Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bringing in the Connecticut Mob

Elisabeth Harrison:

Governor-Elect Gina Raimondo announced her plan Tuesday to nominate Stefan Pryor for Rhode Island’s newly created Secretary of Commerce post.

The outgoing Education Commissioner in Connecticut, Pryor chose not to seek a second term, a move political observers saw as evidence he had become a liability for Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, who faced a close battle for re-election.

If anyone had the slightest doubt about the depth of Raimondo's connections to the Connecticut school reform keiretsu, it should be now dispelled. This is wingnut welfare for Democats.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


As far as I can tell, and I've looked, nobody in ed reform is working from a set of formal, rigorous definitions of "curriculum," "standards," "outcomes," or "competencies" sufficient to distinguish between these things consistently. As in "X is an outcome but NOT a competency/standard/outcome/curriculum because it meets criteria A, B and C and fails to meet criteria D."

I'm not even saying there are competing models. There don't seem to be any models at all.

I don't see any reason to think outcomes-based, standards-based, and competency-based systems have not been a 25 year continuous project with slight re-branding.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Problem With Close Reading Is How Few Texts Merit It

David Coleman's essay, Cultivating Wonder? (via, via), features an example centered around a short piece by Martha Graham from what was apparently the original This I Believe Edgar R. Murrow radio series in the 1950s. It begins:

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing, or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated, precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which come shape of achievement, the sense of one’s being, the satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

Coleman's wonder cultivating questions is:

How does the idea of practice unfold in Martha Graham’s “An Athlete of God”?

The first paragraph, and the text as a whole, sounds pretty good the first couple times through, especially if you approach it as the work of a Great American Genius. But really, it is kind of a mess. It is a short, popular text, penned to be read aloud once, written by someone not known for writing such things.

Graham's piece never resolves the basic question of whether "practice" is something undertaken by only an elite through specific actions, by everyone just by living, or some combination of those. If we learn by practice do we not learn by not practicing? If we practice nothing do we learn nothing? Can we not learn by something we experience once?

The more you dig into the text, the less it makes sense and hangs together. It does not address that when she says "dance" she really only means a very specific kind of dance, probably. She says dance holds an "ageless magic for the world," but that's highly contingent on context. She ends by praising the smile of the acrobat, but the acrobat smiles because it is his job. He is not an artist, he is an entertainer. To closely read this text you have to conclude Martha Graham knows or cares little about the world outside of dance.

It wasn't meant to be re-read and doesn't stand up to it.

Coleman seems uncertain as well about Graham's meaning and ultimately states, "The mystery of what Graham means can be illuminated only by further reading," which could be translated as "finding a better text on the subject." But then again, what is the subject? Why would one read this in the first place? Where would it fit into the curriculum other than as a moral exemplar of hard work and grit?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Does Smarter Balanced Think 15% of 5th Graders are "College and Career Ready" in English?

I'm working on a longer piece trying to decipher what Common Core and Smarter Balanced are saying about growth in ELA/Literacy after 8th grade.

Specifically, Smarter Balanced (one of the two big Common Core testing consortia) recently released their achievement level recommendations for grades 3-11. This is particularly noteworthy because the achievement levels are on a continuous vertical scale. That is, all grades are scored on the same scale. As I understand it, these scores should be comparable across grades. That is, if a 4th grader gets a 2560 and an 11th grader gets a 2560, they are at the same level as far as Smarter Balanced and their interpretation of the Common Core are concerned.

Here's what it looks like for ELA/Literacy:

Notice how the expected/required growth levels off after 8th grade, when there is a two year gap in testing (apparently?). Essentially the same amount of growth is expected in grades 9, 10, and 11 as in 8th, and considerably less than the elementary grades.

And notice how the cut score for a "4" in 5th grade is virtually the same as a passing "3" in 11th grade. Smarter Balanced thinks 15% of 5th graders will achieve this level.

Thus, consulting their estimated percentage of students at each achievement level graphs, we see that Smarter Balanced thinks that 15% of 5th graders will be college ready in ELA/Literacy, and 41% of 11th graders will be. The 5th grade rate of actual college readiness as 10 year olds, not just being on track for it eventually, is over a third of the 11th grade total.

I noticed a while ago that the 8th grade standards were extremely close to the "college and career readiness" anchor standards, and wondered how it would play out over time. Turns out they're sticking to that idea.

At the end of the day, these "rigorous" standards think you're pretty much set with your learning in ELA/Literacy if you're meeting the 8th grade standard. You've got a little to learn about reading, writing and literature the next four years, but not much.

I... just don't get it. The harm is that "rigor" is being pushed down to the lowest grade levels, but for not much benefit in high school. Am I missing something here?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why is Common Core More Precise About College Readiness in Kindergarten than 11th Grade?

Smarter Balanced:

...a score at or above "Level 3" in 11th grade is meant to suggest conditional readiness for entry-level, transferable, credit-bearing college courses.

I've looked at some of the supporting materials, and I think the 11th grade test is considered at the level of college readiness. It is "conditional" insofar as you might literally backslide so much in the 12th grade year as to be not ready at graduation time after initially passing the test in 11th grade. But if you don't pass in 11th grade, you'd take the 11th grade test in 12th grade to try so show your college readiness. I think! It is clear as mud.

Just the fact that it is ambiguous at all is bizarre. I mean, I'm sure in the logic of American post-NCLB accountability there is a good reason, but in the larger world it is just... crazy. If it is an end of school test it isn't reasonable to present it as an 11th grade assessment. It just isn't. If you want to give the end of 12th grade test to 11th graders fine. Or if it is really an 11th grade test, you should be able to clearly specify how it is different from the final college readiness standards, right?

This is particularly disorienting coming back from spending some time with the K and grade 1 math standards. There it is totally different. You need to learn to count to 100 in K because you need to be able to add within 100 in 1st grade, and it takes some time to learn the numbers in English so you aren't tripping up trying to add threety-four to fivety-seven (or at least that's the argument, as I understand it).

The wacky way this plays out in practice though is that we act as if we know in great detail what a student has to learn when in early elementary school to be on track for college, but once we get to high school, especially in English, it is basically shrugs and hand waving. You would think it would get more specific later.

I suspect the explanation for this is an overload of early literacy experts on the various panels.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It is Sociology, not Physics

Fred Clark:

We should note that this Internet “entropy” isn’t random. The downward spiral always leads to the same place: racist, misogynist and homophobic slurs. That’s not really entropy — it’s a concerted attempt to impose order.

About a decade ago, I was briefly considered an expert (as much as anyone was) on social media. I gave some talks at influential conferences (not that I was influential), talked on BBC America radio once. That kind of thing.

I definitely leaned toward systems that would make it easy for people to create decentralized peer to peer conversations within trusted groups, and discourage open-ended commenting. For example, when Gary Hart became the first well-known politician to start blogging, I remember immediately leaving a comment (ironically) arguing that he shouldn't have open comments, that no good would come of it, and he should use trackbacks to other blogs, which is the way geeks thought (hoped) things were going in 2003.

Needless to say, when Twitter took off, it was a major move in the opposite direction. I guess my reaction was, "Apparently I don't know anything about what people want from social media, but there is no way this ends well," and I pretty much stopped talking about the subject.

I'm starting to feel like I was right all along.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

OK, Let's Look at This Counting to 100 Issue

Longtime readers know I avoid getting into math discussions, but I got sucked into this one, partly because my 5-year old spent a few dinnertimes recently proudly counting to 100, so I can relate.

Jason Zimba:

While it is true that many of the oldest state standards only asked kindergarten students to count to 20, more recent standards went higher, to “at least 20” or “at least 31” or up to 100 (see Washington D.C., Georgia, Minnesota, Virginia, and Washington). One reason older standards were limited to 20 was that those standards didn’t distinguish clearly between rote-counting (saying the number words) and cardinal-counting (telling how many). CCSS makes this crucial distinction evident. The National Research Council’s report “Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity” is also clear that counting to 100 is appropriate in kindergarten.

This is in response to Carol Burris referring to counting to 100 as "developmentally inappropriate" and citing the previous Massachusetts curriculum which only required counting to 20 in kindergarten.

