Am I a geek or a nerd?

I fucking love Diane Ravitch
September 27, 2013, 9:02 am
Filed under: education law, Nerd | Tags: , , ,

You read that right. She’s the voice of reason. And not afraid to change her mind when evidence dictates that’s the right thing to do.

Just go listen to her: Diane Rocks!

In other news, my year long absence is over. I’m going to post more often. I’ve had some revealing experiences lately, in education, and I’m feeling compelling to get it out there. One of the points that I found compelling with Ravitch’s NPR interview above was the notion of Education as a social benefit not a consumer good. I recently left a job where I was duped by the CEO into believing he agreed with that sentiment. Then he misappropriated a grant and the teachers, pilot schools, and professional organizations we worked with got fucked.

So I’ve got some shit to get off my chest and most of it involves swearing like its my job. I am a nerd after all (see side bar for definition…)

standards schmandards, or why teachers and leadership matter more

I have a colleague (a super crazy bright kind of colleague) who is currently doing some work with a School Improvement Grant recipient district. The district turn around agent has asked to her to review the social studies curriculum with teachers, observe these teachers implementing the curriculum, and provide PD to help teachers meet the standards outlined by the curriculum.


The teachers have been a bit hostile toward her and the process, and told her to observe them first period if she really wanted to see what’s what. (She would describe the teachers are mixed bag of dedicated high fliers and folks who couldn’t hired elsewhere.)


So she did. And she shared the pictures with me. Of course, I’m not sharing them here, but I will describe what she saw and heard. The bell rang for first period in the class she selected to observe. Four students were present. She took a picture. After several minutes she went into the hallway. Dozens and dozens of students in the hallways, mingling with the security staff, talking at their lockers, none moving toward a classroom and no one asking them to. She took several more pictures. Back in the classroom, students begin to arrive. All have a yellow pass in their hands. This pass is from the office, it shows that you checked in late and the teachers must admit you and provide your missed work. She asked a student about the pass. The student said you just tell the office staff you need one and they give you one. No hassle, no guff, no repercussions.


What’s a curriculum specialist to do? Well, she wrote up her daily report and included pictures and quotes and sent it to the principal and the superintendent. She also pointed out that all the PD on curriculum wasn’t going to do a damn thing if students didn’t attend class. I’ll give you one guess what the principal said.


“who authorized you to take pictures”




This is just more proof of what the Brookings Institution found in their recent report about standards:

States have had curricular standards for schools within their own borders for many years. Data on the effects of those standards are analyzed to produce three findings. 1) The quality of state standards, as indicated by the well-known ratings from the Fordham Foundation, is not related to state achievement. 2) The rigor of state standards, as measured by how high states place the cut point for students to be deemed proficient, is also unrelated to achievement… 3) The ability of standards to reduce variation in achievement, in other words to reduce differences in achievement, is also weak.


Having standards means nothing if teachers don’t teach to them and students aren’t present or able to master them. Consider my relationship with my triathlon coach. Since having a baby we are starting from scratch with my training and I’m not even a little bit close to being the athlete I was. I tried to train without a coach; I’d spent years training, you’d think I’d have learned something. But my efforts were poorly planned and poorly executed as I tried to reach a standard I’d previously held. My coach understands that I can’t hit those targets right now; she gives me an attainable plan and we measure improvement based on where I started during this round, not on where I was 2 years ago (Team USA anyone?).  But I need to show up. I have to complete the workouts. All the standards in the world won’t matter if the student isn’t present or prepared.


The superintendent has a much bigger hurdle than curriculum and PD for teachers; he needs to change the culture of the schools (and possibly his high school principal).

