12.30.2012

What Drives Change in Education?

We, you and I, are always rambling on about the latest thing. Don't deny it. You may be attracted to doctrine, strategy, or tactics but every one of us is a devotee of something. The object of this post, is to point out our common myopia about education. As with other examples of the effects of myopia, results can run from minor stumbles to falling off a cliff Magoo-style in pursuit of something that attracts us.

Is there a practical model hidden somewhere? Yes, it's at the end. It's about virtuous software development and you'll have to actually get the point of the post for it to be useful to you.

Many of us think the education enterprise may be "more or less independent" of outside effects. A good example is the idiocy of education policy that ignores the effects of poverty, or rather pretends it is powerless to change, but can magically waive poverty's power over children using magical passes. Thus, we may decide that a change such as increasing the number of hours spent in a discipline is an effective intervention or changing the ownership of school infrastructure could be effective. My state's leadership likes that one. I think the point of this last paragraph was that we are poking and probing a poorly understood system. Policymakers have been hoodwinked into thinking there will be results that are not unexpected.

Warning: midstream metaphor change. As with our oceans, there are changes taking place that are overwhelmingly important, but nearly invisible to us distracted by the the ripples, waves, thermoclines and tides. We are in the midst of a scientific revolution based on the democratization of information. The effect accelerates discovery. In addition to affecting the enterprise of science, the information revolution is affecting education. This much is painfully obvious and I hope you don't suppose this is about something trivial as technology in schools. It isn't.

The broad effects of the information revolution point toward globalization of the economy, global health changes, the manufacture and distribution of goods - as well as science. But its effect on education is critical to the advancement/acceleration of science itself. They are intertwined and I wil spare you yet another lousy metaphor, leaving it at that.

This much is clear. In order for science to continue to open its embrace, education must further democratize/open. Any movement toward narrowing access violates the doctrine of democratization. In science, we have settled on "Open Science" as a stated goal. Anything that isn't traveling in that direction is mistaken.

So Magoo... What drives education? The same thing that is driving change all around. Please resist "monetizing"efforts and pour resources into open education. We don't want a repeat performance of the record industry in education.

Here's the link I promised upstairs:
Ten Simple Rules for the Open Development of Scientific Software

7.29.2010

The Investigator Found in Shallow Water

The Investigator, a ship my Great Grandfather was on and with the rest of the crew, left stranded in the Arctic has been found. Various articles follow:
The latest underwater photos from the BBC.
National Post article.
Dept of Parks, Canada expedition homepage.
Department of Parks photos from the expedition. They have both the Franklin search and the McClure discovery on this page. The page has changed over the last month and shows no organizational (obviously named directories) effort to make it permanent, so tell me if you have to chase the images down on the Parks Canada site.
Expedition video with voice over in mpeg4
More Expedition video of Marc-André Bernier, Chief of the Underwater Archeology Service at Parks Canada.
BBC article.
Video from television stories shows copper sheathing on the stern.

Here is a link to a brief biographical note on Sir Alexander Armstrong, the ship's naturalist and surgeon and a very concise description of the voyage. I'm not going to steal it by copying into my blog. It's definitely worth a few minutes to read it. Armstrong was one of the naturalists the Royal Navy sent on voyages in similar fashion to Charles Darwin. Armstrong's journal is published as a book and is considered by historians to be the authoritative record of the voyage.

My Great Grandfather, John Calder was Captain of the forecastle on the Investigator's last voyage. The Investigator was under the command of Robert John Le Mesurier McClure, one of two vessels commissioned to sail in 1850 to the western Arctic by way of Bering Strait in search of the expedition belonging to Sir John Franklin, missing since 1845. The second ship was Enterprise; her commanding officer was Captain Richard Collinson. The ships were heavily reinforced for Arctic exploration and were even screw driven.

[deleted/corrected 12-5-2010 - I have been told John Calder fearing court martial, stayed in North America ending up in Chicago.] Correction from Cousin Linda Smith:
Great-Grandfather did in fact, return to England with the crew of the Investigator, Resolute and North Star on the North Star. He lived there for around a year, married Fanny Cattle on 20 Feb 1855 and they left for America the following day on the 'Cultivator'. (According to the Free BMD Marriage index 1827-1915,  John Calder from Langport, Somerset was married in Jan-Feb-Mar of 1855.  This is recorded in Volume 5c on page 635.  Fanny Elizabeth is also listed on the page according to the index.) They settled in Chicago, however, according to Mom, he left Fanny in NY for a while until he got things arranged in Chicago.