The Common Core standard we're discussing is:

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.A.1 Count to 100 by ones and by tens.

Getting caught up in what more recent state standards said is a waste of time. What does it prove? Besides, I looked up Minnesota's sandards, since I think they're the highest achieving of the lot Zimbra refers to, and their 2007 standards only required "Count, with and without objects, forward and backward to at least 20," so...? Virginia's SOL's, for what it is worth, are more rigorous than Common Core:

The student will
a) count forward to 100 and backward from 10;
b) identify one more than a number and one less than a number; and
c) count by fives and tens to 100.

Again, so...?

I would note that it looks like the NECAP GLE's do not include any specific expectations for counting in kindergarten at all, which would seem to be a serious oversight.

In terms of international comparison, it seems like most high performing countries do not require counting to 100 in the equivalent grade, but ultimately it is a little hazy from this distance because at this grade level (kindergarten), the exact start age becomes rather important, and it is hard to feel too authoritative about that from wikipedia and some web searches.

Anyhow, moving on, the line about earlier standards not distinguishing between rote and cardinal counting is beside the point if we're taking Massachusetts as the starting point, as it seems clear on the matter:

K.N.1 Count by ones to at least 20.
K.N.2 Match quantities up to at least 10 with numerals and words.

All this standards comparison is inconclusive. The only thing that would be convincing is if there was a consensus among the standards and curricula of high performing systems about counting in kindergarten, and there is not.

Finally in the last sentence, we get at least a reference to something substantial, a National Research Council report. Now this is an interesting read! They actually try to explain the rationale and refer to peer reviewed academic research! And, upon closer examination, insofar as I can follow everything up, it seems consistent in arguing that yes, five year olds can be taught to count to 100. Indeed, they argue that pre-school students can count to 39 at age four. So... this is a considerable outlier compared to the existing curricula of high performing countries.

They do discuss important international differences in counting based on the language. Asian languages handle counting more systematically, putting particularly young children at an advantage.

There is a strong equity angle in the report, emphasizing that because English counting is so irregular, less familiarity with the quirks of counting in English puts some populations at an immediate disadvantage, which should be remediated as soon as possible.

I found this convincing that kindergarten students can count to 100. This is not a huge leap anyhow because, as I mentioned, my kindergartener daughter just learned that in school.

There is one more point I would quote from the Common Core, from the introduction to the math section, which I think is telling about the course of this debate:

Standards define what students should understand and be able to do.

What do we mean by "should," when we are talking about five year olds? If we were reading an IETF specification (for example), we would know:

In many standards track documents several words are used to signify the requirements in the specification. These words are often capitalized. This document defines these words as they should be interpreted in IETF documents. Authors who follow these guidelines should incorporate this phrase near the beginning of their document:

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119.

Note that the force of these words is modified by the requirement level of the document in which they are used.

  1. MUST This word, or the terms "REQUIRED" or "SHALL", mean that the definition is an absolute requirement of the specification.
  2. MUST NOT This phrase, or the phrase "SHALL NOT", mean that the definition is an absolute prohibition of the specification.
  3. SHOULD This word, or the adjective "RECOMMENDED", mean that there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore a particular item, but the full implications must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different course.

Why can't learning standards be written this way? Because the entire field is sloppy and immature.

As it stands, we never really know if we are arguing about whether all students "should" or "MUST" do something when we are talking about the Common Core, particularly down at the kindergarten level. In practice, it means MUST. To argue that it is appropriate to act as if students "can" do something at five is not the same as proving that they MUST.

And ultimately we slide back around to the question of curriculum vs. standards. The NRC report does a good job of arguing that counting to 100 should be a goal of the curriculum in kindergarten, but whether this MUST be achieved by the end of the year is not addressed. Indeed, first grade picks right up with "See, Say, Count, and Write Tens-Units and Ones-Units from 1 to 100" as a major goal and makes clear that this is an ongoing process throughout these years with students progressing at different rates.

My problem with the standard as written is simply that to me, to the extent you're going to have standards for kindergarten, they should reflect not what you want to include in the curriculum, but benchmarks that if not met would represent an issue that required immediate remediation. I am not convinced that not counting to 100 in kindergarten meets that test, but I suspect not counting to 20 would. But maybe that's not the right test? Who the hell knows? It isn't defined.

We simply don't have the language to speak clearly about these issues. It is a disaster.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In Case You're Looking for the Kindergarten Curriculum in Singapore

Here it is: Nurturing Early Learners: A Curriculum Framework for Kindergartens in Singapore.

In case you're wondering, for example, if in Singapore kindergartners are required to count to 100. For better or worse, they aren't. Just up to 10!

Depression at Blackstone Valley Prep

I've got a story in the new issue of Common Ground on student survey data on depression and suicide at Blackstone Valley middle schools, focusing on Blackstone Valley Prep. The centerpiece is this table of 2013 SurveyWorks! data from RIDE: blackstone-valley

Read the whole thing, but here are some additional thoughts on the piece:

  • This was a lot tougher to write than the standard test score snark. Much more sensitive, and frankly, greater opportunity to look like an ignorant jerk if you get it wrong.
  • The data set is weird. First, there is no way to determine the validity (i.e., whether the kids really did feel sad or hopeless for two weeks in the past year). The completion rate is very high for a survey and the question, so if this was a random sample the margin of error would be extremely low. But it is not a random sample, it may be very biased, and the bias may vary by site. A large percentage of non-responders may be depressed.
  • On the other hand, this may be the only school level depression data ever published for a "high-expectations, high-support" or "no excuses" charter school, so it is worth a look!
  • There have been anecdotal reports about stress and depression at "no excuses" charters. For example:

    Hello. My name is Katie Osgood and I am a teacher at a psychiatric hospital here in Chicago. I am here today as a concerned citizen and an educator.

    In my hospital, we are seeing a disturbing pattern among patients coming from the Noble St Charter School Network of schools. We’ve seen an alarming number of students being admitted to the hospital with depression, severe anxiety, and increasingly with actual suicide attempts all directly tied to these schools’ discipline, academic, and retention policies.

  • I just focused on the Blackstone Valley schools for four reasons:
    1. Most of the schools with the highest reported depression scores were there.
    2. The completion rates were relatively consistent and high across those schools (10% or more above most PPSD schools, for example).
    3. It is treated as a discrete market for school choice.
    4. The number of schools is small enough that you don't have to rely on what would be extremely complex statistical analysis (you'd have to try to correct for participation rate and selection bias at each school) to make sense of the entire state data set. With 10 schools, you can just look at all the numbers and draw your own conclusions.
  • If having non-experts look at all the data and draw their own conclusions is not sufficient, then data-driven parental and student choice can't work.
  • This data has been consistent over the past three years. It isn't an anomaly. I actually sat on this for over six months waiting for the 2013 data to come out.

Ultimately, all the caveats about this data only apply to comparison. The survey data about student reports of depression and suicidal thoughts among students at BVP (and Segue, at least) is clear, consistent, complete and disturbing. We don't know why -- what collection of out of school factors, in school factors, and selection bias among students choosing the school -- but the fundamental issue cannot be dismissed without explanation, especially if the schools in question are considered models to be emulated and expanded.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pearson's Indigestible Potato Word Salad

Pearson's Weekly Test 8 for second graders:


Potatoes are one of the foods we eat. People eat potatoes for lunch and dinner. They also eat them for breakfast. They are not fruits or vegetables. They are part of the plant's roots.

It is very easy to grow potatoes in a garden. A potato grows from its "eyes." These are dark marks on the potato. Have you ever left one in your kitchen for too long? It will start to grow. You will see little green bumps. These bumps will grow into a new potato plant. But the plant will not do well in the kitchen. A potato needs to grow in the ground.

In the past, some people only have had potatoes to eat. One of these places was Ireland in the early 1900s. One year the potato crop did not do well. People had nothing to eat. Many of them came to America at that time. They hoped to find a better life.

The Irish found many ways to cook potatoes. That way no one got tired of eating them. Today, some of our favorite snacks come from potatoes. Who does not love potato chips and French fries?

