Monday, June 30, 2014

Math Reform Advocates Should Cut the Homework

If I wanted to make math reform stick in the USA, I'd take it as a basic design constraint that homework would have to be as minimal and non-threatening as possible. American parents have a long and well established track record of freaking out over math homework. So just don't send much work home, and what you do send home has to be in part designed for an audience of cranky parents. That's just the way it is. If you don't like it, do something else with your life.

Of course, because we've decided that it is necessary or desirable to decouple standards and curriculum (instead of considering them an integrated whole), nobody in particular has any control over the whole process. The standards writers have only indirect influence over the whole curriculum writing process. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that basic structure works.

Bipartisan Cult/Coalition of Efficiency

Barry Lynn:

Well, part of the reason that liberals have such a hard time is that we still share a party with real corporatists, people whose basic thinking about economics traces back to Teddy Roosevelt Progressivism rather than Brandeisian or Jeffersonian democracy. We’ve got a lot of old-fashioned “small d” democrats, “small r” republicans in our party, people who believe in community based democracy and industrial liberty. That’s probably the great bulk of us, probably 90% of the members of the Democratic party believe in a Jeffersonian, Wilsonian, Brandeisian political economics. And that’s probably true for the majority of Republicans too. But then in our party you have this overlay of the old-fashioned Progressives, of people who still really believe that the main thing we should aim at is efficiency, and these people wield real power in the party. And then in the Republican Party you’ve got a leadership controlled by a weird amalgam of straight up feudalists and insane libertarians, who live entirely in a realm of theory and myth, and who also say that the main thing we should aim at is efficiency.

This may be the best explanation of the politics of school reform I've read (in an interview on monopoly).

If Only There Were Schools Not Ruled by Tenure and Seniority For Comparison

Alice Mercer:

In the aftermath of the initial Vergara decision, there are lots of questions about effects. Having taught in a public school under a turn-around model, where hiring and being retained, was based solely on the discretion of the site administrator, I think I already have a pretty good idea of what that will look like, and it’s not good for kids or the communities they live in.

We have plenty of similar examples in Rhode Island too. You would think "Actually, we just tried what you are proposing will solve the 'civil rights crisis' and here are the meagre results," would be a pretty good argument, but what do I know about the law.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Coleman and Occam's Razor

Mark at West Coast Stat Views:

One of the challenges that management consultants often face is trying to sell a very expensive product or service to a company that is capable of providing something similar internally at a much lower cost. For this reason, firms like McKinsey are very good at driving a wedge between top level management and the rest of the company. If you can convince high level executives that the people two or three tiers below them are incompetent and/or untrustworthy, you can justify charging exorbitant fees for things could that which can be done cheaply and quickly in-house.

At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, Coleman approach to Common Core follow this template exactly. He had a set of radical (and by some standards rather flaky) changes he wanted to make in American education. Instead of building support through research or grassroots lobbying, he approached one of the world's richest and most powerful former CEOs and, having secured his support, mounted a tremendously effective charm offensive on the press.

I'm coming around to this view as the simplest and most likely explanation of the origin of the Common Core standards, that Coleman somehow managed to convince, well, everyone, more or less, that they should let him manage the writing of the standards, and they just reflect his amateur understanding of the problem domain.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

We Have This at Stirling, Except it is More Like $125 a Month

Jane Hu:

Another place we find children to test is the university’s preschools, where the kids are even WEIRDer than those who visit our lab. (The edamame kid went to preschool here.) Monthly tuition costs between $1,500 and $2,000, and the parents are highly educated, university-affiliated faculty, staff, researchers, or students. These kids know the drill with grad students’ studies: When a new person comes to class and asks if you want to “play a game,” that person is a researcher. While other children play “House” or “Doctor,” these Berkeley kids have been known to play a game called “Research.” One child holds a clipboard and asks other children to “play a game” while the child observes them and pretends to jot down notes. Some of these children have told me about their international travels, and several of the 3-year-olds have told me they can read.

Growth Model Browsing

Gary Rubenstein:

The most controversial thing about Johnston’s education politics is his firm belief in the accuracy of the Colorado Growth Model. This model is used to compare different schools based on ‘growth’ rather than just ‘achievement.’ Colorado has quite a good website for exploring data like this. So I thought I’d see how the Odyssey School did on their ‘growth.’

As it turns out, Rhode Island uses the same "growth browser." It is good for looking up a school's scores, but not much else, despite its apparent sophistication.

First off, just go have a poke around. If you're interested in data, it'll hold your attention for a while.