His discharge paper listed the ships he served on, along with conduct notes from each captain ... all of his were good ... no problems, no mention of mutiny. Mom never mentioned any fears or problems either. And considering that he was awarded two medals and a large sum of money from the Queen, I cannot think that he had anything other than good conduct.

Our grandfather did in fact receive the medals and money for his father while he was attending school in England (His mother took him there when he was 9 so he could receive a proper education. He attended Failand Lodge School and is found there on the 1871 English Census.) He returned home to the end of the Chicago fire. According to what Mom told me, his aunt sewed the medals and money into his coat. During the crossing, he became sick and was taken care of by the Captain's wife. She discovered the money and medals when cleaning his coat and left them there. They were said to be the ones who watched over him after that and kept him with them for a few days for safety. I believe the ship was the 'City of Baltimore', which arrived in NY on the 16th Oct 1871.
Landing in Chicago in 1871 during the great fire, he is supposed to have been kept on a friend's yacht for safety. Here is an addition from Fred Calder dated 12-07-2010:
There was an ancillary family story accompanying the one about the ship's captain and his wife taking care of grandfather when he arrived back in the U.S. ill. This story was that he also stayed with them because of their concern for his safety because of aftermath of the Chicago fire. This story is supported by his arriving on the "City of Baltimore" October 16, 1871 after the Chicago fire. The fire occurred from October 8 to early Tuesday October 10, 1871. So, true story - surely, he would have been kept until the ships captain heard that it was safe for him to return.
12-6-2010 Fred Calder (brother) sent this explanation of his research in the Admiralty records:
When I visited the Royal Navy library in Portsmouth I discovered a privately printed volume on naval medals (Morris-Douglas, Kenneth: Naval Medals 1793-1856: London, Privately Printed, pp. 409 - 412) identifying the Meritorious Medal.
This publication names the following 4 "Investigators" recommended for the "Meritorious Medal". They were as follows:
  • Biggs, James - Private Royal Marines;
  • Calder, John - Captain of Forecastle;
  • Davies, John - Quarter Master;
  • Milner, George L. - Gun Room Steward.
There is also 1 medal awarded to Woon, John - Color Sergeant "For Exceptional Bravery And Intrepidity".

Years later, Great Grandfather Calder was interviewed so we have some of the story in his own words. Here is a transcription from the old newspaper clipping compliments of cousin Linda:

Chicago Daily - Sunday January 18th 1891, p. 26

IN THE FROZEN OCEANS
THE ONLY LIVING MAN WHO HAS BEEN AROUND THE AMERICAS

John Calder, Who Farms Down Near Alexis, Has had Many Strange Experiences -- He Was with the Expedition that Discovered the Northwest Passage -- Memories of the Party That Went in Search of Franklin.

John Calder, a farmer living near Alexis, Ill., was with two Arctic expeditions sent out by the English Government in search of Sir John Franklin. For fourteen years before he settled in Chicago in 1855 Calder led a seafaring life. He is the son of a Somersetshire farmer, and after girdling the globe a time or two and taking a good look at the rest of humanity he returned to the occupation of his ancestors. Calder, if he were not buried in the obscurity of the quiet life he leads, would be famous for one thing at least. He is probably the only living man who has been around the Americas. The crew he was with on his second voyage was the first to make the trip, but they left the ship behind.

Capt. Robert J. L. M. McClure, the commander of her Majesty’s ship Investigator, which weighed anchor in Plymouth sound Jan. 20, 1850, with its consort the Enterprise, and spread its fresh sails for the Polar Sea by way of the Straits of Magellan, his Second Lieutenant, S.G. Cresswell, and the Surgeon, Dr. Alex Armstrong, discovered the Northwest passage from the summit of a hill on the north shore of Prince Albert Land, Oct. 10, 1850.

