Monthly Archives: March 2013

It’s the Tests, Zitbrains!

Minority Groups Remain Outnumbered at Teaching Programs, Study Reports

According to a study being released Wednesday by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which represents colleges and universities with teacher certification programs, 82 percent of candidates who received bachelor’s degrees in education in 2009-10 and 2010-11 were white.
Even in programs that award teaching certificates to candidates who do not obtain full education degrees, 76 percent of the students are white.

Dave Barry‘s parody of the Tobacco Institute’s research on the relationship between cigarettes and cancer:

FIRST SCIENTIST: Well, Ted, for the 13,758th consecutive experiment, all of the cigarette-smoking rats developed cancer! What do you make of it?


FIRST SCIENTIST: It`s a puzzle, all right! Hey, look at this: These rats have arranged their food pellets to form the words “CIGARETTES CAUSE CANCER, YOU ZITBRAINS.“ What could this possibly mean?

SECOND SCIENTIST: I`m totally stumped, Bob! Back to Square 1.

THIRD SCIENTIST (entering the room): Hey, can you two guys lend me a hand? I need to screw in a light bulb.

….and for, god, can it possibly be 25 years? this little passage has remained my gold standard for “f**ing duh”, regardless of whether or not cigarettes cause cancer.

The reporter, Motoko Rich, obediently regurgitates the happy talk explanations:

“We’re finding that college-bound minority students have so many career options,” said Sharon P. Robinson, the president of the association. “We have to develop some specific recruitment strategies to attract our share of those students into those teacher education programs.”

Right. Sure. Here’s the unemployment rate for college graduates age 21-24, sorted by race:

Does this graph demonstrate an environment in which black college graduates have so many options that they’d turn down a teaching job?

Of course, Motoko Rich doesn’t question this assertion, and moves on. Perhaps she shares the same biases as the experts she quotes. After all, she reported on the Mumford ring several times, which was all black teachers engaging in Praxis fraud, so wouldn’t it be logical to wonder, just six weeks later, if perhaps the test those black teachers were cheating on might have something to do with the lack? Maybe? But maybe not, if you think it’s all a great conspiracy.

There’s tons of information out there. Praxis owner, ETS, has researched at great length the lack of minority teachers. Of course, it hides the research under misleading titles like “Toward Increasing Teacher Diversity:
Targeting Support and Intervention for Teacher Licensure Candidates
” and “Performance and Passing Rate Differences of African American and White Prospective Teachers on Praxis Examinations. Here’s some useful data :

(Notice that the whites in the lowest category tie or outscore the blacks in the highest category–and so much for the theory that the strongest blacks aren’t becoming teachers)

And I’ll toss in some California data on Hispanic pass rates (Praxis doesn’t have enough Hispanic data yet):

Or Rich could have read the report she was summarizing, and looked at finding #9 on teacher diversity, which gives a shout out to the MISTER Program at Clemson, which reaches out to black males specifically.

Rich could have discovered that the program wisely spends lots of money (much of it given by BMW) on Praxis preparation. And even with that Praxis preparation, 20% of the Mister candidates drop out because they can’t pass the Praxis.

Or she could have read this narrative on another Mister program, which talks about the bi-weekly Praxis preparation the candidates received, and then, when it was really time to study:

Simultaneously, as recruitment and interviewing efforts were concluded, the enrolled Call Me MISTER Scholars were being prepared to take the Praxis I in December. This preparation took place with a series of eight-hour workshops conducted by Mr. Jean and rigid Praxis I study schedules, mandated to follow. The students recruited from the summer of 2008 took the Praxis I Reading Section which resulted in a fifty-percent pass rate, with the remainder of students failing to pass by a combined total twenty-five points.

So with lots of practice, the candidates achieved a 50% pass rate—which is an improvement.