Taking Tests in High School Helps Students Succeed in College or the Workplace (AKA WTF?)
March 17, 2012, 9:46 am
Filed under: assessment, evaluation | Tags: , , ,

Heavens, this Race To The Top/Common Core/Teacher Eval/Assessment path meanders…

I’m reading more about how NYS is planning to implement Common Core and teacher evaluations as part of their Race To The Top plan. The rabbit trails of the internet mean lots of unrelated reading but I’m finding much of what I’m looking for. The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is the brainchild of the US Dept of Ed to assist states with RTTT assessments and teacher evaluations. Achieve, Inc is a managing partner for PARCC (and after bouncing around on and I’m not entirely sure that I know precisely who they are or what they do). PARRC will be creating assessments to be used four times a year in English and Math classes to assess student progress and, ultimately, evaluate teachers (see more about how NYS is doing that here).

On  I came across the statement that serves as my title; taking tests in high school helps students succeed in college or the workplace. Pardon my dunce cap for a moment, but how can that be? I’ve never, in the 24 years since I left high school and the 20 years since I left college, been placed in a workplace circumstance that required me to take a test.  Certainly there are things I’ve committed to memory and/or have such a deep understanding of that I do not need to look them up, consult others, or conduct research on in order to respond to my boss/co-workers/clients–I suppose that’s like a test, maybe. But I’m not penalized when I say to someone “let me look in to that” or “I’ll need to do some research” or “give me 10 minutes”. The skills we want students to leave school with are those-the ones that allow them to determine what’s important when reading, how to find information, and how to communicate to people. Again, there are things we need to know off the tops of our heads, but I’m not sold that taking tests in high school is the preparation for that.

So with that in my head I clicked on the citation with the above statement to read the study. It’s from 2005 and indicates that about 40% of college students surveyed felt unprepared by high school for college. Seems quite a leap from that statistic to the title of this post.  They didn’t say “gee, if I’d taken more tests I’d be more prepared” although I can see how more tests would have let them know what they didn’t know.  What these students did say is that they would have worked harder in high school knowing what they know now (who hasn’t thought that; I promise you that I’ve had that thought while running nearly every one of my marathons…if only I’d done one more 20 mile training run, or hadn’t skipped that 18 miler three weeks ago…everyone who wants to do well has these thoughts). I interpret that to mean that perhaps high school was preparing students just fine, but that these 40% didn’t take that preparation seriously.

Just to be clear, I’m all for Common Core standards, I’m all for a more rigorous teacher evaluation system, and I’m all for being clear about what our students know and do not know, but I’m not sold on enigmatic national organizations that use buzzwords and have fuzzy agendas as the best way to support those things.

How Long Does It Take to Grade a Test?
November 11, 2010, 8:38 am
Filed under: assessment | Tags: , , , ,

In Michigan it takes several months

The bulk of MEAP testing is multiple choice with student responses recorded on bubble sheets. I have never understood why it takes two months to get these scores or why the scores released at two months are not for public consumption. Having scored exams in NYS, I know that a single teacher (me, for example) can run 800 electronic score sheets by hand (we didn’t have a fancy self fed machine…) in an hour or two. At the end, a summary sheet that indicates the percent of students who selected each answer is produced. I understand that Michigan does not allow in-house scoring, that the tests need to be packaged and sent back to the state, and that we are testing ALL students in selected grades, but is the state really working with a single machine? Does it have just one person scoring these? Does it have the very old scoring machines that don’t have a way to transfer data to a computer for sorting?

I’ll live with this. But now the added wait for scoring of written assessments. According to the letter linked above, they must be scored and then the state and SBE will determine cut scores. In my understanding of test development, the writing assessments should have been pilot tested on a variety of students, analyzed for validity and reliabililty and cut scores assigned determined prior to scoring the exams. Again, I’ll compare my NYS experience. Each year’s cut scores were different; I could never say precisely to a student  that he must answer 30 of 50 MC correctly and get a 4/5 on each essay to pass before the test arrived at my building, but once we scored (remember, an hour for bubbles, and then 3 days for 1600 essays each read twice) we knew immediately our students results. No waiting for the whole state to be scored and then figure out passing…

I’m sure there is a rationale to this. Thoughts out there?