The primary object of the expedition in command of Capt. McClure was the relief of Sir John Franklin and his party. Two years previous the Investigator had sailed on a similar mission, with orders to proceed to Baffin Bay and enter the Polar Sea from the eastward. It was commanded at that time by Sir James Ross, but returned in 1849 without having found any traces of the lost explorer. The Investigator was built for Artic service, and was a sailing vessel, bark-rigged, of 422 tons. It was especially fortified to cope with the ice. Its crew consisted of sixty-six men, all selected for their physical capabilities, great courage, and efficiency for an expedition of this character. Many of them had visited the frozen regions of the north more than once and fully realized the gravity of the undertaking. They were all volunteers.
On the memorable day when Capt. McClure and his officers from their high point of observation, discovered the route that England had desired, four on his men half-way down the ice-covered mountain were preparing a meal. One of the number, Captain of the forecastle, was John Calder. He probably is the only survivor of the crew. Capt. McClure died in 1873. The crew was rescued by her Majesty’s ships Resolute and Intrepid and reached England in 1854. A year later Capt. Calder, with his bride, sailed for America.

Capt. Calder at Home.
One cold afternoon last week a Tribune correspondent found the Captain comfortably seated by a bright fire in his pleasant home in Kelly Township, Warren County.
“It’s pretty cold,” said he, as he asked his visitor to take a seat by his inviting fire. “Not for a man who started out in earnest to find the North Pole, is it?” “O, that was forty years ago,” he replied, “and I have forgotten nearly all about it.
There is a good deal in what a man is used to. I have seen almost every kind of climate and I don’t know but what Illinois is as good as any. I first shipped when I was 21 for Australia and for ten years following I traveled pretty much all over the world. I struck a climate down in South America once that just about suited me, but the natives were fighting so much among themselves that there was no comfort living there and I got out. Guess they get along better now.”With the last expression the old man raised his other foot up to the fire. “You want to know something about my Artic exploration do you:” he said, after his shins and those of his visitor had been well toasted. “I ‘spose a good many things occurred up there you’d like to know about, but there’s a good deal that I don’t care to tell."

“My trip with Capt. McClure was kind of an accident. I’d been up in the Artic regions with Sir James Ross and hadn’t been back a great while when the McClure expedition was equipped. I didn’t hear a word regarding the sailing of the Investigator until just the day before she started. I (saw) a friend on the street who told me he had read in a London paper that another expedition in search of Franklin was about to leave. I went to London that night and found the ship next day at Woolwich. I shipped as Captain of the forecastle. We had everything that was supposed to be necessary for our comfort and convenience. We were well supplied with rations, clothing, and fuel. I remember one man, who had never been in the Artic regions asked me what he should take with him. I replied: ‘All the moral courage you can get hold of.’ Next to food and raiment this is what a man needs most.

“I presume if I were to refresh my mind I could recall a good many incidents. I understand that several books have been written about this expedition, but I have not seen any of them. Early in the sixties I met a man in Chicago who was a member of the crew. Since that time I have not heard anything from any of the party except Capt. McClure whose death I saw chronicled in a Chicago paper. For all I know I am the only member of the Investigator’s crew who is now living. As you have probably read in the histories of the Investigator sailed for Baring Strait by way of the Straits of Magellan.

Our consort, the Enterprise, we soon lost sight of after striking the Pacific. There was little in the trip around South America that is worth mentioning. We hurried along as fast as we could for the Polar Sea. Capt. McClure and all the crew were very anxious to reach that latitude with as little delay as possible. I remember one morning along about the 1st of August we were off the northwest coast of Russian America when the Plover was sighted. She was an English vessel surveying along the coast. A heavy wind came up from the west and started the ice toward it. It was in imminent danger of being crushed, but we had no time to delay. All on board were ordered to bend their efforts to send our vessel onward.

“We cruised along past the Mackenzie River, and at Point Drew we touched shore. There we saw some Esquimaux, but found no trace of Franklin. We pushed along through the ice till we entered the Prince of Wales Strait.

“The ice about us rendered it necessary to be very cautious. This was in September and we soon discovered we were in a drifting pack of ice. Our position was hazardous. One night we came in contact with a large floe piece, which struck the starboard quarter, carried away a big hawser, and started all the anchors. We were in this perilous condition for several days, not knowing at what moment we might be crushed to death. The winter of 1850-’51 was spent in the strait near a small island.