Incidentally, alternative teacher credential programs have a higher percentage of URMs, although I’ve never seen any study that breaks this down by type. I suspect that the programs that produce more URM teachers provide specific Praxis support. The ETS report I cite above mentions that historically black colleges provide Praxis coaching as part of the teaching program. Public universities generally require passing Praxis scores before candidates enter the program, a development that began in the late 90s to game a certain requirement and I can never remember what it is, only finding it by accident. Arggh. If someone knows what I’m talking about, put it in comments. In any event, alternative teaching programs that don’t require Praxis passage before entering the program and provide Praxis coaching will probably accept more URMs.

Teacher certification tests have gotten much, much harder for elementary school teachers, the primary source of URM teachers, since 2002 and No Child Left Behind, and the original certification tests (Praxis I and California’s CBEST) pre-2001, have sufficiently dismal URM pass rates without the added difficulty. In California, for example, elementary school teachers simply had to pass the CBEST before 2002. Now they have to pass the Multiple Subjects CSET as well.

So if I’m right, and blacks and Hispanic would be teachers are falling short because of the certification tests, then coaching and removing the certification test passing requirement might be a good plan? Maybe?

But no, to most reporters, the Clarence Mumford case is as unrelated to the problem of missing minority teachers as a generous immigration policy is to the lousy employment opportunities for high school dropouts. Oh, wait.

So at the same time we see these sincere pieces on the dearth of black and Hispanic teachers, CAEP, the ed school accrediting organization, proposes requiring SAT/ACT/GRE scores in the top third. Does Mokoto wonder if such requirements may drive down the supply of black and Hispanic teachers even further, given that only 6% of blacks and 10% of Hispanics are in the top third of SAT scores? Does she wonder why the Mumford scandal overwhelmingly involved teachers, not teacher candidates, many of whom became teachers before the higher standards kicked in, and why so many black teachers found it necessary to pay for passage? Does she even mention certification tests?

Of course not, because Motoko’s a moron. No, I’m kidding. I just love the alliterative value of those double m’s. What she is, however, is a person who isn’t even coming close to addressing the actual reasons there aren’t a lot of black or Hispanic teachers.

Remember remember that teacher certification scores show no at a most generous reading, a weak relationship to student outcomes, and that the most optimistic results comparing teacher content knowledge to student outcomes reveal no impact on reading scores and a tiny improvement in results when comparing the top 5% of teachers to the bottom 2%.

Reformers will ignore this, because it’s politically important to bash teachers, a predominantly white, female group, for low ability, the better to blame them for “failing schools”, and politically impossible to bash blacks and Hispanics for low ability. Progressives will fail to point out reality to refute reformers, because it’s politically useful to blame poverty and, again, politically impossible to blame blacks and Hispanics for low ability. And so here we are, once again discussing a report that doesn’t address a root cause for missing “minority” teachers.

Note on 4/12/15: I edited this slightly because some readers think I’m frustrated, instead of mildly sarcastic. And the title’s an homage, dammit.

Plague of the Middlebrow Pundits, Revisited: Walter Russell Mead

Three years ago, I taught at a super-progressive small school with a limited opportunity to offer elective courses. So each year teachers got to offer a one-week, 40-hour elective course on any topic they wanted, and if 20 kids signed up, they taught it.

I got twenty signups with this class (the original flyer was a single page, I broke it up into two pages for this, click to enlarge):


Will it surprise you that it was 18 boys and 2 girls? Thought not. Only one of them was an A student, the rest were your classic goofball geek underachievers.

On the first day, I gave a 40 minute lecture on the key ideas in Special Providence, by Walter Russell Mead, which I used to anchor the class: “Mead attributes [US foreign policy] success to four schools of thought, named after four American statesmen: the Hamiltonian (protection of commerce), Jeffersonian (maintenance of a democratic system), Jacksonian (populist values, military strength), and Wilsonian (moral principle). ”

I explained that science fiction, books or movies, always reflect social norms and values of the time, both intentionally and not so much. They would be watching the films looking for these norms and values, particularly as reflected in the interactions between science and the military and their varying reactions to the threats, with this graphic organizer:


Evaluated from this aspect, the cooperation between the scientists and the military in Them! really stands out. The kids all agreed that neither version of Invasion fell into one of the foreign policy models. When I asked why, several kids pointed out that the movie was really about being human, not about space invaders and the need to respond.

