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.