kitchen table math, the sequel

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bill Gates is very likely the major funder of Elizabeth Green

In the comments section, Hainish writes:
I checked, and Gates is one (two?*) out of over 25 contributors! It seems very misleading to say that she's "funded by Gates." One of the other donors on the list is the Walton Foundation . . . Can you imagine someone cherry-picking that particular donor to smear Green by association? (I can!)
I should explain.

I believe that I'm not cherry-picking when I cite Bill Gates, and only Bill Gates, as Chalkbeat's backer. I assume that Green's major donor --by far -- is Gates (or possibly Gates/Walton).

Unfortunately, I don't have easy access to Chalkbeat's 990 forms, so I haven't fact-checked.

In terms of bias, the presence of multiple donors on the donor page doesn't matter if one donor is providing most of the funding. I'm a member of a list that recently dealt with the multiple-donor issue re: Thomas Fordham Institute. Fordham, too, has a list of donors, but Gates is the big one:
Based on their 2012 990 there, Fordham had a total $2.8M income from grants in 2012. Given that Gates gave Fordham $1M in April 2013 (and $1.5M in 2011), clearly Gates is a major contributor. Gates' grants are probably split over 2 years or more in Fordham's tax forms. Other grants seem to be on the order of $100k-$300K. [email excerpt
Bill Gates is in a category unto himself. (Chalkbeat has been taken to task for the Walton funding, by the way.)

From a Chalkbeat story written by Green in 2008:
One of the world’s most expansive philanthropies, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, emerged yesterday from a year-and-a-half-long silence on one of its major investment areas, releasing a plan to dramatically alter the foundation’s approach to improving American schools.


In the crowd were some of the most important names in education: the presidents of the two major American teachers unions; the current U.S. Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings; at least one former Education Secretary, Dick Riley, who served under President Bill Clinton; and several people named as possible Education Secretary in the Barack Obama administration now being formed. That group includes Schools Chancellor Joel Klein of New York City; Arne Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago; the former chairman of Intel, Craig Barrett; and the co-chairs of Obama’s education advisory board, Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond and the New York City-based education entrepreneur Jon Schnur.

The education A-list crowd flocked to the Seattle conference because the direction the Gates Foundation takes will undoubtedly have a significant impact in schools across the country. In the last eight years, the foundation has invested $4 billion in education projects, and that is not counting its investments in scholarships and libraries.....

The size of Gates’ investments is expected to continue apace in this next phase, a foundation spokesman said.

As a result, some observers said Gates’ new direction is more important to the future of American schools than the identity of the next U.S. Education Secretary.

“In a way, being Secretary of Education is less significant than being Bill Gates,” the education historian Diane Ravitch said, guessing that the foundation gives more money annually to education than the U.S. Department of Education has available in annual discretionary funds. “I’d rather be Bill Gates.”
I haven't really thought the issue of donor-backed, one-issue journalism through.

I like think tanks, which exist to produce reasonably solid research and opinion papers devoted to a particular political or policy view. I'm a big consumer of white papers.

I'm not sure I'm sold on donor-funded conventional journalism, which is what Chalkbeat purports to be.

At a minimum, I think Chalkbeat should disclose funding sources within any reporting on their donors. I had no idea Chalkbeat was funded by Gates (or by the Walton Foundation, for that matter). I was reading their stories 'straight,' not suspecting a bias toward charter schools or Common Core. Whether or not that bias is present is neither here nor there. Disclosure is good form.

Here's another Chalkbeat story on Gates I've just come across:
Gates announcement A-list, continued: So many power players! by Elizabeth Green November 12, 2008
One thing's for sure: way too much Bill Gates.

He doesn't know what he's doing, and he shouldn't be able to assemble policy "A-lists" to explain to them what comes next in public education.


From the horse's mouth

AP courses and exams are being revised to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization.
Trevor Packer, Senior Vice President, AP and Instruction – Senior Vice President, AP and Instruction - April 9, 2014
Oh, goody.

To be fair, AP history courses have always covered too much material. At least, that's what Ed always said. (For passersby, Ed is a historian of France & modern Europe.) Back in the day, Ed would occasionally be asked to work on AP Euro. He always said 'no' because he thought the courses crammed too much content into too little time.

He completely changed his mind once he started dealing with public schools as a parent.

He used to tell friends: 'I thought AP courses weren't great-- now I want Chris taking as many AP's as he possibly can.'

So, as much as it pains me to concede the point in our contemporary context, in theory it would be a good idea to thin out the content a bit.

Unfortunately, when thinning out content means "emphasizing inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization," you're not talking about a sensible edit.

You're talking about 12 months of DBQ-mongering at the expense of Roger Williams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Dorothea Dix, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Clay, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Theodore Roosevelt, Lost Generation authors (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Lewis), and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Yes, I do realize that current AP courses engage in quite a bit of DBQ-mongering.)

Real historians don't write DBQs.

Also, you can't do proper inquiry & depth without knowledge.

Knowledge stored in memory, not on Google.


I've told you all (right? many times?) that Ed is one of the inventors of the DBQ.

He doesn't like me to say that because he's not positive he and his colleagues really did invent the DBQ. Somebody else might have invented it first.*

But it's safe to say Ed and his group were the re-inventors of DBQs, and here's the thing: they invented the DBQ as a testof memorized knowledge.

Memorized, as in committed to memory and recalled later, on a test.

