Facebook here. You can also email me at

To be sure, I don’t view this as a departure from the work of Core Knowledge, but as an extension of it. Another voice in the happily growing chorus of those who understand and advocate for a content-rich education, and seek to rescue our kids from the joyless, skills-happy, prep-and-test drudgery to which schools too often descend. We have a larger mission to serve in education. One that transcends the unlovely if earnest end of “college and career readiness.” The public purpose of education is citizenship first. Don’s last book was titled, The Making of Americans for a reason.

That would make a lot more sense if it wasn't preceded by praise for the Common Core, which apparently requires history teachers to spend vastly more time (40% by my calculations) teaching a version of the kind of literacy skills that drove Pondiscio up the wall in the first place. The CC does also require analysis of American historical documents in English class by English teachers, but that's bound to be an unsatisfying mess.

But what better comrades could you find to lead an attack on "joyless, skills-happy, prep-and-test drudgery" than Seth Andrew (yes, that asshat) and Rod Paige?

Rhee: RI 2nd in Nation for "Spend Wisely and Govern Well;" RI Kicks Massachusetts' Ass in General

This is totally worth a chuckle from any Rhode Islander. I am a little pissed that we got 0/4 under parent trigger because our law also requires teacher approval. How about some partial credit Miss?

Also, suck it, Massachusetts!

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Six-Hour Gist/Lusi/Taveras Sit Down

I've heard there was a tense six hour meeting between the revived Deb Gist, Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Lusi on the Wednesday before winter break. Followed by three hour PPSD zone meetings with principals the next day.

It took me until yesterday to realize that in addition to Gist being back on the job after her brain surgery this fall, RIDE should have at least preliminary NECAP scores by now, so that would be a possible trigger for all this.

So... expect RIDE to be breathing down the PPSD's neck even more then they already do. One thing I do know is that the district is putting a lot of new pressure through on high school teachers through new rules and procedures to not fail students and crank up the credit recovery. Gotta juke those grad rate stats!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

I'd Add It Should Have Reagan's Face On It

We petition the Obama administration to:

Direct the United States Mint to make a single platinum trillion dollar coin!

With the creation and Treasury deposit of a new platinum coin with a value of $1 trillion US Dollars, we would avert the absurd-yet-imminent debt ceiling faceoff in Congress in two quick and simple steps! While this may seem like an unnecessarily extreme measure, it is no more absurd than playing political football with the US -- and global -- economy at stake.

Surf-Rodz TKP for Parks and Pools

Who are you, gentle reader?

Let's assume that if you found this post you are already interested in the Surf-Rodz TKP (née Indeesz) truck. If not, go here first to save me trying to explain the damn things myself. Lets also assume you're skating transition, generally have a sense of "Is that all there is?" regarding the truck market, and at least sort of enjoy tweaking your setups.

Who am I?

Basically, the typical old man skater who, after barely skating for 20 years, suddenly realized there are now skateparks everywhere and got hooked all over again.

This time around, it is all about carving and grinding surf style.

So basically, I know how these trucks turn. I've ridden the 159mm hangers on all sorts of parks and bowls over the course of a year, on wheelbases from 15.5" to 14.5". I don't know what they'd be like for technical street or park skating.

A lot of the background knowledge here comes from the pavedwave and silverfish fora, but the actual evaluation is based on my experience.

I'm particularly interested in learning to ride these things on transition while set up for maximum turning speed and precision. That is, for me part of the challenge is mastering these trucks; mostly people aren't going to look at it that way. At the beginning of a session, sometimes my board seems barely rideable, even to me, but once you get it locked in, the fluidity and responsiveness is unequaled.

They are different.

The weirdest thing about these trucks original name, Indeesz, is that it implied they were some kind of Indy knockoff, when they really are unique. I have tried the traditional truck variations, Indy, Tracker, and Bennett, as well as newer options like Ace, Theeve and Thunder, and the Surf-rodz have their own combination of properties unlike any of those alternatives. You might not love them, but you won't feel like you just spent twice as much for the exact same thing you already have.

What are the implications of their "precision?"

In terms of the ride, there are two big differences between these machined trucks and traditional cast trucks:

  1. The relationship between lean and turn is more direct.
  2. There is no binding in deep turns.

To turn a skateboard, you lean the deck and the trucks turn. Normally there is a certain amount of play or slop in this relationship. Mostly we don't perceive it because it has always been there, but a "precision" truck reduces or eliminates it. For me, what I feel is the back truck being much more engaged and active. When you lean into a carve, both trucks lock in at the same angle, like there is some kind of mechanical linkage between them. I guess in a traditional truck the back truck probably has a tendency to keep tracking in a straight line a little more than the front.

