Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A practical implication of very low proficiency rates

I didn't come up with this myself, but it is now the conventional wisdom in Providence's high schools that the immediate priority in terms of raising test scores is to focus on the highest achieving students. If only 5% or so are passing, and getting to 10% or 15% would be a great step, you're talking about getting, say, instead of one or two kids in each classroom over the standards to getting three or four to pass. Realistically, most of the class has no chance. The "bubble kids" are now at the top of the class.

I'm not saying that's the official policy, anyone's acting on that, whatever. It is just clear that if you get together, analyze the data, and come up with a strategic plan... that's what the data is telling you. It is a rather different "call to action" than most ed reform advocates think they're making.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Common Core & Style

Fredrik deBoer:

My fundamental learning goal in teaching style is this: to demystify prose style. Very often, students coming to a formal consideration of prose style with a sense that prose style is a pure “feel” thing, that they know it when they see it but can’t put their finger on it. That’s romantic, but it stands in the way of their adopting prose style themselves. My intent is to demonstrate to them that style emerges from the text itself, that we can observe style the way we do any other textual feature, and that we can in type write with our own style by becoming more attuned to how great stylists write.

To that end, I teach a three part assignment sequence. First, students write a brief analysis of a writer’s prose, identifying its salient features and the textual properties that makes it stand out. Second, students parody a writer’s style, typically rewriting an already written passage in a caricature of another writer’s style, or writing their own narrative in that style. Finally, students write their own text, perhaps a narrative, review, or editorial, in highly stylized prose, working to inflect their own writing with some of the features they’ve recently identified in that of others. Assignment sheets for this sequence can be found in my Teaching Portfolio.

Since this is in the context of teaching freshman composition at a major university, it piques my interest in relation to "college and career readiness." How does the first part of this sequence -- students write a brief analysis of a writer’s prose, identifying its salient features and the textual properties that makes it stand out -- relate to Common Core reading?

Jumping to the chase a bit, the bottom line to me is that deBoer's assignment is arguably a better, clearer, if a bit unpolished "standard" than the Common Core equivalents, which would be:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Compare this to, say, the NECAP Grade Span Expectation:

R–12–6 Analyze and interpret author’s craft within or across texts, citing evidence where appropriate by…
  • R–12–6.1a. Demonstrating knowledge of author’s style or use of literary elements and devices (e.g., simile, metaphor, point of view, imagery, repetition, flashback, foreshadowing, personification, hyperbole, symbolism, analogy, allusion, diction, syntax, genre, or bias, or use of punctuation) to analyze literary works
  • R–12–6.1.b. Examining author’s style or use of literary devices to convey theme

The NECAP expectation seems closer to what deBoer is asking his incoming students to be able to do as the first part of a multi-part assignment. The Common Core is, as always, oddly fragmented and over-specific. Students jump right into assessing how point of view or purpose shapes style without preliminary standards teaching what style is. Standard four is mostly about the meaning of specific words, five about overall structure, and six is about point of view but also in the grade level standards slides away from authorial point of view into character point of view. The parts don't seem to add up to the whole.

Anyhow, I suppose deBoer will see in a few years if students start having a slightly different reaction to this assignment, clicking into their PARCC-ready close reading drill, and if that is better or worse.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nobody wants to fund foundational R&D in ed tech and assessment. STILL.

Kerri Lemoie:

This week at MozFest in London there’s a session called “Hack the Backpack” where the Open Badges community is being asked to help contribute to long-standing open and unaddressed issues regarding the backpack. It needs some “love”. But why is the Backpack in such dire need of attention? Isn’t Mozilla working on it?

You’d think so. It’s actually unclear why it’s still called the Mozilla Open Badges Backpack at all since there is not a single full-time employee left at the Mozilla Foundation assigned to Open Badges. There is no Open Badges Team at Mozilla.

The team was disbanded well over a year ago. Not only was the backpack abandoned — technically put on “maintenance mode” — any real initiatives and plans for what the backpack was supposed to be were essentially put on hold since the spring of 2013. Resources at Mozilla for Open Badges were redirected to support Chicago Summer of Learning and after that to support Cities of Learning in late 2013–2014. The Open Badges team focused on the much hyped BadgeKit which was really only used as a private beta for Cities of Learning and then abandoned in the summer of 2014.

In the late winter of 2014, a handful of the Open Badges founders formed the Badge Alliance to support the work of the community and keep the Open Badges Specification and infrastructure moving forward. It was funded in a cooperative effort by the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla but after 6 months, the Badge Alliance lost its anticipated 2 year funding stream. By December 2014, both the Badge Alliance staff and the Open Badges team at Mozilla were gone.

The Open Badges community, mostly unaware of this, remained and continued to grow. Through June 2015, the Badge Alliance staff kept going anyway — unpaid and unauthorized. They persisted with the hope that the funding would return and out of concern and loyalty for the work and community. Without that effort the Open Badges community calls and the specification work would have come to a screeching halt leaving a leadership vacuum and throwing the growing but still nascent ecosystem into uncertainty.

I could have gotten in on the ground floor, or more accurately the sub-basement, of this scene starting 12 years ago or so, but at the time it was clear that the potential funders of the work were 5-10 years away from understanding what was necessary, and much worse than that, doing this work correctly is a massive multi-disciplinary project. It is exactly the kind of thing futurists are referring to when they talk about the demand for jobs that don't exist today. And yet, they just don't seem to grasp the difficulty of this work, and the huge long term investment that would be necessary to even get the infrastructure and core standards working properly.

Anyhow, I haven't been following this scene extensively, but based on my knowledge of the problem space, the economics and politics of open source development, and foundations, this all rings quite true.

Monday, November 23, 2015

This explains a few things, including TFA

Paul Rosenberg:

But the golden age for elites causes their population to grow as well—both through reproduction and through social mobility. As a result, “The class of the wealthy and powerful expands in relation to the whole population,” which eventually creates scarcity for them. In particular, “There are not enough positions, power positions governing, in business and government, to satisfy all elite aspirants. And that’s when inter-elite competition starts to take uglier forms.” That can be measured in terms of “overproduction of law degrees, because that’s a direct route into government, or the overproduction of MBAs,” and, higher up, in the increased competition for House and Senate seats, where the money spent on such contests spirals ever upwards.

“So the competition intensifies, and when competition intensifies, there are losers. There are many more losers now than there were 40 or 50 years ago,” Turchin said, and “Many of them are not good losers,” meaning they devote themselves to frustrating others, further eroding the cooperative ethos societies need to keep functioning.

This in turn connects with the role of the state in moving toward increased instability. “During this pre-crisis phases of the secular cycle, the governments tend to get more and more indebted,” Turchin said. “The reason is, most simply, the inter-elite competition becomes very hot. You have a lot of frustrated elite aspirants, and the states try to respond by providing them with jobs…. even in the historical societies… they would expand the army, so that offices could serve…. That puts a lot of pressure on the state coffers.” (Even nowadays, when elite opinion rallies around the idea that “middle class entitlements” are the great threat to fiscal solvency, Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson have pointed out that the actual primary threats are “the excessive costs of oligopoly in health care and defense spending” plus “the contingent liability of another financial crisis,” all of them rooted in elite special interest demands on the state.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Getting channeled into school reform

Matt Bruenig:

I think the typical TFA person is earnest about wanting to help poor kids. However, they are not very knowledgeable about what it is that poor kids are dealing with. I don’t mean that they haven’t experienced being a poor kid (though that’s true too). Rather, I mean that they aren’t familiar with the empirical facts about the ways in which material conditions majorly influence educational attainment and life outcomes.

The reason their interest in helping poor kids gets channeled into educational stuff is because the idea that education is the universal solvent of economic problems is the hegemonic ideology of the country. Additionally, the educational story we tell in our society matches what they have personally experienced (as people who’ve excelled academically). By living in this society, they also have probably heard “bad schools” talked about a lot, perhaps by their own parents.

Because they aren’t very knowledgeable, and the hegemonic tendency of the society is to emphasize education, it’s not surprising that the naive college student signs up to be a brave education warrior. It helps also that there is a huge amount of organization that exists to give them the ability to plug in to TFA and other education reform outlets. An earnest, but ignorant, college student who wants to help poor kids can fire off a TFA application on their own campus and get right into the fight (and as Williams shows, feel really good about doing so). Similar outlets don’t really exist for any other kind of cause (there is no Welfare State for America, for instance).

