Monday, April 28, 2014

I'll be Happy to Tell You What I Don't Like

Erik Palmer:

For some time now, I have been asking haters to tell me exactly which standard they don’t like. You don’t like “Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea?” You don’t like “Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation?” You don’t like “Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate?” Well then, tell me exactly which ones need to be tossed out? NOT ONE PERSON HAS EVER ANSWERED THIS QUESTION. Only a fool sees things in black and white; all good or all bad; everything or nothing. Aren’t there some good ideas here?

My response is here. Whether or not I'll be able to coax the ASCD blog into letting me leave a comment, I don't know.

Advanced Common Core Kremlinology

Me, in comments:

A few points, Mercedes.

I think the copyright to the standards angle is a red herring. Standards shouldn’t be controlled by private copyright, I agree, but the way NGA & CCSSO set this up — including splitting control over two politically complicated organizations, and using a sort of, almost open license — does not indicate at all that they intended to aggressively enforce their copyright control. Certainly if they were going to, Indiana would be on its way to court already, and as far as I know they are not.

I still think you’ve got ADP’s role in the sequence flipped. The important and pointed question is more “Why *didn’t* they use ADP?” Common Core isn’t based on ADP, despite the fact that Achieve literally published a set of “Common Core” standards based on ADP in July 2008 — Knowing exactly what happened between 2008 and 2009 to write that document out of history would tell us a lot. What was thought to be wrong with the ADP Common Core?

I’ve always thought that we needed new standards because the powers that be wanted new *tests* and more numbers for VAM. The standards are just a formality. If they could write new tests without writing standards at all, they would. So the standards were written to fit the way they wanted to write tests and provide at least tidier looking VAM numbers (by having everything in K-12 ELA based around the same skill based anchor standards, mostly).

Anyhow, these are relatively obscure points of Kremlinology.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Chaos Favors Pearson

Robert Shepherd:

When I started in the educational publishing business years ago, there were 30 companies competing with one another. When the teachers at a school got together to decide what book they wanted to use, there were many, many options. Now, there are three big providers that have almost the entire market. What were previously competing companies are now separate imprints from one company.

And the CC$$ creates ENORMOUS economies of scale for those few remaining publishers, making it almost impossible for any other publisher to compete with them.

And inBloom creates a single monopolistic gateway through which computer-adaptive online materials must pass. A private monopoly created by the state.

Are people OK with this? Where are the articles and essays and speeches about these issues from those opposed to Education Deform? One can understand the silence from the deformers–they created these deforms precisely in order to ensure their monopoly positions. But . . . but . . . why the deafening silence from the other side?

Me, in comments:

I would argue that the crux of the problem in this facet is not the Common Core -- or national standards as a concept -- but the power and resources of Pearson and the other big players in the context of constant, rapid policy churn and manufactured crisis.

In the *long run*, in a stable policy environment, with the internet as a distribution and composition platform, stable national standards, particularly if they were of the quality of some of the better national or provincial curriculum frameworks used elsewhere, would tend to favor innovation and smaller players. Particularly if standardized testing was not central.

That's the opposite of where we are right now of course, so Pearson wins the day. If nothing else, we're very much in "nobody ever lost their job for buying IBM, I mean, Microsoft, I mean Pearson" territory.

I'm not trying to make this point to defend Common Core, Pearson, etc. But at this point, chaos and shock doctrine policy favors Pearson more than the Common Core does. If the Common Core goes away, a whole bunch of startup potential market rivals will die a sudden death (I don't care if they die, I'm just pointing this out). Pearson will *still* be in a better chance to react to the next thing than their commercial competitors for the foreseeable future.

Essentially, every time you have to deliver a new curriculum yesterday, or else, the more likely you're just going to buy it from Pearson.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Meanwhile, on the Saving the World Front

Joe Romm:

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its third of four planned reports. This one is on “mitigation” — “human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.”

The first two reports laid out humanity’s choice as depicted in the figure above, which appeared in both reports. The first report warned that continued inaction would lead to 9°F warming (or higher) for most of the U.S. and Northern Hemisphere landmass, resulting in faster sea level rise, more extreme weather, and collapse of the permafrost sink, which would further accelerate warming. The second report warned that this in turn would lead to a “breakdown of food systems,” more violent conflicts, and ultimately threaten to make some currently habited and arable land virtually unlivable for parts of the year.