He and his group were writing new, rigorous, multiple-choice history tests for California. They designed the DBQ as a final and minor element of the exam, which would give advanced students a chance to show that they were beginning to be able to apply the historical knowledge they had memorized.

And note: only advanced students were expected to be able to write a DBQ successfully. All students could pass the test on the basis of knowledge stored in long-term memory. The DBQs were a bonus, so to speak.

A few years ago, in response to some folderol going on around here, in my district, I actually interviewed Ed about his work on the DBQ. Have got to dig out those notes and finally write them up.

AND SEE: Paul Horton on the new CC standards and DBQs

*I've come across journal articles on "controlled composition," which I have yet to read, and I suspect Ed's right. Other people probably thought of DBQs before Ed and his group did, although I've never seen any indication that other people came up with the specific concept Ed's team did.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Elizabeth Green is funded by Bill Gates

Needless to say, I was horrified by Elizabeth Green's Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, which is the single most breathless endorsement of constructivism I've ever seen in the Times. Actually, it may be the only breathless endorsement of constructivism I've seen in the Times.

I read it this morning, just before a meeting with Ed and his editors at Oxford, and as we were rushing to get ready I joked that Green was probably funded by Bill Gates.

Then tonight it occurred to me that I should check.

Chalkbeat: About Us

The Times has no business publishing an advocacy piece, albeit an advocacy book excerpt, without disclosing the Gates connection.

UPDATE 7/29/2014: Bill Gates is very likely the major funder of Elizabeth Green

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Palisadesk on violence on schools & bad principals

On the question of whether some schools are more violent than others, palisadesk writes:
I can speak to this with some assurance. I have been in 3 schools in the last decade, all within the same neighborhood (if you positioned them on a map, they would make an uneven triangle, each less than a mile from the others).

The area has a great deal of gang activity, drug dealing, drive-by shootings and vandalism, little of which is evident in the daytime; except for drug paraphernalia in the parking lot and conspicuous police cars, I rarely see any evidence of crime. We have had several lockdowns due to armed suspects in the area, and the school is locked down until police inform us it is safe. The reason they give is that they don't want an offender entering a school and attempting to take hostages.

Actual crime is really not that big a deal for the most part. Crime and violence in elementary schools has not, in my experience, ever been a big issue (I am talking K-8 elementary), and has not increased in my experience.

But, violence in elementary schools does occur and is of a lesser order than crime. It includes the usual bullying and schoolyard fights that have always been with us, occasionally punctuated by an incident of a student with a weapon. Violence and disorder are more of the disruption and uncontrolled-behavior sort, where there are kids running around unsupervised, taunting, harassment in the bathrooms, egregious swearing and opprobrious epithets, minor assaults, mostly against each other but also staff, etc.

A measurable portion (I wouldn't want to estimate an exact percentage) is due to increased numbers of mentally ill children and children with severe autism. Whereas we used to have other facilities for kids with real psychiatric disorders, most of them have been closed, and those children are in our schools, often with no support. Most children with autism are also included in general ed classes, although we do have some segregated programs as well.

Given all that, there is a huge difference among the last three schools where school climate and student behavior are concerned. The poverty level is about the same; school size about the same (550-700), demographics about the same (1-2% white, 2-3% Asian, a mixture of many black and brown subgroups). No middle class families.

Yet, school A, where I spent 8 years, was pretty well-disciplined and positive, with some good strategies for dealing with offenders and problems WITHOUT using suspension and expulsion. For one thing, suspension rewards the ones who don't want to be there in the first place, and they misbehave on purpose to get a free pass to the mall for a few days.

After a change in administration, however, things started to slide, and now, 5 years later, the place is a zoo and its academic standing is practically the lowest in the district where it was formerly respectably in the middle. School B had a lot of neighborhood issues due to being in the middle of a housing project (so non-students were often on the grounds etc), and the older students were more likely to be involved in undesirable extracurriculars. Still, the environment was relatively calm and classes orderly and children learning -- but one knew that it was a matter of constant vigilance.

Now I am at school C, a Frisbee throw away, and it is a completely different world. I am told it was pretty much like the first two some years back but a new principal came in and over time it has become a high-achieving, calm, enthusiastic place. The staff are outstanding, families love the school and support it in a variety of ways, we have lots of special activities to help kids broaden their horizons and gain background knowledge (principal is an active campaign for sponsors for different projects). In 4 years I have never seen or heard of a student fight, playground brawl or weapons issue. No drugs.

Academically, we outperform not only all the other schools in the (low-SES) area, but many of the middle-class and upper-class ones as well.

I think strong leadership of the best kind is what is needed -- and is in very short supply. An outstanding principal can transform a school (incrementally), and a bad one -- and I have worked for several -- can destroy one for years to come.

With all the yadda yadda about good teachers and bad teachers, you would think we would hear something about bad principals, the harm they do, and the need for great ones.

I've been active in reform efforts for a long time and the silence is deafening.
I completely agree, though I think NCLB focused much more on the school, as opposed to the teacher. At least from my perspective, it's been the Race to the Top era that has produced such a single-minded focus on the individual teacher.

Which reminds me....Sandra Stotsky has just posted a comparison of NCLB to RttT.

It's obvious to me we're not going to fix schools by linking teacher evaluations to Common Core tests. (Just typing those words -- 'fix schools by linking teacher evaluations to Common Core tests' -- plunges me into yet another Something happened in 1985 reverie.)