Once the naive college student gets plugged into education reform organization (and especially TFA), they are then path dependent on education reform. Some might defect, but for the most part, there is nothing you will ever be able to do to convince them to decide that they’ve basically been wasting their time. Nothing. They are going to be education/school guys to the very end.

This is what school choice looks like

Julie Vassilatos:

We're veterans of choice in our family. I can tell you what I see in my neighborhood.

This is what school choice looks like: no schoolmates in your neighborhood for your whole life.

Yeah, pretty much.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Couple Points on "Competency-Based Education"

Here are a few things I've gleaned from reading up on the latest buzz for "competency-based education."

The most important word in "competency-based education" is not "competency," but "-based." That is, the reason we need to switch to the current system using standards to "competency-based" is not that "competencies" are better than "standards," in part because neither are defined precisely or consistently enough to draw an important distinction, and in part because the real concern is that the whole standards movement has not actually changed the foundation of the educational process. Standards are grafted onto the school system, instead of the system being built from the ground up to be "based on" standards. Of course, what they're saying about breaking down structures regarding time and course credit is not new at all, it is just a re-boot/re-branding of the most ambitious standards, outcome and mastery-based concepts.

There are two distinct schools of thought regarding the differences between standards and competencies, which I'm going to give names to:

  • fine-grained/high-tech: These people think competencies are more specific than standards. This comes from the use of competencies in job training, where the whole point is to break down a job into clearly defined tasks and sub-tasks so you are sure someone with a particular certification knows all the steps in, say, TIG welding. These people also tend to favor high-tech approaches to the process because these systems is difficult for humans to manage.
  • coarse-grained/humanist: These people tend to think of "competency" with a the positive and expansive connotation, where "competency" means flexibility and fluency beyond merely meeting a standard, focusing on application and transference.

    I don't have a problem with those things, but it is pretty clearly a post hoc attempt to hijack the original jargon. To me, and I think most people, saying someone is "competent" at something indicates that they can deal with routine cases fine, but they are not someone you want for a difficult, surprising case. You're probably fine if your vasectomy surgeon is just "competent" as long as he's done a few thousand before, but if you need an oncologist or trauma surgeon, "competent" is not what you're looking for.

    This is not a niche perspective, by the way. New Hampshire breaks the 29 Common Core ELA/Literacy standards down into nine overall "competencies."

    These competencies can be readily evaluated and tracked by humans.

The problem is that I haven't seen this distinction clearly articulated, although I can't be the only one who has noticed. So it is certainly confusing to the reader, especially insofar as one is likely to gravitate to the version one is more comfortable with and pretend the other doesn't exist.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Things I Don't Have Trouble Imagining

Linda Borg, et al at the ProJo:

People tend to talk about integrating the children. (Anna Cano) Morales (Chairwoman of the Central Falls School Board of Trustees), the director of the Latino Policy Institute, thinks it's time to talk about integrating the adults.

"Why aren't we talking about the segregation of adults?" she said. "Imagine we had teacher exchange programs between Central Falls and North Providence? What if we just did it? What if we were able to offer high-quality instruction to all students? Maybe it means a Pawtucket teacher spends a semester in Burrillville and a Burrillville teacher spends a semester in Pawtucket.

I can tell you what would happen: not much.

What's particularly crazy about this statement is that Cano Morales has been chair of the CF board of trustees since at least 2008. That predates by a couple years (at least) the mass firing at Central Falls High School if you're having trouble with dates. That's basically the entire span of NECAP testing -- a period in which CF's scores saw practically no increase, comparing beginning to end. If the teaching staff collectively is the problem, who is accountable for that if not Cano Morales?

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Heart of Competency Education

Chris Sturgis:

At the heart of competency education is the assumption that by maintaining a laser focus on learning, allowing time to be a variable and powerful competencies to set the bar, we can create an education system that produces high achievement for students from all income levels, across all racial and ethnic communities.

That is obviously incorrect. At the heart of competency education is the assumption that the most effective way to model the educational process is as a set of competencies, and at the heart of any push to increase the use of competency education is the implicit or explicit claim that we have at hand a proven and widely admired set of competencies to guide the work. If you don't have those competencies readily available, all you've got is a not-very-novel idea.

I've been trying to do a longer piece on this new "competency-based education" buzz, but the whole thing is so slippery and hand-wavy that its difficult.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Reformer Test Score Axioms

A few quick thoughts this morning. Here are a few axioms which have guided our testing and accountability reform advocates:

  1. Low test scores are good (shows we need change).
  2. Test scores going up is good (what we're doing is working).
  3. Test scores always go up (we see to that).

If you believe those things, you'll do what we've been doing -- periodically changing the tests to produce low test scores and reset the scale to take credit for the inevitable gains.

Reformers have come to see test score inflation as a process as "natural" and apparently inevitable as price inflation, except it is a metric that they can spin as a good thing.

The problem is that 1) and 3) don't hold anymore. People are finally accepting that the reformers are now the status quo, thus bad scores just make them look bad now. And they've managed to promote a new generation of tests which will probably not inevitably creep up, at least without a lot more overt manipulation. For example, it is easier for a state to manipulate the scores of a test that only they take compared to a multi-state exam, where everyone is going to be sensitive to comparison with other states.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Is Finland Leaving Years of Educational Achievement on the Table?

Tim Shanahan argues that Finland's "illiterate kindergarteners" are not a useful exemplar for US schools, because Finnish children are much better off in general, health and welfare-wise, culturally homogenous, and because Finnish is particularly easy to learn to read (it is very phonetically straightforward, etc).

Those are all reasonable arguments, but it isn't clear why they don't serve equally well as arguments for starting reading and more academic instruction earlier in Finland. If Finnish is easy to read, the kids are well-fed and cared for by generally well-educated parents, shouldn't they be ready to get started in kindergarten?

On the other hand, if American five year olds are less well prepared for the more difficult intellectual task of reading English, isn't that a good argument for focusing kindergarten on more fundamental behavioral and social development, building a foundation of pre-literacy skills that will bring all children along reading in first and second grade?

If you believe Shanahan, you must also believe that Finland's already high literacy achievement could be even higher -- perhaps a whole "year of learning" higher -- if they would simply start their kids reading earlier. Obviously, we don't know what would happen, but I'm dubious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Limits of Verisimilitude in Vintage Base Ball

from Preston D. Orem’s Baseball from the Newspaper Accounts (1886):

A number of teams had small Negroes as mascots and would rub their hands in their hair for help in making a base hit. It was however very bad luck if a visiting player were mean enough to touch the hair of their mascot. For this reason some teams went to the trouble of maintaining their boy in a closed hack at the ball park and he would have to duck out as the players wanted to rub his top piece.

Mascots were short lived as such. The Phillies had a big “buck” Negro for quite a long time however. One peculiarity of this Mascotte was that, as long as he remained sober the team won, either at home or away. But this was very hard on the mascot as he was extremely fond of his liquor in large quantities and would get drunk whenever he had a chance to do so, which brought the Phillies nothing but bad luck until he was sober again. So Philadelphia hired a man just to watch the Negro’s every step and keep him out of temptation and sin.

Friday, October 16, 2015

What's TFA for Again?

Michelle Rindels:

CARSON CITY — Nevada's two largest school districts this week said they'd hired hundreds of first-time teachers over the summer with the help of recruiters, billboards and even a Clark County superintendent zip-lining through downtown Las Vegas in a superhero cape.

But when it was Nevada Board of Education President Elaine Wynn's chance to speak about the nearly 1,000 teacher positions statewide that still remain vacant and are being filled with stopgap measures such as long-term subs, she didn't mince words.

"I don't think I've ever been this alarmed in my job as I have been today," Wynn said at a board meeting Thursday, calling the situation a human resource crisis. "We're going to all sink. This is horrific."

OK, I don't want teachers to be so underpaid that only short term, barely trained, do-gooder missionaries will take the job, but if TFA, who have been in Nevada for a decade, can't fix this, what good are they?