There are a number of specific flaming issues here:

  • Mis-dating the Irish potato famine by nearly a century and misrepresenting its length.
  • Blandly asserting that potatoes are not fruits or vegetables with no explanation. What are they then and why?
  • Confusing green spots and eyes.
  • Weird, obviously false non sequiturs like "no one got tired of eating (potatoes)" for every meal.
  • The lack of distinction between the potato tuber and the entire plant.
  • This should be written specifically as if it was explaining a potato to a student who had never actually seen a potato, just potato products.
  • Complete lack of a "main idea" or coherent focus.

At this point, we have to seriously ask whether or not this essay was written by a human or a computer program. It could be explained by a sequence of indifferent editors chopping apart some other text(s), but it is almost impossible to imagine this as even a caffeine (or meth) fueled stream of consciousness from a single author.

You can't really blame the Common Core for this mess, although you can question the premise of the whole Common Core process -- that having the same players that wrote our supposedly bad old curricula our entire ELA curricula all at once in a big hurry to meet an equally rushed, vague yet over-specific, set of new standards would have a positive result.

The big, BIG problem here is that teachers should know that Pearson is also likely writing the tests which will be used to assess their students, their own performance, as well as the performance of their school, their supervisors, their district, the state, and perhaps the program which certified them to teach. While "multiple measures" will come into play, those additional measures will be either derived from the test scores (e.g., growth measures) or be considered valid insofar as they correlate strongly to the test scores.

Not only can the teacher not easily ignore these exercises, there is tangible risk in teaching students to question or critique them too closely, as this would be likely to lead to students answering questions "incorrectly" on standardized tests.

Pearson is committing educational malpractice right out in the open, and we need to get a little more bold about shining light on it. This is not a doctrinal or philosophical dispute, it is just negligence. This is worse than just giving kids Fun with Dick and Jane.

Monday, November 10, 2014

RIP Herb Neumann

Peter Verdone:

On Sunday, November 9th 2014, Herb Neumann died. It was cancer that took him down. He was one of the toughest guys there was but just one thing was tougher.

I never met Herb in person. Over the years I learned a lot about him. He was a legend in the New Jersey/NYC area. He skated and rode bikes and did it all his way. He was the guy who would go bigger and go faster. He published his ‘zine Geek Attack back in the day when zines mattered. He skated vert and down hills, he rode road and mountain bikes. He designed his own skate trucks and numerous other parts for skates and bikes. He owned a skate shop, Skate Werks, and passed his passion on to the next generation. He was a special part of his community. Many people are in mourning today.

I hadn't actually re-located Herb online since I started skating again, or for that matter met him when I was reading his 'zine and skating in the 80's, but his perspective on skateboarding and, well, being a geek sure resonated with me at the time I was stitching together the various parts of my identity. I'd come across my cache of Geek Attack stickers while unpacking Saturday and stuck one on my current board. I guess that's in memoriam now.


Peter Greene and I have a Remarkably Similar Job History

Peter Greene:

This is why I now say that all teachers should not only get a job outside of school, but also have the experience of being bad at something.

My lower functioning students have to get up every day and go to a place where all day long, they are required to do things that they are bad at. They have to carry the feelings that go with that, the steady toxic buildup that goes with constantly wrestling with what they can't do, the endless drip-drip-drip of that inadequacy-based acid on the soul.

It's up to us to remind them that they are good at things. It's up to us to make a commitment to get them to a place of success. It's up to us NOT to hammer home what they already know-- that there are tasks they aren't very good at completing.

I was also an incredibly bad farm hand for a summer.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Individualized Parental Homework

Following up my previous post, it should be possible, using the miracle of technology, to simply give parents the kind of math homework they desire for their early elementary students (with the default being "none"). Want 100 math facts every night? OK! Want a fun math puzzle of the week to discuss over dinner? We got ya' covered!

Just keep the parents happy. It has no effect on achievement anyhow. It is academic theatre.

A 7 Year Old + Intentionally Obtuse Math Homework is a Potentially Explosive Mix

My second grader had a full-on meltdown over her math homework this morning... to be sure, there were a variety of factors in play, tiredness, perhaps thrown off by having Tuesday off, etc. But this was also one of those Common Core worksheets where kids have to apply a specific math strategy, in this case, adding two digit numbers by decomposing them a bit so that you're adding groups of 10.

This is often a good idea and worth teaching, but the fact of the matter is that this particular presentation did not make it seem easier at all. It just seemed like a harder, more obtuse approach than the traditional method.

By the time I took over at the breakfast table, she was essentially done, except for howling over the last bonus question, which in the past might have been a more interesting variation on the day's theme, but today the approach seems to be to prepare kids for badly worded multiple choice questions on high stakes tests by intentionally giving them a badly worded multiple choice question at the end of every worksheet. I'm not being cute or flip when I say that, that just seems to be the strategy. In this case, Vivian was upset because she seemed to understand that since this was a bubble question she was not supposed to write the answer to the addition question in the blank in the prompt, but since the bubble answers were just about how to best decompose the addition problem not solve it, it drove her nuts to not have any place to write the "answer" to the addition problem.

This was an illuminating experience in understanding first hand why some parents get their knickers in a twist about this stuff. Put together a high-strung kid and a high-strung parent, and this'd hit critical mass real quick.

The funny part to me is that second grade math homework, in general, is just a waste of time anyhow. There is no benefit whatsoever to sending this stuff home -- even if it was of much higher quality. Unfortunately for the Common Core, most of the people who like it also like sending home homework. Make a mental note for future elementary math reformers -- cut the homework, or make up some fake palliative exercises designed exclusively to keep parents happy without screwing up the pedagogy.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Thing About Providence

Seth Zeren:

As for me (sic), I’m looking at Providence, RI as an alternative where I can own and help create new city, while still being accessible to the Boston and Cambridge economy. Come on down Boston artists, the rent is fine!

No matter how much Providence screws itself up in the short term, the worst we can do is drive down rents and property values until our real estate starts looking appealing to a new wave of Bostonians and/or New Yorkers.

When Your Premise is that Problems Cannot Be Solved

Paul Krugman:

America used to be a country that built for the future. Sometimes the government built directly: Public projects, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, provided the backbone for economic growth. Sometimes it provided incentives to the private sector, like land grants to spur railroad construction. Either way, there was broad support for spending that would make us richer.

But nowadays we simply won’t invest, even when the need is obvious and the timing couldn’t be better. And don’t tell me that the problem is “political dysfunction” or some other weasel phrase that diffuses the blame. Our inability to invest doesn’t reflect something wrong with “Washington”; it reflects the destructive ideology that has taken over the Republican Party.

This is one of the big differences between Scotland and the US. The overall economic and political systems are similar, but Scots regard problems as having solutions, and don't hesitate to cook up, discuss, and implement "schemes" (which doesn't have the same negative connotation over there) to address all sorts of issues, large and small. We've basically given up on fixing anything (including education), which is somehow presented as the sensible adult approach to governance.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I'm Still Not Fully Convinced They're Supposed to be English Langage Arts Standards

Sue Pimentel:

There’s also concern that the Standards don’t reach the whole child. Indeed the Standards were designed to define the literacy and math skills and concepts students need to learn, and were never intended to encompass all of what students need to study and learn.

Remember that the first draft of the CCRS standards just called them "literacy" standards. The ELA part was and is an afterthought. That's not exactly a small issue.

Common Core Quote of the Day

Alice G. Walton:

It’s not clear exactly where the current trend – of pushing more information on kids earlier – came from...

That's precisely on-point. Where did that come from? Even less noticed is the relatively flat progression after 8th grade in ELA/Literacy (notwithstanding MOAR COMPLEXITY). It would be simple enough to revise the early year standards without changing the later years much at all, keeping the overall rigor of the output of the system the same.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I'll Be Happy to Tell You What I Don't Like About CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6

Me, in comments:
"Take the standard that 11th and 12th grade students should be able to 'evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.'"

OK, let's take a look at CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6, as Leo quotes.  The standard asks students to evaluate the points of view of several authors.  How do you "evaluate" a point of view?  Is it different than describing a point of view?  Certain points of view are to be differently valued?

