Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Strands of Standards is an Anti-Pattern

Yesterday I came across Liping Ma's article from last November's Notices of the American Mathematical Society, entitled "A Critique of the Structure of U.S. Elementary School Mathematics." I believe it is free to the public, but I'm on a university network, which sometimes gives me permission to access journals that are blocked to the public (if you can't see it, let me know). It is 15 pages, and covers as much history as math. I recommend reading it if you're at all interested in this stuff.

Its probably the best thing I've ever read on the subject of standards. It doesn't touch on the Common Core itself, but is clearly applicable.

Unlike virtually everything I've read about the Common Core, Ma regards the most important and influential role of "standards" as defining the scope and nature of the subject as taught, particularly in reference to the corresponding academic discipline.

Ma's argument is that American elementary school mathematics was profoundly but nearly imperceptibly transformed by the switch from what she calls a "core-subject model" to a "strand" model. The difference to Ma is that a "core-subject" " a collection of skills or a self-contained subject with principles similar to those of the discipline of mathematics."

Instead, since the New Math, we've used "strands":

As we have seen, the strands structure allowed an unlimited number of possibilities for changing the names, number, content, and features of the strands. After this, U.S. elementary mathematics lost its stability and coherence. After only four years, the same mathematics professors who wrote the first Strands Report changed the strands without explanation. In a strands structure, no strand was self-contained; moreover, the relationship among the strands was such that individual strands could be readily changed. Anyone writing a framework could easily change the content of mathematics education by changing a strand. Later, when the main authors of the mathematics framework were not mathematicians but teachers and cognitive scientists, they retained its structure, but changed its strands to fit their views of mathematics education.

Put another way, once you see an academic subject as a bags of stuff, you're not going to be able to resist trying to solve every problem by changing around the stuff in the bags, and there is a very strong tendency to do that willy-nilly, as we have seen.

In ELA/Literacy, I would say the Common Core has gone further and is simply disdainful of English/Language Arts as a discipline. If one asks "What is English?" and reads the CC ELA/Literacy standards, they will find no answer.

The challenging part of Ma's thesis is that it is difficult to imagine the alternative to "strands," and it is unclear how applicable it is to other subjects that simply cannot be reduced to as unitary a focus as Ma argues elementary mathematics can be. After all, while Ma argues against the efficacy of pushing advanced math topics (as "strands") down into elementary math, she is not arguing for their later exclusion.

I'm definitely taking from this the idea that expressing standards as a set of interwoven strands is an "anti-pattern," that is, "a common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive." The response, I think, would be to start with a much more disciplined and, well, disciplinary definition of the subject at hand. It also requires an approach to developing advanced skills that's a bit more subtle and pedagogically informed than simply pushing direct precursors down to the lowest grade level possible and hammering on them year after year.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Watching Pundits Walk Back School Reform

Matt Yglesias:

Of course it takes many decades to understand the truly long-term consequences of cash grants for children, but the best evidence we have shows a large positive impact of welfare checks on life outcomes for kids who benefitted from the pre-Depression version of cash assistance for poor single moms. And even though domestic poverty in a rich country is actually quite different from absolute poverty in low-income countries, we see similar impacts for the global poor. It turns out that we could do an awful lot to improve human welfare by focusing our efforts more narrowly and more intensely on spreading the wealth around.

Yglesias is pretty much a prototypical young (neo-)liberal young wonk blogger with an unfortunately typical affection for contemporary school reform, perhaps attributable in part to formerly dating Sara Mead (or maybe vice versa). Anyhow, posting a stream of "new" studies about poverty and learning would seem to be a way for the savvy young pundit to begin walking back from the "schools (or teachers) only" precipice the reform community has chosen to stand on.

I started to write this post the middle of last week and was thinking about including a line indicating that this would be more than we would ever get from Tom Friedman or David Brooks, but then, Brooks:

... we’ve probably put too much weight on school reform.

Of course, David Brooks cannot transcend his essential David Brooks-iness, and the rest of the column is still insufferably self-satisfied, middlebrow, paternalistic bullshit, but it does actually represent an important shift in momentum and Conventional Wisdom.