The most active discussion involved the Alien duo (I tossed them in as a surprise), as the kids all agreed that the society in the movie was dominantly Hamiltonian, but what was the view of the filmmakers? It seemed Jacksonian, as Ripley had no interest in understanding the aliens, but simply destroying them to protect her world, and the military personnel in Aliens were definitely heroic. Scientists, aka the androids, were untrustworthy—they might come through, or they might knife you in the back. But James Cameron’s Abyss and Avatar were both definitely Jeffersonian, with military goons threatening the live in peace water bubbles and blue people, so had he changed? Or did he use the money from Aliens to make movies he really believed in? (We put aside Ridley Scott, since his movies are hard to pigeonhole.)

Anyway. A terrific class. And proof, I hope, that I quite like Walter Russell Mead’s ideas. I agree in large part with his analysis of the death of the blue model. But the man* simply can’t free himself of pap when he talks about teachers.

As I said last year, he’s part of the plague of the middlebrow pundits:

…these aren’t people with a coherent view; they’ve taken the cheap way out.

They think about education the way I like Hall and Oates, the Eagles, or John Mayer. When I listen to music I want something I can sing along with the radio when I’m driving. Nothing more. I don’t want to think, don’t want to work. There’s nothing wrong with any of these musicians—they’re popular for a reason. I can go on at great length about the excellence of Don Henley. But I like them in large part because they’re easy to like and tuneful. I’m not going to do the work to listen to more challenging music.

Likewise, the middlebrows in education want to opine on a subject that’s very much in the news and, unlike global warming or economic policy, they think this is an area in which their opinions carry a lot of weight. There’s nothing terribly off about their opinions; they are safe and easy. But just as a serious musician hates the proliferation of pop, so too do I get tired of the proliferation of conventional wisdoms by people who haven’t really taken the time to think or research their opinions on education.

You might argue that WRM blasts teachers because they are a handy proxy for the blue model. But so are cops. Does Mead spend a lot of time criticizing cops for doing a terrible job, getting a raise every year whether needed or not, and blame their unions for all societies ills?

Let’s see. Here’s a google of “site: teachers”. Notice, at the time of this writing, that most of the entries are in the anti-union, teachers suck vein.

Meanwhile, a google of site: police reveals a whole bunch of foreign policy posts, interspersed with the occasional sympathetic comment about the poor cops whose pensions are going to be at risk.

I submit, dear reader, that WRM picks on teachers because like most educated elites he thinks he has a clue about what is involved in educating the populace, based on his own exposure to the vast challenges of educating the populace, won through his hard-scrabble experiences at Groton and Yale.

WRM generally hews to the general pro-charter, pro-accountability reformer line, except he’s not as well-educated on the facts as actual reformers. So you’ll often see him say, incorrectly, that teachers and unions are losing parental support (check out this piece when he says that during the CTU strike , ignorant of the fact that the majority of Chicago parents and public were firmly on the teacher’s side–even nearly half of whites polled—and that Rahm lost), that Americans want to go to charters for a better education, when in fact race plays a huge part in their choices, with safety a key second. Oh, and of course, he thinks the Memphis cheating scandal proves that teachers are stupid, when in fact…well, more on that here. And he opines that teaching isn’t a “lifer” job, deciding that older teachers are mostly just in it for the money. (What he means, of course, is that they are expensive. So are older lawyers, doctors, cops, firefighters, and Yale professors, but this doesn’t appear to matter.) Truly ignorant is his post on blue state shame of schools, in which he cites the Challenge Index–the frigging Mathews survey that celebrates how many kids were glued into seats for an AP exam, scores be damned–as evidence that red state schools are superior to the union-run schools in blue states. It is to weep.

You know what’s never mentioned on WRM’s blog? NAEP. Well, not by WRM. The four entries you see at the time of this writing were comments (no, I didn’t make them) made pointing out that if we use actual data, union states do far better than non-union states. (You can’t see them because he killed comments a while back.) Not that I think unions had anything to do these outcomes, but it certainly blows a hole in WRM’s thesis. But then, that’s him all over: citing Jay Mathews instead of Matthew di Carlo. Hey, maybe he just got their names mixed up.