The standard goes on to specify that students should make this evaluation of the authors' points of view by "assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence."  How is one to make this assessment?  That is, how does an assessment of claims, reasoning and evidence lead to an evaluation of points of view?  If you have sufficient evidence that validates your "point of view?"  Is that different than just evaluating the evidence for the argument?

This standard is just a word salad, and that's why it invites conspiratorial readings.  "Which points of view should kids positively evaluate... SOCIALIST ones?"

To put this in perspective, let's look at anchor standard six (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6):

"Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text."

The 11th and 12th grade version of this standard that Leo quotes  is meant to align to this end of 12th grade, "college and career readiness" anchor standard.  One would imagine they should be quite similar, since the "rigor" should be identical, but aren't they sort of the inverse of each other?  Assess the point of view by analyzing the text versus assess how the point of view shapes the text?  How are we supposed to interpret this difference?

Research on disciplinary literacy by Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan suggests that the Common Core is missing the point:

"...it has been shown that in history reading, author is a central construct of interpretation (Wineburg, 1991, 1998). Historians are always asking themselves who this author is and what bias this author brings to the text (somewhat analogous to the lawyer’s common probe, “What did he know and when did he know it?”). Consideration of author is deeply implicated in the process of reading history, and disciplinary literacy experts have hypothesized that “sourcing”: (thinking about the implications of author during interpretation) is an essential history reading process (Wineburg, 1991, 1998)..."

Let's look at how Deborah Meier and her colleagues addressed this in their five habits of mind:

"The question of viewpoint in all its multiplicity, or 'Who’s speaking?'"

Putting all that together, isn't it clear that standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 should simply be:

"Based on historical evidence about the author, assess how the author's point of view or purpose shapes the reliability, content, and style of a text."

Isn't that better in every way, including internal consistency within the standards?  How did we end up with the mess we got?  

I could have emphasized more strongly that the standard in question is a history and social studies reading standard.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What the Copyright Discussion Tells Us About the Common Core Debate

Some Common Core critics are looking at the standards' copyright and public license and seeing things that aren't there.

It isn't unusual that the standards are copyrighted. Every example of standards written by a private group in the US -- NCTE, NCEE, NCTM, etc. -- is copyrighted, and pretty much has to be. State standards, like Massachusetts, explicitly were copyrighted in the past. In other cases, states don't clearly and consistently indicate one way or another, which is probably the worst case scenario since the default in the US is all rights reserved. The CCSSI and NGA copyright of the standards is an utter non-issue.

The standards' public license is almost a standard open content or Creative Commons-style license allowing re-distribution in whole or in part with attribution. This is one issue where it nearly is the case that any Common Core advocate should be able to authoritatively and completely dispel any concerns and show that in fact the Common Core is embracing best practices for handling intellectual property for important educational publications.

So it is notable that in 2014, this does not happen on, say Diane Ravitch's blog. It is almost an area where Common Core advocates could embarrass some prominent critics with a relatively straightforward, factual argument.

The problem is this specific passage in the license (emphasis mine):

The NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) hereby grant a limited, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to copy, publish, distribute, and display the Common Core State Standards for purposes that support the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

This stipulation makes the license not an open content license as generally defined and leads to two questions that are practically unanswerable:

  1. What is a clear and legally enforceable definition of "purposes that support the CCSSI" that provides specific guidance as to what is and is not permitted?
  2. Why is that there at all? Whose idea was it? What on earth were they thinking?

OK, that's not two questions, but the point is that nobody can step in and argue the side of the Common Core, because ultimately they are going to get cornered by this petty, sloppy, self-indulgent poison pill that someone slipped in the license, ruining the other positive aspects. And since it is the Common Core, there is literally nobody who is authorized to give an authoritative explanation. So the bleeding continues.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Another Try at Explaining Common Core Copyright


One problem here is conflating the copyright and the license (the "public license"). Basically, every piece of text created in the US is copyrighted. Even if you want to give away your work, it is under your copyright and you allow re-use under a license. That's how Creative Commons works. That's how free and open source software works.

The legal system is NOT set up for simply releasing work into the public domain. See, for example, https://creativecommons.org/about/cc0

"Dedicating works to the public domain is difficult if not impossible for those wanting to contribute their works for public use before applicable copyright or database protection terms expire. Few if any jurisdictions have a process for doing so easily and reliably. Laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as to what rights are automatically granted and how and when they expire or may be voluntarily relinquished. More challenging yet, many legal systems effectively prohibit any attempt by these owners to surrender rights automatically conferred by law, particularly moral rights, even when the author wishing to do so is well informed and resolute about doing so and contributing their work to the public domain."

Establishing copyright and providing a permissive license is the way these things are properly done. The ONLY problem with how the Common Core is *licensed* is the stipulation that reproduction is permissible only "for purposes that support the Common Core State Standards Initiative."

What this means is that under the license I could produce "Tom's Common Core Standards" (since "Common Core Standards" is not a trademark). As long as I provided attribution for the standards I directly copied from the CCSSI Common Core, I could mix in my own standards or modified standards as I saw fit.

If the NGA and/or CCSSO decided that this use did not constitute "purposes that support the Common Core State Standards Initiative," they could charge me with breach of the license for that reason. If that went to court, it could probably go either way, especially if my version emphasized that its purpose was to propose improvements to the Common Core and to strengthen its mission.

Even if my publication of "Tom's Common Core" was found to be not supporting the CCSSI, I would still have a strong fair use argument, assuming I wasn't selling my version. My standards would be primarily non-profit and educational in purpose; standards by nature are usually based in part on existing standards, and NGA and CCSSI have no direct commercial interest in the standards.

Finally, the license is clear that current, not-in-breach licensees (users, readers) cannot have the terms of the license retrospectively changed. NGA and CCSSI could sell the copyright, they or someone else could issue the standards under a different, additional license, but they can't take away the license that has already been granted to reproduce the work, in whole or in part.

The Common Core process is controlled by the rules in Race to the Top and other federal guidelines, and by the tests. Those are sufficient for their needs.

Monday, October 06, 2014

This Prediction Holds Up Pretty Well Five Years Later

Me, September 2009:

The student is not asked to evaluate an interpretation or understanding, but merely an "assertion," which may simply be factual. For example, the assertion about the text could be "Copernicus argued that the Earth was the center of the universe." And this could be disproved by quoting "Nicolaus Copernicus was the first astronomer to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe."

This seemed like an obviously problematic example five years ago, a warning of where things might go with the Common Core. What is the point in just asking students to underline evidence for assertion X? I'd never heard of such a thing. Now it is pervasive in the tests and packaged curricula. People have probably forgotten that we haven't asked those questions forever.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Common Core Dad

I've been resisting the "Look at this Common Core assignment my daughter brought home" posts for a variety of reasons, including I'm sure I wouldn't have loved the pre-Common Core homework either. But... look at this Common Core assignment my daughter brought home.

Actually, it is the 2nd grade weekly quiz, which is kind of a big deal. My daughter got a 90, so everyone is happy, but still, I have to see what she missed.

Of the 20 questions, she missed one more or less appropriately difficult verb tense question -- although I don't understand why the verb tense section is labeled "phonics." Big data doesn't work folks if you can't even broadly categorize questions correctly.

The reading question she missed is:

Paragraph 6 tells mainly about:

  • park benches in Spain
  • towers in Australia.
  • street corners in New York.

Let's be clear here: this is a counting task, not a reading task, because if you have the right paragraph -- and these are short paragraphs -- you could easily just match the country names to get the answer. There are eight un-numbered paragraphs in a one page text, double spaced, with large font. The only hard part is counting a bunch of short paragraphs -- catching the indentation.

As it turns out, there's no standard specifically for identifying the print features for paragraphs. The "distinguishing features of a sentence" is covered under print concepts in first grade, but paragraphs do not merit the same treatment for some reason (and the category of "Print Concepts" ends in 1st grade), so it is unlikely this question is supposed to measure understanding of paragraph formatting.

She did get this one right, which probably slightly more worrisome than if she'd gotten it wrong:

One of the questions that art can make you ask is,

  • "Do I like art?"
  • "Was that there yesterday?"
  • "How do I make art?"