It Wouldn't Be Hard to "Fix" Contemporary School Reform (If You Wanted To)

Gary Stern:

Having talked to many, many parents, educators and others about these issues, I’m going to attempt to categorize some of the main changes that people want. Here we go:

1. A review of the Common Core standards themselves. The Common Core isn’t going anywhere. But many educators want to see a grade-by-grade, standard-by-standard review, involving teachers and administrators and resulting in revisions for New York. Would this require a freeze of the roll-out? I can’t see it happening.

2. A freeze on standardized tests. Lots of legislators are calling for a “moratorium” on high-stakes testing. But states have to do testing to comply with federal law. A moratorium would be a complex undertaking. Would the new, Common Core-based tests be replaced by others? A review of the controversial “cut scores,” which produced a high failure rate, seems more realistic.

3. A halt to plans to ship identifiable student data to the inBloom cloud. Many parents, educators and legislators have questions about security and privacy. I could see the whole thing being postponed — or at least the passage of an opt-out option for parents. Recently, though, people on all sides have urged a broader discussion about the use and security of student data. The inBloom debate and a recent Fordham Law School study have revealed how little educators know about other forms of data collection and deeper privacy concerns.

4. A look at the costs of reform. School districts are steaming over the dollars they’ve had to spend on developing new teacher evaluations, providing Common Core training and materials, and more. Districts have been cutting back for years, now operate under the property-tax levy cap and have to use 15-20 percent of their budgets for state requirements. But anyone who has been waiting for the Legislature to reduce unfunded mandates knows that it just doesn’t happen.

5. Better communication and leadership from the Regents and King. In recent weeks, a bunch of people have told me that the problems caused by the implementation of the Common Core and other reforms can be fixed without tremendous hardship. But they say that King and the Regents need to sincerely acknowledge the most common criticisms they face and then be willing to sit down with educators to hash out what must be done. I’ve talked to a few moderate, measured types who say they are mystified by the state’s lack of public-relations savvy.

On the other hand, if the goal of school reform is simply a transfer of power away from teachers, then you can't do these things.

Also, fixing CC in NYS would require throwing a bunch of underperforming vendors under the bus, including Pearson and Student Achievement Partners at the top of the list.

Nothing to Worry About, Everything is Just Fine

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Problem with inBloom

Edward Snowden:

I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record.

Imagine what your middle and high school years would feel like knowing that anything might be going on your permanent record, which your dream college may ask permission to access (who can say they wouldn't in 5 years?).

For Those Deciding Between a Career in Finance or Engineering

Mark Ames:

These secret conversations and agreements between some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley were first exposed in a Department of Justice antitrust investigation launched by the Obama Administration in 2010. That DOJ suit became the basis of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of over 100,000 tech employees whose wages were artificially lowered — an estimated $9 billion effectively stolen by the high-flying companies from their workers to pad company earnings — in the second half of the 2000s. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied attempts by Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe to have the lawsuit tossed, and gave final approval for the class action suit to go forward. A jury trial date has been set for May 27 in San Jose, before US District Court judge Lucy Koh, who presided over the Samsung-Apple patent suit.

In a related but separate investigation and ongoing suit, eBay and its former CEO Meg Whitman, now CEO of HP, are being sued by both the federal government and the state of California for arranging a similar, secret wage-theft agreement with Intuit (and possibly Google as well) during the same period.

The secret wage-theft agreements between Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Pixar (now owned by Disney) are described in court papers obtained by PandoDaily as “an overarching conspiracy” in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, and at times it reads like something lifted straight out of the robber baron era that produced those laws. Today’s inequality crisis is America’s worst on record since statistics were first recorded a hundred years ago — the only comparison would be to the era of the railroad tycoons in the late 19th century.

In finance, you'll collude with your employer screw your customers (i.e., the entire rest of the economy), in return for a nice cut of the booty. In engineering, your employers will collude to screw you.