Now you might think it would be a no-brainer that humanity would be willing to pay a very high cost to avoid such catastrophes and achieve the low emission “2°C” (3.6°F) pathway in the left figure above (RCP2.6 — which is a total greenhouse gas level in 2100 equivalent to roughly 450 parts per million of CO2). But the third report finds that the “cost” of doing so is to reduce the median annual growth of consumption over this century by a mere 0.06%.

You read that right, the annual growth loss to preserve a livable climate is 0.06% — and that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.” So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24% rather than 2.30% to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries. As always, every word of the report was signed off on by every major government in the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Getting Back to the Core of Common Core ELA

This is the generic form of the essay question in the new SAT:

Write an essay in which you explain how THE AUTHOR builds an argument to persuade his audience. In your essay, analyze how THE AUTHOR uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with THE AUTHOR'S claims, but rather explain how THE AUTHOR builds an argument to persuade his audience.

The "features in the box" might change, and of course the text will, but that's the prompt, full stop. One of the distinctive features of the Common Core is that essentially all the reading standards can be applied that way and turned into generic writing prompts that could be applied directly to arbitrary texts. This is a very unusual feature for a set of standards. It didn't happen accidentally.

On the other hand, Common Core implementation hasn't followed this path of least resistance, but its reappearance in the SAT indicates that it is a pattern David Coleman likes (or maybe we should credit The College Board, since that organization had a big footprint in the Common Core design process), and probably expected the Common Core to follow.

Uh... Yeah, I Can Think of How to Prep for This

The College Board:

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the redesigned SAT® embodies the College Board’s firm commitment to the idea that all students should be asked routinely to engage with texts worthy of close attention and careful analysis — works that explore challenging ideas, offer important insights, reveal new discoveries, and build deep knowledge in numerous disciplines. While this commitment is apparent throughout the whole exam — which calls on students to read and analyze rich texts in the fields of U.S. and world literature, history/social studies, and science and on career-related topics — nowhere is it more evident than in the Reading Test’s inclusion of U.S. founding documents and texts from the Great Global Conversation.

Over the centuries, the founding documents — a body of works that includes the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers — have moved, influenced, and inspired countless individuals and groups at home and abroad. The vital issues central to these documents — freedom, justice, and human dignity among them — have also motivated numerous people in the United States and around the globe to take up the pen to engage in an ongoing dialogue on these and similar matters. Those participating in this Great Global Conversation, including Edmund Burke, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King Jr., are notable in part for the diversity of perspectives and life experiences they represent. Though their works inevitably reflect the particulars of the places and times in which they lived, these writers are united by their profound engagement with the issues and ideas that are at the heart of civic life. The texts they have produced — spanning many nations and years — have served to build on, broaden, and enrich the “conversation” that took place in the British American colonies and the early U.S. republic. ...

(example question) The stance Jordan takes in the passage is best described as that of

  • A) an idealist setting forth principles.
  • B) an advocate seeking a compromise position.
  • C) an observer striving for neutrality.
  • D) a scholar researching a historical controversy.

OK, this is just a draft, but once a kid recognizes that he or she is reading a Great Global Conversation text, that's going to eliminate a lot of potential answers. You should be able to guess the correct answer above based on no more than that meta-context.

Much Depends on the Efficacy of Slightly Elaborated Multiple Choice Questions

Caralee Adams:

The (new SAT) reading test drills down, more specifically, asking students to answer questions based on what is stated and implied in texts across a range of content areas and determine which portion of a text best supports the answer to a given question.

Let me just say that I totally get the genesis of the role of citing evidence in college preparedness. I took a number of literature courses with undergraduates at Brown, well, 15 years ago (not long at all!) while getting my MAT in English, thus while quite conscious of what was going on around me pedagogically, and YES! indeed, many of my professors would get quite peevish about constantly having to ask students to cite evidence for their opinions during a comparative literature seminar!

Yet, as our new deeply intertwined systems of curriculum, assessment and accountability roll out, it is hard not to feel like far too much is resting on the premise that adding a ubiquitous "determine which portion of a text best supports the answer to a given question" step to basically every reading task or test a student will undertake as a primary or secondary school student is going to trigger some sort of substantive improvement in American education.

That is, when this process started, I don't think reformers would have predicted that this particular point would be a centerpiece of their agenda, but from my perspective, it has turned out that way.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Efficiency For Whom

Paul Krugman points us to a short paper by Thomas Philippon, Finance vs. Wal-Mart: Why are Financial Services so Expensive? which I would recommend to anyone working in ed tech:

Historically, the unit cost of intermediation has been somewhere between 1.3% and 2.3% of assets. However, this unit cost has been trending upward since 1970 and is now significantly higher than in the past. In other words, the finance industry of 1900 was just as able as the finance industry of 2010 to produce loans, bonds and stocks, and it was certainly doing it more cheaply. This is counter-intuitive, to say the least. How is it possible for today's finance industry not to be significantly more efficient than the finance industry of John Pierpont Morgan?