Of course, the right answer is "Was that there yesterday?" which you'd know if you read the text. Really the problem is just that the question does not refer specifically to the text. I guess what is creepy about this one is that I understand that part of schooling is giving banal answers to banal questions. But conditioning kids -- and I mean "conditioning" -- to bubble in "citations" as banal answers to serious, open-ended philosophical questions like "What kind of questions can art make you ask?" is... disturbing.

This is a Pearson quiz. If you're going to argue that Pearson doesn't understand the Common Core, then you're arguing that the whole premise of standards based reform doesn't work. If large, wealthy vendors that have been involved in every step in the process can't turn the standards into good curricula and tasks, then why would we expect anyone else to?

If at some point in the past, I was looking at a 20 question quiz written by a young teacher, and I didn't like some of them, I wouldn't be surprised. But I don't think they would be bad in the particular ways these questions are bad. They're rather specifically Common Core and Pearson bad; e.g., it is important to give 7 year olds practice in finding specific paragraphs, because that's what they're going to be doing more or less daily for the next decade. It is obvious.

The Common Core is Doomed by its Own Shoddiness

It is pretty much impossible to discuss the relative quality of the Common Core standards, because there is no good framework for doing so, and they are so messily constructed. Basically everyone seems to assume that all standards are awful, so whatever, and better one awful thing than 50.

In the end though, the Common Core will slowly sink into irrelevance because it is just so shoddily put together. I've spent enough time on that topic over the years, I'm not going to try to re-prove it to you now. But as support slips, it is unlikely the official debate will allow the possibility that they simply were poorly designed and written at every level of detail. On the ground, this reality has to be creeping up on people. Reporters and columnists aren't going to see it.

Previously on This American Life

Alice Mercer points a school reform angle on last weekend's This American Life, which reminds me that I've had the September 12 episode, A Not-So-Simple Majority, sitting in a tab waiting for a post for three weeks.

It is the story of the takeover of the East Ramapo, NY school board by a conservative religious faction with a strong dislike for taxation and sending their kids to the secular public schools.

Apparently since the faction is made up of Jews, and this is near New York City, this is news. In most of the country (geographically), the faction is evangelical Christian Republicans, and it is a dog bites man story. Unless I missed it while going about my business and listening to the radio, this rather significant connection to flyover America and the platform of one of our two political parties was not made.

What is most striking emotionally though, is the way the scenes at school board meetings in East Ramapo reflect the scenes in urban districts across the country -- board members without children in the schools mutely sitting through angry public comment from predominantly minority parents, before gutting programs and closing schools to be handed off to political allies. If school reformers wanted to get a peek at how others see them, they might listen to this piece. Their playbook is more similar to the religious orthodox than they might like to admit.

Finally, in the end, special ed is a central issue. It is always a central issue in American public education, like property values, but often lies just over the horizon of the debate.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A Slightly Better Brand of English Horseshit

English Education secretary Nicky Morgan:

“And when I hear of teachers working late into the night marking books, planning lessons, preparing for inspections that may or may not come, I do two things: I marvel at their dedication. But I also think, there must be a better way.

“I don’t want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well.”

She said her first priority was to reduce the overall burden on teachers and second to ensure that teachers spend more time in the classroom teaching.

As I've said before, her first priority -- reducing teacher workloads -- should be the top one for improving US schools, as all other reforms founder when there is no capacity to implement them. So it is good on some level to hear the Conservatives in England saying something which public education advocates over here rarely say out loud.

On the other hand, it is hard to see how that goes along with more time in the classroom, so I wouldn't trust the bastards long enough to get to the end of the sentence.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

You're Not the First Person to Notice the Environment

Erica Schoenberger:

Here’s what I’m trying to help the kids understand. We’ve been making messes for a very long while and we have known pretty much all along that we were doing so. The histories of our mess-making really matter. Getting at the details lets you see how a trajectory was constructed piece by piece, opening up some possibilities and forclosing others. Further: We may have very good intentions as individuals, but the options we have available to choose among are structured by larger, impersonal forces. Huge collective investments have supported and promoted all those unfortunate individual decisions and have made it hard for people to make good choices. To me, this suggests that huge collective investments in support of good decisions are needed. If a capitalist system must grow to survive, let’s grow toward, not away from, the world we want.

One interesting aspect of Jennifer's research on the history of coal mining on the River Devon, is that when you look at the documentary evidence, environmental concerns are raised from the very beginning of planning, starting with correspondence between John Erskine and his engineers around the turn of the 18th century.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

PTU Leadership Fails to Turn Out the Vote

I've never fully understood the mind of the Providence Teachers Union, and I especially don't know anything about the state of the leadership and politics post-Steve Smith. I will simply point out that in the 1,900 member union, the vote a new proposed contract was 182 yes, 611 no.

That's for an in-person vote held in Providence Monday evening, so low turnout isn't that surprising, but less than 10% voting yes is pretty weak. One would suspect that new teachers in particular didn't show up, and probably a lot of people who might have held their noses and voted yes if pressed just didn't feel like hanging around until the meeting or driving back into town.

I suspect that a not very different contract will eventually be passed with better marketing and perhaps a few veiled threats, or maybe just waiting for Taveras to leave.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kindergarten Benchmarks!

Let's do a little international benchmarking on the subject of curricular outcomes in Kindergarten.

Common Core:

Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 18 = 10 +8); understand that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.

Let's start with Finland, grades 1-2 core contents, numbers and calculations.  The relevant points are:

* properties of numbers: comparison, classification, ordering, using concrete means to break down and assmeble numbers
* principle on which the decimal system is based
* addition and subtraction, and connections between calculations, using natural numbers
* use of different ways and means of calculating: blocks and decimal tools, continuum, mental calculation, using pencil and paper
* investigating the number of various alternatives

South Korea's 2007 kindergarten (age 3-7, according to Wikipedia) curriculum includes: developing basic mathematical abilities, developing a sense for numbers, counting surrounding objects to number 10, experiencing additions and subtractions with concrete objects.

Of all possible mathematics standards, are Common Core the most prescriptive?  No.  Are they more prescriptive and "rigorous" than the mandated national curricula of the high performing countries we are supposedly trying to emulate?  Yes.

One can argue that Common Core's level of specificity and rigor is right and all the other countries are wrong, but we should be clear that that's the real claim.

Finland: http://www.oph.fi/download/47672_core_curricula_basic_education_3.pdf
South Korea: http://ncm.gu.se/media/kursplaner/andralander/koreaforskola.pdf

Pessimism, Cynicism, Pessimism, Cynicism, Pessimism... Optimism! Disappointment.

This is my pattern leading up to major political and sporting events. The Scottish independence referendum was no exception. It combines the bad features of both optimism and pessimism with none of the benefits of either.

Apparently my intuition while living in Scotland for a year (there just wasn't the groundswell of passion necessary for such a momentous break) was correct and -- suprisingly! -- the last minute media and social media hype was wrong.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Stirling Skaters are Breaking for "Yes" on Scottish Independence


Given that we spend far too much on overly long, loud, and insubstantial political campaigns in the US, it was a bit difficult to get a gut-level feel for the progress toward tomorrow's Scottish independence referendum during my year there. For example, campaigning for the party nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island -- a post truly devoid of power or responsibility -- is more visible in my neighborhood here (e.g., signs) than the independence vote was around Stirling when I left a month ago.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but as an American I just kept thinking "If this is such a big deal, where are all the damn signs?"

Similarly, as far as I could see, I was the first person to slap a Yes sticker on his skateboard at the Stirling skatepark, and none of my mates there seemed very interested in discussing the matter. So about the only timely data point I can offer on the story is that on Facebook, the Stirling skate community has broken hard toward the Yes side in the past week. My intuition all year was that there just didn't seem to be the level of enthusiasm for Yes (e.g., can't even be arsed to stick up a wee sign) that would be necessary for such a momentous break. Now, it seems like there is real, late breaking momentum.