Traveling Parties Start Out.
“The vessel had only been frozen in a short time when Capt. McClure organized the crew into three traveling parties. One of these went southward, the other went up Baring Island, and Capt. McClure’s party, with which I was connected, went northeastward on Prince Albert Land. I have slept under a tent many a night when the thermometer registered between 50° and 60° below zero.

“It was on this trip that Capt. McClure discovered the the northwest passage by observation. McClure was very ambitious to make this discovery, as he felt that it might prove an advantage to commerce. He was as brave a man as ever headed an Artic expedition. No matter how intense the cold or how much he suffered, a word of complaint was never heard from him. These traveling parties often endured great hardships.

“You would hardly believe it, but I have cut holes in my boots to let the water through which we were traveling flow out and in to prevent it freezing around my feet. I remember an incident of another one of these traveling parties. We were proceeding along the northwestern coast of Banks Land and two of our men whose condition became very serious caused us to start back for the boat. On our way back we shot a polar bear. We at once removed the hide, and, as customary opened the stomach. A piece of court-plaster and a few raisins were all that it contained. These articles he had evidently got from civilized man and the question was whether he had picked them up from some other expedition. It was quite evident they had not been in the animal’s stomach very long. When we returned to the ship Capt. McClure sent out several fatigue parties, but after a day or two the investigation was dropped.

Perils in the Ice.
“That spring we started around Baring Island or Banks Land, passed Nelson Point, and cruised northward. One of our most dangerous experiences occurred just out of Burnett Bay on the west of Baring Island. The vessel was raised at one time eight or ten feet out of the water. About everyone on board concluded that his time had come. The ship got in an ice gorge but like other miraculous escapes we came out all right. We met with another narrow escape at Cape Austin, and in September we encountered a severe northwestern gale and drifted into Mercy Bay, doomed to spend another winter in the ice. It was probably the most perilous voyage made in the Polar Sea. During the winter we killed a few reindeer, wolves, and a musk-ox.

“It was the hope of Capt. McClure to have reached Melville Island before winter, but when circumstances forced the abandonment of this idea another traveling party was formed, headed by the Captain himself, and started for Melville Island. The party reached Winter Harbor after a journey of eighteen days, hoping to find one or more ships composing Capt. Austin’s expedition, but we were disappointed. Sir Edward Perry wintered here way back in teh winter of 1819-’20.

Relic of a Former Party
“I ran across a peculiarly-shaped rock. It was about eight feet high and almost square. On the top of the rock I found a flat tin case containing a record of a visit of a party under command of Capt. McClintock June 6, 1851. The record stated where the Austin expedition wintered, and said that a depot of provisions had been established at Cape Spencer, distant nearly 600 miles. There was not a word about Franklin or any information regarding our long-lost consort. The expedition we supposed, had returned to England, as we afterward learned it had, and the Investigator was the only vessel in Artic regions at that time. We left a dispatch in the tin box when we returned to our ship.

“By the beginning of 1853 we were getting to be in pretty bad shape. Our provisions were getting short and we had been troubled a good deal with scurvy among the men. On the 5th of April the first death occurred. John Boyle, an able seaman died from dysentery, and the melancholy occurrence depressed the spirits of the crew to an alarming extent. I tell you things looked pretty bilious. The next day I was in the hold getting ready to go on duty on the ship, when I heard the greatest commotion on deck. One of the men came running to me and told me that Lieut. Pim of the H.M.S. Resolute from Melville Island was aboard. There is no use for me to attempt to describe the feelings of that crew or the way the men acted. Their joy and gratitude were beyond expression. Lieut. Pim had come across from Melville Island on his sledge, drawn by five Esquimaux dogs and two men. On the arrival of the Resolute and Intrepid at Dealy Island, off Melville Island, the year before they found our record, deposited at Winter harbor by Capt. McClure in April, 1852. After the rest of a day or two Lieut. Pim and a party from our crew went to Melville Island, and June 2, at 6 p.m., two months later, the Investigator was abandoned and the entire crew was taken to the Resolute and Intrepid. For all I know the Investigator is still imprisoned in the ice in Mercy Bay.

