Complexificating school evaluation

California’s proposed new evaluation system will use a colors — lots of colors — to evaluate schools by lots of factors, reports the Orange County Register.

The old Academic Performance Index, suspended in March 2015,  generated a single number based on test scores:  800 was the goal. Schools could be compared against schools with similar demographics. Parents could see how a school’s API score changed over time or check performance by subgroups.

The color-coded California Model shows boxes for test scores, attendance, dropout rates, English proficiency, access to advanced classes in high school, parent involvement, suspension rates and more.

The API may have been “simplistic,” the new system is so complicated it’s incomprehensible, editorializes the Los Angeles Times.

There’s a series of colored boxes, with the colors designed to reflect both the school’s actual performance on a given measurement — such as how many students are suspended or what surveys say about the school’s atmosphere — and whether that performance is getting a little better or a lot better or …

There are nine different categories for measuring schools, with only one of those being how its students scored on the standards tests. Others include “basics” (such as having adequate textbooks and facilities) and “implementation of academic standards.” Each category is ranked by how high a priority it is for that particular school. And each category has two colored boxes. And there are six possible colors for each box.

In addition, there are extra boxes for “equity reports” on subgroups such as Latino, black and low-income students.

School bans clapping, OKs wriggling

Clapping is banned at school assemblies at an Australian elementary school near Sydney, reports The Herald Sun. It’s too noisy.

“Instead of clapping, the students are free to punch the air, pull excited faces and wriggle about on the spot,” the Elanora Heights school newsletter reported. “When you attend an assembly, teachers will prompt the audience to conduct a silent cheer if it is needed.” Silent cheers are “a great way to expend children’s energy and reduce fidgeting.”

In response to loud jeers, an education official said a teacher with hearing aids has trouble with noise at assemblies.

Some Australian schools have banned hugging. Photo: Brendan Radke/Gold Coast Bulletin

Some Australian schools have banned hugging. Photo: Brendan Radke/Gold Coast Bulletin

Cheering is normal behavior, writes Lenore Skenazy on Reason. “The song doesn’t go, ‘If you’re happy and you know it, noiselessly wriggle’.”

If the hypersensitive rule, “all of human interaction is up for banning: hugs (for those sensitive to touch), hellos (for those sensitive to interaction), handshakes (for those with OCD),” she writes.

In a “political correctness outbreak,” Australian schools “have banned hugging, singing Christmas carols, celebrating Australia Day and singing the word ‘black” in the nursery rhyme ‘baa baa black sheep’,” reports Downtrend.

An exclusive girls’ school told teachers to use “gender-neutral” terms instead of “ladies” or “women” to respect the sensitivities of lesbian and transgender students.

Pokémon Go: Is it more than a fad? 

Pokémon Go, which uses GPS  to send players in search of digital characters, has become wildly and popular.  My niece, who’s 17, showed me a photo she’d taken on her phone of a character she’d “found” in the park.

Cyrus Phan, 29, right, and Anthony Puah, are gamers that run a driving service Pika Speed, are photographed driving customer as he plays the game in down-town San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Pika Speed, which offers to drive Pokemon Go players around as they play the game Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

Cyrus Phan, 29, right, and Anthony Puah, started Pika Speed to drive Pokemon Go players around San Jose. Photo: Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group

It’s encouraging gamers to get outside and do a lot of walking, though a San Jose start-up will chauffeur players and the especially lazy can entrepreneurs will hire someone to play for them. (What’s the point? I don’t know.)

Educators dream of using the game to teach local history, mapping, math and literacy, writes Leo Doran in Education Week. “Commentators are weighing in on potential educational applications.”

The game is a “way to enchant the environment,” said James Gee, an Arizona State professor who’s studied gaming. “Every human would love to think that there are fairies running around and the environment is full of magic — that’s been a theme of literature and many cultures actually believe it. Now Pokémon comes out and actually does those things.”

Pikachu, the most popular character, has the power of static: It releases a burst of energy.

Pikachu, the most popular character, has the power of static: It releases a burst of energy.

Greg Toppo, author of The Game Believes in You, also looks at Pokémon  as an educational tool. “Teachers have been blogging about how they might use the game once school begins,” he writes in USA Today.

Matthew Farber, a Denville, N.J., middle school social studies teacher and author of Gamify Your Classroom, predicts teachers will use the game to get students to “explore and research important historic Poké Stops near their home or school,” writes Toppo.

Pokémon creatures lurk in “art museums and churches and historical places and parks,” game designer Kellian Adams-Pletcher told Toppo. Museums are “thrilled” by the prospect of drawing in new visitors.

Game designer Jane McGonigal noted that scientists are already taking advantage of the game’s millions of users, urging them to take photos of species of bugs, fish and animals that don’t look familiar.

“It’s a slippery slope from video games to citizen science,” she said.

When collecting Pokémon cards was a fad in the late 1990s, Gee called the game a brilliant literacy curriculum, writes Toppo. A generation learned to read “specialized, technical, cross-referenced text” and “analyze and classify more than 700 different types of creatures,” the professor pointed out.

