Monday, March 31, 2014

Still Working Out the Kinks

So... I can get a month of for $19.99, which would get me through the initial baseball watching enthusiasm that then subsides for a while. But opening day (today) is the last day of the month, so if I order on opening day is it $20 for one game? I actually tried to read the terms and conditions (perhaps a first for me in the entire internet era), and still have no clue.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Common Core" Licensing and Trademark

There has been a bit of hubub recently over the licensing of the Common Core Standards, and how it might be used to enforce "alignment." Here's my quick "I'm not a lawyer" analysis.

According to their "public license," which grants "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." So this means that theoretically there is some range of uses with is neither fair use, nor allowed by the license. In practice, this is a thin, unimportant slice, since most uses are likely to be educational and would not affect the "market" for the standards themselves.

The real question is whether the NGA and CCSSO hold any trademarks associated with "Common Core." What would stop someone from calling their product "Common Core Aligned" is trademark law. I can't stamp "Microsoft Certified" on whatever I want not because of Microsoft's copyrights, but because of its trademarks. Nothing on the Common Core Standards site indicates that they hold any trademarks, while the other Common Core (the curriculum) clearly does assert a trademark on the phrase. Nor does anything show up from NGA and CCSSO show up on a naive trademark search.

Presumably they could pursue a certification mark at some point. That would at least give them control over a specific "Common Core Aligned" or maybe "CCSSI Aligned" logo.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Uncle's Penultimate Post

George Cornelius:

Next week I’ll be sharing my final post. It will take the form of a letter to my fictional grandson John David, who will soon be commencing his search for the “right” college. Basically, it will be a summary of the college-selection criteria I’ve come to believe are important, although with a personal albeit subjective slant (since, hypothetically, I’ll be writing to family).

I’ll be discontinuing this blog for two reasons. First, I don’t think I have anything left to say on the subject. Second, I think there is already too much being said and written about it and far too little action. I’m starting to feel complicit in the delaying tactics so skillfully employed by our entrenched system of higher education.

I guess to keep up my Cornelius blog quota I'll have to switch over to cousin David's development blog for his apparently quite successful bracket generating site, Challonge.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How You Can Tell Common Core ELA/Literacy Advocates Actually Hate the Damn Things

Following Kathleen Porter-Magee's advice, as I always do, I checked out Louisiana's new Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool for Alignment in ELA Grades 3 -12 (IMET). What's bizarre about it is that there is essentially nothing requiring alignment to specific enumerated standards, eg:

  • Does the text illustrate and require "strong and thorough textual evidence" at the 9th grade level?

I'm pretty sure every major Common Core advocate I've run into would scoff at the very idea of such a thing and mock it as an example of how not to use the standards. So narrow and pedantic! Can't you see the big shifts? That's where the action is!

Yeah, ok, but... that's the way the standards are written, and I thought standards were important?

So the rubric is mostly about whether you have the right kinds of texts in the right percentages and right difficulty and the right kind of questions, scaffolding, assessment, etc. They like that stuff. Not those tedious old standards, which are for losers.

Bear that in mind when you read about what is and is not "aligned" to the Common Core.

The Problem with this Post is He Doesn't Cite Achieve RFC0122

Grant Wiggins:

There are three different aspects to a so-called standard; a standard is not just one demand. Whether stated or implied in standards documents, when we talk about students “meeting standards,” there are three aspects involved: content, process, and performance. The content standard says what they must know. The process standard says what they should be able to do (in terms of a discrete skill or process). A performance standard says how well they must do it and in what kind of complex performance.

Here is a simple example, using track and field:

    • Content = know the techniques and rules of jumping
    • Process = be able to make technically sound jumps
    • Performance = be able to high jump six feet

Modern computer and information technology is built on formal standards. Specific protocols are defined of course. But also, the way those protocols are to interact with each other, how to create a standards-setting work group, and how the specifications are supposed to be written.