As an added irritant, none of the items will be released. Schools get general scores, and percentages of student performances on various strands in the tested subjects, but teachers will never know exactly what each student they teach struggled with. They will never know if their students didn’t know a particular core concept or simply didn’t know some non-content vocabulary. If data analysis is one tool for school improvement, and state tests are the measuring stick for that improvement, how can schools know where to apply their efforts if they never see the actual measure? It’s like running a race without any knowledge of how long the race is…how do you pace yourself, determine what nutrition you need, which shoes to wear, how much water to drink.

Common Core and Curriculum
May 20, 2010, 7:40 am
Filed under: Nerd | Tags: , ,

The almost final version of the common core for ELA is available and although the documents still says draft, my sources (okay, my source, who is one of the team of 48 who wrote and revised these) says that this draft will be approved. I hope so, because we’ve already begun integrating them in the MC3 Social Studies curriculum.

I’ve got no beef with common core at all. In fact, I think the ELA core standards for History/Social Studies are very well done and reflect the sorts of reading, writing and thinking that good teachers already do and that we have included in MC3. What I am concerned about is the misunderstandings I’ve been hearing in meetings and through email. The first misconception is that these standards will replace our existing strands/content expectations. I think if you were to read them you would see that it’s a complement to existing content standards. For example, yesterday AtotheB and I were working on the US History curriculum, Unit 8, Civil Rights making sure we had addressed the content required. We then set about editing/critiquing the instructional material teachers had created and used the common core to assist us. So when students are reading about Brown v. Board of Education are they comparing two historians treatment of an event or are they comparing point of view or are they finding evidence in text to support an assertion? See, not a replacement, a compliment! But when I cited this example in a meeting of administrators, there were several groans and eye rolls that indicated they view common core as another burden, they asked about state testing of these standards, about changing their report cards to reflect these, about evaluating teachers. Not one question about curriculum and instruction…

Of course the for-profit curriculum entities will start trying to promote how well their materials meet common core. But I don’t know if they will really do a good job creating curriculum. Will it look like the current iterations, where I find that the book they try to sell me in Michigan looks exactly like the book they try to sell you in New York, except that anywhere a topic matches our expectations they point it out like it was tailored exactly to our needs? Or will it be  the thoughtful process suggested by Diane Ravitch in this article:

…a collaborative process of repeated review and revision…to design curriculum frameworks based on [the common standards] and implement them… They’d get teachers and curriculum developers involved, send [the frameworks] out to the field and try them. Everyone could use them. People could comment, and all of this could go into an iterative process of review, and back to the designers, and out again for more field trials and more comment. 


Which is exactly how we have developed MC3. Teachers and Consultants  review and organize content expectations into logical units of study, they create a list of ‘critical performances’ for a subject/grade level, they begin fleshing out instructional plans and materials, they are vetted by content experts, tested in the field by any teacher who wants to try, revised based on their experiences and tried again. It takes freakin’ forever but we have good stuff happening!! If only we could get more people to see it, try it, revise with us…its like open source curriculum, its free and its modified by its users.

Sigh…but then how would anyone make any money? Instead, the publishers will latch on, re-label old stuff, promise fantastic results and our little project of a vertically aligned social studies program that gets kids to read, think, write and remember will roll along in obscurity.

Lonestar 70.3 and standardized testing
April 14, 2010, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Nerd | Tags: , , ,

In an attempt to keep this education related but still express some frustration with triathlon I’m going to build a tenuous link between Standardized Testing and Wave Starts at Lonestar 70.3.