A couple other wee points:

  • It is a weird thing to decide with what may be a 51/49% split. I'm in favor of Scottish independence, but it does seem like if ever there was a vote that required some level of supermajority (say, 60%), leaving the UK would be it.
  • Not knowing much about the internal politics of the UK, I figured there would be some sense of kinship, alliance, and/or coordination between the non-English states in the union. There isn't. It is all about England. Nobody gives a shit about Wales or Northern Ireland. If Wales wanted to be independent, they should have won a few battles against Edward I.
  • In general, I agree with Charlie Stross:

    In the long term I favour a Europe—indeed, a world—of much smaller states. I don't just favour breaking up the UK; I favour breaking up the United States, India, and China. Break up the Westphalian system. We live today in a world dominated by two types of group entity; the nation-states with defined borders and treaty obligations that emerged after the end of the 30 Years War, and the transnational corporate entities which thrive atop the free trade framework provided by the treaty organizations binding those Westphalian states together.

  • I anticipated Paul Krugman's criticism of the Yes campaign. Independence without control over your currency is not only a terrible idea, but it skewed the terms of the debate, with the pro-independence people arguing all year in favor of giving England a stranglehold on their economy. It did a lot to dampen my interest and enthusiasm for the whole campaign.
  • In general, at early on and from our limited perspective, more educated people seemed to be more pro-independence, while working class and low-income people seemed more dubious, which was confusing and not what you'd presume.
  • Finally, 16 year olds can vote in this referendum. Cool!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Something to Look Forward To

John Gruber:

When the prices of the steel and (especially) gold Apple Watches are announced, I expect the tech press to have the biggest collective shit fit in the history of Apple-versus-the-standard-tech-industry shit fits.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gist Losing Her Base?

Lonnie Barham:

Though many of us, especially education administrators, saw Gist’s appointment a few years ago as a sign of progress in a state whose education system has historically been a failure, those same administrators now see her simply for what she has apparently become – just another political hack who is holding a very important office that now seems destined for further failure.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

You're Not Going to Win as a Anti-Teacher Progressive

First off, congratulations to Aaron Regunberg of the Providence Student Union for winning (the Democratic nomination for) Gordon Fox's old state house seat, easily beating the executive director of Teach For America-Rhode Island in a straight-up ed reform showdown.

In other news, Rhode Island's own Anthony Cuomo in a sundress, Gina Raimondo, beat Angel Taveras and Clay Pell for the gubernatorial nomination, with 42 percent of the vote. This is, of course, a blow to teachers and public education and to the, uh, prestige of the teachers unions, who backed Pell and split the progressive/labor vote.

This whole situation was doomed as of February, 2011, when Taveras decided to fire all the teachers in Providence. Yes, he was just kidding, and all politically savvy grown-ups are supposed to understand that, but you know what, fuck you too Angel. The unions compromise their own interests too often as it is to support winners. Sometimes in the long run it is more important to punish your backstabbing should-be-friends than your enemies.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Answer Is Always Teach Less History

I avoided reading in the NY Times magazine about billg's new idea, the Big History Project, for as long as I could, but I gave in today, achieving some kind of symmetry by reading while watching the Apple Watch rollout.

First off, it is nice to see Gates moving onto a new shiny thing.

After a fairly superficial overview of the course, the most annoying thing is that it is primarily presented as a history course, when it is science and the history of technology. Perhaps everybody would prefer it to be an interdisciplinary course, or even better the cross-course theme of an interdisciplinary school for a year. Gates complains about the difficulty of doing multi-disciplinary courses in our high schools. Perhaps after funding the creation of schools in Providence designed from the ground up for such work almost 15 years ago his foundation might have lifted a finger to suggest that they ought not to be closed abruptly.

This effort does share an underlying flaw with the Common Core: a lack of interest in defining the disciplines and their roles. What is English/Language Arts? The Common Core does not say. If Big History is a combination of science and history, what are science and history? If you had to choose between replacing Earth Science or World History with Big History, why would you choose the history requirement? If the history of technology is part of history, does that mean history is a STEM field?

I do feel like this may be a somewhat indirect way for Gates to address what everyone knows is the real Big Problem today: climate change. It is a techno-centric, market-oriented view of history, but it certainly seems to funnel discussion in the end toward global warming, in the least tree-hugging way possible. I assume I'm not the only one to have noticed this and the right will fold Big History into their Common Core freakout.

Friday, September 05, 2014

"history was made by real people who were having a bad day"

Nicola Griffith:

Saints are not nice people. I don’t think they can afford to be sweet as pie or they wouldn’t become famous. You don’t get to be a saint without being famous. So I had to figure out: How would a woman from (the seventh century) and those circumstances become famous?

To do that I had to build this world and put this child inside and grow her, basically, as if she was in a terrarium, and just see what happened. Every time she got to do something that was impossible in those times, I would have to start again and every time she did something that was just too nice, I would have to back up.

I swear there's a great Paul Goodman quote along the lines of the post title, but I've never been able to find it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Small Correction

Jason France:

For instance, without mainstream media coverage by folks like Stephanie Simon at Reuters, I have little doubt that inBloom would still be in business selling out children’s data to not just the highest bidder, but any bidder.

My understanding of the inBloom business model is that they were meant to be in the business of charging schools to retain their data which they would then give away to businesses and other parties. They were a non-profit after all!

Apparently I have the House to Myself Until 3:30

The Thing About "Developmentally Inappropriate" Standards and Tests

I don't know what the proper definition of "developmentally inappropriate" is in the specific or general case, but in practice, what is going to happen is that if the standards/tests are "developmentally inappropriate," you can tell because the scores won't go up no matter what you do instructionally. That's the functional definition, as far as I'm concerned.

For example, the number of times the average 3rd grader can bench press 300 pounds is zero. After a rigorous training program, it is still zero. Thus, it is a "developmentally inappropriate" assessment.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Role of Eastern Europe in the Semiotics of International Comparison

Peter Greene:

South Korea is on the reformster short list of Countries We Want To Be Like (right up there with Finland and Estonia).

Maybe I'm behind on the international comparison discourse, but my impression is that we're supposed to regard the former Soviet bloc as pathetically backward following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Thus, any time we underperform Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, etc., it is simply an embarrassment.

This, of course, forgets that these countries have long intellectual traditions on their own, and in particular were no slouches in math and science under communism. There is no particular reason to think we should outperform all these countries in all areas of education indefinitely.

Campus Life

The original plan for this trip had us finding a small flat in Stirling, with Jennifer commuting to the campus a couple miles out of town by bus. This would have been a real Scottish immersion, but also pretty much moving across the ocean to go from one tatty Victorian neighborhood to another. As it turns out, it is hard to rent in Stirling if you aren't there, and late in the process we realized the uni was opening a block of brand new on campus family flats as part of an overhaul of its mostly 1960's era student housing, so we ended up on campus at Alexander Court.

The University of Stirling is not actually in Stirling (pop. 45,000). It is a couple miles north on the former Airthrey Estate. The university was built from scratch on the grounds in the 1960's. It is like a compact campus plopped onto one side of a nice old park, with 60's institutional architecture centered around a nice little lake. We're on the far side of the lake, past the 9 hole golf course and the rugby and football pitches, a full mile from the main entrance to campus.

Our three bedroom flat is fairly minimal, as you'd expect, but big for Scotland. The master bedroom has a nice workspace that I occupy, the biggest problem being that sometimes I realize I've spent about 20 hours of my day within a 6 foot square. There are a few conveniences for international families, including a TV.

Here's a peek into our flat while the finishing touches were still being put on last August:

2013-08-18 at 19.49.14

My current theory is that we lucked out by being the last family to request a flat, and the last one available was the ground-level handicapped accessible flat (which they'd have to keep open just in case). This gives us a glass door and full length window opening out onto a patio and garden, directly out onto the junction of a dirt road and several trails leading to campus, up to the pitches, into the woods or up into the hills. I guess you could say it is a high traffic neighborhood, but with mountain bikers and hillwalkers instead of the Honda Civics blasting reggaeton and unlicensed motorcycles we get in Elmwood this time of year.

There are eight other families living in this block: two from Malaysia, one from Iceland, Zimbabwe, Thailand, and Scotland, and Arab and Carribbean families. Mostly they all have early elementary or younger kids, so there hasn't been a lack of playmates for the girls. The rest of the students in the courtyard are mostly Asian grad students who were seen more than heard and barely seen.