Back to England.
“We wintered on the Resolute and Intrepid, and late the following spring sailed for England, and landed at Ramsgate Oct. 6, 1854. Our crew was clear around the Americas, and is the only crew that ever made the trip. It was a perilous undertaking. Up in that country one finds two months of winter and ten months of very cold weather. I don’t know what would have become of us if we had not been rescued just at the time we were. The question of rations was becoming a serious one. Game was scarce and hard to shoot. It is surprising how little subsistence those animals of the polar regions require. The bears get hold of a good many walruses, but reindeer and the musk ox have a slim chance. They seem to get enough, though. But it is a fight for life with every kind of living creature up there. Of course you see some beautiful scenery. The ice formations sometimes are simply grand. I suppose I have see the most beautiful things ever seen by any man. I refer to the aurora borealis. I couldn’t describe it.

Discomforts of the Explorers.
“Yes, we could tell the difference between night and day in the winter season and kept close track of the time. While it is pretty dark when it is daytime here there is a kind of dawn up there you can see to get around. A peculiar feature of Artic life is the discomfiture one feels sleeping in the ship after having been out on a land expedition and having spent many nights on the ice. It is caused by the difference in the atmosphere. It is pretty airy sleeping under a canvas tent when the thermometer registers 60° below zero. The coldest I ever saw was 66° below zero, but it was when I was with Sir James Ross. We wore the same kind of clothing people do here, only it was heavier and more of it. The best overcoat I could Find was to make a garment out of this heavy ducking and line it with a heavy blankey. It kept out the wind and cold.

“Nature works some funny freaks up there. I have seen logs of wood 600 feet above the surface. This was up along the north shore of Banks Land. It was probably drift wood from the McKenzie and Copper Mine Rivers that had got mixed up in an ice gorge. We came pretty near getting boosted up a time or two ourselves, but it is a good big gorge that piles the ice 600 feet high.

Mrs. Calder, who is a well-preserved, motherly little woman of 60 years, tripped into an adjoining room, and in a bureau drawer where a number of sacred souvenirs are kept found a couple of medals, of which both are justly proud. One was given Mr. Calder by the English Government as a special recognition of his services, while each member of the crew received one similar to the other one. The inscription on the first is as follows:
MERITORIOUS SERVICE ARTIC EXPLORATIONS 1854.
Capt. Calder, as he is always called, is 70 years old, but is still rugged as ever.

6.26.2010

Green Dot saves the Planet

Sam Dillon writes in the New York Times about Locke High School's turn-around in Los Angeles.
As recently as 2008, Locke High School here was one of the nation’s worst failing schools, and drew national attention... Now, two years after a charter school group took over, gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward... But progress is coming at considerable cost: an estimated $15 million over the planned four-year turnaround, largely financed by private foundations. That is more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that the Department of Education has set as a cap for any single school... Locke High, with 3,200 students, sprawls across six city blocks in south-central Los Angeles. The school’s principal in 2007 complained publicly that the Los Angeles Unified School District had made it a dumping ground for problem teachers... In spring 2008, only 15 percent of students passed state math tests.
The school's normal budget is 30 million.
The school is twice the size of a normal high school.
The budget is 9,375 per student - I'm assuming that's normal for Los Angeles schools.
The "massive" investment represents a one-eighth increase in the annual budget.
The principal has to accept employees foisted off as less competent by the district manager. Who knows why? Most principals don't have to hire people unless they like them.

What was the problem the charter take-over cured? That's what you have to ask yourself, because the "charters save the planet" story is who, not HOW.

After eliminating upper management (the mayor) and making the facility function properly (clean, neat, adequate space) and tailoring the faculty to the needs of the students (not mentioned directly) the school is able to function normally. Increased investment necessary was one twelve and a half percent of the normal budget.

How realistic is that? First take a look at the quote about only fifteen percent of students passing math tests. Doesn't that mean that nearly three-quarters of the population needs remediation? Probably not. Let's say half. That leaves us with the population of a normal high school performing at the level of the lowest quartile of a normal high school. That means the school-within-a-school has specialized staffing needs. If those needs are met, then the institution should be capable of functioning. I have a friend who is an adolescent psychiatrist in Boston. When I told her that our code for "lowest quartile" means reading at a 4th grade level, she retorted sharply that those kids had developmental disabilities. Do you still think the school doesn't need a specialized staff? The fact is that when a school does get the staff, the specially trained staff is barely capable of making headway.