Of course, you can always leave and found a startup, where I'm sure the financiers you're dependent upon will treat you quite fairly.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Larry Summers is the Diane Ravitch of Economics

Larry Summers:

This is the third and, in my view, best way of responding to stagnation concerns. Consider my favorite example: debt-financed infrastructure spending. Notice several things: First, when your growth rate exceeds your interest rate -- which is surely going to be true for a long time for short-term debt -- then you can issue debt, roll over the debt to cover interest and still have a declining debt-to-GDP ratio. Further, debt-financed infrastructure increases GDP by increasing productivity, which makes us wealthier and stimulates demand in an economy that is demand-constrained. Finally, if we fix Kennedy airport today, we don’t need to fix it tomorrow. If the concern is the obligation placed on future generations, then our accounting leads us seriously astray if it teaches us to fret over the Treasury debt that will be left behind but not the deferred maintenance liability that will be left behind.

To put the point a different way. If government is going to issue more short-term debt, what it should do with the proceeds? Is it best to buy back long-term bonds where the government is borrowing on behalf of the public at record low interest rates? This is what quantitative easing does. Or is it better to invest the proceeds in real assets that will increase the economy’s capacity and diminish the need for future government investments.

I’ve emphasized infrastructure because that is probably where the most can be invested. But there are other areas, as well. I am confident that reversing the cutbacks we have made in biomedical research in recent years would pay for itself through the demand stimulus effects and through the savings in health care costs that would ultimately result.

Insofar as they are complete pains in the ass when you disagree with them (that is, when they're wrong), but utterly delightful to have on your side when you agree.

Probably the Same Situation in Education

Paul Krugman:

You see, both the Keynesian revolution and the classical counterrevolution had one great virtue for ambitious academics: they involved both new ideas and more elaborate math than their predecessors. (It’s often forgotten, but Keynesian economics and the Samuelsonian modeling revolution went hand in hand.) New Old Keynesian economics, on the other hand, involves turning away from hard math back toward rough-and-ready assumptions based on empirical observation. Aspiring up-and-coming economists may be able to publish empirical papers in this vein, but theoretical analyses are likely to be met with giggles and whispers. Just because the stuff works doesn’t mean that it will be publishable.

So I think we’re in for a long siege in which the economics that works remains virtually absent from economic journals (except policy journals like Brookings Papers) and largely untaught in graduate programs.

Which makes sense, since economics thinking underpins a lot of our current school reform (that and pension theft).

The Telescreen in Your Pocket

Brian Merchant:

“Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

That's a text message that thousands of Ukrainian protesters spontaneously received on their cell phones today, as a new law prohibiting public demonstrations went into effect. It was the regime's police force, sending protesters the perfectly dystopian text message to accompany the newly minted, perfectly dystopian legislation. In fact, it's downright Orwellian (and I hate that adjective, and only use it when absolutely necessary, I swear).

But that's what this is: it's technology employed to detect noncompliance, to hone in on dissent. The NY Times reports that the "Ukrainian government used telephone technology to pinpoint the locations of cell phones in use near clashes between riot police officers and protesters early on Tuesday." Near. Using a cell phone near a clash lands you on the regime's hit list. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

An Annoying Common Core Mystery


What Common Core advocates have gained, or think they have gained, by discarding the ADP, I do not know. It is a mystery, and the source of many conspiracy theories.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Solution to this Problem is MOAR STEM MAJORS

Chris Spaeth:

What can I do? I can't stay in basic research when the government that funds it is actively trying to choke off funding in a quest for the abstract concept of "deficit relief." Maybe I go find a company to work for and join the exodus of PhD level researchers out of academia. At some point, the NIH becomes a vestigial government organization that gets a budget too small to be useful. Private companies will have to take on the load of basic research, thus cutting their effective time to make product, and increasing their overhead costs. I imagine many of them could go out of business. In addition, new companies that spring up as a result of basic academic research from Universities will be stifled or prevented all together.

You see,

The deal, which passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday and will likely sail through the Senate soon, sends $29.9 billion to the National Institutes of Health in fiscal year 2014. That's $1 billion more than NIH funding last year. But it's also $714 million less than NIH funding before sequestration cuts went into effect. Adjusted for inflation, it's smaller than all of President George W. Bush's NIH budgets, save for his first year in office.

By the Way, the Finnish Economy is Apparently Tanking

Paul Krugman:

One might suspect that a 4% drop in GDP over the past six years would cause a dip in international test scores.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Twenty Good Teachers is Almost as Effective as Your Parents Getting Welfare

Matt Yglesias:

Using 1940 census records, draft records, and county-level death records, the researchers determined that the sons of the accepted (into Mothers’ Pensions, one of America’s earliest welfare programs) had early adult incomes that were 20 percent higher than those of rejected mothers; these sons were also 35 percent less likely to be underweight as adults, lived a year longer, and had about a third of a year of additional schooling.

