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)_/¯.