My main takeaway is that year over year growth data at the school level and below is quite volatile. The system makes it easy to, say, select a cluster of 10 schools within a few points for growth in one subject/year, and then see how they redistribute themselves in other subjects/years. More often than not, in any other subject/year, the schools are scattered across at least a 20% range, which seems like a lot since almost all the schools are within 30% of each other growth-wise. Is that good or bad? Seems bad to my eyeballs.

On the other hand, the data doesn't seem completely random. You just need a big enough sample size. I get the feeling that at the school level, a three year average would be fairly stable. On the other hand, that stability would make it relatively useless for the kind of accountability schemes reformers want. Changes happen too slow for them then.

It also would help if the system included error bars (circles) for selected schools. Or perhaps a way to either change the y-axis or add some color coding to discern how schools with different rates of free and reduced lunch or other disadvantages are doing system-wide.

This bit of self-praise by the designers focuses my criticism:

The SchoolVIEW data visualization application is head and shoulders above what any other governmental education organization has created. Administrators can look at “big picture” summary data for their district or school, while principals and teachers can focus on individual students and show parents information about their child’s growth. In this way, SchoolVIEW enables everyone to make better decisions on where to invest in education.

I would argue that SchoolVIEW's data visualization tool isn't even the best way of looking at Colorado's growth data. Their tabular Growth Summary Reports provide in one page information that otherwise would take dozens of clicks on the visualization tool, with limited direct comparison year over year or between different categories of data.

What the view is good at is showing how schools compare in a specific year and subject, but it is clear that is of limited value as soon as you take advantage of the ability to shift that comparison into different years and subjects and you see how fleeting and volatile those comparisons are.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reformers Get Back to their Roots

Screw this Common Core stuff, let's get back to the red meat.

Stephanie Simon:

Teachers unions are girding for a tough fight to defend tenure laws against a coming blitz of lawsuits — and an all-out public relations campaign led by former aides to President Barack Obama.

The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously. LaBolt and another former Obama aide, Jon Jones — the first digital strategist of the 2008 campaign — will take the lead role in the public relations initiative.

While I would prefer this wasn't happening, and it might work, which would be bad, this strikes me as a fairly lame, long-shot strategy.

The Phonics Tribe is Getting Restless

Diane Ravitch points us to an interview from January with Dr. Louisa Moats:

Dr. Moats: Marilyn Adams and I were the team of writers, recruited in 2009 by David Coleman and Sue Pimentel, who drafted the Foundational Reading Skills section of the CCSS and closely reviewed the whole ELA (English Language Arts) section for K-5. We drafted sections on Language and Writing Foundations that were not incorporated into the document as originally drafted. I am the author of the Reading Foundational Skills section of Appendix A. ...

Dr. Moats: I never imagined when we were drafting standards in 2010 that major financial support would be funneled immediately into the development of standards-related tests. How naïve I was. The CCSS represent lofty aspirational goals for students aiming for four year, highly selective colleges. Realistically, at least half, if not the majority, of students are not going to meet those standards as written, although the students deserve to be well prepared for career and work through meaningful and rigorous education.

Our lofty standards are appropriate for the most academically able, but what are we going to do for the huge numbers of kids that are going to “fail” the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test? We need to create a wide range of educational choices and pathways to high school graduation, employment, and citizenship. The Europeans got this right a long time ago. ...

Dr. Moats: What is good for older students (e.g., the emphasis on text complexity, comprehension of difficult text, written composition, use of internet resources) is not necessarily good for younger students who need to acquire the basic skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Novice readers (typically through grade 3) need a stronger emphasis on the foundational skills of reading, language, and writing than on the “higher level” academic activities that depend on those foundations, until they are fluent readers.

Our CCSS guidelines, conferences, publishers’ materials, and books have turned away from critical, research-based methodologies on how to develop the basic underlying skills of literacy. Systematic, cumulative skill development and code-emphasis instruction is getting short shrift all around, even though we have consensus reports from the 1920’s onward that show it is more effective than comprehension-focused instruction.

The CC was marketed as being neutral on the "reading wars" issue of Phonics v. Whole Language, but typically, this was a crock. The Reading Foundations standards Dr. Moats worked on were very explicit about phonics, and the corresponding appendix was very specific compared to the rest of the standards.

In practice -- the rhetoric around the standards and, I gather, the design of the tests -- the Reading standards have trumped the Reading Foundations standards. What the standards actually say just isn't that important.

