kitchen table math, the sequel: 7/27/14 - 8/3/14

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"The Flipped Classroom" at CUNY's Idea Lab

I have a piece on flipped classrooms at Idea Lab!

Does it matter if writers are funded by Bill Gates?

Back when I was first writing ktm, and was just discovering constructivism, I watched an Oprah Winfrey special on a Bill Gates-funded school in San Diego (I think it was). High Tech High.

The camera followed Oprah around the school for what seemed like a very long tour. The rooms were strikingly different from standard academic classrooms. For one thing, there were no books. No desks, really, either. Just groups (teams!) of kids building stuff. Every class looked like shop class, only with plastic and metal instead of wood.

Finally Oprah said, "I don't see any books. Don't you have books?"

The tour guide, who may have been head of school, said rather proudly that, no, they didn't have books.

I expected the guide to add that all their books were on computers because they were high-tech-high (e-books weren't around yet), but she didn't. The answer was just a simple 'no.' The school didn't have books. Because technology, I guess.

The look on Oprah's face was priceless. She more or less wrinkled her nose, then said, "I don't think I'd like this school very much."

A fabulous moment.

Naturally, I was aghast, and I wanted to write a post about the show.

But I didn't.

My co-creator of ktm, Carolyn, along with her husband, Bernie, had just taken jobs at Microsoft; they'd pulled up stakes and moved to Seattle.

Given Carolyn's professional situation, I didn't think I should write a post sharply criticizing Bill Gates.

I had no idea whether blasting a Bill Gates-funded school on a blog I shared with Carolyn would bother her, and I didn't ask. I didn't want to put her in the position of having to express an opinion one way or the other. Nor did I know whether blasting a Gates-funded school on our blog would bother anyone she worked for. I was pretty sure no one at Microsoft would see anything I wrote, but you never know.

So I said dropped the idea.

I didn't change my views.

I didn't become an advocate for schools without books.

I just let it go.

That's how social influence works.

Bill Gates is funding too many think tanks, schools, unions, interest groups, politicians, journalism projects, politicians, etc. In the world of education, you can't turn around without bumping into the guy.

We need writers to point this out.

Invisible gorillas I have known and loved

Seeing as how there are about 5 other things I'm supposed to be doing right now, I am instead cruising the abstracts for Psychological Science articles.
The Invisible Gorilla Strikes Again
Sustained Inattentional Blindness in Expert Observers
Psychological Science July 17, 2013

Trafton Drew
Melissa L.-H. Võ
Jeremy M. Wolfe

Researchers have shown that people often miss the occurrence of an unexpected yet salient event if they are engaged in a different task, a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness. However, demonstrations of inattentional blindness have typically involved naive observers engaged in an unfamiliar task. What about expert searchers who have spent years honing their ability to detect small abnormalities in specific types of images? We asked 24 radiologists to perform a familiar lung-nodule detection task. A gorilla, 48 times the size of the average nodule, was inserted in the last case that was presented. Eighty-three percent of the radiologists did not see the gorilla. Eye tracking revealed that the majority of those who missed the gorilla looked directly at its location. Thus, even expert searchers, operating in their domain of expertise, are vulnerable to inattentional blindness.
I'm going to have to tell my story about sitting on a subway with a knife pointed almost directly in my face (or my boyfriend's face, at any rate) & not noticing.

I did notice that my boyfriend (I was maybe 20-years old at the time) was looking anxious as all get out.

That, I noticed.

I also noticed the couple standing immediately beside him, arguing over something to do with an apartment they were going to. As I recall, they were ticked off at its resident--they agreed on that--but they seemed to disagree on what to do about it. So they were arguing.

Didn't see the knife one of them was brandishing.

Or the gorilla.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bill Gates is likely not just a funder but 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 don't have a firm view on the issue of donor-backed, one-issue journalism.

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 think-tank white papers.

I'm not sure I'm sold on donor-funder 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.

Be gone, Bill Gates!

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.