If those needs are ignored and the school becomes a dumping ground for people that are ejected from other sites, the institution should fall on its face - which is what apparently happened prior to Green Dot's management.

Does this say that changing management in a similar way will be effective at other schools? Maybe, if the school has exactly the same situation.

What situation is that? Management that closes its eyes and desperately wishes for problems to disappear and management that will hand-wave (consultants and committees) when confronted by reality. Management that wants to placate wealthy populations by allocating resources in their favor and shifting funds in their general direction. Management that sweeps up children and drops them into a limbo it created for them.

6.23.2010

Education Policy is Health Policy

What would you say if I told you universal health coverage will create a fabulous surge in educational attainment? At the very least, it will result in less family stress in low SES families. In fact, it may have already happened to some people. Read on MacDuff!

It is entirely possible that the earned income credit will turn out to be the most effective education reform in history. At least that’s the way it looks from my notes on this symposium:

Notes from symposium: The Long Reach of Early Childhood Poverty - AAAS Meeting, San Diego

People:
Greg Duncan

Katherine Magnuson

W. Thomas Boyce at U of British Columbia, Vancouver. Paper titled: Neurobiological pathway of Poverty Associated Lifetime Risk of Health Achievement


Social data comes from:
PSID Panel study of Income Dynamics. Births in 1968 thru 1975 measured to 2008 (To age 37: outcomes for school, employment, out of wedlock births, parental aspirations.)

First caveat – Poor health, arrest, non-marital birth are not strongly correlated in the study. But adjusted education and income are most strong.

Adult earnings are affected by early impact of family income and the highest correlation is during the period under age 5. The effect gives 17 percent higher wage total for every $3,000 increase in family income. This indicates the earned
income credit which provided families in the study approximately that amount of money may have as much effect as some educational interventions.

Norway had an analogous study where there was a 7 percent impact and in the American Indian population where gambling revenues were shared on a per capita basis, recipients experienced about the same benefit as main group at 17%. Furthermore, ability to sustain full-time employment seems to be impacted, resulting in 152 hours per year additional hours worked and higher lifetime income.

Magnuson: Achievement and health during childhood produced about .3 standard deviation on tests. American Indians had tax credit and casino money on reservation, experiencing a similar effect. When welfare was cut back, some states analyzed the results of about 33,000 subjects. (notes unclear) Indian parents’ income increased to near national average from 1993 to 2000 during the study.

Stress effects measured:
Linver, Brooks-Gunn and Kohen 2002
1/2 a std deviation or 1/3 of the total effect is due to home learning environment.

W. Thomas Boyce U of British Columbia, Vancouver
Paper titled: Neurobiological pathway of Poverty Associated Lifetime Risk of Health Achievement

Epigenetic confirmation: stress response systems have effects on organ systems.
1. cortisol levels higher in low SES socio-economic status
2. natural killer cells lower
3. cariogenic bacteria higher (teeth)
4. HPA activation affects cortisol
5. visual cortex – P1 and N1 activation in visual
striata react to novel stimuli differs from controls
6. PID NF Kappa B and cortisol affect toll-like receptor 4

Here is something for people interested in the consequences of violence or bullying; social dominance increases stress responses – ie subordinate children have more stress problems and SES exacerbates it.

What Should Interest Legislators?

In England, budget cuts to food subsidies for students is reported in the Guardian:
A coalition of senior doctors and nurses have written to the education secretary, Michael Gove, expressing "deep concern" at his decision to axe plans for free school meals for half a million primary school children from low-income families.
While in the U.S. research points to the school lunch program as a proven intervention:
The study finds that the program leads to a significant increase in educational opportunity and attainment, but an insignificant increase in health levels from childhood to adulthood.
Other research points toward the "earned income credit" being the most significant education intervention in history. (W. Thomas Boyce U of British Columbia, Vancouver
Neurobiological pathway of Poverty Associated Lifetime Risk of Health Achievement.)

Are there things the government can and should be doing that will help grant all citizens equal access to early development? Should these things create a foundation of public policy? I think so.

