kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/28/15 - 7/5/15

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Icahn charter schools

I mentioned hearing Jeffrey Litt speak at a Fordham Prep luncheon.

Peter Meyer sent me a link to a post about Litt and the Icahn charter schools at Reason:
When students leave Success Academy schools for whatever reason, the administration stops replacing them with new students after the fourth grade, so the enrollment of each class dwindles over the years. Icahn, on the other hand, replaces the kids who leave with new students from the district schools. Generally, those students have a lot of catching up to do, and they bring down Icahn’s overall scores.


And while Success has been widely criticized for often suspending students and stigmatizing low achievers, Icahn has a less punitive atmosphere. In the 2013-14 school year, 11 percent of students at the Success Academy schools were suspended at least once. At Icahn, half a percent were suspended, or a total of 10 kids among all seven schools.
After Litt's talk, I asked him how many students flunk out of the school.

The number was 0.

 He also told me they accept transfers all the way through.

I also spoke briefly with Gail Golden-Icahn, who said they had deliberately avoided media attention because they didn't want to become a target.

Here is Reason's take:
Though Ican was a runaway success, Litt’s (sic) was programmed early in his career not to antagonize the public education bureaucracy that he runs circles around. "We stay under the radar," he says. "Our culture is non-confrontational."
Litt told us he was the first principal in the country to adopt Core Knowledge, back in 1991.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The H-factor

Explains all.

Here's a useful article about the "HEXACO" model of personality structure in the Telegraph: How Machiavellian Are You?

When we hire the next superintendent, assuming I still live here, I'm going to push the board hard to select for high honesty and high humility ("H Factor").

Honesty and humility are the opposite of what we have now.

The H-Factor of Personality by Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton is terrific. The most helpful revelations so far:
  • Honesty and humility track together... to the degree that, while the authors don't say this, the two qualities seem almost to be different facets of the same quality
  • High-H people like and associate with High-H people; Low-H people like and associate with low-H people. 
These propositions probably sound obvious to many, but they weren't to me. 

For instance, whenever I suspect a pretentious administrator of lying, I feel guilty. I feel I'm being harsh, and I set my suspicions aside.

From now on, I'm going to simply assume that pretentious administrators are lying, as a matter of statistical likelihood. That's going to save time and put me in touch with reality to boot.

As to assortative friending and mating, that High-H people like other High-H people is obvious (to me), but I've always been mystified by the fact that dishonest, pretentious people seem perfectly content in the company of other dishonest, pretentious people. I'm still mystified, but at least now I know I'm not hallucinating. Obnoxious people like obnoxious people, and they don't like people who aren't obnoxious. 

So there's no winning them over. Not via honesty and humility, at any rate.

(I'm becoming more Machiavellian by the moment.)

Another implication: wealthy suburban school districts are going to be a magnet for low-H individuals. Low-H people are more motivated by money than any of the other personality types, and they tend to have more of it as a result. So they're not moving to Yonkers. They're moving here.

Worse yet, low-H people are also motivated by status, which means they run the PTSA and the school board and the technology committees and the fundraising NGOs, and on and on.

(So good luck persuading a school board in an affluent suburb to hire an honest, non-pretentious superintendent.)

I was talking to Ed about wanting to live in a place where High-H dominates Low-H.

Ed said: That's easy.

Move somewhere with a bad school system.

A bad school system people know is bad.

Books are better, part 2

In The Atlantic:
A few years ago, I started having trouble helping my son with his first-grade homework. I’m a data-journalism professor at Temple University, and when my son asked me for help on a worksheet one day, I ran into an epistemological dilemma. My own general knowledge (and the Internet) told me there were many possible “correct” answers. However, only one of these answers would get him full credit on the assignment.

“I need to write down natural resources,” he told me.

“Air, water, oil, gas, coal,” I replied.

“I already put down air and water,” he said. “Oil and gas and coal aren’t natural resources.”

“Of course they are,” I said. “They’re non-renewable natural resources, but they’re still natural resources.”

“But they weren’t on the list the teacher gave in class.”

I knew my son would start taking standardized tests in third grade. If the first-grade homework was this confusing, I was really worried about how he—or any kid—was supposed to figure out the tests. I had been spending time with civic hackers, the kind of people who build software and crunch government data for fun, and I decided to see if I could come up with a beat-the-test strategy derived from a popular SAT prep course I used to teach.