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Price of Ed Tech will be a Vague Dread of a Malicious School

Marcelo Rinesi:

So the fact is that our experience of the world will increasingly come to reflect our experience of our computers and of the internet itself (not surprisingly, as it’ll be infused with both). Just as any user feels their computer to be a fairly unpredictable device full of programs they’ve never installed doing unknown things to which they’ve never agreed to benefit companies they’ve never heard of, inefficiently at best and actively malignant at worst (but how would you now?), cars, street lights, and even buildings will behave in the same vaguely suspicious way. Is your self-driving car deliberately slowing down to give priority to the higher-priced models? Is your green A/C really less efficient with a thermostat from a different company, or it’s just not trying as hard? And your tv is supposed to only use its camera to follow your gestural commands, but it’s a bit suspicious how it always offers Disney downloads when your children are sitting in front of it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

'Old' Rick Hess was a Patchouli-soaked Hippy

Peter Cunningham:

As Hess put it (in 2004), “Washington ought to establish clear and uniform expectations regarding student mastery in reading and math at the fourth-, eighth- and perhaps twelfth-grade level.”

No reformer in 2015 considers this to be an acceptable position. Not (just) because of the "Washington ought to establish" part, but even more because Hess only calls for standards at grades 4, 8 and 12. The easiest way to improve the Common Core standards would be to delete the standards in grades K, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9-10 and 11-12. Keep grade 4, 8 and "college and career readiness."

Seriously, that would be way better.

Unfortunately, Old Rick also thought this:

The performance of schools and districts should be judged primarily on how much students are learning while in school—not on the absolute level of student achievement.

Which leads to wanting multiple versions of standards at every grade level.

Monday, September 28, 2015

We Know How to Do This

C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker C. Johnson and Claudia Persico:

Our analyses also reveal sizable effects of increased school spending on low-income children’s labor market outcomes and their economic status as adults. For children from low-income families, increasing per-pupil spending by 10 percent in all 12 school-age years boosts adult hourly wages by $2.07 in 2000 dollars, or 13 percent (see Figure 4).

So... according to Chetty et al, we could get the same increase by giving low income kids essentially all high-performing teachers throughout their 13 years of school -- which we totally do not know how to do, or by increasing spending 10%, which we absolutely know how to do.

Of course, the strategy is to go with the approach we don't know how to do, and which is probably impossible.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Personnel Changes at PPSD HQ

Kate Nagel:

"While I was on vacation in July, I was told that Jose Gonzalez and Dr. Tomas Ramirez had been brought in and were told to resign immediately," said (State Senator) Metts, who said he has concerns in particular about how a particular current PPSD employee is "being given a hard time."

"The only thing I know, is when you look at the demographics of the school department and you see how many minorities are currently there and you look at the staffing...if you're saying that diversity and EEO is your goal, the last thing you do is get rid of minorities," said Metts. Metts said additional conversations he had with people in the city further raised concern with him.

"My wife and I went out for ice cream...my wife is a retired guidance from Roger Williams [Middle School]," said Metts. "We ran into a female minority math teacher she knew, who recently got her administration degree. [This teacher] didn't get a job in Providence, but she got one in the suburbs. What does that say?"

PPSD recently appointed a new interim superintendent, and long-time spokesperson Christina O'Reilly is no longer with the department.

Mayor Jorge Elorza's spokesperson Evan England responded to the press inquiry, and pointed out on Tuesday that no actual firings have taken place. "There were no terminations this summer (or since)," said England.

So... we'll see how this plays out. It may end up determining whether Chris Maher glides smoothly into the superintendent slot permanently.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Will Black Lives Matter Change School Reformers?

As with most headlines posed as questions, the answer is probably no.

However, there are some important connections that should be interesting to watch. Most clearly, from my vantage point on the internet, is Campaign Zero, which has set itself up as the wonkier branch of BLM. They've released a 10-point agenda to "end police violence in America," which looks sound and well thought out on the whole. Three quarters, at least, of their planning team have heavy school reform connections. I'm assuming right now that this all seems consistent to them, but I have to wonder how it will play out over the next five to ten years.

Consider their first point "end broken windows policing." OK, but don't "no excuses" charters practice the disciplinary equivalent? Isn't pushing students out of charters into district schools that are made up of charter school lottery-losers, transients and charter-rejects the clearest manifestation of a school to prison pipeline?

Number two is "community oversight." Haven't charters and increased federal and state regulation, such as the SIG program, imposed by reformers, dramatically decreased community oversight of urban schools?

Why should we "Increase the number of police officers who reflect the communities they serve," when reformers have pushed policies that clearly would and did decrease the same for teachers? Why shouldn't we have "Police for America" recruiting Ivy League grads into police academies?

Why would we think "invest(ing) in rigorous and sustained training" works for cops but not teachers?

Why is for-profit policing bad but for-profit educational entities ok? Why is it ok that prominent charter schools fine low income students for behavior issues?

How can you attack the militarization of police while accepting a school reform agenda that in some cities embraces military-style schools?

The clearest point of consistency between Campaign Zero's agenda and the school reform agenda is pushing back against public sector unions. They will certainly find that the police union has sharper elbows than the teachers'.

How these dissonances will play out over time, I don't know, particularly when there is such an imbalance in wealth and power backing the two reform agendas. If you gain some prominence as a school reformer, you're set for life. Police brutality activists, not so much. It will be interesting to watch.

Wait, Trump's Grandfather was Al Swearengen?

Al Solotaroff:

This time, he did divulge about his father, going on at length and with real feeling. Fred Trump, the second in a line of self-made magnates (his father, Friedrich, had earned his fortune in the Klondike gold rush, selling lodging, food, booze and possibly women to hordes of miners), was possessed of the singular family gift: He could see the future and beat everyone else to it.

That would explain a lot.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Get on the Bus

Matt Breunig:

When pressed on this, one of the responses you will hear is that they don’t see practically (speaking in political terms) how we can get busing. But why would people oppose busing, one has to wonder. Is it because they don’t want to send their kids to school with poors and blacks? But wait, isn’t that the same reason they don’t like charters? Isn’t the opposition the same to both things? Why advocate one thing that runs up against a brick wall due to racism and dislike of the poor but not another thing that runs up against the same brick wall?

There are two basic answers here.

The first is that the charters don’t promise integration (and in many cases brag about how segregated they are, e.g. KIPP gleaming about how uniformly poor and black their schools are). So the reformers sidestep the hurdle of the racist affluent white liberal by basically giving in entirely to their desire for segregation, which charters don’t threaten that much if at all.

The second is that practicality is defined here in terms of what you might call the Left Wing of the Fundable. You can get money to push for charter schools and privatization and breaking teacher/public unions (all things the education reformers push, including right now Students First pushing a SCOTUS case that aims to eliminate all public sector union security, not just for teachers). You can get a fellowship at a think tank to push for those types of things. They are thus practical in the sense that there are enough rich people and institutions with somewhat mixed interests that are willing to pony up the money necessary to push them through our hilariously undemocratic political system and to fund a healthy number of advocate jobs. The same money doesn’t exist for busing advocacy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Let's Have a Little Common Core Rant for Old Times Sake

Me, at Slate:

As is typical for Common Core advocates, Karen Babbitt misrepresents Massachusetts previous standards, which did not simply "primarily (ask) students to identify story elements." Among many fiction standards there was one grade 5-6 standard which stated "Identify and analyze the elements of setting, characterization, and plot (including conflict)," but even in that case, the example given immediately after the standard was “What qualities of the central characters enable them to survive?”

For that matter, the example question she cites: "How does the main character change over time?" is not particularly well supported by the Common Core standards. The relevant 8th grade standard would seem to be "Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text," but she is suggesting the opposite process. Of course, you can just shrug and say, "Well, close enough, whatever," but that's a sure sign that these standards are not actually very good at all, when the most seemingly straightforward examples don't quite fit.

Back to Garden Variety Bullshit at RIDE

Ken Wagner:

For my part, I am committed to promoting personalized student learning, where every student participates in a challenging and exciting learning environment that meets his or her individual needs. I am eager to work together to support and hold the ladder steady as our students climb toward success.

Yes, feel free to go according you your needs, in whatever way you find challenging and exciting -- as long as you're going up the ladder I'm holding for you (as fast as possible, or everyone will be fired, including me).

And pay no attention to the tests, charters, and ed-tech corporations behind the curtain.