I'd note that this strict lean/turn relationship is probably not desirable for a lot of modern skating since you are spending a lot of time landing on the board after some kind of jump, flip or spin, and you don't necessarily want to efficiently transfer an off-center landing into a sharp turn. Same goes for hitting a crack or abrupt transition.

Everyone who has looked at a skateboard truck understands that downward, pinching pressure on the kingpin bushings provide resistance to turning and return the truck to center. Most skaters realize to some degree that pressure against the pivot bushing does the same thing to a lesser degree. Fewer understand that when a traditional truck turns deeply, the hanger twists away from the kingpin, in effect squishing the kingpin bushing sideways.

This is perfectly fine for most street or pool skating, because it provides a quick initial response but then rapidly increasing resistance which helps prevent wheelbite.

In the Surf-Rodz TKP's the hangar rotates around the center of the kingpin, and the pivot does not actually pivot within its bushing, it rotates. This means the only increasing resistance comes from the kingpin bushings themselves. It also means that the basic geometry and performance of the trucks remains consistent throughout the practical turning range. The old Bennett design is like this, but with a relatively sloppy casting. The basic reverse kingpin design truck popular on longboards works this way, but those trucks turn more slowly, ride much higher, and generally aren't grindable.

Enough Theory, How Do They Ride?

What you get from all this is even turning response from centered to as tight a turn as your setup allows. If you approach riding a bowl or flow park like a banked slalom course, this is what you want. If you like to mix in little turns, pumps and slashes in the course of an arcing carve around a bowl end, these trucks are for you.

The downside is that generally you don't have a stable center in these trucks, and they have less of a tendency to mechanically stop you before you get wheelbite. Both can be mitigated through bushing selection and the other standard adjustments (riser, wheel size, wheel wells, etc). The question of whether these trucks feel like they turn slowly or quickly is hard to answer. They are very responsive so every little twitch can make the board wiggle, but really initiating a turn probably takes more lean than an Indy-style truck. But then the Surf-Rodz can keep going pretty much as deep as you want. Similar to the old Tracker beef, if you put hard bushings in them, they'll feel like they don't turn at all. You need to allow more lean.

My "other" trucks right now are Ace 55's with Khiro standard blue (soft - 85A) bushings, and their minimum practical turning radius feels slightly larger than the Surf-Rodz, but I don't think it is enough to make a decisive difference either way.

Degrees of Precision

There are a number of adjustments that you can make to change the actual and perceived precision/twitchiness of these trucks.

  • Surf-Keeyz: This is a little oblong nylon donut that fits inside the kinpin hole in the hangar and restricts the hangar from deflecting away from the kingpin. It locks in that strict lean to turn ratio even more.

    Without the Surf-Keeyz, they still basically feel like a variation on or refinement of your standard trucks. With the Surf-Keeyz, it feels more like you're riding some kind of high performance slalom truck. I use these front and rear.

  • Delrin pivot bushings: It is the pivot that defines the Surf-Rodz truck. It doesn't pivot at all; it rotates. The entire pivot/bushing/baseplate assembly is machined to such a fine tolerance that getting the pivot in all the way can be difficult, and this is after they started drilling holes in the bushing cup to let the air out.

    With the stock urethane bushings, there was a lot of friction due to the tight fit and grippiness of the urethane. You can lubricate that, but it is a pain, since you probably will end up having to remove and disassemble the truck, and it isn't entirely clear what lube is safe to use with the bushing material.

    Since this "pivot" really rotates, it makes sense that you might want something that works more like a bearing than a bushing. What the slalom and long distance pumping guys use sometimes is a hard low-friction nylon pivot bushing made out of delrin or something similar. The downside to this is a somewhat harsher ride, but that doesn't come into play in a skatepark.

    Surf-Rodz was experimenting with producing nylon pivots, and I goaded Wayne into sending me some prototypes. It's a big change. With soft kingpin bushings and delrin pivots, the trucks don't want to go straight at all; it feels like you're balancing on a broomstick running the length of the board. The only thing holding you up is the kingpin bushings, so you may want to go down as much as 5 durometer points in the main bushings if you switch to the delrin pivot bushings. I'd also note that it probably makes no sense to use these without Surf-keyz. I use the delrin pivot.

    Unfortunately, Surf-rodz didn't put these into production, in part because Riot was going to, but they're not listed on their new site, so... I don't know where you can find them.