In essence, I tried to game the third-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), the standardized test for my state. Along with a team of professional developers, I designed artificial-intelligence software to crunch the available data. I talked to teachers. I talked to students. I visited schools and sat through School Reform Commission meetings.

After six months of this, I discovered that the test can be gamed. Not by using a beat-the-test strategy, but by a shockingly low-tech strategy: reading the textbook that contains the answers.

Why Poor Schools Can't Win at Standardized Testing
The entire world has completely lost its mind.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The security mindset

From the site Mark linked to:
[S]ecurity also requires a particular mindset -- one I consider essential for success in this field. I'm not sure it can be taught, but it certainly can be encouraged. "This kind of thinking is not natural for most people. It's not natural for engineers. Good engineering involves thinking about how things can be made to work; the security mindset involves thinking about how things can be made to fail. It involves thinking like an attacker, an adversary or a criminal. You don't have to exploit the vulnerabilities you find, but if you don't see the world that way, you'll never notice most security problems." This is especially true if you want to design security systems and not just implement them. Remember Schneier's Law: "Any person can invent a security system so clever that she or he can't think of how to break it." The only way your designs are going to be trusted is if you've made a name for yourself breaking other people's designs.
So You Want to Be a Security Expert
This is pretty much the opposite of the mindset in my district.

Technology and discipline (and help desk)

Parents everywhere should be taking a look at their schools' Codes of Conduct, particularly where "technology" is concerned.

Ours are here.

Our Code specifies that "Electronic Media Crime" will be reported to the police.

As far as I can tell, searching the Code, "Electronic Media Crime" is the only form of misbehavior that automatically triggers a call to the police. Even bringing a gun to school, which carries the same penalty -- a one-year suspension -- doesn't seem to require police involvement.

The Code doesn't say what an "Electronic Media Crime" is, and I'm skeptical anyone explains it to the kids.

The district does require students and staff to sign an agreement called "Acceptable Use Form for Computers," but the form doesn't mention that police will be called if a child logs onto the system and does something he shouldn't. (So far it's always been boys.)

At this point, it's looking to me as if computers in schools are a real and present danger to adolescent boys.

Computers are dangerous because public schools don't seem to have real IT people, so the systems are wide open. At least, our system is open. I'm told, by more than one student, that the password for the WiFi system is the same as the password for the teacher section of the network. Lots of students have the password, and some of the teachers rely on kids as young as age 13 to help them with their computers.

I was talking to my California sister about this, and she pointed out that "Technology Directors" in schools aren't trained in IT. They're just teachers with an interest in computers. They don't know any more about network security than I do. (Is that true elsewhere?)

So we send kids to school in buildings where the network has limited security at best, and in a country where "unauthorized access" to a computer is a federal offense.

While you're checking your district's Code of Conduct, you should take a look at the regulations governing questioning of students. Here in New York, schools don't have to notify parents that they are questioning their child, no matter how serious the infraction.

So far I don't see a limit to the length of time school personnel can question students without parents present, either.

Does anyone know whether there are federal regulations requiring schools to secure their networks?

Or whether the doctrine of "negligent supervision" applies?

Florida Teen Charged With Computer Hacking After Changing Teacher's Computer Background To Gay Kiss Image

"Glued to the screen"

With two dozen third-graders using all these apps and programs, technical glitches are inevitable. One girl discovers that the camera on her device is not activated, something Mercaldi promises to fix.

Working on MobyMax, Angelica Moreira cannot call up the math quiz she wants. Other children try to help her, something the school encourages. “We teach the kids how to troubleshoot,” Jackson Avenue principal Janet Gonzalez says. “Some of the kids are teaching the teacher.”

In the meantime, Angelica selects new backgrounds for her tablet. “I do this a lot while I wait around,” she says. But even after her new wallpaper is in place, the quiz will not load. Eventually someone realizes that MobyMax is preventing Angelica from trying a second quiz too soon after taking the first.

Despite being so-called digital natives, the students vary in how expert they are on the iPads and how much they like them. “Some people know more than other people on the iPad and they get jealous,” says Joshua Parr. Joseph Parrino has had trouble with the iPad’s flat electronic keyboard — “my fingers slip,” he explains — and so has brought a plug-in keyboard from home. And several children say they prefer old-fashioned books to the digital alternative.

Glued to the screen: A third grade class where kids spend 75% of the day on iPads
by GAIL ROBINSON | June 18, 2015