One explanation might be that back then only the right people were given the money, if you know what I mean.

To be fair though, I don't know the "one standard deviation improvement in teacher VA in a single grade raises earnings by about 1% at age 28" effect compounds, in which case, you wouldn't need as many teachers to get the same effect.

The Most Important Factiod of the Past 10,000 Years

Joseph Stromberg:

Of all existing fossil fuel reserves that are still in the Earth—all of the coal, oil and natural gas—we must ultimately leave two-thirds unburned, in the ground, to avoid warming the climate more than 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit), a number scientists recognize as a target for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

The Effect of TFA's "First Placement" Policy

Chad Sommer:

Corporate education reformers are constantly hailing “market-based solutions” as the remedy for poor academic performance among low-income students. TFA, charter schools and their corporate benefactors espouse the notion that if low-income students just had more choices in schools, the resulting competition would drive all schools to deliver a higher quality education. Students and parents must be free to vote with their feet and find alternatives; the Darwinian principal of survival of the fittest is what makes a “free market” so effective, claim its corporate proponents. And yet TFA’s rigging of the teacher hiring process in favor of charter school operators demonstrates a complete and utter contempt for local labor markets. When corps members aren’t allowed the freedom to turn down a job because the pay or benefits are inadequate, or because a charter school has a terrible reputation for abusing teachers, there is no “free market” at work.

Somehow I'm Not Surprised

One of the most frustrating parts of watching a wave of school closures unfold here in Providence is the way they managed to miss some of the most troubled or otherwise least promising schools, so I'm not surprised that some real nightmares survived Bloomberg's hatchet.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Irish Approach to Questioning in ELA

Resource Materials For Teaching Language Leaving Certificate English Syllabus, copyright 1999, still apparently official:

(a) Old Comprehension: focused more on information
  1. What age was Flo-Jo when she died?
  2. Was she married?
  3. Where did she come from?
  4. What questions did her death raise?
  5. Is this an effective piece of topic journalism? Give reasons for your answer.
  6. What does the word ‘sibling’ mean? Show its use in a sentence.

(b) New Comprehension: focused more on perspectives of meaning

This passage is about the unexpected sudden death of a great Olympic athlete at the age of thirty-eight. Flo-Jo was a beautiful, charming woman who came from a poor background and won over the world through her personal style.

  1. Why was this event of interest to many people do you think?
  2. Do you believe that she was on drugs?
  3. Do you agree with the view of Prince Alexander?
  4. Would you be convinced by her coach’s assertions?
  5. In your view is the writer for or against Flo-Jo or is she just giving an overview of the situation?
  6. In Section B, The Language of Information, Tom Humphries and Brendan McWilliams suggest that a piece of journalism is successful if it makes the reader read right through to the end of the passage. Did this passage keep you reading? Why or why not did it succeed for you? How did the way it used words and sentences affect you? Would you want to change it in any way to make it more effective?
  7. What are your thoughts about the use of drugs in sport? With which of the following statements would you agree or disagree?
    • All drugs should be banned from sport.
    • No matter what the risks people will take drugs to improve their performance so drugs should be freely available to all.
    • Drugs destroy the meaning of sporting contests.
    • People using drugs should be banned for life from sport.
    • Sports stars have become commodities exploited by the sports gear companies, so they take risks and use drugs to keep up their level of performance and thus make more money.

The contrast between the two approaches should be evident. Old comprehension tended to neglect the significance of the text for short-term linguistic objectives which might or might not be achieved. New comprehension foregrounds context and the meaningful whole. It invites interaction within that context, thus engaging the student in an integrated process of language development which is predicated on purposeful activity leading to increased language awareness.

Just how different this is from what teachers are being told to do for Common Core would be a fruitful discussion.