  • De-wedging: In the downhill or slalom worlds, "de-wedging" the back truck with an angled riser pad to make it turn more slowly is pretty standard. This would be a reasonable thing to do if you found the ride to be too squirrely, but I haven't tried it. The obvious drawback is that the board would be hard to control riding switch/fakie.


The Surf-Rodz take a .65" bottom bushing (or a smaller one with washers) and you can fit up to a .50 top bushing in with the grind series kingpins if you want (you'll occasionally scrape the top of the kingpin on grinds). I use 89A Reflex cones (I weigh about 180). Riptide FatCones are popular on these trucks because the extra urethane around their base helps restrict deep turns (and wheelbite). I think the trucks now ship with the "hard" 91-92A Surf-Rodz bushings. They should be fine.


The paradox of these trucks is this: "Wow, I love how deeply these trucks turn... how can I stop these trucks from turning so deeply so I don't get wheelbite?" I can understand why people want to set up their trucks to eliminate wheelbite, especially if they're going 30+ mph down a hill. I don't try to make wheelbite impossible (with any of my trucks), I just make sure that the trucks have to be turning so sharply and the deck tilting so steeply that I'd basically have to be out of control anyhow by the time I'd get to that point.

If you want to get the most out of these trucks, you're probably going to need to use some bigger risers or smaller wheels than you might otherwise. Or maybe find a deck with wheel wells.

I'm riding a SMA Jesse Martinez, with wheel wells, a 1/4" riser and 65mm Rainskates Hornets. I've also used the same setup on a Black Label deck with no wheel wells and 53-57mm wheels. I can easily get the wheels to touch the deck, but in practice I make very tight carves in the bowl and never feel any bite.

Other details:

  • Grinding: I can't say I do any technical, or even very extended grinds, but I've had not trouble grinding with the old "hex" hanger. Of course, the new "grind" hanger is probably preferable. You definitely want the grind kingpin.
  • Spacers: I'm a fan of precision wheel spacers, so I'm glad Surf-Rodz has started shipping them with their trucks. With these trucks and hangers, and a high quality cored wheel like Rainskates and good clean bearings, you can tighten your axle nut down on the wheel and still get a nice smooth spin.
  • True East: Made in Connecticut!
  • Trend-setter: Surf-Rodz has started a welcome trend of longboard truck companies making traditional kingpin trucks, which can only be good for quality and innovation. The Bertrand loves his Polar Bears, and I'm very curious about the new Sabre TKP-170, which appears to be the first grindable truck that'll fit two full size barrel bushings.
  • Short Longboard: I am curious about this thing which is designed specifically to work well with with the Surf-Rods TKP's.

Well, This is Dreadful

Courtney Caligiuri:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- A teenage girl has been killed in an incident while sledding on the snow.

Officials with Providence police and the fire departments told Eyewitness News crews rushed to Neutaconkanut Park around 4:40 p.m. Wednesday for a report of a female injured while sledding in the park.

The victim was identified as Alexandria Alvarez, 17, of Providence. Alvarez was taken to Rhode Island Hospital where she later died from her injuries.

In addition to feeling terrible for the family, last summer while riding at the skatepark (right at the base of the hill) I got to know the guys from the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy who got a grant and spent a lot of time clearing and grading that slope for sledding and, they hoped, eventually for skiing. I'm sure they're feeling torn up too. We had the girls on the little slope there on Tuesday; the big hill did look scary fast.

Better Get Used to This Question, Kid

Noa Rosinplotz, a sixth-grade student in the District of Columbia public schools:

Each ELA test has 30 or so questions, give or take a few. The questions are related to several passages presented in the test booklet, which can include poems, nonfiction texts written exclusively for the test, and fictional stories. There are usually two written response questions on each test. Sometimes the questions are fine. More often than not, they don’t make sense in context or have multiple or no right answers. For example, question 11 on the first test this school year was as follows:

If “Nasser of the Shaduf had been written in the third person, the reader would probably have learned less about which of the following?

a) Nasser’s childhood

b) Nasser’s sisters

c) how Nasser felt about working the shaduf

d) how his father felt about Nasser

I think they’re all a little bit wrong.