Monday, September 07, 2015

This is What You Call an "Essential Question"

Charlie Stross:

Assume you are a historian in the 30th century, compiling a pop history text about the period 1700-2300AD. What are the five most influential factors in that period of history?

Please note that this is a 600 year span—around the duration of the entire mediaeval period. Events a mere 20 years apart, such as the first and second world wars, merge together when viewed through the wrong end of a temporal telescope, just like the 30 years' war or the Wars of the Roses. Individual people, even hugely influential thinkers and rulers and tyrants, are a jumbled mass of names with dates attached. This is a question about the big issues—the ones big enough to remember half a millennium hence, like the Black Death, the Crusades, or the conquest of the Americas.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Did I Achieve the Standard?

There is no point in having adults take a mini 8th grade math test if you don't tell them if they passed.

Monday, August 17, 2015

We Could Use an Economic Frame for the Question of "Developmentally Appropriate"

Stephen Camarata:

In 2006, Dr. Ashlesha Datar, a social scientist at the RAND Corporation, conducted a study comparing children entering kindergarten “on time” to those whose parents held them out for a year. Professor Datar reported: “I find that entering kindergarten a year older significantly boosts test scores at kindergarten entry. More importantly, entering older implies a steeper test score trajectory during the first 2 years in school.”

Consider the implications of this research. Simply waiting until a child is older dramatically increases scores on kindergarten entrance exams. Is the child more intelligent? Does she have a higher potential than she had the year before? No! It is simply a matter of schools trying to teach too much too soon. Parents are responding by simply waiting until their child is more mature and his or her brain is more fully developed in order to take on academic material that should be taught to older children.

There are lots of problems with trying to cram academic work down to earlier grades, but in addition to causing avoidable frustration and bad feelings about school and education, it is also just cold-bloodedly inefficient. It is a waste of resources. I'm a bit dubious about any specific claims about kids not being able to learn certain things at certain ages in terms of brain development, in part when the discussion becomes very binary -- kids this age can't learn that. Well... maybe, but some can so...? If all this data crunching really worked, we'd be able to do more subtle analysis of the difference in the time expended to teach a concept at a certain developmental stage or age. Like, it takes 30 hours to get 75% of kindergarteners to learn X, while if you just wait until the beginning of first grade, 75% can learn it in 5 hours and be just as well off.

I would be enthusiastic about that idea if I actually believed that most learning could be chopped up and measured so finely, and if I believed that at the end of the process people could drop their preconceptions and accept that the endpoint of all their data analysis was to essentially teach less and just play more.

Also, it is a reminder of how crazy, crazy, it is that we report and analyze this data based on grade level and not age/years of schooling. It should be obvious to anyone that this convention obscures a lot of meaningful information, yet we keep going with it.

STEAM-ing Along

I can report that three out of three summer art programs the girls attended had a science or technology theme this year, so RISD appears to be accomplishing... something.

Whether science camps were also exploring the arts, I don't know.

The Way the Web was Supposed to Work

Cory Doctorow:

If you had a mobile device that was yours and that you trusted and that didn’t give your information to other people, it could amass an enormous amount of both explicit and implicit information about you. … Then, as that device moved thorough space, the things around it could advertise what kinds of services, opportunities, availabilities they had to the device without the device ever acknowledging that it received them, without the device telling them a single thing about you. Because your device knows a lot about you, more than you would ever willingly give out to a third party, it could actually make better inferences about what you should be doing at this time in this place than you would get if it were the other way around, if you were the thing being sensed instead of you being the thing that’s doing the sensing. I quite like that model. I think that’s a very exciting way of thinking about human beings as entities with agency and dignity and not just ambulatory wallets.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

An Incredibly Discouraging Example

New York 8th Grade ELA Test -- Example of a 4 out of 4 points written response:

53. The dolphin in "The Pod" is symbolic. What does the dolphin represent? How does the symbol help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the central idea of the story? Use details from the story to support your response.

In your response, be sure to

  • identify what the dolphin represents
  • explain how the symbol of the dolphin helps the reader gain a deeper understanding of the central idea of the story
  • use details from the story to support your response

The dolphin in "The Pod" is symbolic. What the dolphin represents helps the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the central idea of the story.

The full credit sample response:

The dolphin in "The Pod" is symbolic. The dolphin represents Jesse. In lines 77 to 78 it states, "The dolphin was disoriented. It kept heading back to shore." The dolphin heading back to shore represents Jesse distancing himself from his family after the accident. He is confused about what to do, now that his future is changed. He doesn't the (sic) sympathy his family gives him, so he swims to shore. "It looked as scared as he felt when they'd wheeled him into the emergency room that afternoon." The dolphin reflects what Jesse had felt the day of the accident. The dolphin in "The Pod" represents Jesse.

The symbol of the dolphin helps the reader gain a deeper idea of the central idea of the story. It gives us an idea of how things were going for Jesse and his family. The dolphin represents Jesse and the pod represents his family. In lines 82 to 84 it states, "Bud, you've got to save yourself... Nobody's going to do it for you. If you give up you're finished." This shows how Jesse is sort of giving advice to himself as well as the dolphin. Jesse needs to save himself. In the story it also states, "...the young dolphin turned toward deeper water and began to swim toward the pool. Waiting dolphins arced nearer as if in welcome... They had been worried because he'd been gone for so long. This represents his family because they are worried about him and they just want him to come home.

The dolphin in "The Pod" is symbolic of Jesse, and because it represents Jesse it gives the reader a better understanding of the story. What Jesse and his family had been through.

One thing this demonstrates is that Common Core advocates and critics are actually on the same page in some ways. Critics argue that the Common Core will lead to trite, stereotypical, repetitive writing where readers simply seek to find the single "right answer" in a text rather than a deeper understanding. This example confirms that indeed, that is exactly what Common Core backers want as well. There is a big difference between saying "Inevitably and unfortunately, some kids will end up writing very formulaically," and "Here's an example of someone getting the formula right."

Bear in mind that example and anchor essays are extremely important in writing standards. Phrases like "demonstrates insightful analysis of the text" are meaningless in isolation.

I disagree with the question's use of "symbol," at least insofar as it accepts the dolphin as a symbol for Jesse as the correct answer. One generally doesn't think of a symbol in literature as representing an individual. A symbol represents something more abstract. This imprecision is pretty consistent with the whole Common Core approach to literary analysis: "Well, close enough, whatever, we don't want to get hung up on what these "tier 3" words mean in English class."

Finally... the "main idea" of this story is actually fairly ambiguous. Jesse is recovering from an injury, and drives away from his family for a while. Finds the injured dolphin, separated from its family. He helps it, although ultimately tells it that it has to help itself, and it does. And then he goes back to his family as well. So... main idea...? Go back to your family and don't give up? Hopefully someone will find you and point you back in the right direction repeatedly? If you leave the house and visit the beach you may find inspiration in nature?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

South Providence Superintendent Forum

OK, I skated over to the the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex yesterday to a forum with PPSD Interim Superintendent Chris Maher.

My capsule summary is that nothing came out of his mouth that was nearly as stupid as that shit I was reading yesterday on the Mass Insight website. At Mass Insight he was president of a craven, opportunistic, sloppy, overstretched educational consulting firm. I say that based on my reading of their published work, which is crap.

Anyhow, if it was 10-15 years ago, and he was just an urban district administrator from somewhere, I'd think he seemed like a great choice. In 2015, you never know what kind of privatizing fifth columnist you might be dealing with, regardless of what comes out of his mouth in public.

Nonetheless, I couldn't quibble with anything Maher said or did yesterday (and you know I'm good at quibbling), starting with saying "this is a listening forum" and then shutting his mouth and demonstrating his understanding of the teacher's concept of "wait time" with the small (25-ish) and reticent assembled group. I talked a bit about our "vibrant and disorganized" neighborhood, the sheer number of schools and kids in the area, our lack of political strength to resist any of the reform plans that have rolled down the hill in the past 15 years, and some of the damage that has been wrought by that. I think there were three actual parents who said something or asked a question a the event (plus a few teachers, students, politicians, public meeting enthusiasts, etc) out of the thousands of parents in the area, which should have reinforced my point.