My Actual Fears Regarding inBloom

I've mostly just darkly alluded to what I'm actually worried about regarding inBloom. I should probably be specific (from least to most important):

  1. Putting too much data in one place no longer seems like a good idea. By 2014 we're a bit more conscious that while President Christie's NSA can probably get at your personal information almost anywhere, it makes it much easier for them if everyone just puts it in the same place (e.g., gmail). They would rather send out one national security letter to a non-profit than 50 or 1000 to states and districts.

  2. Encouraging more garbage-in garbage-out "research." While contemporary school reform is primarily driven by pension theft and an aversion to unions and the public sector in general, for an influential sub-set of technocrats, it is one big Data Quality Campaign. Data-driven reformers knew that their data (existing test scores) was crappy, so getting better data drove the need for new standards and assessments. As it turned out, they were wildly overconfident about their ability to create better standards and assessments by simply putting their "best people" (e.g., David Coleman) on the job.

    If reformers and their researchers get easy access to a huge pool of anonymous data (that is, including legally, with the permission of state government in particular), it is just going to encourage a steady stream of statistically baroque, decontextualized studies (months of learning, months!) with overhyped press releases which will have the aggregate effect of paralysing our education policy for another decade.

  3. Everything goes on your permanent record. Even if a student's personal data could not be released without his or her (parents') permission, what if it becomes an expectation to release that data, or an aggregate score (say, your IGQ - inBloom Grit Quotient) in order to get into college, or even certain elementary, middle or high school programs? You are still growing up in a panopticon, even if Rupert Murdoch isn't publishing your 4th grade IEP.

    The data snake may particularly swallow its tail regarding college and career readiness. We know the Gates Foundation in particular is focused on identifying factors contributing to success in college. Well, what if they succeed in working that out with a high degree of reliability? Then what? The Confucian civil service system was rigid, but at least value-based. Memorizing the Koran may be pointless, but I would take that over raising children to make their daily habits fit a statistical model sitting on top of a large pile of unquestioned assumptions.

    And that is precisely where this all leads.

One Step Closer to Your Jetpack


Virtual reality has captured the imagination of developers, consumers and businesses for decades, but most VR headsets produced so far have been notable more for their limitations than their capabilities. With its latest prototype, code-named "Crystal Cove," Oculus VR has taken a massive leap forward, eliminating the stomach-churning motion blur that has plagued previous generations of VR headsets, and adding sensors and a camera to track the position of both your head and body and provide more accurate simulated movement. With the latest Rift, Oculus has created a device that may usher in an era of truly immersive gaming and entertainment, and even create new opportunities for businesses to use virtual reality in everything from manufacturing to medical environments. Of all the exciting, innovative products we've seen at CES this year, the Oculus Rift "Crystal Cove" prototype is unquestionably the best of the best.

This is hardly a secret, but Oculus Rift is going to be a much bigger deal than, say, a frickin' watch phone.

It is in the same category as the iPhone/iPad -- something we thought was just around the corner 20 years ago, kind of had to give up on for a while because as it turns out, more intimate human-computer interaction requires a lot more precision and responsiveness then we realized, and now the tech is finally almost there.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Peculiar PPSD/Charter Revolving Door


Paula Shannon is the supervising principal of Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy Elementary.

That's ex-PPSD Chief Academic Officer Paula Shannon. The only thing I can say with any certainty about this is that they've got two principals (a "founding acting principal" and a "supervising principal" according to the webpage) for a school with two grades.

It seems to me that RI's charter sector has a lot of leadership with PPSD experience. Hard to tell if this is unusual, but it certainly doesn't fit the hype.

Blackstone Valley Prep Tweets a Lukewarm Analysis of Their Own Previous Pedagogical Judgement

How Seriously Should We Take inBloom's Ambition?

One thing I was trying to suggest in inBloom Underpants Gnomes this morning is on one level, inBloom is just another startup with delusions of grandeur. I don't have any particular problem with states running data warehouses, in fact, if I was hurled back in time and restarted SchoolTool, I would seriously consider making it a data warehouse instead of an SIS. But let's be clear, what inBloom sees itself as creating is not just another state-level data warehouse -- they want one big data bucket for the whole nation, with an emphasis on making it easy for states and districts to give vendors permission to access data. If that is how existing products work -- particularly putting all the data for all their customers in one "bucket" -- I'd be surprised.