The answer is pretty clearly c). It is only difficult if you aren't used to this kind of question, and believe me, under the Common Core, everyone is going to get used to this kind of question. The Common Core emphasizes textual analysis, but really only a specific subset of analytical tasks. This question seems to be aimed at 5th grade reading literature standard 6:

Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

There are only 7 reading literature standards per grade level, and each level contains some variation on this task. The Common Core argues that this line of analysis is of great importance:

  • Grade 4: Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations.
  • Grade 5: Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.
  • Grade 6: Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.
  • Grade 7: Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.
  • Grade 8: Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

These aren't bad tasks, but the (over-)emphasis seems random. In any other country, this wouldn't be a standard or objective at all, just a fragment.

Noa should expect to answer a question of this type roughly twice a week for the next six and a half years. I'm sure she'll get the hang of it.


John Thompson:

(Brizzard) admitted that the principals' "bench" is thin. His answer is to give absolute power to those benchwarmers.

All Students Can Learn, But...

Kevin Drum:

But we now know that lead's effects go far beyond just IQ. Not only does lead promote apoptosis, or cell death, in the brain, but the element is also chemically similar to calcium. When it settles in cerebral tissue, it prevents calcium ions from doing their job, something that causes physical damage to the developing brain that persists into adulthood.

Only in the last few years have we begun to understand exactly what effects this has. A team of researchers at the University of Cincinnati has been following a group of 300 children for more than 30 years and recently performed a series of MRI scans that highlighted the neurological differences between subjects who had high and low exposure to lead during early childhood.

High childhood exposure damages a part of the brain linked to aggression control and "executive functions." And the impact turns out to be greater among boys.

One set of scans found that lead exposure is linked to production of the brain's white matter—primarily a substance called myelin, which forms an insulating sheath around the connections between neurons. Lead exposure degrades both the formation and structure of myelin, and when this happens, says Kim Dietrich, one of the leaders of the imaging studies, "neurons are not communicating effectively." Put simply, the network connections within the brain become both slower and less coordinated.

A second study found that high exposure to lead during childhood was linked to a permanent loss of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain associated with aggression control as well as what psychologists call "executive functions": emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility. One way to understand this, says Kim Cecil, another member of the Cincinnati team, is that lead affects precisely the areas of the brain "that make us most human."...

It's difficult to put firm numbers to the costs and benefits of lead abatement. But for a rough idea, let's start with the two biggest costs. Nevin estimates that there are perhaps 16 million pre-1960 houses with lead-painted windows, and replacing them all would cost something like $10 billion per year over 20 years. Soil cleanup in the hardest-hit urban neighborhoods is tougher to get a handle on, with estimates ranging from $2 to $36 per square foot. A rough extrapolation from Mielke's estimate to clean up New Orleans suggests that a nationwide program might cost another $10 billion per year.

We can either get rid of the remaining lead, or we can wait 20 years and then lock up all the kids who've turned into criminals.

So in round numbers that's about $20 billion per year for two decades. But the benefits would be huge. Let's just take a look at the two biggest ones. By Mielke and Zahran's estimates, if we adopted the soil standard of a country like Norway (roughly 100 ppm or less), it would bring about $30 billion in annual returns from the cognitive benefits alone (higher IQs, and the resulting higher lifetime earnings). Cleaning up old windows might double this. And violent crime reduction would be an even bigger benefit. Estimates here are even more difficult, but Mark Kleiman suggests that a 10 percent drop in crime—a goal that seems reasonable if we get serious about cleaning up the last of our lead problem—could produce benefits as high as $150 billion per year.

Put this all together and the benefits of lead cleanup could be in the neighborhood of $200 billion per year. In other words, an annual investment of $20 billion for 20 years could produce returns of 10-to-1 every single year for decades to come. Those are returns that Wall Street hedge funds can only dream of.

Also, Atrios:

It might explain crime, along with Limbaugh and O'Reilly's audiences.

End of School Outcomes Don't Need Field-Testing; Interlocking Grade-Level Standards Do

Sandra Stotsky:

At first glance the standards don’t leap out as a problem. Take, for example, Common Core’s first writing standard for grades six, seven and eight (almost identical across grades): “Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.” This goal undoubtedly sounds reasonable to adults, who have a much better idea of what “claims” are, what “relevant evidence” is and even what an academic “argument” is. But most children have a limited understanding of this meta-language for the structure of a composition.

So I explored Common Core’s standards for reading informational text in grades three, four and five (and then in six, seven and eight) and discovered nothing on what a claim or an argument is, or on distinguishing relevant from irrelevant evidence. In other words, the grades six, seven and eight writing standards are not coordinated with reading standards in grades three to eight that would require children to read the genre of writing their middle school teachers are expecting them to compose. Middle school teachers are being compelled by their grade-level standards to ask their students to do something for which the students will have to use their imaginations.