After the end of the school year, Alexander Court hosts a variety of visiting groups, this year including members of the Team Scotland and event support staff preparing for the Commonwealth Games, a couple of pipe bands (including the Dunedin, Florida high school band), a bunch of karate enthusiasts and a group of spiritualists.

So from my point of view -- since I'm not the one studying here -- it has mostly been like living in a little managed apartment in a low-key resort for a year.

What is extraordinary about this place is the overall setting, in this strategic bottleneck between the lowlands and highlands, between the Pictish fire hill of Dumyat and the Abbey Craig, where William Wallace waited for half the English army to cross the Forth before falling upon them, next the ancient standing stone perhaps commemorating where Kenneth MacAlpin's Scots assembled in 834 to before the battle that united Scotland under one king.

2014-08-03 at 21.02.28 2014-08-03 at 21.02.44

Peter Greene on Tenure

Peter Greene:

The threat of firing is the great "Do this or else..." It takes all the powerful people a teacher must deal with and arms each one with a nuclear device.

Give my child the lead in the school play, or else. Stop assigning homework to those kids, or else. Implement these bad practices, or else. Keep quiet about how we are going to spend the taxpayers' money, or else. Forget about the bullying you saw, or else. Don't speak up about administration conduct, or else. Teach these materials even though you know they're wrong, or else. Stop advocating for your students, or else.

Firing simply stops a teacher from doing her job.

The threat of firing coerces her into doing the job poorly.

My parents taught in a small town, and I think this is easier to understand in a small town context, where everyone goes to the public school, and a career teacher may teach every child in the town for a generation or more. I grew up in a town of 8,000, and my father taught math to half the 8th graders in town for about 30 years.

So if you're a Democrat, you're going to get all the Republicans' kids. If you play for South Side, you've got all the Moose Club's players' kids. All the doctors, and lawyers, an professors; the drop-outs, perverts, meth addicts and child abusers, too. They mayor's kid, the principal's kid, the prison warden's kid. Everyone.

Some of these people, and/or their kids will not like you and would like to see you lose your job at some point. It isn't that hard to wrap your head around that teaching is a unique profession.

Monday, August 04, 2014

If Only Education Had the Rigor of Medicine

Elizabeth Preston:

Today, the American Heart Association says that people with coronary artery disease should take daily fish oil supplements. Nutritional guidelines in the United States, Canada, and Europe call for fish twice a week. Yet for all the enthusiasm that has surrounded these famed fatty acids in the past few decades, their performance in clinical trials has been mixed.

Standards are By Default Ignored

There was some hand wringing over the politicization of standards writing post-Common Core, with legislatures taking an even more hands on approach.

I would say the most likely outcome of this will be for schools to pay even less attention to standards. In 2014, that means just worrying about the tests, in the optimistic future, it means paying more attention to kids and the world around them (writ large). Even at the peak of Common Core-mania, people weren't focused on the standards.

This ends with the whimper of fat binders pushed into a high corner of a bookshelf.

Friday, August 01, 2014

I've Been Blaming High Fructose Corn Syrup

I had a Scottish Macaroon the other day. This is a pretty good description:

Well, today I present one of Scotland’s national sweets: the macaroon bar. It’s about a million miles from the French macaron. They both contain sugar and the names are a little bit similar, but that’s about as far as it goes.

The Scottish macaroon bar is something of tooth-aching sweetness. It has a snowy-white intensely sugary interior that has been dipped in chocolate and then rolled in toasted coconut. This is probably as bad as sweets can get (and a dentist’s worst nightmare) but it has a firm place on the heart of a nation that, well, loves just about anything that is very, very, very sweet.

You might also wonder where the name comes from – is this in any way linked to the French macaron? The answer is…I don’t know. But here in Britain, coconut macaroons are quite common, so I think it is the addition of the coconut that gives rise to the name. Just a hunch.

I don't think most Americans have "sugar junkies" as part of their stereotype of Scots, but man, do these people love their sugar. Of course, Americans do too, no doubt in part because we are in part Scots. Scots are worse... really! I mean, the opening ceremonies of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games featured an interlude of dancing marshmallow teacakes, not because of corporate sponsorship or anything, just because Scots love the things (they're awesome, really), and when they think "Ooh, what do we love about Scotland that we'd like to tell the world about?" Their minds wander back to sweets sooner rather than later.

Those macaroons... you might as well have a solid block of sugar the size of a deck of cards. You could cut the sweetness a bit by taking a bite of fudge. Yet, that's probably only a bit more than the calories in a 32 oz. Coke.

What's really nuts about this is while you have no trouble finding an adult Scot who could stand to lose 20 pounds, on the whole, Scots are clearly less fat than Americans. That is, anecdotally and statistically.

It is intriguing because you cannae attribute it to Scots making better choices or having any more discipline personally. Many Scots load up on fried food and sweets just as much as Americans do, but somehow we seem to end up even fatter.

Salon has 10 Reasons America is Morbidly Obese, which is a good start. The lack of high fructose corn syrup is also notable -- and tastier! It is hard not to feel like we've decide to dispose of the surplus byproducts of our agri-industy by just dumping it into our own diet, regardless of the cost.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Also True About Education Reform


One of the many maddening things about the discourse surrounding our recent glorious wars is that all of its supporters were much more interested in punching hippies than making sure that anything actually went well. Hippies would be all like "we're lighting money on fire and killing lots of people and nothing good as happening" and instead of observing that, yes, things in Afghanistan and Iraq are actually fucked up and bullshit, the response would be "nuh-uh hippies you just love terrorists and Saddam and in six months everything will be wonderful."

Guess What's Opening About 15 Minutes After I Fly Outta Here?

Maybe They Should Put Persuasive Writing Back in the Curriculum, Too

Stephanie Simon:

“We’re so good at all our statistics and data and rational arguments … [but] emotion is what gets people feeling passionate,” Oldham said. “It may not be the most comfortable place for the business community … [but] we need to get better at doing it.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So... Who's Getting the Axe?

Mayor Taveras's Office:

The competitive grant, made under Carnegie's Opportunity by Design Challenge, will support schools modeled after its 10 Design Principles for student success. The schools will be located in existing Providence Public School District buildings, which are still to be determined, and will replace seats at existing schools. The new schools will be open to all PPSD students through the school choice process, and will serve a student population representative of the District as a whole.

This was easier when we needed to add seats to meet growing enrollment. So who might be closed because of this?

Mount Pleasant, Hope and Central are too big to turn into two small schools. On the other hand the Juanita Sanchez Complex was designed to house two small schools, as was Alvarez, at least at one point in the design process. They're both newish, not that deeply entrenched institutions as well.

Are they going to phase the new schools in year by year, or all 4 years at once? If there is one thing we've learned about starting new schools, it is that doing it one year at a time helps a lot. A lengthy phase-in/phase-out is expensive and difficult, however.

Particularly if you're doing it all at once, you either have to keep the existing student body in the building -- in which case you're not really starting a new school, but doing a turnaround/transformation/whatever -- or do a massive reshuffle of students in the district, which would be so disruptive it is difficult to imagine it happening.

I Don't Think David Coleman is Happy With How the Common Core Came Out

Stephanie Simon:

Coleman didn’t want to spend a lot of time defending the development of the standards, which he said the idea of which had been around for many years, since long before the Obama administration. But he did note that they were developed collaboratively. “I read through hundreds of pages of state feedback month after month. The notion that states were not involved is sadly not the state of my life during those years,” he said.

Peter Greene:

The burdens of poweriness

Williams wants to know how Coleman came to take all this on. She lists his achievements and colleges and that he's a Rhodes Scholar, to which he interjects "yes, I am" and she asks did he just wake up thinking "we need to get all the states to use the same standards." (So, in this narrative, the phone does not ring with someone calling him to ask him to come help with this standards thing that the states are already doing.)

Coleman, instead of answering that, meditates on power.

As people grow in supposed importance and power in the world, he says, they get self-destructive in how they use their time. "People think if they're important they don't have time to write their own speeches or spend extended time alone." Says Coleman, "Any good I have done has come out" of balancing time to allow him to be alone, thinking.

He went into business designing tests, but that wasn't satisfactory because the standards underpinning the tests were crappy. So he spent time alone, thinking. "One idea that I've been cultivating" was the idea of students doing fewer things, but really well.