Also, in the past 10 years, we've seen a lot of things come to fruition in education that seemed pretty damned hare-brained and implausible when we first heard about them, and they took a good run at getting the inBloom horse out of the barn before anybody knew what was up. I'm certainly glad that Leonie Haimson and others did run around with their hair on fire and bolted the barn door.

Finally, I actually trust a business offering a clearly defined service to a customer in exchange for a reasonable profit more than a non-profit with mixed motives.

inBloom Underpants Gnomes

Here's the inBloom version of the Underpants Gnomes business plan:

  1. Collect data -- from everyone, at their expense
  2. ???
  3. Non-profit

Mercedes Schneider said yesterday that "InBloom is arguably a monopoly." At this point, inBloom is just a startup whose business plan is based on convincing us to consciously give them a monopoly on this data on a national scale. This is a convincing pitch only to their fellow gnomes.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

What I Really Think About inBloom

inBloom clearly want everyone's data on their servers, even though they've spent a lot of money to make that not technically necessary. Writing an installable open source server of the complexity of inBloom requires a significant ongoing expense compared to just writing something to run on your own kit. Yet, they don't promote this feature.

They don't promote the fact that running an inBloom server does not require a relationship with inBloom, despite the fact that quite reasonable mistrust of inBloom is threatening to kill the whole non-profit, philanthropically funded project.

That is, their website could say -- tomorrow, accurately, if they wanted -- "Hi, Bill Gates paid us to write a state of the art data integration platform for school districts and states and give it away. You can pay us to host it, host it yourself, pay someone else to do it, and freely switch between those if you're not happy."

Essentially, this would negate 90% of the concern about the project (Bill would still be griping). Up to this point, every indication is they'd rather run the whole thing into the ground than actually publicize the full implications of their own licensing and development strategy. Needless to say, I find this deeply puzzling.

There are two likely explanations for this that I can think of.

The first is that it is simply more convenient for vendors to have a single data hub to deal with. Even with standard protocols, connecting to more individual local inBloom servers would still be more overhead for vendors to deal with than just flipping a few settings on inBloom Central when Pearson or Amplify gets a new district account (and yes, permission from the district). This would be easier for district's too, but I think less of an advantage and with a more obvious cost (parents getting freaked out about their data going to inBloom).

One corollary to this point is that if districts are running their own servers, they might be more likely to decide to sell their district data, or at least try to get a discount in return giving it up to a vendor. "Selling" student data sounds odious, but it might be better than simply giving it away -- it is a valuable commodity generated at taxpayer expense, after all.

The more important point is that I believe they want access to a single, large data-set that they can analyse. People are understandably concerned about their PII -- Personally Identifiable Information -- as they should be, but at the end of the day, your kid's fourth grade IEP isn't a valuable commodity. Its cash value is negligible. What's valuable is all the data in aggregate. You know, BIG DATA. The inBloom privacy & security policy isn't reassuring in this regard, as it focuses (understandably) on PII. Post-Snowden, I don't know how to parse any claims such as "Vendors have no access to student records." Is this like how collecting phone metadata isn't like tapping my phone? Do vendors have access to aggregate reports derived from student records?

Even if it is played tight and strictly down the line at the district level, how much will the often quite-unaccountable state authorities be able to give away? To be sure, this isn't a problem unique to inBloom, but inBloom certainly smooths the process of getting enough state secretaries to sign on the dotted line and flip a few switches on their data dashboard to give Gates or Pearson the keys to the whole kingdom.

On one hand this all boils down to trust, and the justifiable lack thereof. Data has been used as a weapon against my community in the past decade.

On the other hand, let's just close with a reminder that this entire premise is ridiculous. Turning over the private records of citizens, generated in public institutions to a single, national, privately-held database for at best the sake of the convenience of not having to pay a few competent sys admins at the state or local level is an idea that never should have even made it off the whiteboard. You shouldn't need to know any details at all to understand that.

Maybe We Should Try REALLY Focusing on Math Instruction

Dan Willingham:

Time spent coaching teachers–especially in math–was associated with better student outcomes.

Instead of the rest of this crap.