I still have borderline PTSD from too many Tom Brady era PPSD forums that we all knew were going to be completely disregarded. I didn't go to any Lusi-era events because I trusted her enough to not deal with the fight/flight response any district event triggered. I must admit I was a massive dick to the nice ladies manning the door at last night's event for no particular reason.

Let me just pause and say that the era Tom Brady/Deb Gist/Arne Duncan was really horrible, particularly for Providence high schools. We were set back so far, so quickly, for no apparent reason other than imposing uniformity and control. The whole process killed something inside me.

Anyhow, Maher doesn't seem to be a malign soldier like Tom Brady, or an overmatched Donnie Evans, or just weird in the way Deb Gist was weird. He has been a principal, which is pretty damn important to being a superintendent if you ask me. He is at worst an A-list reformer, which believe me, is better than getting a B or C lister. I can almost convince myself he left Mass Insight to work directly in a school district because he knows their consulting work is a charade.

One interesting sign is that new state Commissioner Ken Wagner spent his first official day touring Providence summer programs with Maher. If I was RI education commissioner, I'd see Providence as the key to improving education in the state. Deb Gist never seemed particularly interested in understanding Providence schools -- considering the size of the state she could have known many of them well -- and was content to bomb them from 50,000 feet as if she was commissioner of Texas or California. From the outside, figuring out what was going on in the relationship (friendly, ambivalent, hostile? pretending to be one but really the other?) between PPSD and RIDE was basically impossible. Everyone suspects that Wagner will push the crap-tastic EngageNY curriculum on Rhode Island, which would conflict with Maher's stated desire to give schools more autonomy. If these two guys can have a productive relationship, and Maher can diplomatically protect us from RIDE's bad ideas, that would be an improvement.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Understanding School Reform Circa 2015

Gaius Publius:

First, when a "private" group's chief individuals flow back and forth constantly between government and that group, the group can be said to be "part" of government, or to have "infiltrated" government, or to have been "folded into" government. (Your phrasing will be determined by who you think is the instigator.)

For example, a network of private "security consulting" firms does standing business with the (Pentagon's) NSA, and by some accounts performs 70% of their work. Are those firms part of the NSA or not? Most would say yes, to a great degree. It's certain that the NSA would collapse without them, and many of these firms would collapse without the NSA (though many have other ... ahem, international ... clients, which starts an entirely different discussion).

As another example, the role of mega-lobbying firms as a fourth branch of government was explored here. Same idea.

In the case of the security firms, one might say they have been "folded into" government. In the case of the lobbying firms, one might say they have "infiltrated" government. I hope you notice the difference; both modes of incorporation occur.

Second, consider how in general the "world of money" and the parallel world of "friends of money" — its enablers, adjuncts, consiglieri and retainers — flow in and out of the world of government, of NGOs, of corporate boards, of foundation boards, attends Davos and the modern Yalta (YES) conference, and so on. Now consider how someone like Hillary Clinton — not money per se, though she has a chunk, but certainly a "friend of money" — ticks off most of those boxes (foundation board, corporate board, government, Davos, Yalta, and so on). There are many people like Hillary Clinton; she's just very front-and-center at the moment.

What we're about to see is the infiltration of "friends of money" into key positions in the eurozone, and in particular, the infiltration of friends of money from one huge repository of money and guardian of its perquisites — the megabank Goldman Sachs — into those governmental positions.

We've got privatization -- charters, vouchers -- and the other prong is this infiltration of private moneyed interests into government. I don't think this was the grand plan circa 1998 or something, but it's clearly where we're ending up, and it isn't just an education phenomenon.

Another Innovative Experiment!

Me, commenting:

It would be nice if we could stop saying this type of school is "experimental" or "innovative." We've been doing and undoing the same experiments and innovations in Providence high schools for about 40 years.

What David Coleman has Wrought, Globally

I was speaking this morning to someone who runs Montessori pre-schools in Africa and needs to track achievement of various Montessori tasks/activities. OK. Makes sense. Then she said, "And we're working on tying those to standards. We're using the Common Core from the US." Sure, we can do that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I'm Sure Blending Learning is Going to Work

Maciej Cegłowski:


This is the prevailing vision in Silicon Valley.

The world is just one big hot mess, an accident of history. Nothing is done as efficiently or cleverly as it could be if it were designed from scratch by California programmers. The world is a crufty legacy system crying out to be optimized.

If you have spent any time using software, you might recognize this as an appalling idea. Fixing the world with software is like giving yourself a haircut with a lawn mower. It works in theory, but there's no room for error in the implementation.

This vision holds that the Web is only a necessary first step to a brighter future. In order to fix the world with software, we have to put software hooks into people's lives. Everything must be instrumented, quantified, and networked. All devices, buildings, objects, and even our bodies must become "smart" and net-accessible.

Then we can get working on optimizing the hell out of life.

Marc Andreessen has this arresting quote, that ‘software is eating the world.’ He is happy about it. The idea is that industry after industry is going to fall at the hands of programmers who automate and rationalize it.

We started with music and publishing. Then retailing. Now we're apparently doing taxis. We're going to move a succession of industries into the cloud, and figure out how to do them better. Whether we have the right to do this, or whether it's a good idea, are academic questions that will be rendered moot by the unstoppable forces of Progress. It's a kind of software Manifest Destiny.

To achieve this vision, we must have software intermediaries in every human interaction, and in our physical environment.

But what if after software eats the world, it turns the world to shit?

Reality Check for Impatient Futurists

Doug Henwood:

Yes, it seems inevitable that someday "the end of work" will arrive, robots and computers will displace almost all workers, and we'll have to figure out what to do with the rest of us. The problem is with getting the timing right. This chart, and the rest of Doug Henwood's post, suggest that we're still not at that point yet.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Of Course I Spoke Too Soon

Elisabeth Harrison:

After eight years leading Central Falls schools, Gallo brings up another point of pride: elementary school test scores have been improving, and a dual language program shows particular promise.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is easy to see that on six of eight NECAP tests, Central Falls elementary scores are lower than they were seven years ago (as far back as RIDE has posted). It just looks like 2012-2013 was an especially low year, even for CF, and thus there is a one year upward trend despite the fact that the long term trend is flat at best.

My Analysis of the SIS Market

Managing an SIS product (from the vendor side) is like providing accounting software in a country where not only are multiple currencies used, and multiple theories about accounting standards co-exist, but the very idea of money is still in dispute. Some sectors of the economy run on fiat money, some pegged to the gold standard, others a currency representing in hours of labor, a few kibbutzes are doctrinaire communist, and a few others are exploring a pseudo-romantic historical fantasy about purely barter-based economies.

This is why even corporations like Apple and Pearson eventually get out of the business. Corporate scale irritation.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nobody Says Central Falls Achievement has Gone Up

Dan McGowan:

(Lusi) noted that graduation rates increased, dropout rates went down and there were “marked improvements” in reading proficiency levels in fourth and 11th grade during her tenure. While Central Falls, a much smaller district with similar demographics, has garnered significant praise for raising student achievement, Providence students compare favorably to that city at nearly every grade level.

Not to pile onto Central Falls, but nobody praises that district for raising student achievement, because it is basically flat at the high school level since before the Great Firing, and the decline in scores across grade levels for grades 3-8 is truly disturbing, to those who bother to look.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Solstice/Father's Day/Go Skateboarding Day from Garrett

Frequent commentator and former Wimp Factor 14 and Kafka Romance Dissolver rhythm section mate Garrett made me a collage:

june 21

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bridge of Allan Primary Gets a Positive Evaluation

Shona ES Taylor, HM Inspector:

How well do children learn and achieve?

We found children in the nursery class and school learn and achieve well. There is a very happy atmosphere throughout the school and almost all children demonstrate a sense of teamwork and belonging. They are very proud of their school and the success they experience in learning. In the nursery class, children show that they can persevere in tasks. They like to solve problems and relax with their friends at snack time. Children would benefit, as learners, if the structure of the session was reviewed to allow them more time to explore their interests in depth. There is further scope for staff to have deeper conversations with children about their learning. At the primary stages, children explained to us how they were improving their skills in evaluating their own work. They are beginning to identify more effectively what they do well and how they can improve. Through the many attractive displays of work and information boards, children illustrate how well they achieve. Four Green flags from Eco-Schools Scotland and a very recent ‘Green Machine’ award demonstrate children’s commitment to sustainability. A Rights Respecting School award, class charters and contributions to a number of charities outline children’s determination to be responsible citizens within their community. Children are proud of the many talents within the school and their contributions in music, drama and artwork.