It’s not like he hasn’t been doing this for a while, so what kicked off this rant?

Teachers Unions Don’t Empower Teachers

Our idea of education reform isn’t to take teacher union membership away and leave teachers exposed to the power of uncaring, rigid bureaucracies. Instead, we want to use concepts like charter schools and school vouchers to give good teachers the chance to build cooperative and community schools where a reputation for excellence ensures a stream of students.

Um. What the hell does he mean? Does he even know? Does he really think that teachers won’t get more expensive at charter schools over time? Does he think charters will be less likely to fire “good” teachers that cost thousands more? Really? Moreover, charters demand an ideological lockstep that isn’t even an issue in most comprehensive schools. It’s always dangerous for teachers to have opinions, but at charter schools, all teachers must share the corporate ideology (CF Match, KIPP, and so on).

And of course, most teachers don’t want to be entrepreneurs. Most people don’t want to be entrepreneurs, and they don’t want to work for charters. And anyone who thinks that isn’t a critical fail point in the charter school movement is innumerate.

We don’t like teachers’ unions, but it’s not because we hate teachers and want them to suffer. It’s because the unions are part of what’s wrong with the system: They are the biggest defenders of the bureaucratized, by-the-book system that has stifled many teachers and made it difficult for them to do their jobs as they see fit.

Oh, look, Desert Storm protesters figured out the new party line: “We hate the war, not the soldiers.”

Teachers unions ARE teachers. And unions don’t “defend” bureaucracy. They defend teachers, by finding them as many jobs as they can. That’s their function. That’s what teachers pay them for. I’m no fan of unions, but it’s arrant idiocy to pretend that there’s any space at all between teachers and their unions. Remember that Karen Lewis is in charge of the CTU because the teachers voted out her management-friendly, pro-charter predecessor and she now faces opposition because she wasn’t militant enough (although her slate is very popular.).

We understand the appeal of unions to teachers. We understand why people under the rule of bureaucrats, who are ultimately responsive to big city political machines, would want to have their own representatives as the table. But we think there are ways to decentralize the whole system, to give teachers more autonomy and ground their evaluations more deeply in the views of their peers and local communities, while also giving parents more choice.

So we, the elite, think you teachers are totally wrong to fight our plans for your career. We have a much better way to employ you, even though we personally have no experience in any aspect of public education much less teaching, and we think you should take our word for it. We want you to be totally in favor of lucky parents taking their kids out of schools that have to abide by constitutional protections and educational policies—policies that we, the elite, put on public schools via lawsuits and well-meant but utterly nonsensical requirements—in favor of schools that can boot any kids who don’t toe the line. We also want you to be judged by the test scores of your students without regard to their cognitive ability because we find it distasteful to acknowledge that student cognitive ability is highly relevant to academic outcomes despite decades of established research showing otherwise. Of course, we think teacher cognitive ability is fundamental to student academic outcomes, so we want to wipe out black and Hispanic teachers entirely by raising the require test score burden for all teachers, even though research shows a tenuous at best link between teacher demonstrated ability and student outcomes.

Yeah. Good to see you understand the appeal of unions, Walt.

Or, to avoid repeating myself:

Say what you will of reformers like Rick Hess or Fordham, or of progresssives like Larry Cuban or Diane Ravitch, they have coherent views supported by research and struggle intellectually with the grey areas.

(Well, maybe not so much Diane Ravitch.)

Off I go to Starbucks, listening to Henley and Hall & Oates.

**There may be more than one writer in the WRM blog, but they are unauthored and it’s under his name.

Why Most of the Low Income “Strivers” are White

So I was reading David Leonhardt’s story on elite colleges and low income kids with high test scores—not news, since I’d read Steve Sailer’s post on the study earlier—and was pleased to see that the reporter had at least mentioned race: “Among high-achieving, low-income students, 6 percent were black, 8 percent Latino, 15 percent Asian-American and 69 percent white, the study found. ”

Of course, while Leonhardt mentions race, he doesn’t mention that gosh by golly, those numbers are lopsided, aren’t they? and none of the posts or tweets I’ve read mention that tremendous imbalance (other than Steve Sailer, of course). Mokita–the truth we all know and agree not to talk about.