Toppo writes: “Gee predicted, a bit cynically, that if we were to turn Pokémon into a school subject, ‘certain children, many of them poor, would all of a sudden have trouble learning Pokémon’.”

Less talk about grit, more action

Instead of trying to teach “grit,” schools should embed the development of grit by moving to competency-based learning, argues Michael Horn on EdSurge.

Persistence isn’t rewarded in traditional classrooms, he argues. Whether a student works hard to achieve mastery, squeaks past the test or never really gets the concept, everyone moves on when it’s time.

In a competency system, students must show mastery in order to move ahead — or dig deeper into the topic.

With the help of digital learning, it may be possible to measure students’ persistence by analyzing how they spend their time, writes Horn.

Can data from edtech tools provide insights into what students do when they fail? . . . Do students pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and attack the work again and exhibit real resilience? Do they need time and space — and can they create that time and space intentionally — before diving back in? Or do they just struggle to re-engage?

Poor kids with a “growth mindset” — the belief they can improve through hard work — do as well on tests as affluent students with a “fixed mindset,” concludes a large-scale study of 10th graders in Chile, reports Evie Blad in Education Week.

Compared to higher-income students, students from low-income families were much more likely to believe that intelligence and academic performance is fixed, the Stanford study found. But those who did have a growth mindset had much higher test scores.

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and co-researchers used other questions to control for the possibility that academic performance comes before the growth mindset, writes Blad. “Our effect is not because of the fact that students who see themselves as doing well simply observe their academic growth and come to the conclusion that intelligence can be developed,” they concluded.

E pluribus oops

It’s time to restore the “civic mission” of schools, writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio. Reclaiming the “melting pot” metaphor is a first step, he argues. To truly “welcome and celebrate diversity,” we’ll need to  focus children “on what makes us one country and one people.”


He cites social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s analysis of the clash between “nationalists” and “globalists.”

“Nationalists see patriotism as a virtue,” Haidt writes. “They think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving.” Globalists see all that as “mere racism.”

He cites Karen Stenner, an Australian political scientist who sees intolerance as a response to “the perception that ‘we’ are coming apart.” Celebrating “our sameness” the best way to build tolerance of differences, she argues.

 “Ultimately, nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes. And regrettably, nothing is more certain to provoke increased expression of their latent predispositions (for authoritarianism) than the likes of ‘multicultural education,’ bilingual policies, and non-assimilation.”

That brings Pondiscio to the schools, which used to tell American children about the melting pot,  E pluribus unum and “Bring me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

“Gradually, the term fell into disrepute, giving way to metaphors of quilts, mosaics, and kaleidoscopes,” he writes. (“Melting pot” is now considered a microaggression on some campuses.)

Pondiscio dreams of a “civic education renaissance” that would “cultivate in our children a sense of attachment to the nation and its civic ideals.”

In Germany, officials are calling for mandatory classes on Islam in schools in response to an axe attack on train passengers by a 17-year-old Afghan refugee/ISIS “soldier.”

Via The Impotents.

Do-it-yourself history: Hindus vs. Muslims

California’s Board of Education has adopted new social studies guidelines that “stress teaching critical thinking and objective inquiry so that students can determine historical truths for themselves,” writes John Fensterwald on EdSource.

Oh, yeah. That’ll work.

“We are not the arbiter of historical debate,” said State Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Adams.

Hindus and Muslims don't agree on how California schools should teach about India's history.

California’s social studies guidelines will retain a reference to India’s caste system, despite protests by Hindus, but the reference to forced conversion to Islam has been softened.

The board has been under heavy pressure from immigrants from India, most of whom don’t want any mention of the caste system, and Muslims, who “criticized a reference to forced conversion by Islamic rulers on the Indian subcontinent centuries ago,” writes Fensterwald.

Mentioning the Japanese abuse of Korean “comfort women” during World War II also was controversial.

The Legislature has mandated teaching “financial literacy, Filipino-American contributions to the labor movement and World War II, the Armenian Genocide, President Barack Obama, and voter education,” he reports. “The FAIR Education Act requires the inclusion of lesbian, gay and transgender history and key figures.”

And, of course, “the framework stresses the importance of incorporating diverse historical perspectives of Hispanics, Native Americans and other ethnic groups.”

Napoleon (and social studies) on trial

At a well-regarded high school in southern California, Lisa VanDamme’s daughter is learning . . . Well, last year Lana took a “world history” course that tried to cover everything that has ever happened everywhere, writes the mother on Pygmalion for the Soul. It was chock full of the 4 C’s: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. And the fifth C, which ends with “rap.” But there wasn’t much history.

Students would read “vastly overgeneralized” information in the textbook, then fill out worksheets.

One asked Lana to define historic terms and draw a picture of each one. One of the terms was “the Truman Doctrine.”

Another required a definition and an antonym. For example, “Creole” is  “a person of mixed European and black descent, especially in the Caribbean.” What’s the antonym? asks VanDamme.

It all led up to the project: “A trial of Napoleon, in which it was to be decided whether he was, A) a Bloodthirsty Tyrant, or B) A Great General. (Yes, those were the only two possibilities.)”

Each student was assigned the role of a historic person or a “type” (Lana was “a French officer”) and told to write a fictional account of their character’s interaction with Napoleon.