The nursery and primary school my daughters attended in Scotland got their inspection report recently. It's positive overall. There's a second report which has ratings in specific categories, which is somewhat more of a "report card" format, where the scores are mostly "good" with a few "very good" (there's one more level above that). Since I can't figure out how to get back to that one, it seems they mostly want parents to see the narrative version.

Anyhow, nothing remarkable here. The inspector's view of the school maps very closely to my somewhat cursory observations of the school over the year, there's probably nothing here that surprises anyone. Which is exactly how such things should work the vast majority of the time. Evaluating a school is not some dark art, and it should almost never about surprising anyone with the revelation that a school that appears to be good is actually bad, or vice versa.

Handwringing about how, HOW!?!? would we possibly evaluate a school without primarily looking at test scores (and graduation rates) is just ignorant and uninformed. To be sure, it isn't easy or simple, there's got to be a well-designed formal process, but it isn't unknown territory.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Some Post-Reform Education Theses

The last 15 years have destroyed the intellectual foundation of American education

My favorite example is the argument in favor of teaching science and history for the purpose of improving "literacy." We don't have any working definitions of the core academic disciplines. Or a working definition of a "discipline" or its role in education. The basic definition of education has been hijacked as "college and career readiness," etc., etc. After Vietnam, the US military went back to Clausewitz to try to figure its role out again from first principles. We need to start over with Dewey.

Half-assed technocrats don't cut it.

Educational administrators are always going to tend toward technocracy, but right now we have a generation of terrible, uninterested, uneducated, ideological technocrats. It is the worst case scenario.

The international educational status quo is a decent starting point.

Every system has its strengths and weaknesses, but we don't have to act like we're solving a novel problem, as we have been, even as people go on and on about "international benchmarking."

Be realistic about where we are actually putting in real effort today.

For example, the current conversation about the difficulty of building social capital in low-income neighborhoods. This isn't something we're trying to do and failing. We are barely trying at all. We're not even adequately funding the existing public institutions (libraries, community centers, parks and rec., etc.) in low-income neighborhoods. Why don't we try that first before starting the handwringing?

Fund schools from general funds, not grants, especially private ones.

Some districts will waste their money. Get over it.

The ed-tech market does not work.

Actually the whole educational publishing market doesn't work either.

Enough with the standardized tests.

Professional teachers can evaluate their students. It is their job. They do it all over the world.

AP is a product, not a proxy for quality.

Increased AP enrollment just means the school is moving more product.

It is easy to mislead people about what "we" believed and did just a few years ago.

The memory hole is voracious.

Education can't be the most important problem in the world -- that we can only attempt to fix without spending more money.

Well, it is ok to give money to consultants, charter administration, and real estate scams.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Things People in My Household Cried About Today

  • Worried about taking her math benchmark test.
  • Upset about losing her kindergarten homework.
  • Stressed about completing her SLO's when her classes are full of students who arrived in the country during the school year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Oh, the Honesty Gap

One of the formative anecdotes in ed reform, experienced personally or second-hand, is the story of a student who is informed by a guidance counselor or other advisor in school that he or she is just "not college material" or shouldn't apply to a top-tier college, or some variation on that theme. Often this is freighted with racism, sexism, class bias or for that matter, just local politics and relationships, and to be clear, these can be very hurtful experiences.

One response to this is to encourage every student, I mean scholar, to aim to attend a selective four year college from the day they arrive at school until they graduate.

On the other hand, the current trending reform meme is the "honesty gap:" that states' low academic standards are misleading kids about how well prepared they are for post-secondary education. This point of view holds that students and parents put a lot of stock on standardized test scores, don't have a lot of other data, and believe that a diploma is a de facto statement of college readiness.

The most obvious way one might double check their readiness for post-secondary education is to ask their teachers or indeed guidance counselor. Some of the time, the adult's honest answer is going to be "No, you aren't ready for that."

Some of the time that is going to be an incorrect answer. Then again some of the time the test is going to give the incorrect answer too. Some of the time they're both going to be biased against women/minorities/poor people.

There's no way to plow through this issue as it is being framed; it is a dead-end approach. The only thing that can be done is to back out and start over, beginning with being clear about what we thought a high school diploma meant traditionally and the implications of changing that. Ultimately though, our systems of college application and induction simply are not rational enough to design our primary and secondary schools around.

Monday, May 18, 2015

These are the People Bankrolling School Reform

Wednesday Martin:

And then there were the wife bonuses.

I was thunderstruck when I heard mention of a “bonus” over coffee. Later I overheard someone who didn’t work say she would buy a table at an event once her bonus was set. A woman with a business degree but no job mentioned waiting for her “year-end” to shop for clothing. Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.

A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance — how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a “good” school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks. In turn these bonuses were a ticket to a modicum of financial independence and participation in a social sphere where you don’t just go to lunch, you buy a $10,000 table at the benefit luncheon a friend is hosting.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Highlight of the Annual Sports Calendar, Tomorrow

Webcast starts 7:00 PM EDT, Saturday, May 16.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mass Insight's PPSD Central Office Analysis is a Real Nothingburger

Mass Insight:

Dimension 4 essentially calls for some central office staff to serve as stewards of the change process. These staff steward change by continuously referring to and updating the theory of action as needed, communicating frequently with all stakeholders about the theory of action, and serving as strategic resource brokers (Honig et al., 2010, pp. 88-89). These change managers may help district leaders pursue both knowledge (such as experts in specific aspects of central office transformation) and fiscal resources (such as support from local businesses or foundations).

It goes on and on like that for about 35 pages.

The bottom line is that contrary to the mayor and conventional wisdom, the PPSD central office is leaner than similar cities, particularly in professional staff. We are a bit over-staffed clerically in the central office. But in particular Mass Insight would like to see a lot more data analysis, including collecting and analyzing more data on central office performance, so it seems unlikely this bold transformation would result in much more than just fewer clerks and more higher-end wonks and no actual cost savings (which is presumably what people want).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Understanding Civil Rights Advocacy Groups on Testing

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

For the civil rights community, data provide the power to advocate for greater equality under the law.

The people who do civil rights advocacy -- lobbying -- believe in the power of advocacy and lobbying to improve civil rights. To do civil rights advocacy they need data. Therefore, they need test scores.

The problem is that they seem limited to meta-success in this area. Their advocacy and lobbying in recent decades has accomplished little in the key areas of funding and desegregation. Their only win is holding onto what they perceive as the necessary tools to continue their advocacy. It is pretty thin gruel.

I also suspect that a lot of people who become civil rights advocates and lobbyists went to schools where it is at least possible to have and hide an in-school racial achievement gap -- that is, primarily white suburban or private schools. Thus they think disaggregating data at the school level seems like a big deal. In the city, the idea that you need data to demonstrate there is a problem with minority achievement that would otherwise be hidden or unknown just misses the point.

Also, there's some money involved.

Friday, May 08, 2015

If Only Education Could Be as Scientific as Medicine

Scott Alexander:

This pattern absolutely jumps out of the data. First- and second- place winners Nardil and Parnate came out in 1960 and 1961, respectively; I can’t find the exact year third-place winner Anafranil came out, but the first reference to its trade name I can find in the literature is from 1967, so I used that. In contrast, last-place winner Viibryd came out in 2011, second-to-last place winner Abilify got its depression indication in 2007, and third-to-last place winner Brintellix is as recent as 2013.

This result is robust to various different methods of analysis, including declaring MAOIs to be an unfair advantage for Team Old and removing all of them, changing which minor tricylics I do and don’t include in the data, and altering whether Deprenyl, a drug that technically came out in 1970 but received a gritty reboot under the name Emsam in 2006, is counted as older or newer.

So if you want to know what medication will make you happiest, at least according to this analysis your best bet isn’t to ask your doctor, check what’s most popular, or even check any individual online rating database. It’s to look at the approval date on the label and choose the one that came out first.

One Trick Klein

Tony Wan:

The watchword within the company is “One Amplify,” Klein’s code name for a reorganization effort aimed at uniting a company that once listed 12 “C-level” executives and three presidents across five divisions. Today, seven chief officers remain—and no presidents.