Steve said in his earlier post that he was “guessing” that the reserve of kids was white, and of course he was right. What I’d like to remind everyone, while they’re all ignoring the truth, is that Steve didn’t need to guess.

While Hoxby defined “high achieving” as 1300 SAT M-V, let’s be clear: no white or Asian kid without legacy parents or uncommon athletic or artistic ability has any shot at all at a top 20 school without a GPA of 4.0 or higher and SAT combined score over 1400.

According to the College Board, however, just 1500 African Americans scored 700 on either the Math or Reading SAT—which means almost certainly fewer than 1500 scored 700 on both.

The number of African Americans at the top 20 schools, using 2008 data (saved me looking up the individual common data sets), is 2,217.

Okay, a couple of the top 20 schools field football and basketball teams, but the steep SAT skews for athletes are usually found at the big public universites. So the entire reservoir of African Americans with genuinely competitive SAT scores (never mind grades) are taken up entirely by the top 20 schools and they’re already scooping into the scores below that marker. It goes down from there.

Hispanic admissions would tell a similar story, since only around 3000 Mexican, Puerto Rican, or other Hispanic students scored above 700 in either section (again, probably fewer achieved over 700 on both). Please don’t make me add up all twenty from the CDS—here’s six of the top 10 adding up to a bit over 1100 Hispanic admits in 2011 or thereabouts.

This article argues that elite schools recruit low income blacks and Hispanics as a two-fer—they are both poor and non-white, but it’s a mistake assume that the black and Hispanic admits are impoverished. Within races, SAT scores rise and fall with income, on average, and since so few blacks and Hispanics make top marks, it’s very unlikely that a noticeable percentage of low income blacks and Hispanics are hitting genuinely competitive scores (and I speak as someone who has coached low income black/Hispanic students in SAT/ACT, and even seen a few 600+ scores). Low income whites outscore high income blacks and tie high income Hispanics on every IQ-proxy test we have, and the SAT and ACT are no exception.

So no one needs to guess that the high scoring low income kids attending non-elite schools are a predominantly white population, and David Leonhardt didn’t need to mention it, although I’m pleased he did. The students in this category have to be predominantly white, as there aren’t enough high scoring blacks or Hispanics of any income level to fill the maw of top-50 universities desperate to pat themselves on the back for their “diverse” population; they are already granting a steep discount by the 20th school on the US News list.

Meanwhile, at 35th ranked NYU, 34-42% of their admits received 700 or higher on the Math or Reading SAT, while only 12-14% of the students were accepted with scores below 600 on either section. It’s probably just a coincidence that their Hispanic and black admits combined were 15%? So by 35th ranked NYU, they are reaching down into the 500s. Berkeley, at #21, accepts 3-5% of students with scores in the 400s, but then Cal has a football team.

None of this is news. But in presenting the problem as one of income, Leonhardt is coming perilously close to misrepresenting the story. It’s not gee whiz, how come poor kids are ending up at local community colleges and low-end state universities, but that poor white kids—and indeed, many middle class white kids—simply don’t have a chance at top-ranked schools because they are being actively discriminated against in favor of lower-scoring blacks and Hispanics of all income levels*. Most whites in both low and middle income categories know this full well, so they don’t bother applying—why waste the time or the application fee. Asians, of course, are also subject to discrimination, but as someone with seven years experience in the Asian test prep industry, I’m less bothered by the 100 point premium they pay against whites. Sounds about right, when compared to a white (or black or Hispanic, for that matter) kid of similar abilities who didn’t prep.

And as I’ve mentioned before now, the two tools the universities use to rationalize the discrimination are grades and course transcripts. Majority URM schools (both charter and comprehensive) can simply lie about their course content and grade based on effort. Unexpected consequence: Asians are overrepresented despite the discount, because white parents just don’t care as much about grades.