One of the deep mysteries of the whole Common Core cycle is why Bill Frickin' Gates and company didn't think it was necessary to really approach educational standards in a more rigorous way, especially if you're trying to build a big data edifice on top of the whole damn thing. Was billg afraid it would be too expensive? I guess there might be some fear that it might slow down the process, after all look at how slowly the internet grew.

Essentially, none of the key terms in this debate are clearly defined. I'm sure people have written this stuff down occasionally, but you never see any citation of a full rigorous explanation. I don't mean that in the sense that there are opposing definitions. It is all just handwaving and opinion.

To be clear, I basically like Wiggins post, but in the end it is just floating around in the same ether as everything else.

Toward Rigorous Common Core Standards From the Ground Up

The next time someone wonders what we would go back to instead of the Common Core, I'm going to suggest Achieve's Common Core circa 2008. It is a bit dull, but the ELA standards are shorter (22 ELA standards!) clearer, less provocative, and in general it is more truly a common core than what we got a year and a half later.

Who knows why it got tossed?

Grant Wiggins Actually Kind of Nailed the CC in 2011

Grant Wiggins:

I know, this is a little dry – but it matters greatly. The poor quality of local assessment and the mismatch with state tests is explained by it. The locally-designed items/questions/tasks used are often too low level and not valid measures of the goals in question. (This has been shown for decades using Bloom’s Taxonomy). So, students and teachers are often shocked when test scores come back; ironically, state tests are much harder than typical school tests. This issue can only be solved by clarity about the performance deamnds stated and implied in the Standards – typically via verbs and adverbs – as well as by sample valid (and invalid) performance indicators and performance tasks being added to the Standards.

So, what do we find in the Common Core? Not much help at all: no glossary or discussion of why those verbs were chosen; and we see inconsistency in how the verbs are used across grade levels. And zero help on performance standards from the math group. ...

And that’s the point:rhetoric seems to be driving the work not intellectual clarity. This lack of attention to clarity and precision completely undermines the idea of Standards. You can bet dollars to doughnuts that some well-intentioned local educators are going to misread the Standard not because they read poorly but because the Standards are too vague and arbitrary in their language, especially across grade levels. (Yes, I know Standards are inherently general; that’s no excuse for shoddy language use or unclear terms and no Glossary).

As I mentioned above, I do not even understand why there have to be grade-level differences at all as long as there is a degree-of-difficulty of text standard – which there is – AND if there are rubrics and anchors for the scoring of work against the Standard over time on a continuum of sophistication. Why not just use only the Anchor Standards, then show samples of work to show what increasingly-sophisticated work against that same Standard looks like? That would greatly simply the whole enterprise and clarify that the point is increased rigor on the ‘same’ standard rather than spurious changes in the same Standard.

I know the answer, alas: the writers of the Standards and their guides didn’t think through the relationship between content standards, process standards, and performance standards. Good Lord, at least the ELA document included an Appendix with sample performance tasks. The math people provided us with absolutely no guidance as to what counts as appropriate performance tasks and appropriate levels of performance in terms of meeting the Standards.

All of this is fixable. But who, now, is in charge of these Standards? How will needed edits get done, and on a timely basis? Beats me. How will the 2 assessment consortia develop a valid test of these Standards without such clarification? Beats me. Write your local state people and demand better.

Nonetheless, he was and is now a fan. This is what makes my head explode.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

State of the Debate

Nothing new here, but if you read this post by TFA-er Juice Fong, then this post by Marc Tucker, you should feel good about which side has the rhetorical and factual momentum at this point. Most pointedly, Fong manages to write a rather long post about the need to continue ed reform without actually citing any recent successes. Not that he couldn't come up with some (kinda... DC! New Orleans! Some charters!), but this far down the road, that needs to be the core of the reform argument.

Multiple Measures of the Same Thing

My understanding of the SAT growing up was that it was meant to identify kids with potential who didn't necessarily have good grades, live in the places one expects successful people to live, or perhaps look like one expects good students to look. There seems to be a broad consensus at this point across the spectrum of educational politics that the SAT does not do this. The response is to align the test to K-12 and college and career readiness standards. But if we do all this correctly, a student's grades in school, her K-12 standardized test scores, her performance portfolio (ha!), and her SAT scores should all say exactly the same thing. So why do we need the SAT?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Who Else Publishes School-Level Student Self-Reported Mental Health Data?