This paper in particular gives you something to throw in the face of anyone -- particularly in finance -- who brings up the old trope about every industry in the country but education having been transformed by technology.

The Wal-Mart vs. banks comparison is particularly nuts. For all the many, many important and well documented downsides of Wal-Mart, they do at the end of the day deliver everyday low prices, whereas our financiers can't even do that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Little Context on the OpenSSL and GnuTLS Bugs

If I'm getting confused, you probably are too, so for a little historical perspective, here's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols from last month:

According to some reports you'd think the security sky was falling. Yes, GnuTLS, an open-source "secure" communications library that implements \Secure-Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS), has serious flaws. The good news? Almost no one uses it. OpenSSL has long been everyone's favorite open-source security library of choice.

Red Hat discovered the latest in a long-series of GnuTLS bugs .

Latest? Yes, latest.

You see, GnuTLS has long been regarded as being a poor SSL/TLS security library. A 2008 message on the OpenLDAP mailing list had "GnuTLS considered harmful" as its subject — which summed it up nicely. 

In it, Howard Chu, chief architect for the OpenLDAP, the open-source implementation of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), wrote, "In short, the code is fundamentally broken; most of its external and internal APIs are incapable of passing binary data without mangling it. The code is completely unsafe for handling binary data, and yet the nature of TLS processing is almost entirely dependent on secure handling of binary data. I strongly recommend that GnuTLS not be used. All of its APIs would need to be overhauled to correct its flaws and it's clear that the developers there are too naive and inexperienced to even understand that it's broken." 

With GnuTLS's most recent and perhaps biggest failure to date, Red Hat found that GnuTLS, when shown a specially rigged kind of bogus SSL certificate, would fail to see that the certificate was a fake.

What we learned this week is that OpenSSL had a vastly worse vulnerability, known as Heartbleed.

So... well, one thing is for sure, if two gaping holes in the security backbone of the open source internet architecture had come out six months after The Cathedral and Bazaar was published, we might be living in a completely different, even more proprietary technological world where, say, your Sun Microsystems stock might be worth something. At this point, the overall role of open source processes is well established, and it is clear that switching to proprietary security software isn't going to protect us from prying eyes. Still, what happened to the open source mantra that "with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow?" Well, as Timothy B. Lee put it:

The Heartbleed story highlights just how central to online security the OpenSSL library has become. Thousands of organizations use it to protect the privacy of millions of users. Yet the software is developed by a small, volunteer-driven organization. The project lists just 15 developers as responsible for maintaining the software. As one security expert puts it, the team does "a hard job with essentially no pay."

With so many organizations depending on a small, under-resourced project, mistakes were inevitable. It will cost companies and governments millions of dollars to clean up the mess created by Heartbleed. It would be good if some of those deep-pocketed organizations invested resources in helping to improve the OpenSSL code so it's less likely to happen again.

Unfortunately, there's a huge collective action problem. The risk of any specific company or policymaker being blamed for a security breach is low, so everyone assumes that someone else will do something about it.

Right now, we have a "National Security Agency" dedicated to making the internet insecure. We need the opposite.

Perhaps I Should Write an Op-Ed Demanding an End to Tenure for NY Times Reporters

Andrew O'Hehir:

There were plenty of signs of trouble, too: Blair had been in rehab for cocaine and alcohol abuse, and well before the plagiarism scandal broke, his work was often seen as dubious and full of mistakes. The number of corrections his stories required was three times higher than average; he had received a strongly negative performance review, and one mid-level editor had written a stern memo urging that “we have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times.” In Grant’s film, Howell Raines says the memo never reached his desk, and other editors say that a combination of complacency and bureaucracy kept Blair on the staff, rather than any desire to protect one of the paper’s few African-American reporters.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

This is Certainly the Way I Look at Living in Elmwood

Daniel Jose Older:

The dominant narrative of the endangered white person barely making it out of the hood alive is, of course, a myth. No one is safer in communities of color than white folks. White privilege provides an invisible force field around them, powered by the historically grounded assurance that the state and media will prosecute any untoward event they may face.