The Problem Isn't That inBloom Might Lose Data, But That They Might Be Too Good at Collecting and Keeping It

Shortly after inBloom was launched at SXSW, I chatted with some guys who worked at a ed data startup and attended the inaugural presentations. They were a bit non-plussed, because they felt like inBloom was way more interested in "ingesting" data than... the opposite, so it wasn't of obvious value to them. To make their jobs easier, they'd want to get data out. Whether or not that is true or accurate today, let's go with that premise a bit.

Most inBloom critics seem to be concerned that inBloom is going to allow too much access to children's data, either accidentally, through a security breach, or intentionally, but just making it too easy for vendors to see too much.

Regarding security, there's not much inBloom can say other than "We'll be at least as secure as the people who already have this data!" (i.e., your school or their current vendor).

Regarding exactly what data will be offered to vendors and under what terms, inBloom have been oddly unable to respond convincingly. It absolutely seems like they're hiding something; I just don't get what they're up to.

When you have this kind of disjuncture -- where even the PR is just off key -- it is likely that the two sides are modelling the issue in fundamentally different ways.

To use a banking metaphor, in the current debate, the potential bank customers are saying "How do we know you won't get robbed or just give all the money away to your friends?" What inBloom may be thinking is "Don't these people understand that the whole point of being a bank is that you gain a lot of profit and influence just by keeping people's money safe?" That is, if inBloom loses or gives away too easily its only asset -- a giant pool of student information -- it will collapse like a data-driven Ponzi scheme, or at best limp along as a perpetual embarrassment to its benefactors and managers. This is probably perfectly clear to people at inBloom, but not obvious to outsiders.

Put another way, a big data breach would cost inBloom's staff way more than it would any individual parent and child.

The real problem with inBloom is that if they are circumspect and strategic in their use of this data, they will become an incredibly powerful, influential, and largely unaccountable and unregulated organization. Information = power, and they propose to collect a massive amount of information, at taxpayer expense. There's no compelling reason to create what could easily become a monster over time, and no way -- no way at all -- that the current management of inBloom can assure us that their successors 10 years down the road won't being doing things with a decade's worth of data about our children that we can't even imagine today, even if it is kept "secure."

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

I Think They Got the Sequence Jumbled

Stephanie Simon:

A draft action plan by the advocacy group FreedomWorks lays out the effort as a series of stepping stones: First, mobilize to strike down the Common Core. Then push to expand school choice by offering parents tax credits or vouchers to help pay tuition at private and religious schools. Next, rally the troops to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Then it’s on to eliminating teacher tenure.

If there's one thing we've established, it is that the U.S. Department of Education is a useful tool for eliminating tenure.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Pay Teachers First

Deborah R. Gerhardt:

How did this happen? Both political parties share responsibility. When the recession began, the Democrats in power froze teacher pay. After years of salary stagnation, in 2013, Republicans made the following changes: Job security in the form of tenure was abolished. Extra pay for graduate degrees was eliminated. A new law created vouchers so that private academies could dip into the shrinking pool of money that the public schools have left. While requiring schools to adopt the Common Core standards, the legislature slashed materials budgets. According to the National Education Association, we fell to 48th in per-pupil expenditures. State funds for books were cut by about 80 percent, to allocate only $14.26 a year per student. Because you can’t buy even one textbook on that budget, teachers are creating their own materials at night after a long day of work. As if that weren’t enough, the legislature eliminated funding for 5,200 teachers and 3,850 teacher assistants even though the student population grew.  North Carolina public schools would have to hire 29,300 people to get back up to the employee-per-student ratio the schools had in 2008. The result?  Teachers have more students, no current books, and fewer professionals trained to address special needs, and their planning hours are gone now that they must cover lunch and recess.  For public school teachers in North Carolina, the signals sent by this legislation are unambiguous: North Carolina does not value its teachers.   

The Common Core is Neither Necessary Nor Sufficient for Anything Very Important

As I sort of look forward to inevitably writing more about the Common Core standards in the coming year, I should point out that the Common Core is ultimately not decisive. The CC is obviously not necessary to implement the Race to the Top reforms, because we did not wait for the new assessments to begin implementing the rest of the agenda (VAM, etc.).

Of course, it has become a symbolic battle and emblematic of the whole reform agenda -- and the point that middle class parents see -- so it is an important fight. But the reformers don't need to win on a practical level. In particular, the commercial advantages of national standards, the economies of scale argument, are exaggerated.