It was pointed out to me last weekend that RIDE's student survey last year included a set of mental health questions, including questions about depression and suicide. There is also a quite detailed taxonomy of bullying, and various risk factors (smoking, drugs, etc.). These are published with school-level data on InfoWorks! (emphasis in the original).

Let's just say for now there are some fascinating and disturbing tidbits there, particularly in the mental health questions. These questions were not in the 2011-2012 survey, and I can't find any of the earlier SALT surveys online -- there are a lot of dead links -- so I'm not sure what the complete history is at this point.

My question for my broader readership is, have you ever heard of anything else like this, in your state in particular? My sense is that some states have "climate" questions, but as it turns out, just because many students in a school feel "safe," and like their teachers care about them, it does not mean there is not also a distressingly large minority of kids who are failing to thrive and will write that down if someone asks them.

If you could leave a quick comment on how this is handled in your state -- particularly in terms of school-level data, I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

We have a legislative problem more than a messaging problem

David Atkins:

It's an old complaint: the Left just doesn't get its message through. You'll often hear progressives complain that the Democrats don't phrase their ideas well enough, or that the media is against us, or that the American people are too distracted by their electronic devices, etc.

But that's actually not true. There may be some failure in terms of deeper narrative framing, but at a policy level most Americans agree strongly with most progressive positions.

This is becoming more and more true in education. One of the bigger problems at this point is simply getting pro-public education candidates to run against people like Rahm Emmanuel, Andrew Cuomo or for that matter, Hillary Clinton.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

School Reformers Design Hubris

A dozen years ago or so I had the opportunity to sit in on a series of regular meetings of a heterogeneous group of leading experts on various aspects of education. These were all people who had impressive records of successful pilot programs, publication, and local successes, and who were focused on bringing together theory and practice (I represented "practice" at that point), and "scaling up" their work.

From their perspective, program design to solve specific problems was essentially trivial. If they needed to design a more effective professional development program, or a new early literacy program, or a new science curriculum, they were confident that they, or someone they knew, could do it, and they had the track record to back it up.

These folks weren't on the cutting edge of "corporate reform" as we know it, but they were definitely being pulled into the New Schools Venture Fund Orbit, were certainly almost entirely dependent on Gates, Hewlett, MacArthur and other private foundation funding, and had generally come to the conclusion that the experts on scale were businesses.

Fast forwarding to today, none of these folks has, as far as I can tell, significantly expanded their influence as a result of the subsequent wave of reforms, but what is more and more clear to me is that their attitude about the trivial nature of specific problems in education became conventional wisdom to reformers, whether by coincidence or direct influence.

That is, what is really crippling reform at this point is that writing new standards turned out not to be trivial; writing whole new curricula based on those standards was not trivial, and there was never any reason to think the new tests were going to be significantly better than the old ones. Future innovation was simply assumed, as if Moore's Law applied to pedagogy.

I'm not going to try to dig up the original, but this struck me most clearly in an article about the piloting of Amplify's new tablets and software, where it was mentioned in passing that the math games on which much depended had not yet been written. Given that people have been writing math games and exercises for computers for 50 years, and I can think of none that is much more than glorified flash cards (not to say there aren't some great math tools), to just assume the "writing effective math teaching software" step seems rather foolish.

Perhaps this makes more sense if you look at it as a case of underconfidence by the reform community. That is, they've screwed up their whole agenda because of haste. The fundamental assumption was that they had to rush as much in as possible, quality be damned, before the inevitable backlash. I think they were wrong about that, and they would have been unstoppable in a grinding war of attrition, whereas their blitzkrieg has left the overextended, short on ammo, and vulnerable.