Monday, April 07, 2014

I'd Like to See these Numbers for Rhode Island

Doug Livingston:

Ohio’s public school buses are traveling farther each year to pick up fewer kids, and it’s costing taxpayers more money.

It’s an unintended consequence of school choice. State officials have forced traditional public schools to crisscross their cities to pick up and deliver children to privately run charter schools, often while cutting transportation to their own kids.

The cost for the door-to-door service is significant: About 44 percent more per child, according to an analysis of statewide data.

A child attending a traditional public school and transported on a district bus cost on average $4.30 per day in 2012. The average cost for a charter-school student: $6.18, or $1.88 more per day.

Since then, 22,000 more children have enrolled in charter schools, the state has stopped helping school districts buy new buses and other state transportation assistance has failed to keep pace with costs.

The Most Depressing Thing I've Read in a While

Dan Alexander:

In the two days since he hosted the Republican Jewish Coalition’s meeting with several possible 2016 Republican candidates at his Venetian Resort and Hotel, Adelson personally made $2.1 billion — 21 times the $100 million he reported giving away during the 2012 presidential election.

Friday, April 04, 2014

We've got a School of Sport at Stirling

John Lombardi:

It’s time for the sports performance degree. As anyone who watches the college sports enterprise knows, the profession of sports performance (i.e., being a professional athlete, whether on a golf tour or in professional baseball) is demanding, highly technical, and requires a combination of talent, skill, training, preparation, and dedication.

One only needs to observe the increasingly sophisticated methods and techniques required of baseball and football players, or the careful analysis that goes into learning golf techniques or tennis strategy, to understand that we should provide our students interested in sports performance with similar opportunities to those we provide students seeking a career as a violinist or operatic tenor.

To be sure, academic programs in music, or theater, or dance, with courses in theory and history, as well as performance, have been with us for a long time, and have well-established traditions and curriculums. Sports performance, with its tradition of amateur participation and a long-standing existence outside the academic program as an extracurricular activity, does not have the benefit of an academic tradition.

University of Stirling School of Sport:

Our mission is to be the first choice for anyone with an interest in sport – step onto our campus and you’ll discover it is the perfect setting to study and participate in sport.

The School of Sport is at the heart of the University’s sporting life, with experts in areas such as coaching, psychology, management and science.

There are extensive sports science research and teaching laboratories and one of the best collections of sports facilities in the country including a 50m swimming pool and indoor tennis centre.

Sports scholarships support talented athletes and partnerships with the sports industry ensure students have every opportunity to prepare for careers of their choice.

We've even got an American football team -- the Clansmen!

Seriously though, it makes sense. Sports is a business and an important part of the culture.

More Pointedly on NYS/Pearson

New York state's strategy vis a vis Pearson has been to attack Pearson's core business by paying non-profits to develop open curriculum for the state (and beyond), while turning over to Pearson the decisive point in the process -- the tests -- in fact going out on a limb to do so instead of joining one of the two new multi-state consortiums. If the Common Core fails in New York, even if Pearson's tests are a leading cause, Core Knowledge, Expeditionary Learning, Common Core, Inc., and the other upstart curriculum writers have a lot more to lose than Pearson.

NECAP vs. Common Core at RIFuture


Is one of these clearly intellectually stronger than the other? Why should we think they would be, since the NECAP standards were published in 2006 and closely aligned to Achieve’s American Diploma Project standards, which were a direct precursor to the Common Core standards? There was no breakthrough in our understanding of high school or collegiate English in the intervening three years.

In terms of writing, it depends on if you believe that being “intellectually stronger” requires an almost singular focus on one particular type of formal, logical, academic argument. If you believe that writing for self-expression or aesthetic reasons makes you intellectually weak, you may agree with Dr. Adams and Common Core proponents. On the whole, though, at the high school level Rhode Island’s old and new writing standards are more similar than different.

People don’t trust the Common Core because most of what what we have been told about the standards is obviously not true. Some people are a bit confused about exactly which bits are the lies, but it is no wonder given the context.

Is Pearson Sabotaging the Common Core?

After a quick perusal of Testing Talk (kudos to the remarkably broad range of backers), the little feedback there is about the PARCC and Smarter, Balanced tests is relatively restrained and technology focused, compared to the response to Pearson's New York state test.

e.g., Lucy Caulkins:

Last year, the NYS ELA–a test that was described as bran new and aligned to the CCSS–was bad. We complained, we gave feedback, we worked to improve things–and I think many of us actually believed that the State would try to make a better test this year. But from what we are hearing, this year’s test was worse. The finest principals in the State are all saying that the best thing they could have done was to tell teachers and children to go home. The people I am hearing from are all agreeing the tests will tell nothing of value–that they were not testing anything close to what kids should be able to do in language arts.