The person at the top sets the tone, and the person at the top is the principal. Individual teachers can't create a school climate. ("It's the culture, stupid.")

By happenstance, just this week I read an op-ed titled: What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

Agree completely with this passage:
The first [incorrect] belief is that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” This statement became known in education policies through the influential McKinsey & Company report titled “How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top”. Although the report takes a broader view on enhancing the status of teachers by better pay and careful recruitment this statement implies that the quality of an education system is defined by its teachers. By doing this, the report assumes that teachers work independently from one another. But teachers in most schools today, in the United States and elsewhere, work as teams when the end result of their work is their joint effort.

The role of an individual teacher in a school is like a player on a football team: all teachers are vital, but the culture of the school is even more important for the quality of the school. Team sports offer numerous examples of teams that have performed beyond expectations because of leadership, commitment and spirit. Take the U.S. ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a team of college kids beat both Soviets and Finland in the final round and won the gold medal. The quality of Team USA certainly exceeded the quality of its players. So can an education system.
I had a shocking experience of this phenomenon nearly two years ago.

I had attended Morningside Academy's Summer Institute, and had student taught there.

After that experience, I visited another precision-teaching school.

The difference was shocking.

I remember reading the same thing on the DI list. Even when a school is using Direct Instruction curricula and the teachers are well-trained, school culture is still the most important factor determining whether students actually learn. (I probably can't find that email any more, but that's what I recall.)

engageny is a full curriculum, I think

I noticed in the Comments thread for Allison's post people talking about whether engageny is or is not a full curriculum.

I think it's intended to be a complete curriculum (but I could be wrong).

Last fall my district replaced Math Trailblazers with engageny and nothing else. The curriculum director told us that they'd saved roughly $100k by going with the NY state curriculum (which had not been written when they adopted it).

I mentioned in the comments thread that, a few years back, I went to a talk by David Steiner, who said that the state was going to write a complete math curriculum states would be free to use or not. He didn't say anything about writing a supplementary curriculum. The plan was to write a complete curriculum districts could use instead of a curriculum they'd purchased from a textbook company.

I think what they've posted is the result.

Here's the wording from the website:
In order to assist schools and districts with the implementation of the Common Core, NYSED has provided curricular modules and units in P-12 ELA and math that can be adopted or adapted for local purposes. Full years of curricular materials are currently available on EngageNY, for grades Kindergarten through 9th grade in Mathematics and Kindergarten through 8th grade in English Language Arts (ELA). NYSED is working with our partners to deliver high quality curricular materials for all remaining grades in both Mathematics and ELA. In Mathematics, full years of instruction will be available for all remaining grades this summer. In ELA, full years of instruction will be available in 9th and 10th grade this summer and 11th and 12th grade this fall.

Common Core Curriculum
They've posted 105 lessons for Algebra 1.

I counted.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Can you spot the error?

Can you spot the error?

This is the EngageNY 8th grade, module 7 Teacher's Guide for part of the lesson on irrational numbers.  You can find the rest here:
Hint: extremely egregious error. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

School violence, suburban schools, charter schools

Followup to School violence 1940 - 1950

The 1940-1950 chart: School Survey Hoax:

I'm going to number sections of this post, just to make things quicker (for me & for people reading)


In the wake of learning, from the Comments thread (thank you!), that the 1940-1990 school chart is way too vivid to be true (I wondered about that -- should have listened to myself), I've done some Googling re: school violence.

Haven't finished, but while I was at it, I remembered this passage from Elizabeth Warren's book The Two-Income Trap:
Today's parents must also confront another frightening prospect as they consider where their children will attend school: the threat of school violence....[T]he statistics show that school violence is not as random as it might seem. According to one study, the incidence of serious violent crime--such as robbery, rape, or attack with a weapon--is more than three times higher in schools characterized by high poverty levels than those with predominantly middle- and upper-income children.[41] Similarly, urban children are more than twice as likely as suburban children to fear being attacked on the way to or from school. The data expose a harsh reality: Parents who can get their kids into a more economically segregated neighborhood really improve the odds that their sons and daughters will make it through school safely.[42]

41. Thomas D. Snyder and Charlene M. Hoffman, Digest of Education Statistics, 2001, NCES 2001-130 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, February 2002), Table 150, Percent of Public Schools Reporting Crime Incidents and the Seriousness of Crime Incidents Reported, by School Characteristics, 1996-1997.

42. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice, 2000, NCJ 190251 (December 2001), Table 2.0001, Students Age 12 to 18 Reporting Fear of School-Related Victimization.
Setting aside the question of whether school violence was significantly higher in 1990 than in 1940, the fact is that parents universally believe suburban schools are safer than urban schools.

I'm pretty sure urban parents have the same perception of charter schools.

Charter schools radiate an image of safety and calm.

I believe parents choose charter schools in part because they believe their children will be safer in a charter school than in a traditional public school.


Are charter schools actually safer?

Hard to tell. They may not be.

From 2013:
Teachers' perceptions of school safety across all school levels tended to differ by sector. Private school teachers were less likely than teachers in other sectors to report being threatened with injury in the past 12 months. Among private school teachers, 3.9 percent reported injury threats, compared with 9.6 percent of traditional public school teachers. Teachers in charter schools (10.8 percent) and BIA schools (12.6 percent) were most likely to report being threatened with injury...