I'm Guessing Chris Franzen is Not a Fan of Rodney Mullen's TED Talk on Creativity and Innovation

Chris Franzen:

In the skate game or whatever, let’s say you’ve come up with some crazy fuckin trick nobody’s done before. You need to keep that shit a secret, clump all your footage together, and then release.

So I’m trying to get a check from Rocco and them—cause I need money; everyone wants to live the dream. There were a lot if kids—including me—that were the same as this, and they’d go and show the footage and then Rodney would go tell whatever pro what trick was going on. Then you’d look like you copied that dude. It’s kind of like a big game. So I wouldn’t necessarily say blackballed, they just made sure nobody would work with me, plus I think the drugs were another major problem.

And then—skateboarding is no place for an entrepreneur. It’s not that there’s no place for it, it’s just that the guys before you think that they deserve to control you and make money off of you because that is what happened to them. Everything we thought we weren’t—like, we’re not part of society and this and that—bullshit, man. We’re just part of a big machine to sell product. So I made the mistake of letting Rodney and them know that I had these intentions. When you say you’re going to do a company, they need to make sure you don’t get released to the public—like run ads and this and that. I made the dumbass mistake of not playing dumb.I think when I realized this, I got super depressed and started using some fuckin’ heavy drugs. It was like Breaking Bad—except I wasn’t making it. I was like that Jesse dude. ...

Jesus, Dani, and Alfonso were all trying to do the World thing at the time, but Rodney wasn’tgiving them any love because he already had a Spaniard–Enrique.

Just like me, they’d go and release some footage, show it to Rodney to try and get on, and he would show somebody else, and then that person would come out with the trick. So you’d have to come out with tricks that nobody could do—some fuckin insane shit. ...

You know, it’s funny because when I smoked glass, I’d be like “I can make this company. I can make my board company.” And then as soon as I’d run out of meth, I’d hear Rodney’s voice saying [in Rodney Mullen impression voice] “it’s impossible and a lot of work to make a board company.” I would not necessarily call this brainwashing, but when your hero tells you something face to face, it is pretty persuasive. Why should anyone be scared of hard work, anyways? Now I understand this was only a strategy to keep people from taking market share and actually rather common practice in business. I meet programmers all the time that work for major software companies that are deterred from starting the same thing because of this same practice.

Of course, it is difficult for anyone to implement their beneficent Zen master management strategies when the public face of the company is a bunch of drug addled kids.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Line Up at the Fed ATM

Ryan Cooper:

Why hasn’t the helicopter money option already been enacted? The main reason is simply that until very recently we thought we had cured chronic shortages of aggregate demand, so no one was really thinking about these issues. The other reason is that Congress has not yet gotten it together to pass a law allowing the Fed to cut checks to the American people.

But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Democrats should be for it because it is straight-up economic stimulus, writ large. And Republicans should be for it because it is the stimulus option that’s most in line with conservative values. To be sure, a whole lot of right-wing conservatives will object to the very notion—government checks give them the willies. And for conservatives with the strongest tendencies toward gold buggery, who are already freaked out that the Fed’s quantitative easing is debasing the currency and setting us up for hyperinflation, the idea will never be in favor. But what conservatives really objected to about the Obama stimulus and all subsequent Democratic proposals for fiscal pump priming was not so much the fiscal consequences, despite what they said—after all, they favored the Iraq War and the Bush tax cuts, which drove up the debt, and voted for Paul Ryan’s budget, which would have done the same. What really infuriates them about Democratic stimulus measures is that it is spending by government, meant to achieve government priorities, and delivered through government channels in ways that enhance the reach and influence of the government.

The helicopter money policy, by contrast, keeps government almost completely out of the picture. It distributes resources directly to citizens, with no limits on how they can spend it, thereby strengthening individual choice and the private sector, not government bureaucracies. It’s a stimulus Milton Friedman could love. And if everyone gets the same-sized check, there’s not even a concession to the god of progressivity—it’s like a flat tax in reverse! There will be a Republican president again someday, and as we’ve seen, it is highly likely that government will face the same weak growth and high unemployment we face today. This is a tool as friendly to the conservatives’ ideology as they are likely to find.