To me the most interesting thing here is just getting a sense of how the various parts of the CC were drafted. Just knowing who wrote which parts would make it all much easier to interpret.

Monday, June 23, 2014

That Was Some Serious Kabuki

Elisabeth Harrison:

In a move that seemed almost unthinkable before a change in leadership at the House of Representatives, Rhode Island lawmakers have suspended the use of standardized test scores as part of a high school diploma until at least 2017. Lawmakers have also approved legislation that limits the frequency of teacher evaluations for most teachers.

The teacher evaluation bill, in its final form, requires highly rated teachers to undergo in-depth evaluations just once every two to three years. The original bill said every four years for teachers ranked as "highly effective," but lawmakers agreed to a compromise.

Both these policies were just stupid. Evaluating high performing teachers every year is actually the dumber of the two. It was always just a way to waste time and flush money down the toilet.

Never Forget

Scott Timberg:

There certainly were lively and eclectic strains in music back then, many from urban or college-town scenes, but “American Top 40″ tended to be the absolute last place where you would hear them. So in the early ‘80s, while the show was (like the rest of the radio dial) playing a lot of Captain and Tennille and Kenny Rogers and Air Supply and REO Speedwagon and Survivor and Billy Joel’s heart attack-ack-ack and Christopher Cross’ “Sailing,” there were actually smart, vivid songs you probably didn’t hear. The Clash’s “London Calling” came out in the States in 1980, the same year Elvis Costello put out “Get Happy,” The Jam released “Sound Effects,” and the Pretenders dropped their debut. It was the era of the Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” U2′s “Boy,” Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kaleidoscope,” Kate Bush’s “Never For Ever” and “The Dreaming,” of the Cocteau Twins and King Sunny Ade, the English Beat and the Cure and the Funky Four Plus One. Not to mention what was happening in jazz or old-time music or the better singer-songwriters; Lucinda Williams’ second record came out in 1980 and made no impression on the radio or the charts.

None of this stuff would catch on much in “American Top 40.” But you sure got to hear a lot of “Eye of the Tiger.”

I would add that Damaged and Minor Threat also came out in 1981, and could go on for a while in that vein.

While the Top 40 has mostly sucked for at least 40 years, it is hard to remember just how horrific that, for example, the Billboard Top 100 from 1981 truly was. I don't spend a lot of time being a pedantic indie rocker any more, for a variety of reasons, but there is an element of "indie rock" which is completely lost on anyone younger than 40 -- those youngsters never experienced the complete and utter failure of the major record labels in the early 80's.

Also, I forgot just how big Blondie was for a while. "Rapture" was #15 in 1981, which confirms to me that pretty much every explanation I've seen of the spread of hip hop to the white masses greatly underestimates the exposure that even white small town middle school nerds had. Robbie Daum even had a copy of the Sugar Hill Gang cassette!

No, This Is Not Disruptive Innovation

Davin O'Dwyer

That brings us back to reigning World Cup champion Spain, which suffered shock back-to-back defeats against the Netherlands and Chile. To describe Spain merely as the reigning champion is to do the team's recent achievements a disservice. La Roja had established an unprecedented hegemony at the top of the international game, winning two consecutive European Championships on either side of the 2010 World Cup. They have defined soccer’s modern international era, playing an irrepressible brand of tiki-taka, a strategy pioneered by Barcelona involving short, sharp passing designed to maintain huge amounts of possession before incisively cutting through rival defenses once they had been stretched apart. At its best, Spain’s brand of tiki-taka was dizzyingly brilliant and simply unbeatable. Their dominance was awesome and complete.

But that very dominance presented national team coach Vicente del Bosque with soccer’s equivalent of the innovator’s dilemma. Like the CEO of an industrial giant that dominates its market and is wedded to the business model that guarantees its revenues, del Bosque was tied to the players and system that had guaranteed so much success even as Spain faced fresh threats to that dominance.

The first symptoms were evident in the 3–0 defeat to Brazil in last year’s Confederations Cup final—one of the warning signs that tiki-taka’s era of pre-eminence was coming to a close. Months before, Barcelona experienced a humiliating 7–0 Champions League aggregate semifinal defeat to a finely honed, counter-attacking Bayern Munich side, bringing an abrupt end to their dominance. This year, with Bayern Munich now playing a Teutonic variation on the Spanish style under the former Barcelona coach and high priest of tiki-taka Pep Guardiola, the German champions experienced a similarly emphatic 5–0 drubbing at the hands of counterattacking Real Madrid. As the great soccer tactics writer Jonathan Wilson put it, these results showed that “radical possession football could be defeated by radical non-possession football.” Patient possession can be a liability when faced with reactive teams content to strike fast.