Among traditional public public school teachers, reports of being threatened with injury varied by community type. Teachers in central city schools were more likely to report threats of injury in the past 12 months than teachers in urban fringe/large town schools and teachers in rural/small town schools. In central city traditional public schools, 13.5 percent of teachers reported injury threats. In urban fringe/large town schools, 7.9 percent of teachers reported injury threats. In rural / small town schools, 8.6 percent of teachers reported injury threats.
They need to disaggregate the data. I have no idea what proportion of charter schools are "central city."

One note: the fact that charter school teachers report a threat level as high as they do weighs against the idea that charters are cherry-picking the easy students.


Has there "always" been violence in schools?

The answer is 'yes,' but that is neither here nor there.

There has always been violence, period, but some places and times have been more violent than others.

The question is whether schools had become significantly more violent by 1990 than they were in 1940.

At the moment, it looks to me as if the government didn't really start collecting statistics on violence in schools until around 1990. (I may be wrong about that, but so far that's what I'm turning up.)

The label "school violence" didn't really exist prior to the 1970s (which is not to say that school violence didn't exist):

Source: "The School in School Violence: Definitions and Facts" | Michael Furlong & Gale Morrison | Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders | Summer 2000, Vol.8, No. 2, p. 72

Setting the quest for school violence statistics aside, it's well established that there was a large increase in "violence-related injuries and homicides among adolescents during the late 1980s and early 1990s."(Furlong & Morrison, 2000)

That increase affected the schools:
In some ways, society has expected a protective bubble to exist between the problems of our communities and the spillover into the school setting. Schools have remained relatively safe environments for teachers and students (Furlong & Morrison, 1994; Garbarinio, 1992); however, in some areas, the community norms and behaviors regarding violence have thoroughly invaded the school (Devine, 1995). This is particularly true in urban environments where there is a commitment to subculture norms and values that endorse the use of violence in solving conflicts (Devine, 1995; Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967).


Do some schools keep order better than others?


Within the same city and the same demographic, some schools keep order and some do not:
The 11 (Philadelphia) schools differed significantly on all five measures of school climate. The largest between-school differences were found for planning and action; clarity of rules; and student influence. Schools, therefore differ considerably in the degree to which students perceive that the school is making any effort to implement school improvements; in the clarity of school rules; and in the degree to which students have any influence on school policies. Note, however, that sizable but smaller effects were found for the other two climate scales as well: students feel more respects and they perceive that school rules are more fair at some schools than at others. Schools are not at all identical in the rules, procedures, norms, and practices that make up school climate.

While one might expect that 11 public schools in the same large, urban school district would evidence similar levels of disorder, this was not the case at all....Schools varied to a great degree in how safe their students felt.


Four of the five school climate variables significantly predicted victimization: respect for students, planning and action, fairness of rules, and clarity of rules. Student influence on decision making had no effect. Respect for students had the greatest influence on lower levels of victimization.

The Effects of School Climate on School Disorder | Wayne N. Welsh | The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 2000 567: 88
Rules and respect (warm/strict): that is the recipe for safe schools as well as for good parenting.

We've known for decades that "authoritative" parents raise more successful kids, and yet somehow no one's ever heard of the research.

Kids need authoritative surrogate parents at school, too.


Traditional public schools expel students all the time.

That includes SPED kids.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Charter schools teach special needs students

They do!

Charter schools teach special needs children.

I happen to know this because two of my children, both of whom have "core" autism, attended a charter school for autistic children.

Their charter was a specialized school created specifically to educate severely autistic children, but nonspecialized charter schools also teach special-ed kids. (The chart at the end of this post, comparing SPED enrollment in KIPP to SPED enrollment in urban and national schools, is from 2005.)

Which brings me to a point that seems to go missing in arguments about whether charter schools do or do not cherry-pick students: when underprivileged black and Hispanic students attend affluent white suburban schools, they are often classified as SPED.

I've seen this firsthand. I live in an affluent, white suburb, where children attend affluent, white schools. I don't say this as a criticism -- not of me, or the town, or its schools. I'm making a statement of fact.

The racial and socioeconomic segregation of my district is a direct consequence of the funding mechanism for New York schools, which is the property tax. When schools are funded by property taxes, the formula is simple: expensive houses, expensive schools.

Because houses here are expensive, no one who qualifies for free or reduced lunch would be able to attend my district's schools were it not for Section 8 housing vouchers.

Which brings me back to charter schools.

As far as I can tell, Section 8 children are the cherries charter schools are said to pick. These children have parents enterprising enough to apply for and get housing vouchers, then move out of their own neighborhoods -- all in order to send their children to suburban schools, where they will be one of a dozen or so black/Hispanic children in a sea of white faces. I don't know about you, but for me, that prospect would be disconcerting to say the least.

In short, many Section 8 parents are motivated and proactive, the same qualities charter-school parents are said to have.

So how do the black and Hispanic children of motivated low-income parents fare in suburban schools?

Not long after I realized that parents in my district were hiring an awful lot of tutors (many of them teachers in the district), I became curious about how the handful of black and Hispanic students, whose parents presumably were not hiring tutors, were doing. One day, not long after I'd begun to mull things over, I ran into a friend of mine, another mom in the district. I knew her through special ed; her daughter had learning disabilities but was quite a bit higher-functioning than my two autistic children.