In any case, we shouldn’t forget the relative simplicity of what’s wrong with our economy right now: it’s a simple divergence between incentives for production and those for consumption. The money supply is a very powerful tool to fix that misalignment of incentives, and its power is communal. It comes from the fact that it is accepted as a medium of exchange by all 310 million Americans. We should not fear to use that tool, and to provide badly needed help to millions of people in the process.

Still Commodifying Your Dissent

Thomas Frank:

Harold Ramis was a sort of poet of the rude gesture, of the symbolic humiliation. Our reaction to his work, both now and when it was fresh, is almost mechanical: We see the square on the screen get shamed, and our mind shouts liberation. It is almost Pavlovian. Our culture-masters have been gleefully triggering this kind of reaction for nearly fifty years now—since the rude gesture first became a national pastime during the 1960s—and in that time the affluent, middle-class society that produced the Boomer generation has pretty much gone the way of the family farmer.

These two developments are not unconnected. One small reason for the big economic change, I think, is the confusion engendered by the cultural change. The kind of liberation the rude gesture brings has turned out to be not that liberating after all, but along the way it has crowded out previous ideas of what liberation meant—ideas that had to with equality, with work, with ownership. And still our love of simple, unadorned defiance expands. It is everywhere today. Everyone believes that they’re standing up against unjust authority of some imaginary kind or another—even those whose ultimate aim is obviously to establish an unjust authority of their own. Their terms for it are slightly different than the ones in “Animal House”—they talk about the liberal elite, the statists, the social engineers, the “ruling class.” But they’re all acting out the same old script. The Tea Party movement believes it’s resisting the arrogant liberal know-it-alls. So did Andrew Breitbart, in his brief career as a dealer in pranks and contumely. So do the people who proposed that abominable gay marriage discrimination law in Arizona. Hell, so do the pitiful billionaires of Wall Street—even they think they’re standing bravely for Ayn Rand’s downtrodden job creators.

Maybe the day will come when we finally wake up and understand that insults don’t always set us free. But until that happens, my liberal friends, don’t ask for whom the bird flips: the bird flips for thee.

PPSD Finally Standing Up to RIDE

Linda Borg:

PROVIDENCE — After much soul-searching, School Supt. Susan Lusi said she has concluded that using the NECAP test as a high school graduation requirement isn’t fair for students who already struggle with poverty and other barriers.

In testimony Wednesday before the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee, Lusi said she can no longer support a system that “disadvantages the very students in our state who are already the most disadvantaged” — those who are poor, have special learning needs and are learning English.

Lusi appears to be the first superintendent who has openly disagreed with state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s controversial policy linking a standardized test, the NECAP, to a diploma. The policy has come under increasing fire from teachers, union leaders and student activists but school leaders have been mum on the subject.

And more back and forth between Education Chairwoman Eva-Marie Mancuso and Providence School Board President Keith Oliveira.

We've become accustomed to the idea that urban superintendents will actively support, or at least remain prudently silent about, state and federal attacks upon institutions and employees they ostensibly lead, and corresponding threats the the welfare of students in their charge. This is not, of course, the only possible state of affairs. As the current wave of school reform loses momentum and moral authority, professional administrators and local board members will not only be able to speak and act based on their own conscience and judgement, but it may indeed become a good career move once again to show you will stick up for your own constituents. It isn't such a strange idea!

I have no idea what Mancuso and the board thinks it is standing up for at this point, as they've already gutted the NECAP requirement. All that is left is a husk of red tape which will only entangle the most vulnerable students. RIDE and the board are left with an extremely weak hand, and everyone knows it.

On the other hand, it was clear a while ago that the RI Board of Education was being manoeuvred by RIDE administration and federal policies into acting more like a large school district board, getting into decisions about individual school policies (Hope High), opening and closing individual schools, etc., which would inevitably get them tied up in what would become a highly frustrating level of small-scale political sniping and infighting. It was bound to become unpleasant.