Good to see Joel Klein takes the same approach to running a business as he does a school district. Always be reorganizing!

Friday, April 24, 2015

"Opt-Out" has been Extremely Polite So Far


Not a single 11th grade students showed up to take the SBAC test at Nathan Hale High School this week, a Seattle Public Schools spokesperson confirmed.

It is more difficult to keep your 8 year old home for a week, but a lot of people could.

Also, kicking out the power cord, loundly breaking your pencil tips and/or humming "We Shall Overcome" 20 minutes into the test would also work.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Don't Miss Bruce Baker on NOLA

Bruce Baker:

Following this model requires significant depopulation, and much, much more.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

You Can't Say Reform Plan was Fine Except Pace of Implementation

I've read a few comments lately saying, in effect, "The Common Core, et al, are fine ideas, but some states, etc., just tried to go too quickly."

That's a crock because an insanely fast pace of implementation was a central feature -- and prerequisite if -- the entire "Race to the Top" agenda. It is a "race," you see! If you could get in a time machine and show that the current plan couldn't be completed by 2015, you would have gotten an entirely different plan that might be implementable in a short enough timeframe. They wouldn't have said, "Oh, ok, as long as it takes to do the right thing is fine because we have deep faith in the power of our ideas."

Probably you would get a decision to not re-write the Common Core from scratch for no reason, but to use the superior version they already had in hand. For some reason everyone still pretends that wasn't a perfectly reasonable approach.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What I Learned from Snow Narrowed Streets

Ben Lindeke:

At the same time, the big concern for many engineers, drivers and civic leaders is how lower speeds will impact traffic flow. They amazing thing is that it doesn’t have to make a huge difference. When you’re talking about traffic flow on these urban commercial streets, speed is far less important than delay at intersections. A great example (from the UK) is the main street in the small suburban town of Poynton, which carries more than 26,000 cars a day. They recently dramatically re-designed the street to create “slow speed continuous traffic movement” by removing stop lights.

Having the streets narrowed by snow banks for six weeks, with parked cars at best half in traffic, and people walking on the streets at the same time (even when the sidewalks were shoveled!) was not an ideal situation by any means, and there were definite choke points around, say, every liquor store and bodega, but much of the time I couldn't help noticing that short trips didn't noticeably take longer with everyone driving slower and having to pause periodically to let people past parked cars.

A combination of driving a hybrid, using traffic avoidance software and spending a year in a roundabout-oriented country, has caused me to change my driving routes to ones that travel at a somewhat slower but steadier pace. You get there quicker, it is way less stressful, you save gas and it is safer.

CityArts! in the Neighborhood

I attended my first of what will likely be many end of semester "teachbacks" at the award winning CityArts! program. It is both free and two blocks from our house, so as soon as Vivian was old enough (8), we got her on board with a twice a week arts class. There's also a palpable sense of Providence's larger youth arts pipeline (CityArts -> AS220 Youth, for example).

One thing that was particularly nice is that it gave Vivian a chance to meet some kids in the immediate neighborhood. The biggest problem with our part of Elmwood is the absence of any social spaces. You have to really try to meet anyone, and you then you simply never casually run into people. We've barely interacted at all with most of the young kids in the houses immediately around us. We barely see them at all. The requirement that everyone have off-street parking even contributes to this. Some people never seem to set foot on the sidewalk. We started to feel like maybe it was just us, but after a few months in Stirling I couldn't go anywhere without seeing someone I knew. It is basically just a problem of urban design and infrastructure investment.

Anyhow, I digress. So Vivian became pretty good friends with a girl who it turns out lives about a block away and is homeschooled. She also got to know a boy who lives a couple doors down and goes to Paul Cuffee charter school. We're glad we were able to choose a public school which is considered a "neighborhood" school by distance if not sociology, and by no means the closest to us.

But let's be clear here, ultimately it just sucks to have all the kids in a neighborhood going to different schools, and it is in some ways worse for urban youth that it would be for kids in the suburbs.

On the other hand, yay for CityArts! Great to have some neighborhood resources for kids.

One Way High Performing Teachers Improve Lifetime Earnings

Susana Morris:

Only students in the advanced classes could attend workshops where you could learn about the magnet high schools anyone could apply for. If I hadn’t been in pre-Algebra, I would not have learned about the International Baccalaureate program that I would later attend and kick ass in.

There has been too little discussion of the actual mechanism by which having a "high performing" math teacher twenty years ago would have had an effect on your later earnings. Math was widely tracked back when Chetty et al were doing their research, getting bumped up or down made a big difference and as noted above, could have many knock-on effects.

In a sense, Chetty's research may have as much to say about tracking as it does testing. We don't know!

See also.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Missing the Stirling Crew

Plus they have way better weather right now!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Chipping Away

While a lot of anti-PARCC/SBAC/Common Core testing argument justifiably is attacking the roots of the testing problem, I do think an effective line of attack is to ask again and again why -- exactly -- we need to give third graders significantly longer tests than the SAT or college placement exams. The SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes. Accuplacer, the "college readiness" test used by actual colleges to place kids in regular or remedial courses is untimed, but the College Board notes that each of the 6 English and math sections generally takes 15 to 30 minutes, so an hour and a half to three hours for most kids in total.

In particular, I'd strongly encourage anyone who has been spending time with the PARCC, SBAC or any other Common Core sample tests, to look at the Accuplacer sample questions. I'm not saying Accuplacer is great, but a lot of the questions look as easy or easier than many middle school Common Core questions. I'd love to see a comparison by someone who has been spending more time with the Common Core sample items.

Of course, the risk is we'd win the argument and just get shorter high-stakes tests or, god forbid, and 8 hour SAT. I think it is good ground for us to fight on, however, and helps to undermine the credibility of the entire testing regime. Seriously, if 3-4 hours of testing is enough to classify an 18 year old going to college, why is it not enough for a 9 year old? I don't think there is a good answer to that question.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Understanding Internet Discourse in 2015

Scott Alexander:

But as it is, even if many journalists are interested in raising awareness of police brutality, given their total lack of coordination there’s not much they can do. An editor can publish a story on Eric Garner, but in the absence of a divisive hook, the only reason people will care about it is that caring about it is the right thing and helps people. But that’s “charity”, and we already know from my blog tags that charity doesn’t sell. A few people mumble something something deeply distressed, but neither black people nor white people get interested, in the “keep tuning to their local news channel to get the latest developments on the case” sense.

The idea of liberal strategists sitting down and choosing “a flagship case for the campaign against police brutality” is poppycock. Moloch – the abstracted spirit of discoordination and flailing response to incentives – will publicize whatever he feels like publicizing. And if they want viewers and ad money, the media will go along with him.

Which means that it’s not a coincidence that the worst possible flagship case for fighting police brutality and racism is the flagship case that we in fact got. It’s not a coincidence that the worst possible flagship cases for believing rape victims are the ones that end up going viral. It’s not a coincidence that the only time we ever hear about factory farming is when somebody’s doing something that makes us almost sympathetic to it. It’s not coincidence, it’s not even happenstance, it’s enemy action. Under Moloch, activists are irresistably incentivized to dig their own graves. And the media is irresistably incentivized to help them.

Lost is the ability to agree on simple things like fighting factory farming or rape. Lost is the ability to even talk about the things we all want. Ending corporate welfare. Ungerrymandering political districts. Defrocking pedophile priests. Stopping prison rape. Punishing government corruption and waste. Feeding starving children. Simplifying the tax code.

But also lost is our ability to treat each other with solidarity and respect.

Similarly, this is a at best borderline example of doxxing, since at most it exposes a locally prominent public official through their official contact information. It is much more annoying as an example of sexism expressed through using an informal picture of a female public official instead of her official one. But if it is someone's introduction to the idea of doxxing, you're immediately leading them in the wrong direction.

It is also a confusing example because unless I'm missing something, the people who would be most upset by the memo would be Pearson and NJDOE, who presumably already know how to get a district superintendent on the phone.

A second post by Bob Braun is a better example of inappropriately including someone's personal information in a post, and, unless I'm missing something, Braun has removed the relevant address, so... lesson learned, at least by Braun? Was an apology required? The larger problem with the post is that he's barking up the wrong tree entirely due to a mis-understanding of how the economics of open source licensing works, which is understandable.