At some point during our chat, I asked whether she knew anything about how underprivileged students were doing.

Her answer took me by surprise.

"I know all those kids," she said. "They're in the same class with M." M. being her daughter.

"Oh," I said. "Really."

It took me a couple of moments to regroup. I didn't know any of those kids, and nor did anyone else I knew. But my friend with the high-end SPED child knew all of them.

Because all of them were in special ed.

"So how are they doing?" I asked.

"Not well," she said.

And that was my introduction to the issue of "over-identification":
2008 government data mapped by the Equity Alliance at Arizona State University show that in most states, African-American students were nearly or greater than twice as likely as white students to be classified with emotional or intellectual disabilities.
Keeping Special Ed in Proportion by Anthony Rebora
The over-identification problem came up again a couple of years later, at a board meeting, when the director of special education reported that the district had received a letter from NYSED saying they'd over-identified black/Hispanic kids as SPED. The district's solution, he said, had been to reclassify one student as white. "With the parents' permission, of course," he added.

Problem solved.

Or not.*

Then there's C., who worked with Jimmy for years, and who was Chris's surrogate brother. C. is black, and was raised here in Westchester. He's one of the smartest people I know.

C. was in special ed. He and I used to joke about the geography of school buildings here in Westchester County. The SPED kids are always in the far corner of the basement, along with the black kids, who are also in special ed.

I know this is true because for years Ed and I used to sally forth to visit BOCES programs for Jimmy & Andrew. The programs were housed in public schools, and they were always in the basement, and not just the basement but the far corners of the basement. We'd get to the school, park our car, walk inside, and head downstairs. We didn't have to ask directions.

I remember one school where the kids were so far removed from the general population, not to mention all of the entry doors, that it was hard for me to imagine exactly how they were going get out in case of fire. There were windows on one of the classroom walls, but the windows were way overhead, and I didn't see any ladders. Plus I didn't know of a behavior management technique that would allow a whole class of severely disabled kids, some of them nonverbal and most of them with behavior problems, to suddenly cooperate in climbing ladders up and out of their classroom in the middle of a fire.

Inside that school, the BOCES kids remained in their subterranean domain all day long, never surfacing, not even for lunch. They were so far below-ground, they were practically hobbits.

Then there's my nephew's experience, in another state. He has learning disabilities, and he was pretty much the only white student in all of his classes for his entire public-school career.

And my friend O., back in Los Angeles: same thing. Her son had high-functioning autism; his classmates were black. When I talked to O. about it, she said: "In every school we've been in, the black kids are in special ed. It's always A. and the black kids."

My point is: in the broadest sense, charter schools serving underprivileged populations are doing the exact opposite of cherry-picking. They are choosing the students who, when they attend predominantly white schools, are in special ed. KIPP may enroll a lower proportion of SPED kids than do other urban schools (in 2005, at least), but that tells us nothing about the number of KIPP students who would be classified as SPED in a suburban district.

I have to assume that a fairly large number of KIPP students would be classified as having special needs if they went to school in the suburbs. Seems to me it's possible that urban charter schools like KIPP should really be seen as SPED schools, or perhaps as schools with a specialty in teaching SPED students:
The nation’s largest charter management organization is the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). KIPP schools are emblematic of the No Excuses approach to public education, a highly standardized and widely replicated charter model that features a long school day, an extended school year, selective teacher hiring, strict behavior norms, and a focus on traditional reading and math skills. No Excuses charter schools are sometimes said to focus on relatively motivated high achievers at the expense of students who are most diffiult to teach, including limited English proficiency (LEP) and special education (SPED) students, as well as students with low baseline achievement levels. We use applicant lotteries to evaluate the impact of KIPP Academy Lynn, a KIPP school in Lynn, Massachusetts that typifies the KIPP approach. Our analysis focuses on special needs students that may be underserved. The results show average achievement gains of 0.36 standard deviations in math and 0.12 standard deviations in reading for each year spent at KIPP Lynn, with the largest gains coming from the LEP, SPED, and low-achievement groups. The average reading gains are driven almost completely by SPED and LEP students, whose reading scores rise by roughly 0.35 standard deviations for each year spent at KIPP Lynn.

Who Benefits from KIPP?
Joshua D. Angrist
Susan M. Dynarski
University of Michigan, NBER and IZA
Thomas J. Kane
Harvard University and NBER
Parag A. Pathak
Christopher R. Walters
Discussion Paper No. 5690 May 2011

Focus on Results: An Academic Impact Analysis of the Knowlege is Power Program (KIPP)

* That was the year not a single 8th-grade black or Hispanic student in my district (there were 15 in all) passed the state math and ELA tests. The state average for black/Hispanic students passing math was 34%. (2007)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Top disciplinary problems - 1940-1990 (corrected)

School survey hoax

Update: You can see the 1940-1990 chart on page 3 of
Policy Study No. 234, January 1998
School Violence Prevention:
Strategies to Keep Schools Safe (Unabridged)
by Alexander Volokh with Lisa Snell

Update, update:

The topic of school safety has come up in a couple of Facebook threads I follow, which sparked a Google quest for a news story I read at least 10 years ago, reporting that in some urban schools children were developing PTSD from the violence they experienced at school. These children were essentially living in a chronic state of terror.

I haven't been able to track that story down, but I did find a Reason Foundation report on violence in schools (Strategies to Keep Schools Safe) that includes this [now deleted] chart.