How is counter-attacking not a sustaining innovation?

Sports analogies don't work for disruptive innovation because on the rare occasion they come up in sport, they tend to be nullified by rules changes very quickly.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Setting the Scene

Dumyat in the background, a Pictish megalith in the foreground. Our flat is just behind the trees at the edge of the rugby pitch.

Alistair Moffat:

At the western end of the Ochils, Dumyat was a fire-hill and also once a place of power. Its unusual name is from the Dun or Fortress of Maeatae, an early Pictish kindred whose kings defied the might of Rome. In 208 A.D., the warrior-emperor Septimius Severus marched north with a vast army of 40,000 legionaries and auxiliaries to destroy them and devastate their homelands. It was and remains the largest army ever seen beyond the Tweed, but it failed to humble the Maetae. The name of the western summit, Castle Law, recalls the defiance of the Pictish kinds and the traces of their fort can still be clearly seen.

From the eastern summit of Dumyat proper, an immense vista opens up to the south and east. In the half-dark of the night of 23 and 24 June 1314, those who gathered in the needfire will have been able to make out the distant glint of the River Forth as it looped and meandered across the flat carseland on its way to the widening horizon of the firth and the North Sea beyond. On the far side of the lazy river, the Roman road that brought the tramp of Severus' legions runs from the line of the Antonine Wall northwards past the foot of Dumyat to the outpost forts of the Gask Ridge and on to Bertha, Perth. In 208 and 1314, it was a vital artery, threading a way between the Forth and its marshy floodplane on one side and the wild hill country in the west.

Now marked on a modern map as the Gargunnock and Fintry Hills, the watershed ridges of the Carron Water and the Bannock Burn, this range of rolling hills across the waist of Scotland was seen as a frontier for many centuries. Known as Bannauc, it appears in the tale of the sixth-century wandering of a mystical Welsh monk, St Cadoc, and in the roll of British Celtic warriors mustered for battle with the insurgent Angles in the south in 600 A.D., men came from 'beyond Bannuac.' Composed by the far-famed bard Aneurin in Edinburgh for the kings of the Gododdin, the epic poem sang of the rumble of war below Dumyat and the jingle of Dark Ages cavalry moving along the road by the Forth.

Legionaries and the warriors of half-forgotten kings passed below the glowering rock of Stirling. Singular and dramatic it rises above the flat carseland like a sentinel. Flanked by the floodplains to the east and the Bannauc and the treacherous Flanders Moss to the west, the fortress on the rock guarded the north road, the only road to Scotland beyond the Forth.

Watchers on the fire-hill of Dumyat could see something else, something that will have hollowed out their bellies with fear. Far in the distance, they could make out the clustered pinpricks of hundreds of fires beyond the dark silhouette of Stirling Castle rock. None had been lit to celebrate the solstice. On either side of the Bannock Burn, as it slid through the carse toward the Forth, a vast army was attempting to make camp. Perhaps the echoes of thousands of voices, the shouts of sergeants, the creak and squeal of cartwheels and the shrieking neigh of horses carried as far as the dark heads of the hills.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cosmos: Mostly Wrong

Andrew O'Hehir:

One mistake Druyan never makes, either in “Cosmos” or anywhere else, is the arrogant historicism sometimes displayed by Richard Dawkins and other prominent scientific atheists. By that I mean the quasi-religious assumption that we stand at a uniquely privileged position of near-perfect scientific knowledge, with just a few blanks to fill in before we understand everything about the universe. “I’m sure most of what we all hold dearest and cherish most, believing at this very moment,” Druyan has said, “will be revealed at some future time to be merely a product of our age and our history and our understanding of reality.” Science as a process, as “the never-ending search for truth,” is sacred. But what we now know, or think we know, is always a matter for humility and doubt.

I have a very clear memory of arguing with my parents about a sixth grade oral report on quasars based mostly on my copy of Cosmos. I wanted to say, for example, "Quasars are 4 to 6 billion years old," and that was not acceptable. I had to say "scientists currently believe..." At the time that seemed quite tedious and pedantic. Of course Carl Sagan had to be right!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Straightforward Vision for Public Colleges and Universities

David Dayen:

First of all, wrangling over student loans and interest rates and refinancing obscures the long-term vision – public colleges and universities should be free to attend. Or at least as close to free as possible. Though it may take time for the majority of the public to realize it, this idea is not far-fetched. The United States currently spends enough on grant aid, tax preferences and loan subsidies to cover the cost of tuition at every public college and university.