I did not see the tests–I am not allowed to do so–therefore I rely on reports, as do all the parents across the State. I’m sympathizing with those parents, wondering what they have heard. What I have heard includes stories about some of the very strongest, most resolute third graders coming up to their teachers with tears welling, saying, “I can’t write anything here. I don’t understand what it is asking.” There are stories of brilliant teachers and principals trying to take the test themselves and finding that too many questions were obscure and confusing, too many had many possible answers. Teachers who are my heroes report their hearts were breaking, they do not know if they can continue to teach. Passages for third grades (on their first standardized test ever) at level X, three-part questions requiring a whole sequence of abstract steps, passages in archaic old English… And always, the kids are being asked to look between paragraphs, back and forth, back and forth, noting structures of paragraphs and intuiting author’s purposes…The work that people describe as being required on the Ela seems to me to be utterly unlike what reading and writing should be like for youngsters.

On the other hand, here's some detailed PARCC observations from RI.

I'm not saying PARCC and Smarter Balanced are fine, I have no idea, really. But as someone who has spent plenty of time talking to teachers and administrators about the problems of garden-variety US standardized testing, the response to the NY Pearson tests was quantitatively and qualitatively off the charts. There was never any reason for Common Core aligned tests to be that different than what preceded them -- and in turn no real reason to think the forthcoming consortium tests would be that much different from the status quo, for better or worse, either.

You have to ask yourself exactly how Pearson screwed up such a pivotal contract so badly. You can see CC as an opportunity to lock up the whole country, but you can also see it as an opportunity for new players to get into the game and grow much more quickly. Either could happen. Pearson has done fine with a fragmented and turbulent state-based system, and the entire Common Core syndicate is so tightly interwoven, interlocking, and justifiably worried about the whole edifice collapsing that it is difficult for anyone to pointedly and publicly critique anyone else.

Consider, for example, the damage to one of College Board's biggest competitors that David Coleman could have done with a few offhand public comments (or some extended formal ones) about the problems with Pearson's NY tests last year. One suspects that the fear of turning the Common Core coalition into a circular firing squad keeps any of them from critiquing the rest, publicly at least.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Problems of the Century are This and Climate Change

Charlie Stross:

We can still produce enough food and stuff to feed and house and clothe everybody. We can still run a growth economy. But we don't seem to know how to allocate resources to people for whom there are no jobs. There's a pervasive cultural assumption that people who don't work are shirkers or failures, rather than victims of technological change, and this is an enabler for populist politicians who campaign for support from the frightened (because embattled) working majority by punishing the unlucky, rather than admitting that the core assumption—that we must starve if we can't find work—is simply invalid.

I tend to evaluate the things around me using a number of rules of thumb, one of which is that the success of a social system can be measured by how well it supports those at the bottom of the pile—the poor, the unlucky, the non-neurotypical—rather than by how it pampers its billionaires and aristocrats. By that rule of thumb, western capitalism did really well throughout the middle of the 20th century, especially in the hybrid social democratic form: but it's now failing, increasingly clearly, as the focus of the large capital aggregates at the top (mostly corporate hive entities rather than individuals) becomes wealth concentration rather than wealth production. And a huge part of the reason it's failing is because our social system is set up to provide validation and rewards on the basis of an extrinsic attribute (what people do) which is subject to external pressures and manipulation: and for the winners it creates incentives to perpetuate and extend this system rather than to dismantle it and replace it with something more humane.

Pointedly, the problem is not "preparing kids for jobs that don't exist yet." There will be many jobs that don't exist yet, but there will not be enough of them to employ everyone, full stop.

What then?

Just to be clear, in the medium term, we could get back to more or less full employment with higher government infrastructure and public service spending, but the longer term problem only becomes more clear.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Of Course, Then You Need Democrats Who Act Differently Than Republicans

David Atkins:

But there's one other thing that Democrats can do that she doesn't mention: get aggressive about progressive policy at a state level. If Democrats in blue states prove what is possible when Republicans aren't in the way, that would serve as a way to counter cynicism and bring a broader electorate to the polls. It would also emphasize the importance of voting in every race all the way down the ballot.


Light blogging lately due mostly to a spring cold I can't shake. This is the problem with relying on multiple bike trips every day to move children and food around, but I'd managed to avoid it until now. I'm fine but just lacking the bursts of mental energy that result in completed blog posts.