6.18.2010

School Safety and Perception
Both Public and Student

We generally accept a child's description of his or her school environment without question. After all, that's where they spend the day and it's the polite thing to do. Likewise, we accept a parent's description of the same things. We also readily accept another parent's description when that person has never set foot on the premises. Parental opinion is affected by students who, knowing a fight is in the offing or feeling the pressure of incomplete homework, stay home. Fights are the most common incident in general and have the largest effect on perception. It's hard to say whether students that stay home because of violence are actually close to it rather than at arm's length.

When it comes to our own perception of safety, we are often wrong. So often are we wrong, it's the subject of books and articles. Rather than recapitulate, here is a Steven Pinker TED talk. (I was going to do a fancy embed like everybody else, but it's really a distraction from my point, which is that we misjudge danger routinely.)

Here we go:

I was looking at state of Florida DoE statistics to see whether a sample of high schools with wealthy client families underreported incidents of crime and misbehavior compared to a sample of high schools with lower income clients. The following information is in no way representative of *all* schools. Broward has around forty high schools, but I only chose twenty large ones.

From what I gather in my sample, incident counts at high schools in Broward County range from 2.1 to 8 per hundred students. There are some very small schools that cater to special needs that I didn't count, and some other schools I didn't look at because I wasn't interested in them. This applies to a subset of twenty schools I looked at because I was suspicious of the way they report incidents.

The school where I work is Dillard High School in North-West Fort Lauderdale. It has a reputation that makes many parents who would otherwise send their children to the Performing Arts or Emergent Technology magnet programs, send them to other schools. The students themselves think Dillard is more dangerous than other schools.

The reality is different. Out of the twenty I sampled, Dillard is seventh safest. For those of you with outstanding curiosity, I will post a link if you are interested in seeing the numbers. But who would have thought that Coral Springs was safest? Who would predict that Dillard is safer than Nova, Cooper City, or West Broward?

Admittedly this is anecdotal, but when I ask my students to predict where Dillard sits in relation to other schools, they say it is more dangerous than most others.

The conclusion? Obvious. Another study is desperately needed!

As promised, the link to the statistics. You can get more from the FL DoEd link at the top of the page. Go ahead and change the selection criteria to get Palm Beach or a specific school.

5.31.2010

High Stakes Testing

Regarding measurement of learning, I tend to be of the J. Gould camp. (Like you didn't know already.) But if there is a huge natural variance in humans, there could also be a huge variance not in what people know (obvious), but HOW people know.

Furthermore, it is possible that folks involved in measurement conflate the two, dismiss the difference, or miss it to one side or the other precisely because it is a moving target.

In order to get to information stored in another's brain - stored in an idiosyncratic fashion - a strict path cannot work in 100% of cases. Let's say I ask my class to reflect on why something is generally true. Nobody can answer, so I work backward from it and repeat the question till somebody gets it. Then I reflect on whether I left out a key bit of context or if the students were unable to make the connection I asked of them. BUT sometimes I am surprised by what they think and how they think it.

This doesn't happen often, but it may be happening more often than we think which is what makes me think my examination of student's knowledge isn't very good.

Supporting this is the social observation that people just don't make allowances for the way other people who are equally knowledgeable see things. Sure there is emotional investment, but there are inevitable differences of opinion engendered by what we call viewpoint. Am I saying viewpoint is a lot more dangerous than we suspect in testing? That makes me wonder about professors who give credit for well-argued opposing viewpoints.

Glen McGhee pointed out Ray and Mickelson's paper: "Students "read reality with more care than they read textbooks" (14, also 11-12) "Part of their world is the realm of work ... they observe their adult kin grappling with the financial difficulties ..." Applies now to college students, too."

This is a simple fact of viewpoint. Students want to work and react with what they think is appropriate strategy. Business leaders react in dismay, thinking students are out of touch with reality.

5.06.2010

Comedy American Enterprise Institute-Style

Charles Murray speaking about evaluation of Charter Schools in the New York Times.

Ok, so charter schools are not a school reform technique anymore. Poof! But why blame it on testing? Sure in England, schools are boycotting state sponsored high stakes tests. Sure they're ineffective because when you constantly measure people, they adjust their behavior in very distinct ways. But heck, that's not why charter schools aren't special.

