Conjunction Junction

Schoolhouse Rock’s Conjunction Junction:

Los Angeles dumps iPad contract

Tiannah Dizadare smiles as she and a school mate explore the possibilities with their new LAUSD provided IPads.

Los Angeles Unified won’t buy iPads for every student after all. Superintendent John Deasy has suspended the district’s contract with Apple “amid mounting scrutiny of the $1-billion-plus effort,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

The suspension comes days after disclosures that the superintendent and his top deputy had especially close ties to executives of Apple, maker of the iPad, and Pearson, the company that is providing the curriculum on the devices.

. . . Last week, a draft report of a district technology committee, obtained by The Times, was strongly critical of the bidding process.

Among the findings was that the initial rules for winning the contract appeared to be tailored to the products of the eventual winners — Apple and Pearson — rather than to demonstrated district needs. The report found that key changes to the bidding rules were made after most of the competition had been eliminated under the original specifications.

LA paid more than other districts for the iPads, a school board member says.

Of course, the key problem is that they bought expensive technology before figuring out how  it would be used to help students learn.

Most schools trying blended learning are buying Chromebooks, which are cheaper and come with a keyboard, rather than iPads.

Effective schools raise scores, not cognition

Effective schools — as measured by raising test scores — don’t raise students’ cognitive abilities, concludes a study of 32 Boston schools. Instead, these schools help students achieve at higher levels than their cognitive abilities predict, write the researchers in Education Next.

The study evaluated state test scores and measures of “fluid cognitive skills” for 1,300 8th graders attending traditional public schools, exam schools that admit only academically talented students and charter schools.


Charter schools with wait lists (and lotteries) showed the strongest results. “Each year of attendance at an oversubscribed charter school increased the math test scores of students in the sample by roughly 50 percent over the progress typical students make in a school year, but had no impact on their fluid cognitive skills.”


State tests measure “crystallized knowledge,” which “matters a great deal for success in school and beyond,” the researchers write.

But it’s possible that students who do well in these schools but falter in college suffer from limited cognitive skills. Effective schools should experiment with ways to raise students’ “processing speed, working memory, and fluid reasoning skills,” researchers conclude.

From a U to a J

California charters are more likely to be outperforming traditional public schools, concludes a report on the last five years by the California Charter Schools Association.

Two years ago, the graph of charter school scores was U-shaped: 21 percent of California charters ranked in the top 10 percent in the state and 21 percent ranked in the lowest 10 percent.

It’s now more of a J with more high-performing charters on the right and fewer low performers on the left, writes Jed Wallace, president of the CCSA.

Students at charter schools serving low-income populations are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in a school that is among the top five or ten percent of all public schools statewide.

More than half of the students (52 percent) attending charters serving a majority high poverty population attend charter schools that are in the top quartile of all public schools statewide, compared to only 26 percent of similar students attending traditional public schools.

The only charters that underperform are those that serve predominantly advantaged students. That matches national trends. Perhaps it’s because urban charters are more likely to follow the “no excuses” model, while suburban charters are more likely to provide a progressive alternative.

California: CCs plan huge growth

California community colleges have set ambitious goals for improving completion rates and increasing the number of certificates, degrees and transfers.

Carnival of Homeschooling

The new Carnival of Homeschooling at HomeSchoolBuzz looks at how homeschoolers use technology.

3 Is A Magic Number

By popular request, here’s Schoolhouse Rock’s 3 Is A Magic Number.

Hire math teachers in K-5

Americans stink at math but we can fix that, writes Hung-Hsi Wu, an emeritus math professor at Berkeley and the author of Understanding Numbers in Elementary School Mathematics.

Elementary teachers — generalists required to teach every subject  – are dependent on math textbooks that don’t teach “learnable math,” writes Wu.  “It is not realistic to expect all of them to summon up the superhuman energy to learn mathematics at the expense of all their other duties.”

Common Core Standards place even higher demands on  teachers’ content knowledge, he writes.  The solution is “to require K-5 math classes to be taught only by math teachers.”

Wu suggests that Mark Zuckerberg, who’s giving $120 million to Bay Area schools, target a few districts willing to train math teachers to teach K-5 students.

A few elementary schools already hire math or math/science specialists, though I don’t know of any that start in kindergarten.

Many elementary teachers don’t see themselves as “math people.” Should we hire teachers who understand and like math in elementary schools?

Poor kids’ teachers score low, but why?

New teacher evaluation systems tend to give lower ratings to teachers with disadvantaged students. Teacher Beat’s Stephen Sawchuk asks the critical question: Are the ratings biased? Or do high-need kids get fewer high-quality teachers?

Value-added measures (VAM) are supposed to judge teachers by whether they’ve done better than previous teachers at improving their students’ progress. But many question whether VAM is a reliable measure of teachers’ effectiveness.

Evaluation systems also include classroom observations. And those have problems too, writes Sawchuk. “Observations by principals can reflect bias, rather than actual teaching performance,” writes Sawchuk.

Yet we also know that disadvantaged students are less likely to have teachers capable of boosting their test scores and that black students are about four times more likely than white students to be located in schools with many uncertified teachers.

Teachers in low-poverty Washington, D.C. schools were far more likely to ace the teacher-evaluation system, IMPACT, observes Matthew Di Carlo, at the Shanker blog.


The Pittsburgh teacher-evaluation program shows similar results, according to a federal analysis, writes Sawchuk. “Teachers of low-income and minority students tended to receive lower scores from principals conducting observations, and from surveys administered to students. Those teaching gifted students tended to get higher ratings.”

It’s hard to know whether all methods of evaluation are inaccurate or whether a “maldistribution of talent” explains the low scores for teachers of disadvantaged students, concludes Sawchuk.

It will be hard to persuade teachers to work in high-poverty, high-minority schools if they know they’ll risk being rated ineffective.

Free college — but will they graduate?

Tennessee, Oregon — and possibly Texas — are offering two free years at a community or technical college to high school graduates. But “Promise” programs are struggling to get unprepared students to complete college credentials.