Tuition is not the only expense, and more funding would be needed to make college free or near-free. But using existing resources – and moreover, returning them to pre-recession levels – gets us a lot of the way there. Think of it as a two-track alternative: first, a “public option,” subsidized by states and the federal government, available to students attending public institutions. If a student wants to attend a private college instead, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t benefit from public subsidies to do so. Ultimately, competition from a free college option will probably bring down the cost of private higher ed, which can be accomplished by removing the vast administrative bloat, outrageous executive compensation and unnecessary spending that characterizes far too many of these institutions.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Meta-Reform That Would Enable All Others

Rachel Evans:

This is a not-so-complicated question. Effective teaching requires collaboration with colleagues, and in the U.S., this time is too limited. In Singapore and Shanghai, teachers work 40 hours a week—but they spend just 10 to 18 of those hours teaching. They use the remaining time to collaborate with colleagues and improve their practice. Compare that with the U.S., where educators teach 25 to 32 hours per week.

Less in class time for all teachers.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

This is the Sort of Thing which Slows Down the Morning Commute to Play Group

I Leave Comments


One thing to keep in mind is that many reform critics, including myself, have worked with Gates and other big foundations in the past, and one way or another been burned by the experience. In my case, Gates gave my colleagues and I a lot of money to create a small neighborhood high school in Providence, and then after Gates decided they weren't interested in small schools, we were hung out to try and closed, even as our test scores shot up and we had the highest college enrollment and retention of any neighborhood high school in the city.

Now, you can't blame Gates directly for our school being closed, but I think it is emblematic of their particular problem. That is, how can a massive private foundation -- but still small in budget compared to overall government spending -- improve education across the country in a measurable way in a short time frame? I think the short answer is turning out to be that it is impossible or extremely difficult, but in the meantime, they're going to thrash around from one increasingly disruptive option to the next, in increasing frustration, leaving a trail of orphaned initiatives in their wake.

In this respect, Gates is different than a lot of the more ideological foundations. Gates has a definite point of view, but they aren't like Broad or Walton or many of the others, which essentially have always wanted to disassemble public education. Gates has just drifted that way over time out of frustration, and it is hard to see what will stop that process.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

If You Read Charlie Stross's Post, You'll Know More About the Scottish Independence Situation Than I Did After Living Here 10 Months

Charlie Stross:

We have an SNP government. They promised, and got, a referendum that, this September 18th, will ask people like me (anyone who lives here, basically) to vote on the question "should Scotland be an independent nation?" It's a straight yes/no question. The third option, Devo Max, was ruled off the ballot by David Cameron (probably because he knew it would win by a mile—over 60% of the Scottish voting public supported it as of the last poll I saw that asked about it). Devo Max was a last mile marker for a devolved parliament short of full independence: Scotland would acquire control over all internal affairs, including taxation, but would delegate defence and foreign affairs to Westminster. It's my preferred option. Such a shame we're not allowed to vote for it ...

Anyway. A vote will be held on the 18th of September. If there is a majority for independence, then the constitutional shit will hit the fan because Westminster will be required to negotiate and enact the enabling legislation for Scottish independence ... with a UK-wide General Election coming up in June 2015. The enabling legislation can't be rushed through before the next election (it's too big and complex), so it's going to trail into the next Westminster parliament, probably completing in 2016 with independence in 2017. But the next Westminster parliament cannot be bound by the decisions of the current one—basics of the British constitutional system here—and so can't automatically be held to handle the consequences of the independence vote. It's anybody's guess what the government in Westminster will look like in July 2015. It might be a renewed Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition (unlikely), a Conservative majority or minority government (less unlikely), a Labour majority (not unlikely), a Labour/Lib-Dem coalition (possibly most likely, but still not something to bet on), a Conservative/UKIP coalition (unlikely but not impossible), or a Martian invasion. Nobody knows. Add to this, 70 Scottish MPs elected on a mandate to sit for 12-18 months while they negotiate independence, then pack their bags and go home. It'll be chaos.

Understanding Tim Shanahan

Tim Shanahan:

I'm just as amazed about the cartoon figures on the left as well. You know the ones I mean (the ones who are arguing that unemployment is a problem, but the 1 million unfilled jobs in America is not). They want equality for all sexual persuasions, races, ethnicities, languages, and legal statuses--until someone tries to do anything to shrink the educational differences among those groups. According to these geniuses, if you set high educational standards, you are doing it to emphasize existing differences.