At the trial, “each student told his or her story of the [made-up] character’s direct encounter with Napoleon, including [made-up] evidence of his fundamentally ‘great’ or ‘tyrannical’ nature, while the rest of the class took notes,” she writes. Finally, each student used the “evidence” to write an essay on whether Napoleon was a tyrant or great general.

Now, by the standards of the 4 C’s, this project surely rates an A. Did it involve Communication? Yes, all of the students had to assume the stage and share their stories. Collaboration? After all, this was a group effort of experiences consolidated to yield a fair judgment. Creativity? (Can’t quite discuss this one with a straight face.) Well, yes, since their stories were works of fiction. And Critical Thinking? If the synthesis of pseudo-facts generated by your historically-ignorant peers with the goal of coming to an overly simplistic conclusion can be called “critical thinking,” then, certainly, it involved that too.

But what did students learn about Napoleon? Not much, concludes VanDamme.

She runs a private K-8 school that teaches history as “a captivating story of epic figures, engaged in world-changing events, with monumental consequences, that imply profound lessons about life.”

The AP European History debate

College Board’s new framework for Advanced Placement European History slights religious faith and freedom, says the National Association of Scholars (NAS) in The Disappearing Continent.

Larry Krieger, a retired history teacher who criticized the new AP U.S. History framework, and helped revise it, disagrees. The AP European History framework “is a fair and historically accurate document that is widely respected by AP teachers and historians,” he writes.

Does the new AP European History framework have too much Marx and too little Churchill?

Does the new AP European History framework have too much Karl Marx and too little Winston Churchill?

APEH shows a left-wing bias, writes David Randall, director of communications at NAS, in a response to Krieger.

James Tracy, an emeritus professor of history at University of Minnesota, questions the framework’s assumption that “history serves as a prolegomenon (introduction) for the understanding of contemporary problems that need to be addressed by society.”

History “does not amount to a prescription for present politics, no more than it amounts to a recapitulation of past politics,” writes Tracy. “It is rather a gateway to worlds which have in common only the fact that they differ from ours. In other words, these are worlds from which students can learn.”

Boarding school may not be enough for poor kids

SEED, a five-day-a-week boarding school for low-income Washington, D.C. students, has been trying to “break cycles of poverty and unhealthy family and neighborhood pressures at home,” writes Eric Schulzke in the Deseret News.

However, SEED may not raise test scores through high school, boost graduation rates or discourage risky behavior, according to a new MDRC study. Despite some “positive behavioral effects,” SEED DC “did not show an impact on the key non-academic outcomes, such as teen pregnancy or interaction with the criminal justice system, that could justify its higher cost.”

Students start SEED in sixth grade, like these Miami students.

A dorm supervisor reads to sixth-grade girls at the SEED boarding school in Miami.

SEED is a charter school supported by district funding and foundations. It costs nearly $40,000 per student, about twice as much as traditional schools. Students, who pay nothing, are chosen by lottery.

Two years ago, MDRC found significantly higher test scores for SEED DC students, who start in sixth grade, but the effect fades by 10th grade, the latest study concludes.

SEED is nearly the ultimate in “wrap around services,” a term for the current trend in education circles to provide more services traditionally provided at home for children from underprivileged backgrounds. These include after school programs and breakfast, in addition to lunches. In some cases, schools literally merge with community centers, becoming, by design, the focus and locus of students’ entire lives.

The SEED model has spread to Baltimore and Miami.

College graduation is what counts, responded Christina Brown, communications director for the SEED Foundation. Ninety-four percent of SEED graduates enroll in college, where they are three times more likely to earn a degree than similar students.

“I would be reluctant to consider SEED a failure,” said Martin West, a Harvard education professor. “They may not be helping more students graduate, but it may be that those who do graduate are better prepared. When a school dramatically changes the high school experience, just looking at test scores or graduation rates may not tell you everything that is happening.”

“Wrap-around services” are worth the higher cost, argue researchers on the Brown Center Chalkboard, in response to a post calling for a reliable cost-benefit analysis of providing social supports at school.

They go to college, but do they graduate?

Most school districts brag about sending graduates to college, but don’t know how they do once they get there, writes Lauren Camera in U.S. News. How many earn a degree? How many give up in their first year? District of Columbia Public Schools and some other urban districts have started tracking graduates to see how many complete college.

DCPS learned that 19 of 20 2014 graduates who enrolled at an area college didn’t make it to sophomore year; the 20th dropped out later. This year, thanks to well-informed counselors, nobody’s going there.

College counselors are given four- and six-year completion rates for D.C. students at every college and university at which they’ve enrolled. They can steer students away from schools where D.C. graduates have done poorly and toward better bets.

D.C. does the most to analyze its students’ college careers, writes Camera, but Baltimore and New York City schools also analyze data on their graduates. The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research studies the success (or failure) of Chicago Public Schools from ninth grade to their mid-20s.

Many of the college-prep charter networks are analyzing how their graduates do in college — not as well as expected — and using the data to improve academic programs and counseling. I think that will have more of a payoff than assuming than steering poorly prepared students to slightly more effective colleges.