Thursday, July 31, 2014

Also True About Education Reform


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

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

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

Stephanie Simon:

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So... Who's Getting the Axe?

Mayor Taveras's Office:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Simon:

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

Peter Greene:

The burdens of poweriness

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

Coleman, instead of answering that, meditates on power.

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

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

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

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

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

Setting the record straight

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

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

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

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

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

And he knows it.

McKinsey Calculates Common Core Dropout Rates

McKinsey and Company:

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Moment That Has Passed

Jeff Bryant:

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

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

Dylan Matthews:

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Maybe I Can Get on the Design Team

Elisabeth Harrison:

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

And then my wife's head exploded.

Looking Forward to Returning to the Land of the Free

Smell the Inequality!

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

What's the Deal with Bullying in RI Charters?

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

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

SOMEDAY Tutoring Software will Just Work

Justin Reich:

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

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flee! Flee!

David Weigel:

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

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

The College Remediation Process is a Misinformation Generating Mess

Carol Burris:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Take a Sabbatical


Many UFTers think that sabbaticals no longer exist. Wrong. Think that most applications get rejected. Wrong. Think they can’t afford one. Wrong.

You can still take them in the PPSD, too. Jennifer didn't qualify because she had a service break of a couple weeks when she decided to take a brief leave after she ran out of maternity leave with Vivian rather than go back to school in June, so she's just on a regular unpaid leave from PPSD this year. For other reasons it still made more sense to go to Scotland this year rather than waiting to take a sabbatical.

For reform-generated burnout, one key issue is that a year off isn't going to do much good until the system is past Peak Crazy. I think we're past that point.

Also, Jennifer is transferring to Central, which should be an improvement for her.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Start with (Un-)Gerrymandering

Ron Klain:

But while I too oppose Citizens United and decry the influence of special interest money in politics, I can’t get past this mathematical reality: Almost 90 percent of the House Republicans who are fomenting for gridlock, impeachment, and lawsuits against President Obama (instead of passing legislation) will win re-election in 2014—not because of a check written by the Koch brothers—but because they are in all-but-unopposed, one-party districts. Heavily partisan districts not only protect incumbents, they push the Republican majority further to the right: Just ask Rep. Eric Cantor what he thinks about his gerrymandered, post-2010, heavily Republican-conservative district … and ponder what that gerrymander in Virginia did to comprehensive immigration reform nationwide.

Campaign finance reform goes straight into the teeth of the money machine and the Supreme Court. Gerrymandering is at least as potent an anti-democratic force right now, easier to attack and tougher to defend.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tom's Common Core Reading Remix

Apparently we're going to start talking about re-writing the Common Core. Given that the last thing most Common Core critics want is a new and improved Common Core, the reaction to this is likely to be ambivalent at best, including from me.

On the other hand, I've found myself trying to categorize the various structural flaws in the Common Core standards, in yet another attempt to distill my analysis, and I ended up feeling yesterday morning like I would have to create an example of the CC standards that avoided it structural faults. So... I ended up with this list, which, I would hasten to note, is meant to simply be a better organized version of the Common Core anchor standards for reading, limited to their current (insufficient) scope and philosophy.

  1. Determine what the text says explicitly.
  2. Determine the central ideas or themes of the text.
  3. Summarize the text.
  4. Determine or infer the point of view of the author.
  5. Determine or infer the purpose of the text.
  6. Describe the style of the text.
  7. Analyze how the central ideas or themes of the text are developed.
  8. Analyze how specific parts of the text relate to each other and the whole.
  9. Assess how well the text achieves its purpose.
  10. Interpret the text, in part and in whole.
  11. Perform standards 7, 8, 9 and 10, comparing multiple texts.

Range of texts for assessment:
Reading standards must be assessed using grade level texts.
Assessment must emphasize reading arguments.
Assessment must include texts from diverse media, formats and academic disciplines.

Note: Citation is a writing or speaking task.

Also included would be detailed performance standards for grades 3, 5, 8, 10 and graduation. Each anchor standard would not have to have performance standards at all grade spans. Where appropriate there may be separate performance standards for different types of texts, but complete duplication of standards across text types is not necessary.

I imagine the primary complaints would be that this version does not emphasize the same "shifts" as the Common Core. The problem is that the Common Core uses redundancy and repetition to create emphasis, which makes their structure an overlapping mess.

Anyhow, I'd be interested in any feedback about my remix. Don't worry, a response does not imply endorsement of the AFT's Common Core position.

Friday, July 11, 2014

1 More Month

The Answer is Always "Close More Public Schools"

Reihan Salam:

Yet recently, as Mayor Bill de Blasio, state lawmakers in Albany, and the United Federation of Teachers have called for scrapping Stuyvesant’s current admissions formula, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that Stuyvesant should close its doors. The same goes for elite public high schools like it across the country.