Regarding Lyndsey Layton's Piece on Gates and the Common Core

Let's start with the video, since I just made myself sit though a half hour of Bill Gates talking, and nothing makes me feel like my life is slipping away more than listening to someone talk on the internet.

First off, billg is annoyed, and we can all be happy about that. Personal annoyance is one of the few checks the public has on the behavior of billionaire philanthropists. How long can anyone sit around thinking about how he just spent $200 million dollars to make half the country think that he is the greedy, meddling asshole that is personally responsible for making their children hate 2nd grade?

Gates wants to talk about "substance," not "politics," which is difficult given that he has chosen to step into perhaps the most deeply political facet of education -- what children should be taught and learn, and why. But I do wish Layton could then pivot and ask even some simple questions about the "substance" of the standards.

Gates repeatedly praises Massachusetts' standards. Why not ask why they are not the basis of the Common Core standards. He talks about R&D and listening to teachers -- why did they not build the process around the experiences of master teachers in Massachusetts to refine what were already the consensus "best" standards in the country? And you know what, that's not even a fake gotcha question -- I really want to know!

Ultimately, Gates' view seems to still lean heavily on the premise that nothing serious was done in education before he showed up. As if before the Common Core, we just had 50 sets of slapdash, random state standards. No NCEE, no American Diploma Project, no NCTM, no NCTE/IRA, nobody thinking about connections between high school and college. He seems to really believe that the Common Core is "the most serious effort" yet to create well researched standards. Given how quickly the Common Core was slapped together, by such a small, inexperienced, homogenous team (especially the all-important initial design), I just don't see how anyone can believe that.

Switching to Layton's article, that point is only reinforced.

Layton begins:

The pair of education advocates had a big idea, a new approach to transform every public-school classroom in America. By early 2008, many of the nation’s top politicians and education leaders had lined up in support.

But that wasn’t enough. The duo needed money — tens of millions of dollars, at least — and they needed a champion who could overcome the politics that had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national standards.

So they turned to the richest man in the world.

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.

Coleman and Wilhoit told the Gateses that academic standards varied so wildly between states that high school diplomas had lost all meaning, that as many as 40 percent of college freshmen needed remedial classes and that U.S. students were falling behind their foreign competitors.

Let's backtrack a minute. Coleman you should know by this point, but who is Wilhoit?

In 2008, he was head of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Prior to that, he had been Commissioner of Education in Kentucky from 2000 to 2006. He apparently also had that job in Arkansas at some point. The point is, Wilhoit had ample opportunity to influence the status quo in American standards writing in the years leading up to 2008. As commissioner in Kentucky, he had brought the state into the American Diploma Project as one of the five original partner states. Wilhoit and Gates both knew that all the research had already been done, the standards written, gap analyses run against various state standards, new versions of state standards developed to align more closely to ADP, including by Kentucky, real statewide changes had happened that could be observed in 2008 based on quantitative and qualitative data and feedback.

Then, apparently, in 2008, Wilhoit, Gates, and basically every single person other than Sandra Stotsky, James Milgram and me either forgot, pretended to forget, or never knew that the ADP ever existed and moved on into the Common Core era as if it was a bold new idea. I still just don't get this. Did Coleman somehow personally convince everyone that he could do better than ADP? Did he lay out some kind of flaw? Not compatible enough with computer-based curriculum and assessment?

That's what I'd like to understand someday.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

This is Incredibly Unpersuasive

Steve Rappaport:

Rahm Emanuel famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We must find ways of making this a teachable moment, seize it as an opportunity to educate stakeholders in the education community about both the myriad ways in which data are central to the mission of public education, and how we can work together to ensure--as best we can--that data can be used in the service of teaching and learning without sacrificing privacy or the security. I believe that the overwhelming majority of educators, parents, and other stakeholders would welcome that message, and that by articulating the centrality of data in administrative and academic operations, it might contribute to a much-needed change in the dynamics of the debate over the role of data in public education.

If data plays a central role in schooling, it should be controlled by the school community and district, not farmed out to vendors. If schools don't have the technical capacity to manage systems themselves, we need to invest in school and district level capacity building so they can.