And this passage, from the Reason brief, is close to what I recall reading:
Many students believe restrooms are unsafe, and some have persistent health problems because they are afraid to use restrooms. In one elementary school, students watched a lot of television because they were afraid of going outside; the fears they report range from being abducted to being caught in a drive-by shooting. Seventeen percent of those surveyed in a November 1994 Starch Roper poll want to change schools, and 7 percent have stayed home or skipped classes because they are afraid of violence. The Justice Department estimated in 1993 that 160,000 children occasionally miss school because of intimidation or fear of bodily harm.
The school-safety issue is one of the reasons I support charter schools. Charters radiate an image of safety and calm -- so much so that when a violent incident occurs inside a charter school, the headline is: Guns in Charter Schools Challenge Perception of Safety. You don't see that headline for an incident of gun violence inside a traditional public school.

Charter schools have also been found to produce higher parent satisfaction (though not in this study), and I think those two findings are likely to be related.

M., the lady who works with Andrew, lives in the Bronx and recently entered her 5-year old in the lottery for charter schools there. I've now forgotten the odds against winning a seat in a charter school (M's family did not win, and her daughter will be entering the regular public schools come fall) but they were huge. I'll ask when I see her again. Chalkbeat says 28%, but I know M. thought they were much lower than that, in part because siblings of children already enrolled take precedence.

Anyway, my point is only that I suspect urban parents choose charter schools much the same way suburban parents choose suburban schools: charters have a reputation for quality, deserved or not, and you can count on your children being safe.

Meanwhile, over in my neck of the woods, an incredible story of a college professor dealing with the threat of violence: Was this student dangerous? by Julie Schumacher

Friday, June 20, 2014

The hundred years' war

Ed's reaction to Paul Horton's column on the new CC history standards: "It's the counterrevolution, courtesy of Bill Gates."

This is something I don't think we've ever talked about on ktm: constructivists don't like history.

At all.

In fact, history was I think the first subject to fall to the progressives' school reforms. History was replaced by social studies nearly 100 years ago, in the 1920s and 30s.

Here's Diane Ravitch:
In the latter decades of the 20th century, many social studies professionals disparaged history with open disdain, suggesting that the study of the past was a useless exercise in obsolescence that attracted antiquarians and hopeless conservatives. (In the late 1980s, a president of the National Council for the Social Studies referred derisively to history as “pastology.”)

A Brief History of Social Studies by Diane Ravitch
In the 1990s Ravitch, Gary Nash, Christopher Lasch and others (including Ed) staged a successful counterrevolution against the social studies revolution, and history standards written by historians were adopted in a number of states.

Today Bill Gates is funding social studies (historical thinking for the 21st century!), so we have the counterrevolution to the counterrevolution, with the resulting theme-based, DBQ-mongering, 13-year students-will-examine fest you might expect. e.g.:
Students will examine the atrocities committed under Augusto Pinochet, Deng Xiaoping, and Slobodan Milosevic in light of the principles and articles within the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
That shouldn't take too long.

As far as I can see, there's not a single learning objective in the entire 13-year framework.

Just years and years of students examining this, that, and the other.

Punctuated by students comparing and contrasting this, that, and the other.

Terrence Moore is very funny on the subject of the Common Core's preoccupation with comparison & contrast. Will have to find a passage to post.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Way off-topic, but I'm passing this along

Twenty years ago, a friend of mine, a physician at UCLA, told me that artificial light at night is bad for you -- so bad that she had started turning out the lights in her house at dusk. (I've forgotten, now, what specific concern she had -- it may have been increased cancer risk.)

I've been tracking research on light after nightfall ever since, and just found this, which took me by surprise:
The Relationship Between Obesity and Exposure to Light at Night: Cross-Sectional Analyses of Over 100,000 Women in the Breakthrough Generations Study

Emily McFadden et al.
American Journal of Epidemiology, forthcoming

There has been a worldwide epidemic of obesity in recent decades. In animal studies, there is convincing evidence that light exposure causes weight gain, even when calorie intake and physical activity are held constant. Disruption of sleep and circadian rhythms by exposure to light at night (LAN) might be one mechanism contributing to the rise in obesity, but it has not been well-investigated in humans. Using multinomial logistic regression, we examined the association between exposure to LAN and obesity in questionnaire data from over 100,000 women in the Breakthrough Generations Study, a cohort study of women aged 16 years or older who were living in the United Kingdom and recruited during 2003–2012. The odds of obesity, measured using body mass index, waist:hip ratio, waist:height ratio, and waist circumference, increased with increasing levels of LAN exposure (P < 0.001), even after adjustment for potential confounders such as sleep duration, alcohol intake, physical activity, and current smoking. We found a significant association between LAN exposure and obesity which was not explained by potential confounders we could measure. While the possibility of residual confounding cannot be excluded, the pattern is intriguing, accords with the results of animal experiments, and warrants further investigation.

Dollars to donuts there's going to be some kind of relationship with staring at LED screens all night, too.

I keep thinking I need to go back to (paper) books...then I keep not going back to paper books.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The civilizing mission

I found something funny in my travels yesterday.

From Paul Horton (Ed has now read Horton & says he's completely right), I discovered that the AAAS wrote standards for social studies that are based on social science. I had no idea. Seeing as how the AAAS also endorsed CMP, I question whether its social science standards would be embraced by social scientists, but who knows.