The controversy around Braun's posts is a good example of what Alexander calls "The Toxoplasma of Rage." I highly recommend his post.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Could We Have a Token School Board Member WIthout Direct Charter School Ties?

Via Elisabeth Harrison, we have two new school board members and one reappointed. One "formerly worked at the State Department of Education in the office of charter schools and now heads the admissions department at the Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College Charter School. The second "has children in Providence public schools, serves on the Highlander Charter School Parent Teacher Organization." I don't know how that works... is he a Highlander parent too? The third has a child in a charter school. To be fair, #3's policy views are probably as close to mine as you could get, overall. But still even he has a kid pulling money out of the district he's going to be overseeing.

The idea that this is a fair competition between systems is a joke. The game is obviously rigged. And it goes without saying that Elorza is on the board of the charter schools which represent the greatest fiscal threat to the city.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Raimondo Proposes Cutting Out-Of-District Transport & Textbook Obligations

Linda Borg:

The proposal would also allow public school districts to eliminate busing of private and parochial school students for a savings of $2 million. Raimondo’s plan would remove the requirement that districts provide transportation to out-of-district students. ...

The governor’s budget also ends the requirement that districts have to “loan” textbooks to private and parochial school students.

The state currently sets aside $115,745 to reimburse districts for this expense, which the budget would eliminate. Duffy said the biggest savings to the districts will be the cost of administering the program, which involves tracking the books and getting them back to the district.

It is unclear whether non-district charter students are considered "out-of-district" for transportation purposes. I tend to doubt whether this will make it through to the final budget, but it is definitely good to have it on the table, and a sign that Raimondo is not going to go full-bore for privatization. This isn't some kind of dog whistle, it is proposing to remove a subsidy to private schools.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Individualistic Fascism of Ed Reformers

David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy:

The "self-actualization" philosophy from which most of this new bureaucratic language emerged (terms like vision, quality, stakeholder, leadership, excellence, or best practices) insists that we live in a timeless present, that history means nothing, that we simply create the world around us through the power of the will. This is a kind of individualistic fascism.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Retaining First Graders at Achievement First

Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy Boards of Directors Retreat Thursday, July 24, 2014:

Brian (Gallogly) asked whether families are leaving

Three families leaving. Two kids, from one family, are going to Iowa. One kid leaving because of retention (few literacy skills for this scholar when she arrived in 1st grade, almost made it to the goal, but parent pulled her, AFPMA is calling throughout the summer but it seems they’re out)

This student had almost more growth than any other scholar. She started below kindergarten and made it almost to the proficiency level to be advanced to 2nd grade.

AFPMA recommends to her new school that she be retained. She’s going to a neighborhood school. Slight chance she’ll show up in August.

Retaining first graders is disturbing on a number of levels, particularly if students are actually progressing fast enough to catch up over the next year or two. But getting down to brass tacks, its damned expensive! Under the current funding formula, charters have no financial disincentive to retain students at great cost to the city and state, with the only clear benefit being to their test scores. We really need more data on the rate of grade retention in charters.

Changes: My New Role at Common Ground

One reason it has been a bit quiet here is I've been in a somewhat transitional phase in my life. Mark Shuttleworth's generous funding of SchoolTool wound down at the end of 2014, and Douglas Cerna and I have been successful so far in bringing in more funding through our company, SIELibre, but some additional income is necessary.

So I did extensive market research, futurology, watched TED talks until my eyes bled, and everything kept coming back to two sure thing high-growth sectors: organized labor and newspaper publishing.

As of the April issue, I'm taking over as editor of Common Ground, a little RI labor monthly primarily distributed through union halls. As a part-time gig, it is interesting. A chance to reach out to a different audience. We're going to re-vamp the (virtually non-existent) web presence and sharpen the editorial focus and design up a bit. I'm also going to be learning how to put together a newspaper, which I've not done before... Like most free-lancy writing gigs, exactly how well this pays depends on how quickly I get finished. If I'm fast it is pretty decent, but it might take me a while to get fast. Regardless, it is very much a part-time job.

It is going to cut into my blogging time -- having a big paid writing deadline every month tends to cut down on the writing for fun. I will also be pushing more stuff into a Common Ground twitter feed and some Facebooking at a certain point. I'll keep you posted on how all that stuff shakes out.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Epistemology for Second Graders

Justin P. McBrayer:

But second, and worse, students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both. For example, I asked my son about this distinction after his open house. He confidently explained that facts were things that were true whereas opinions are things that are believed. We then had this conversation:

Me: “I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that a fact or an opinion?”

Him: “It’s a fact.”

Me: “But I believe it, and you said that what someone believes is an opinion.”

Him: “Yeah, but it’s true.”

Me: “So it’s both a fact and an opinion?”

The blank stare on his face said it all.

I noticed a variation of this on one of Vivian's infamous weekly Pearson reading quizzes. There was a sentence in an "informational text" that stated (roughly):

Amelia Earhart is the most famous woman in the world.

The relevant question was: is that a fact or opinion? with "opinion" being the correct answer. But it is no more or less an opinion as any of the other assertions of fact that make up most of any "informational text" aimed at an 8 year old, e.g., Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897. Pearson is calling it "opinion" because it is an incorrect assertion of fact. That's different than an opinion.

I don't buy McBrayer's larger argument about kids today "not believing in moral facts" as a result of the Common Core, but he is absolutely right that the Common Core encourages teaching an incomplete and truncated epistemology.

The Best Way to Ensure Kids are Ready to Read in First Grade is to Require Them to Read in Kindergarten

Robert Pondiscio:

The broad thrust of Common Core for kindergarten is ensuring kids are ready to read by the first grade.

Many years ago, I took one look at the Common Core kindergarten standards and immediately resolved to stay away from them, because they made no sense, and I didn't know whether or not that was just the way kindergarten standards are written, or what. I'm not an early childhood person, so what the hell do I know? I'm sure this is the way 95% of people react to the standards as a whole.

In the intervening years, I've concluded that the kindergarten standards just don't make sense, period. Not just pedagogically, but as standards. For example, does the text of the standards support Pondiscio's claim? I would say not really, that the standards mostly emphasize what they emphasize all along -- textual analysis.

Also a narrow range of academic writing. They also have foundational reading standards at this level. Are the foundational reading standards "the broad thrust" of the standards here? Nobody can say definitively, because the intellectual midgets behind the 20 year "standards" project in American education didn't manage to create a formal system for indicating relative emphasis.

And beyond that, the standards certainly do require kindergarteners to read:

Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.

Surprisingly "emergent-reader texts" is actually defined in Appendix A:

Emergent reader texts – Texts consisting of short sentences comprised of learned sight words and CVC words; may also include rebuses to represent words that cannot yet be decoded or recognized; see also rebus

But then in Appendix B, there are no specific examples of kindergarten texts except a few like this:

DePaola, Tomie. Pancakes for Breakfast. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1978. (1978)
This is a wordless book appropriate for kindergarten.

OK... Also, every other similar kindergarten standard pointedly does not require independent reading:

Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.

So... ??? To quote Audrey Watters, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

School Reform == Financialization of Government Services

Charlie Stross:

12. A side-effect of (7) is the financialization of government services (2). ...

14. The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there's a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Take on Six Kindergarten ELA Standards

I've posted my first long-form Common Core piece in a while on Medium:

Much of the concern over the kindergarten standards revolves around the question of whether they are “developmentally appropriate.” I would argue that in addition to this issue, the kindergarten standards are fatally difficult to interpret due to the flawed design of Common Core ELA/Literacy standards as a whole. It is a fundamental premise of the Common Core that we can think of learning in kindergarten as part of a single continuum of skills and tasks stretching backward from college.

In fact, the standards and assessment paradigm designed for secondary school breaks down when applied to six year olds. This is why all high performing countries, the ones we are supposedly trying to compete with, have separate curricular documents for primary and secondary schools, reflecting the goals and demands of each level.

The DEY report cited six examples of kindergarten standards for which “there is no evidence that mastering these standards in kindergarten rather than in first grade brings lasting gains.” Gentry defends each one in turn, and I shall point out how this discussion illuminates flaws in the design of the standards as a whole.