Garbage In; Transparent Garbage Out

Bill Fitzgerald:

If you are building or working with a data system, it needs to have these two components:

  • Student dashboard - a student should be able to see everything that is collected about them. More importantly, the application should have a mechanism that allows students to comment on, review - and in some cases, remove - data points, or assumptions based on data. More on this later.
  • Parent dashboard - because many students are minors, parents have the legal right to review data collected. Additionally, rights to review some data is guaranteed under FERPA. Really, there shouldn't need to be much - if any - difference between the student and parent dashboard. If there are significant differences between a parent and student view, those differences should be grounded in clearly articulated reasons that are of direct benefit to the learner.

We can't lean on this approach too much, particularly if you're talking about big data online learning platforms. There is too much raw behavioral data, they can't practically let you check your answers without making all the questions and answers public, and their conclusions based on the data, particularly ones just used in their internal model, may just be garbage anyhow. If your online learning platform concludes you're a spatial, abstract sequential learner with a 43.2 grit quotient, who likes Dark Tearjerkers Featuring a Strong Female Lead and a high level of distortion on the electric guitar then... ?

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Raising School Funding by 20% Results in a $20 Million Increase in Lifetime Earnings Per Classroom

Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff:

At age 28, the old-est age at which we currently have a sufficiently large sample size to estimate earnings impacts, a 1 SD increase in teacher quality in a single grade raises annual earnings by 1.3%. If the impact on earnings remains constant at 1.3% over the lifecycle, students would gain approximately $39,000 on average in cumulative lifetime income from a 1 SD improvement in teacher VA in a single grade.

Multiply that times 30 and you get $1,170,000 for a whole class. Wow! ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Holly Yettick:

For low-income students who spent all 12 years of school in districts that increased spending by 20 percent, graduation rates rose by 23 percentage points. Due to the measurement error or “noise” found in almost any study of this type, the effect could, very plausibly, be as low as 8.7 percentage points and as high as 37 percentage points. The estimates are based on the study’s analysis of 15,000 children born between 1955 and 1985. All account for a host of other potential explanations, such as school desegregation, War on Poverty programs, and demographic changes. ...

Between the ages of 25 and 45, these same children were 20 percentage points less likely to fall into poverty during any given year. (Estimates vary from 8 percentage points to 31 percentage points.) Their individual wages were 25 percent higher than they would have been without the changes, with estimates ranging from 3 percent to 45 percent, according to the paper. And their family incomes were 52 percent higher, with estimates ranging from 17 percent to 86 percent.

OK, let me get out the back of an envelope... 25/1.3... $22,500,000 per class/lifetime.

Yeah, that's probably baloney, but is it more or less so than the rest of this stuff?

The Chetty Mechanism

If we're back to discussing Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff again, I'll get something off my chest. I've not seen much discussion of how higher test scores translate to better long term outcomes. What's the model exactly, and in particular, how does this work per subject area?

From the perspective of ELA, and reading tests in particular, this is pretty mysterious. I mean, learning more is good! More vocabulary, better reading skills, insofar as they exist, are good, but it is hard to break it down beyond the most general handwaving.

In math, it is much more plausible and straightforward, because math is used as a gatekeeper course and presented as a linear progression. If one good teacher can bump a handful of kids up a level in math -- particularly if the school is tracked by math, as would have been common in the timeframe for Chetty's study -- that will change their opportunities, peer group, etc. in a fairly straightforward way. If you bump up a group in math, you don't need to maintain a higher rate of learning indefinitely, just one accelerated year and then you can continue at the same pace as your peers.

Or, one bad year has similar knock on effects.

Also, whether or not your math curriculum or assessment is "authentic," a standardized math test is going to be a fairly valid predictor of how you're going to do on other math tests, at least compared to, say, a reading test's assessment of how you do on all types of reading and ELA assessments in class.

I'm not going to dig back into it now, but I think at the time I looked for separate data for math and reading and did not find it.

On a personal level, it is not hard for me to believe that if I'd had a single "top 5%" math teacher in high school, I might not be making 1% more a year, I might be making two or three times what I make now. Over a lifetime, that'd be like two or three million, which would more than cover Chetty's predictions for a whole class. It is a lot harder to imagine a great English teacher would have made me rich.