I'm not a fan of this type of school, and critics of RI's school ratings should probably spend more time asking proponents why exactly Classical gets higher ratings than the rest of Providence's high schools, if those ratings are supposed to reflect anything other than the profile of the students attending the school. But it is even more depressing that "Oh, close the damn school," rolls off the lips so easily these days.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Most Important Syllable in "Personalized Learning" is "ize"

That "personalized learning" is transparently phoney is given away by the use of "ize." It is post hoc fakery -- "Let's make this seem personal." As marketing, it is barely even trying.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

No Shit, Sherlock

Elisabeth Harrison:

Speaking Tuesday night at a special edition of RIPR's Political Roundtable, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said he made "a very public mistake" when he fired every Providence public school teacher early on in his tenure as mayor.

Beware Managing Chains of Public Schools in Foreign Countries Because You Might Trigger Xenophobia

Stephen Dyer calmly suggests Beware Xenophobia with Embattled Gulen Charters, citing examples of reasonable international educational collaboration:

It would be incredibly difficult for the Campus International School in Cleveland to find the four Mandarin teachers they currently have if they couldn't recruit in China. I just spent two weeks in Chinese schools that couldn't wait to bring over American teachers to teach in their schools and send their teachers to America in exchange. What better way to foster a cooperative, peaceful world than the free exchange of intellectual capital?

If the Sorbonne wanted to set up an experimental French language school in Columbus, would we want to prevent that? Or how about bringing over an education expert from Oxford or Cambridge to help run a new, innovative school in Dayton? Would we really not want them educating our kids because they spoke a weird form of English? Of course not.

My senior year of High School, Gareth Morrell, who was the chorus master at the Cleveland Orchestra at the time and a British citizen, came in and taught some of our choral classes. Would we want to deprive children of that experience?

The problem is that the Gulen schools aren't like those examples at all. If you're in favor of international collaboration, you should be horrified by the idea of a political group within one country running a network of schools funded by public money, drawing students away from the existing local, democratically governed system. Especially if the countries in question are so distant that essentially nobody in the country hosting the schools is capable of analyzing the context and motives of the foreign managers.

The Islamic connection is actually beside the point. The whole idea of running public schools in foreign countries is, as far as I know, unprecedented. It isn't even like a colonial system -- it makes less sense than a colonial system -- which is at least an open and comprehensive system of control, for better or worse. I suspect that one reason the Gulen system has thrived is that it is just non sequitur.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

billg is Tired of Being Your Punching Bag

Bill Gates:

...the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students.

He is so over it.

Football is Basically Unwatchable

Let me just say that I've been watching a variety of sports this year that I'm relatively unfamiliar with, from India Premier League Cricket to World Cup Rugby and even some shinty, and I just have to say that the most un-watchable, ill-designed, totally unappealing of all sports is football. Seriously. I have no reason to dislike soccer in particular, compared to anything else but it is just crap to watch.

Televised darts, on the other hand, is quite entertaining.

Riding My Favorite Mayoral Hobby Horse Over to RI Future

Me, on

The bottom line is that either BVP and the proposed RISE Academy are running an illegal enrollment lottery, or AFPMA and the Hope Academy are, with RIDE and the Board of Education’s approval. The four schools are working under at least two incompatible interpretations of the charter school statute. They cannot all be correct.

Before the Board of Education approves another mayoral academy, they must first make RIDE do its job and publish clear, complete, public guidance on the legal requirements for mayoral academy enrollment and ensure consistent application across existing mayoral academies

This post got a bit lost in the end of legislative year shuffle, but is up now.

Never Mind the Popery


It looks more like five Catholic Justices just made the Catholic Church's position on birth control the law of the land and told us that it was all in the interest of our religious liberty.

Stop Dancing Around the Issue: We Need to Hire More Teachers, and Cut Classroom Hours

Linda Darling-Hammond:

Along with these challenges, U.S. teachers must cope with larger class sizes (27 versus the TALIS average of 24). They also spend many more hours than teachers in any other country directly instructing children each week (27 versus the TALIS average of 19). And they work more hours in total each week than their global counterparts (45 versus the TALIS average of 38), with much less time in their schedules for planning, collaboration, and professional development. This schedule — a leftover of factory-model school designs of the early 1900s — makes it harder for our teachers to find time to work with their colleagues on creating great curriculum and learning new methods, to mark papers, to work individually with students, and to reach out to parents.

LDH follows this up with some sound policy prescriptions, but when it comes to the question of workload and staffing, flinches:

The TALIS data show that U.S. schools generally hire many fewer teachers and many other non-teaching personnel than schools in other countries. We need to rethink how we invest in and organize schools, so that time for extended professional learning and collaboration become the norm rather than the exception.

If we can't yet even bring ourselves to say out loud that we need to hire a lot more teachers, it ain't gonna happen. Look how quickly a specific demand for a $15 minimum wage moved the conversation.

Given that we have an employment crisis in this country, and generally depressed demand stretching out into the indefinite future, hiring more teachers is sound economic policy as well.