Murray goes on to rhapsodize over his ideal charter school's curriculum, bemoaning the probability that his students wouldn't do better than students at competitor's schools. Here is what Murray misses. Testing doesn't miss the wonderful warm goodness-filled charter education any more than it misses anything else.

Larry Cuban has a wonderful explanation of what is really happening. There is no one best way of schooling youth is what he concludes based on evidence from prior to the Second World War. Today, Charles Murray discovered something quite similar, but took home quite a different conclusion.

4.10.2010

Asking Entirely Too Much From Testing

Matthew Nisbet has a comment about interpreting the public's understanding of science over at Framing Science
Consider what a split-ballot comparison in a 2004 University of Michigan survey revealed about the nature of responses to these long standing questions about evolution. In this survey experiment, one half of the sample was asked the following traditionally worded question:

True or false, human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.

When asked this way, 42% answered true, a result that has been incredibly consistent across surveys since 1985.

The other half of the sample, however, was asked a slightly different version of the question:

True or false, according to the theory of evolution, human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.

When asked this way, 74% answered true.

The implication is that context matters: Americans are not ignorant of what science says about human origins, in fact, as the second version of the question reveals, 3/4 of the public are familiar with the scientifically correct answer.

I believe it may be that the issue demonstrated by the two versions of the question is not one that allows a metric to be constructed.

What it does point out, is an important limitation in questioning people about anything at all. Questions are likely to be construed differently by a variety of responders due to differences in their perception of the semantic underpinnings of language and their personal learning history separate from the facts or belief systems. Time also plays a significant part. As people are introduced to a new concept, they put it in context with something they know. We understand by analogy which is limiting, but effective in helping make decisions.

But when someone asks us a question about it, the analog can either get in the way, or facilitate. Two people can be at a similar point on the path to comprehension, but react to a question differently.

As soon as you start asking questions using English, the variety of correct answers widens in the subject though the perception of the questioner does NOT. If a thought generated by the question can take you down more than one path and still be correct, the question will be less accurate in terms of what it beings back to the questioner. A second ambiguity may destroy the accuracy of a certain percentage of responses. And if the survey is littered with these, statistical correlation will not generate a warning.

The question's statement on lineage suggests to me that humans evolved in a linear way and it makes me uncomfortable to say that it is unambiguously correct. I just don't like it because I would never frame a statement using those words. Thus I am tempted to say "No." What is more, I may have never actually passed the first question through the filter if it had not contained the hint "according to the theory of evolution." That addition is a billboard telling my consciousness to stop and think about my understanding of the "theory of evolution" and wonder if the questioner is asking about current understand on natural selection.

If you fall back on definitions, as most scientists do, you fail to understand the nature of language and the nature of human cognition. The fact is that people generally don't parse questions carefully. Scientists do, but they aren't normal people in the sense I'm talking about. Scientists have trained themselves to pass any statement through a series of semantic filters and knowledge frameworks prior to admitting the question to consideration. Thus, Nisbet sees the question as presenting natural selection so that the appropriate answer will follow a particular logic pathway. I feel that it is not particularly accurate to say humans will subject any given question that includes sufficient ambiguity to any predictable logical pathway.

We may never know how many people fail to parse the question at all in terms of differentiating the framework of science versus faith because we desperately need to think these types of questions give us answers.

4.08.2010

Social Production Models vs Prescription

I was listening to Yochai Benkler's interview with Russ Roberts on his podcast discussing regulatory frameworks for national infrastructure and realized that conservative arguments often include a call to principles for guidance whereas researchers demand examination of evidence.

Roberts is a libertarian and Keyensian economist who makes an assumption that regulation is always going to stifle innovation. But Benkler proved by using evidence between 2000 and 2010 that lack of regulation has taken the U.S. from first or second to about fifteenth in network speed, access, and cost.

In education, we are faced with a similar situation. Probably not for the same reasons. Unfortunately, education reform has a history of panic and prescription.

Careful examination of evidence can allow us to create a community from which to foster change. It is our ability to create community, the freedom to do so, that is important. Not restriction, but freedom that creates the ability to innovate.

In a highly restrictive environment, any tiny move can be seen as a huge one because we are focusing on conflict rather than cooperation. These tiny moves have no cumulative effect because they are not mutually reinforcing.