In any event, glancing through the site, I found this standard for teaching social change:
Peaceful efforts at social change are most successful when the affected people are included in the planning, when information is available from all relevant experts, and when the values and power struggles are clearly understood and incorporated into the decision-making process. 7D/H5** (SFAA)
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Common Core as with nearly all reform efforts.

The policy elites who created and funded Common Core did not speak to parents, did not avail themselves of information "from all relevant experts," and did not trouble themselves to clearly understand and incorporate the existing values and power struggles into the "decision-making process."

So now they've got a parent uprising on their hands.

Parent and teacher.

(Which apparently is unnerving even to the richest man in the world.)

This reminds me of one of my favorite war stories. I'm sure I've told it before, but it bears repeating.

Back when the then-administration was trying to implement the "middle school model," Ed was leading the charge to head it off. I say 'leading the charge,' but in fact he was an army of one. (I was manning the Parents Forum.) All the other parents were upset, and rightly so, because the school was drastically shortening lunch break so students could attend "advisory" first thing in the morning.

In the end, the middle school model was delayed for one year -- Chris's last in the school -- and implemented the year after.

Anyway, during the board meeting at which that particular parent uprising took place, Ed sparred with our now-curriculum directoron the question of teaching all subjects as one, which was the selling point of the middle school model as far as the administrators were concerned. Once we had the middle school model, subjects would no longer be taught in isolation.

At some point, Ed said: "I've been a disciplinary specialist for 25 years.

And RK said: "Have you ever thought maybe that's your problem?"

When Ed got home, he told me the administration was on a civilizing mission.

*That particular story, in our school newsletter, is now inoperative. RK will remain as curriculum director. I'm very fond of RK, btw. I disagree with her on most things educational, but she's smart, determined, and often funny. Plus she's a survivor. I like survivors.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Under the radar: NY Common Core history standards

While I was sleeping, New York wrote and adopted new Common Core-aligned social science standards that appear to replace narrative history with "themes."

Thematic history isn't history. It's social studies. Which is not a discipline.

Social studies has no disciplinary standards, no body of knowledge, no research questions, no formal and agreed-upon method of evaluating evidence or determining what evidence is and is not. The only professors teaching social studies are education professors teaching students how to teach social studies.

If the Chalkboard story is correct, AP courses are now thematic as well.

Pearson shmearson

Ardsley is the district whose Cambridge Pre-U class I visited:
ARDSLEY -- The group of seventh-graders is hunched around a MacBook in English teacher Cameron Brindise’s classroom, calling out rapid-fire directions to the boy wielding the keyboard with the intensity of any tech startup entrepreneur.

Using the video-editing software program iMovie, they’re piecing together a documentary called “Growing Up Digital,” which they will present to their “corporate bosses” at the Pearson Education company in a couple of weeks.


Ardsley is one of five districts in the country that have signed on and pay a per-student fee to participate in a one-year iPad pilot program with Pearson Education Inc. Through the winter and spring, nine teachers at the high school, middle school and elementary level have been using iPads loaded with Pearson’s new app, the Common Core System of Courses.

The idea is to have the schools provide feedback to Pearson before the company makes the final version of the app available to the public. As the pilot year is nearing its end, educators say it’s been, for the most part, a valuable experience.

“What’s it done for the teachers who’ve been part of it, it’s shown how easy it is to push their curriculum outside the four walls of their classroom,” said Layne Hudes, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.

Teachers modified the lesson plans to accommodate their students’ needs and have written their own iPad lessons along the way. They’ve also found new educational apps they can integrate into their teaching.

“I like the idea of grabbing onto what I can connect with and what I think my kids can connect with,” Brindise said.


Pernicone and her group will measure students’ social media use in their favorite apps -- like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter -- and display their findings on the iPhone replica in the “museum exhibit” Brindise has organized as the capstone of the iPad unit.

Class Notes: Ardsley's test drive of new Common Core app delivers mixed results
Mareesa Nicosia, 1:51 p.m. EDT May 5, 2014
My district is joined at the hip with Ardsley (apparently in part because our curriculum director is close with an administrator there, who used to work here -- so I've been told).

In any event, our curriculum director is "passionate" about "technology" (which means iPads & Chromebooks), and the district's goal is to make technology as "ubiquitous as pencil and paper in our classrooms."

So I'm sure our central administrators are plotting to bring Pearson's Common Core app to the district, along with the requisite iPads and Chromebooks.

That said, it's possible parents are sufficiently alerted to the possibility that administrators will think twice. (I need to find out whether the board OK'ed that grant .... )

In fact, I hadn't seen this article until a parent posted it on Facebook this morning, accompanied by the observation that the program sounds like c***.

I second the emotion.

How much rote memorization do students do?

I was chatting-via-email with Allison yesterday re: rote learning .... which I'd been thinking about  again, in the wake of yet another reference to the horrors of brute memorization in the Times:
The Common Core, the most significant change to American public education in a generation, was hailed by the Obama administration as a way of lifting achievement at low-performing schools. After decades of rote learning, children would become nimble thinkers equipped for the modern age, capable of unraveling improper fractions and drawing connections between Lincoln and Pericles.