I just can't stop yapping about how naked the Emperor is.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The CC Math Politics is Completely Different from the CC ELA/Literacy Politics

Paul Michael Goldenberg, commenting on Crazy Crawfish:

But what’s particularly unsettling here is that as I have repeatedly pointed out, the ideas under attack are not, as is often claimed, new or peculiar to CCSSI. Whether they are good or bad, the issue is NOT in these instances the Common Core or the emotions people are bringing to the table, including their negative feelings about President Obama (particularly feelings that have nothing to do with his generally horrific educational policies). But my knowing that and repeating it is not an adequate safety net for truth, unfortunately. And that’s at times more than a bit frustrating.

And it’s even more frustrating because I hate the educational and political policies at work here, so my initial impulse was to be glad when I saw folks on the Right starting to express opposition to the Common Core. But it’s become glaringly obvious to me that in many instances, their late-arriving opposition is founded far more in the sense that they’ve found another wedge issue, another opportunity to undermine all of Obama’s policies, appointments, etc. And that’s why they are willing to throw out anything negative they can think of or come across, regardless of truth, plausibility, or relevance, in regard to the Common Core. Even when what they are trashing happens to be ideas that I’ve personally fought for over the past 20+ years, back when the vast majority of Americans really didn’t spend a lot of time discussing K-12 mathematics curricular materials, pedagogy, etc.

That is why we keep hearing about “these NEW Common Core math ideas” even though the ideas are NOT new, and weren’t in nearly all cases new when they were appearing in the late 1980s/early 1990s wave of curricular materials related to the 1989-94 NCTM Standards volumes. Indeed, according to Robert B. Davis, late of Rutgers University, many of these ideas weren’t new when he and other mathematicians and mathematics educators were playing with them in the late 1950s through the early 1970s in various projects affiliated with “the” New Math (and as he pointed out, there never was a single “New Math.” Nor was there a single “New-New Math” in the last 20 years or so, and neither is there a “Common Core Math.” Just some standards that have been rewritten, shuffled around, for good or ill, by another bizarre conglomeration of mathematicians and mathematics educators who had and continue to have very conflicting ideas about what to put into a single major document on K-12 math content, teaching, and learning. In other words, it’s a hash, and had to be given the committees involved. And they are still fighting with each other and will be indefinitely.

The Math Wars are alive and sick, have been for a long time, will be for the foreseeable future. And angry parents and teachers who choose to glom onto a deeply flawed analysis of effective math teaching that has been promoted by very educationally conservative (and mostly politically conservative) elitists since the early 1990s or so is only going to make things worse. I’ve written blog pieces on @the Chalk Face and elsewhere to this effect: the winning of the battle against the Common Core will not actually make things better in and of itself. And it may, in the long run, simply bring about many of the same disastrous results for kids and teachers. But the most vocal, narrow-minded parents will be happy, because math materials and teaching methods will look close enough to the unenlightened approaches and books that many of them actually suffered through themselves in K-12 or beyond. But like old frat and sorority folks who were hazed and hated it, they won’t be happy unless what was bad enough for them is made bad enough for their own children.

2013: The Year We Realized We Were All Carrying Telescreens In Our Pockets (and We Continue

The Snowden papers were the biggest new story of 2013. Also the biggest tech story and ed tech story. I haven't blogged about Snowden because the scope of the whole thing is overwhelming, and it seemed like just letting it sink in over time was the better approach (it probably was). I still won't necessarily be blogging more on privacy issues, as I don't feel like I have anything distinctive to contribute on the subject.

The legal and technological response to the Snowden revelations is going to take years. It has to be made an issue in the 2014 and 2016 elections. This is just getting rolling, folks.

I'm part of the problem here though, because 2013 was the year I internally shifted to "hair on fire" mode on climate change, both from the perspective of what science trickles down to me, what I see on the news and what I feel against my skin. Yet I still don't think of it first as the "big story." I do think that 2014 is a good year to start asking education reformers if they believe climate change is a greater threat to the USA than international competitiveness. The current debate is obviously deadlocked; we need a new angle entirely.

See how hard it is to stay on point with climate change? It seems overwhelming but we have to not give up on the planet...