As with any ‘test’, you need to know what you are measuring. In this case, Lonestar measures my ability to complete a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. While any 70.3 courses may have different challenges (hills, wind, currents) all competitors must complete the distance. The argument is made by many that the playing field at any given race is level; all the entrants deal with the same terrain and constraints of the given course.   Most races have leveled the playing field further by using electronic timing chips so that each individual athlete’s completion time is precise–my chip timer electronically starts when my feet cross the start line, not when the first of the 1500 entrants crosses the start line. This is also a method to prevent cheating and provide data–at certain points on the course (swim finish, bike start, bike turn around, bike finish, run start, run turnaround or lap, run finish) the athlete and his chip will pass electronic markers.  In this way, the race officials can start 100 or so athletes at a time, instead of a 1500 at once, every 5 minutes, lets say and still have accurate completion statistics for each entrant.  They do their best, the race organizers, to keep us all happy, out of each other’s way (that’s why the pro athletes start before the rest of us–we would simply get run over) but sometimes the standardization methods make the playing field not so level.  Those for whom the event counts as work (sponsored athletes) get a very level field–they start first, with people who are of the same caliber. The rest of us are lumped by age with no concern for our ability or level of preparation.

Take my Lonestar 70.3 wave. My group is last. I start at 8:15AM. Sounds fine, right. Except that there are 14 or so other groups starting before me, the pros at 7AM, the young guys at 7:05 etc. Again, you ask, what’s the big deal?  There are three things here that can negatively affect my performance and that are out of my control.

1. The winds in Galveston get stronger as the day goes on. Starting 75 minutes later than others means I will probably face a windier and therefore more challenging course.

2. It’s also hot in Galveston, the later the day, the hotter it gets. Again, beginning my race 75 minutes after the official start means running in higher temps than some of my competitors.

3. I’m an above average swimmer. I always catch up to the average and below average swimmers in the previous waves and find myself either running into them or navigating around them. Certainly others in earlier waves have the same problem, but they may only have 1 or 2 or 3 groups in front of them. I have 12.

What’s the connection to standardized testing? I ask you if the playing field for the entrants is actually level. Does every ‘competitor’ face the same circumstances that are beyond his control-like quality of teacher, temperature of the building, instructional material, parental involvement, breakfast? While I can’t control my start time in these events, I am participating voluntarily. Our kids are not.

PS: you can track my progress on 4/25 by going to and following athlete number 1444!

Which would you rather teach? (or have your kids learn?)
March 25, 2010, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Geek | Tags: ,

Ah, Texas. We hear lots about you. The New York Times, Newsweek, and all the education mags/blogs/newsfeeds report on your standards in social studies. You argue about people and places; which should be there and which should not. You argue with experts about Constitutional law. You generally make a fool of yourself. Why can’t you be more like Colorado. See her over there, being reasonable? See how she asks for expert guidance with content and then actually listens to those experts? Texas, you are the good time girl, aren’t you, the one who will be a little crazy, breakin’ hearts left and right. Meanwhile, Colorado, she doesn’t get a lot of attention, but she’s the real catch, the keeper. In ten or twenty years, Colorado is still going to look great while Texas will be out of shape and not nearly as exciting as she is now.

Just compare some of the language in the two states’ social studies standards documents:

Texas: The student understands the impact of political, economic, and social factors in the US role in the world from the 1970s though 1990. The student is expected to: ….(E) Describe the causes, key organizations, and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association….

Or check out the debates

Colorado: Concepts and skills students master:…2. The key concepts of continuity and change, cause and effect, complexity, unity and diversity over time… (g) Analyze the complexity of events in United States history. Topics to include but not limited to the suffrage movement and the Civil Rights Movement…

Inquiry Questions:

• What impact have individuals had on history?

• How has culture defined civilization?

• How does society decide what is important in history?

• What ideas have united people over time?

• How has diversity impacted the concepts of change over time?

Lets see, would I rather my kids describe the people and organizations on a discrete and finite list OR would I rather they analyze the complex nature of a variety of events in US history, looking at the role of the individual (who ever that might be) and how we decide what is important. Based on this standards, I think the kids in Colorado might be studying the Texas Board of Education as part of this!

While I’d like to think a document like Colorado’s standards could be a model for Common Core for Social Studies, I suspect the debate, press, and public views will better reflect what we see in Texas.

To think we fought over Texas…

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