Common Core, in 9-Year-Old Eyes By JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ | JUNE 14, 2014
There it is again: the problem we don't have (decades of rote learning), being solved by the problem we do have (decades of thinking without knowing). Same old, same old, except they've upped the ante. Nimble thinkers, for pete's sake. At age 9.

For a while now, I've been planning to re-read Dan Willingham's "Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to Expertise."

Haven't done so yet, but I did pull out his definition of rote learning:
In his book Anguished English, Richard Lederer reports that one student provided this definition of "equator": "A managerie lion running around the Earth through Africa." How has the student so grossly misunderstood the definition? And how fragmented and disjointed must the remainder of the student's knowledge of planetary science be if he or she doesn't notice that this "fact" doesn't seem to fit into the other material learned?

All teachers occasionally see this sort of answer, and they are probably fairly confident that they know what has happened. The definition of "equator" has been memorized as rote knowledge. An informal definition of rote knowledge might be "memorizing form in the absence of meaning." This student didn't even memorize words: The student took the memorization down to the level of sounds and so "imaginary line" became "managerie lion."
Re-reading this passage today, I feel less clarity than I did the first time around 10 years ago.

If rote learning is "memorizing form in the absence of meaning," then it's not clear to me that the words "menagerie lion" lack meaning, even as a definition of "equator."

"Menagerie lion" is the wrong meaning, of course, but it's a meaning, and if you didn't understand the words "imaginary line" when you heard your teacher speak them, but you did understand the words "running around the Earth through Africa," then "menagerie lion" is not a bad guess for the sound string ih-maj-in-air-ee-line.

Slightly off-topic, Jimmy (for passers-by, Jimmy is my oldest son & has autism) has always been echolalic. You would think that echolalia would be the hr-example of rote learning, but if you listen to him, you'll hear that the particularly phrases he's echoing are often directly related to what's going on. (Can't think of a good example at the moment - sorry.)

Now I'm wondering about the word "parroting" -- do we know for a fact that parrots have memorized form without meaning? Having once spent a day with a parrot who probably spoken English (including conjugated verbs), I don't think we do.

Memorizing pi

It strikes me that memorizing digits of pi is a good example of rote memorization, although the issue with pi isn't precisely that you're focusing on form in the absence of meaning. You can understand pi, or at least know what pi is, and still have to rote-memorize the digits. (Or do math people see this differently?)

Anyway, the point is: memorizing digits of pi is hard. Not easy. It's much easier to memorize material that has meaning.

Which raises the question: how much rote memorization -- memorization of form in the complete absence of meaning -- do students actually do?

How much rote memorization did students do in the past, when memorization was seen as a good thing (or at least an essential thing)?

And how much do students absolutely have to do?

I don't know how to answer that question. New vocabulary words in every subject have to be learned by rote because the link between form and meaning is arbitrary. Second language vocabulary has to be learned by rote.

Math, it seems to me, may actually require less rote memorization than any other subject. (Or is that wrong once you get past the elementary grades?) much does it all add up to?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution" (& the free for all)

The man behind the curtain

Diane Ravitch: Time for Congress to investigate Bill Gates' role in Common Core

And here is William McCallum, lead writer of CC math standards, winning friends and influencing people.

Ed and I were talking about McCallum's post last night. People who know him say he's a nice guy, and I'm sure that's true. But his post is a lollapalooza of name-calling and nitpicking, both of which continue apace in the comments thread.

Which took me aback, because it's not the tone I'm used to hearing college professors take in public. (It's not the tone I'm used to hearing college professors take in private.)

I'm used to college professors know, professorial.

I never hear college professors sounding furiously wronged and internet-y.

For me, this situation is something of a first. I'm accustomed to academic content coming from publishing houses, which have corporate leaders and marketing departments, and which, as a consequence, do not have textbook authors venting in public.

But with Common Core, there's no corporate parent and no marketing department. There's just Bill Gates and the many NGO's, state departments of education, and think tanks he bankrolls, plus the federal Department of Education (whose head was previously bankrolled by Gates), so there's no party discipline. Gates appears to see himself as CEO and absolute ruler of his foundation in the same way he was CEO and absolute ruler of Microsoft, but when push comes to shove, where Common Core is concerned, he can't actually fire anyone.

He can't order Common Core defenders to vet their posts with marketing.

The federal government can't step in, either, mostly because the federal government isn't supposed to be writing national standards in the first place (not mandatory ones), and because Arne Duncan's one foray into enlightening suburban parents as to the non-brilliant state of their schools & their children was a debacle of epic proportion. For months now, we've have silence from the top.

So...the defense of Common Core is turning into a free-for-all, and the story-line is getting lost in a bombardment of "process" stories and op-eds about the tea party (bad) and the Democratic Party's standardized-test-hating base (also bad).*

Op eds about the tea party and the Democratic base are bad for Common Core. I'm pretty sure.

They're bad because nobody likes being told they're an idiot for not agreeing with David Brooks -- especially not being told they're an idiot for not agreeing with David Brooks by David Brooks. Being told that only tea partiers and members of the Democratic Party's standardized-test-hating base don't like Common Core makes me not like Common Core. Also, it makes me want to join the tea party and the Democratic base.

Point is: if the defense of Common Core is to be left to volunteers, then Common Core is going to die an unusually painful death.

Bill Gates "Letter to Our Partners" (the aforementioned NGO's, state departments of education, and think tanks plus the federal Department of Education) is just the start.

I think.

* David Brooks, has yet another bad idea.