Anyway, that's how he works. "It's almost embarrassing to admit how much time I need to spend alone... as part of trying to o anything good." And now I am imagining what Coleman's Fortress of Solitude looks like.

So Coleman is not just busy being a Great Man-- he is actually better at it than lots of other great men.

And that co-operation and collaboration thing? That's for ordinary mortals. Coleman just hatches great ideas out of his own head.

Setting the record straight

That's what Williams tries desperately to get Coleman to do. She steers from his process into the semi-question "So that's where the idea of the standards came from?"

Coleman tosses in "listening" as a technique (though he never says to whom) and then, again, tells us first the standard of greatness that he is going to surpass. There's something annoying about "the sanctity of the entrepreneur" he says. "The world was dark and then I came and there was light," is what those sanctimonious types say. But what Coleman understands that they do not is that entrepreneurship is about telling the truth. This is to introduce himself obliquely as David Coleman, Super-Truth-Teller.

Committees, he observes, suck. At the end, you put everybody's stuff in, and you get a big mess. The standards movement was failing because it was death by committee resulting in a huge vague swamp of standards. We are left to close the circle on that implication.

What is left unsaid (or unquoted (I didn't try to sit through the whole interview) is that the Common Core still read very much like a disjointed committee document. Actually more disjointed and inconsistent than other standards. The reading standards are almost certainly the most redundant body of standards ever conceived. The front matter doesn't describe the enumerated standards as written. There's no consistent style throughout on basic organizational features.

Here's my current theory: Coleman, for whatever reason, was handed the keys to the car and did the first pass on designing the standards based on his own brilliance and came up with something that at least had some conceptual consistency. Then as more people were brought into the process, different teams filled out different sections, outsiders offered feedback, Coleman did a lousy job of managing that process. He hated that part, and frankly doesn't really have much interest in the minutia of standards design (pro tip: it is all minutia). In the end, due to haste and the scale of the project, his great work ended up being more of a design by committee hash than much of what it replaced.

And he knows it.

McKinsey Calculates Common Core Dropout Rates

McKinsey and Company:

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Moment That Has Passed

Jeff Bryant:

As I wrote on the blog site OpenLeft back in 2010, the Netroots Nation event seemed “generally in denial about issues of race and class that are at the heart of” problems in public schools. Instead, all the conversation was about “reform.” And teachers’ unions fought for attention on the agenda by addressing the worsening conditions for the nation’s public school teachers as a “labor issue.”

“Lots of lip service was paid to ‘saving teachers’ jobs,’” I recalled. But “not much of anything on the agenda addressed the destructive education policies of the Obama administration.”

News that Michelle Rhee, the public school chancellor in Washington, D.C. that year, had fired another 241 teachers was completely overlooked in any of the panels and speeches. Instead, as I reported, “As the news broke, an attendee I was having coffee with was absolutely gleeful. ‘There are too many bad teachers,’ she explained to me while coolly scrolling through the headlines on her Blackberry, ‘And they’re never made accountable for anything.’” Those around nodded in agreement.

Certainly no one of any prominence at the meeting pointed out the blatant unfairness of the Obama administration’s push to evaluate teachers on the basis of students’ scores on standardized tests. And during the conference’s education caucus, when National Education Association vice president Lilly Eskelsen warned of the rapidly expanding charter school industry that was spreading corporate influence and privatization of public schools, attendees defended “wonderful charter schools.”

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Eric Hanushek and I are Apparently on the Same Side of One Issue

Dylan Matthews:

Another factor is people withdrawing from the labor force to pursue more education. Stanford's Eric Hanushek, evaluating the non-labor force effects of the experiments, found that "for youth the reduction in labor supply brought about by the negative income tax is almost perfectly offset by increased school attendance."

That's not the only positive education finding. One study looking at the New Jersey experiment found that a negative income tax of mid-range generosity increased odds of completing high school by 25 to 30 percent; a similar analysis of the Seattle-Denver experiments put the number at 11 percent. While the evidence on academic performance was more limited, there was some evidence that children in NIT households did better at standardized tests in lower grades.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Maybe I Can Get on the Design Team

Elisabeth Harrison:

Providence has received a $3 million dollar grant from the Carnegie Foundation to develop a pair of small high schools over the next three years.

And then my wife's head exploded.

Looking Forward to Returning to the Land of the Free

Smell the Inequality!

RIDE's new survey visualization thing also has a resources category, which is interesting. For example, below is a screenshot of the results of the "does the bathroom have soap?" question:

What's the Deal with Bullying in RI Charters?

RIDE has a new data-visualization thingy for survey data, particularly on bullying. It is a little clunky and I don't think the embed code actually works (perhaps you will see it below, probably not), but nonetheless interesting. Bullying (as reported at least) seems to shift from being an urban problem in elementary school to a suburban one in high school. Our best regarded charters rank surprisingly high (that is, more bullying).

The 2013-2014 data is due next month. Apparently RIDE needs 8 months to publish survey data.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

SOMEDAY Tutoring Software will Just Work

Justin Reich:

The logic of blended learning is something of a Rube Goldberg contraption: if you want rich project-based learning, then you should spend a bunch of your time, money, procurement energy, political will, and professional development resources on intelligent tutoring software. The software will make you more efficient in the classroom so that you finally free up the time that you needed for project-based learning (or math talk, or rich challenges, or peer learning, or whatever). It's kind of a strange logic. You want more meaningful student-teacher interactions? OK, step 1, sit your kids in front of a randomized worksheet problem generator.

It would be great if the online part was a no-brainer, but we seem to be hardly getting closer to that point.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flee! Flee!

David Weigel:

In a very short time, opposition to Common Core has evolved from a fringe Republican position that blue-staters laugh at to a position that clearly wins out in blue New York. When independents break against something by a 14-point margin, politicians generally look awkwardly for the escape hatches.

The question crosstabs show that the only group still strongly in favor of the CC (at 60%) is African Americans. This was a key marketing strategy for CC proponents but was always a little strange, since African American opinion doesn't exactly drive American educational policy.

Common Core advocates might have found it useful in the past six months to have an actual organization dedicated specifically to promoting the Common Core, with a file cabinet of substantive but readable analyses of the Common Core's benefits compared to other standards. Apparently those things did not seem necessary a few years ago.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The College Remediation Process is a Misinformation Generating Mess

Carol Burris:

So, how do community colleges decide who needs remediation and in which course? Although taking the SAT or ACT is rarely required for two-year colleges, very competitive SAT scores are often needed to get out of remediation testing. To escape the remediation placement test at Long Island’s Nassau Community College, for example, students need a 550 in math, 550 in reading and a 540 in writing. That is a total score of 1640. To put that score in perspective, only 34 percent of all college bound seniors score that high. The College Board says that if students have a composite score of 1550, they are college ready. The inappropriately high cut scores at Nassau virtually guarantee that nearly all incoming students will be obligated to take at least one placement test.

Then there are the placement tests themselves. There are two that dominate the market—ACCUPLACER, a product of the College Board and COMPASS, produced by the ACT. They are short, computer adaptive tests that apparently are not very accurate.

According to studies cited by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, ACCUPLACER severely misplaces 33 percent of all students, and COMPASS severely misplaces 27 percent, either by putting students into courses that are too hard, or in courses that are too easy. Two studies found that student GPAs were a far more accurate predictor—reducing severe placement errors by about half. Another study of remediation found that nearly 25 percent (math) and over 33 percent (English) of remedial course placements in one urban system were “severe under-placements” due to the COMPASS test. In short, lots of kids get placed into remediation who really do not need it.

How helpful are traditional remedial courses? Again, the Community College Research Center sheds light. Studies of the effects of remediation yield results that are mixed or negative. Many students enrolled in these remedial courses never complete the courses, and those who do, do not necessarily benefit.

What happens to weaker students who simply skip remediation? The research center found that students who ignored remedial placement had a slightly lower success rate than those who did not need remediation. But students who were referred for remediation but skipped it, had a “substantially higher” rate of success than those who took remedial courses. In other words, remediation is no remedy.

It is telling that college remediation rate statistics have become the remaining go-to number for reformers. It is a garbage statistic, and it is all they have left.