Economists are math people, so they tend to think that math education is the standard paradigm for education in general. It isn't. It is the outlier. If you build your model of education around the subject of mathematics, you have no chance of getting it right.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Growing Up Absurd-er

David Graeber:

Well, here we go back to the question of unpaid internships again. Some years ago I wrote a piece for Harpers called “Army of Altruists” where I tried to grapple with the power of right-wing populism, especially with the way that “we hate the liberal elite” and “support the troops” seemed to have a very similar, deep resonance, even to be a way of saying the same thing. What I ended up concluding is that working class people hate the cultural elite more than they do the economic elite—and mind you, they don’t like the economic elite very much. But they hate the cultural elite because they see them as a group of people who have grabbed all the jobs where one gets paid to do good in the world. If you want a career pursuing any form of value other than monetary value—if you want to work in journalism, and pursue truth, or in the arts, and pursue beauty, or in some charity or international NGO or the UN, and pursue social justice—well, even assuming you can acquire the requisite degrees, for the first few years they won’t even pay you. So you’re supposed to live in New York or some other expensive city on no money for a few years after graduation. Who else can do that except children of the elite? So if you’re a fork-lift operator or even a florist, you know your kid is unlikely to ever become a CEO, but you also know there’s no way in a million years they’ll ever become drama critic for the New Yorker or an international human rights lawyer. The only way they could get paid a decent salary to do something noble, something that’s not just for the money, is to join the army. So saying “support the troops” is a way of saying “fuck you” to the cultural elite who think you’re a bunch of knuckle-dragging cavemen, but who also make sure your kid would never be able to join their club of rich do-gooders even if he or she was twice as smart as any of them.

So the right wing manipulates the resentment of the bulk of the working class from being able to dedicate their lives to anything purely noble or altruistic. But at the same time—and here’s the real evil genius of right-wing populism—they also manipulate the resentment of that portion of the middle classes trapped in bullshit jobs against the bulk of the working classes, who at least get to do productive work of obvious social benefit. Think about all the popular uproar about school teachers. There’s this endless campaign of vilification against teachers, who they say are overpaid, coddled, and are blamed for everything wrong with our education system. In fact, grade school teachers undergo really grueling conditions for much less money than they’d be paid if they’d gone into almost any other profession requiring the same level of education, and almost all the problems the right-wingers are referring to aren’t created by the teachers or teachers’ unions at all but by school administrators—the ones who are paid much more, and mostly have classic bullshit jobs that seem to multiply endlessly even as the teachers themselves are squeezed and downsized. So why does no one complain about those guys? Actually I saw something telling written by a right-wing activist on some blog—he said, well the funny thing is, when we first started our school reform campaigns, we tried to focus on the administrators. But it didn’t take. Then we shifted to the teachers and suddenly the whole thing exploded. It’s hard to explain that in any other way than to say: a lot of people resent the teachers for having genuine, meaningful jobs. You get to shape young lives. You get to make a real difference for other people. And the logic seems to be: shouldn’t that be enough for them? They want that, and middle-class salaries, and job security, and vacations, and benefits, too? You even see that with auto workers. “But you get to make cars! That’s a real job! And you also want $30 an hour?”

It’s an imperfect strategy. The anti-intellectualism for instance works on many sections of the white working class, but it doesn’t work nearly so well on immigrants or African-Americans. The resentment against those who get to do meaningful labor exists alongside a resentment for having to do meaningless labor to begin with. It’s an unstable mix. But we have to recognize that in countries like the US, it’s been pretty effective.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Things I Don't Understand at All

Anya Kamenetz:

The lawsuit names students including Briana Lamb as members of the class. In the fall of 2012, when Lamb showed up for her junior year at Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles, she says her schedule was full of holes. "I had four 'home' periods, and one 'service,' " she said. A home period means just that: the student must go home. During a service period, sometimes you help teachers do photocopying or pass out papers. Lamb says that at other times it just means sitting around. That meant Lamb had actual classes for just a few hours a day—not enough to graduate on time. "It made me nervous," she said. "I knew exactly what classes I needed to be in to finish my 11th grade requirements." But it took weeks to sort them out.

This is John Deasy's LAUSD?

Jenna Harrison:

Moreover, majority of the seminars led by TFA staffers were more detrimental than helpful to my development as a first-year teacher. While I appreciated the sentiment behind the sessions on culturally responsive teaching, many a time they continued to contribute to the racist mentality I believed that TFA was perpetuating through its recruits. Majority of these sessions consisted of a person of color preaching to a room full of Corps Members that white people are the reason why our students suffer. As an individual who is very well-versed in white privilege, I believe it is downright ignorant to blame an entire country’s shortcomings in educational equity simply on race. Instead of wasting precious instructional time on essentially brainwashing its Corps Members, Teach for America should focus its efforts instead on recruiting CMs that are well-versed in ALL of the injustices individuals face in our global society – regardless of their sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious background, etc.

That just sounds like the worst case scenario all around, and pretty much the kind of time-wasting psycho-babble we've been told practical alternative certifications are needed to avoid. But, who knows?