None of this will be resolved by the Supreme Court decision; universities have demonstrated unyielding allegiance to URM admissions and rich white legacy donors. But in my perfect world, college admissions would work something like this.

*I’m adding this later. Private schools are also discriminating against all non-legacy students in favor of “development” (wealthy or legacy or both) admits. I guess it’s too much to expect that, after their pursuit of money, their treatment of non-development candidates be even-handed.

KIPP Mathematica Study and Bragging Rights

After snarling at diCarlo earlier, I can generally agree with his on the one hand, on the other hand analysis of the Mathematica KIPP study. But I have some quibbles:

They show meaningfully large relative gains in all major subjects and on multiple assessments, as well as in other types of outcomes, such as student and parent satisfaction (as is often the case, longer-term outcomes remain an open question).

Understand here I’m talking not as a researcher (which I’m not), but a regular, reasonably well-informed person. Compared to our goals, the gains aren’t that large:

For the full matching sample of 41 KIPP schools, the average impact three years after enrollment is 0.36 standard deviations in math, which is equivalent to moving the KIPP students in our sample from the 44th percentile to the 58th percentile (Figure IV.1).38 Another way of interpreting these impact estimates is to compare KIPP effect sizes to national norms regarding the amount of student academic growth that takes place during middle school (Bloom et al. 2008). Expressed this way, our impacts suggest that on average, KIPP middle schools produce approximately 11 months of extra learning growth in math after three years. For comparison, in study districts there is a gap of 0.90 standard deviations between the average math test scores of black students and white students; students eligible for reduced-price school meals have math scores that are an average of 0.77 standard deviations lower than other students.

The average impact of KIPP after three years in reading (0.21 standard deviations) is somewhat smaller than that for math—equivalent to moving the KIPP students in our sample the 46th to the 55th percentile. This is consistent with a variety of other studies that have found reading scores to be more difficult to move than math scores. In other words, the size of the math impact produced by KIPP schools after three years is equivalent to about 40 percent of the local black-white test score gap and 47 percent of the local achievement gap between higher and lower income students.

(from the study, emphasis mine).

See, that’s what passes for awesome, stop the presses news in educational miracle stories. Not “After three years, KIPP kids have closed the achievement gap.” We aren’t getting, “In high school, KIPP students are getting average scores of 1800 on the SAT”. We aren’t getting “KIPP students are taking and passing 4-5 AP tests” or “KIPP kids are reading at high school level when they enter high school.”

Those would be “large gains”. What we get–and again, I agree this is better than anyone else has managed—is a slightly narrowed gap.

I am not dismissing these results. I’m just sayin’…..well, wait. I said it earlier:

IF you take low ability kids (of any race or income) and IF you select for motivation in the parents, at least, and IF you remove the misbehaving or otherwise highly dysfunctional kids who don’t share their parents’ motivation, and IF you enforce strict behavioral indoctrination in middle class mores and IF you give them hundreds of hours more education a year and IF they are in middle school and IF they are simply being asked to catch up with the material that middle to high ability kids learned fairly effortlessly—that is, elementary reading and math skills…..

…then they will have a slightly better test scores than similarly motivated low ability kids stuck in classes with the misbehavers and highly dysfunctional kids and fewer hours of seat time and less behavioral indoctrination into middle class mores, but their underlying abilities will still be weak and just as far behind their higher ability peers as they were before KIPP.

We can and should discuss the possibility of unmeasured factors such as peer effects, but it seems unlikely that these factors would come close to explaining away the estimated impacts.

Um. What? I looked diCarlo up—no, never been a teacher. Okay. Because the KIPP improvements look exactly like what low ability kids could do if problem children weren’t allowed to daily obliterate classroom learning environments. The improvements don’t look like better teaching, better curriculum, or higher expectations. They aren’t miracles. They are the results of motivated, low ability, kids with caring, committed parents working hard in a rigidly disciplined environment and few distractions.

And, as di Carlo notes, it’s the discipline and the longer school day, not the higher expectations or culture, that made the difference. That, too, sounds a lot like peer effects.

I guess some people think that KIPP’s approach works with the problem kids and turns them into hard workers? Yeah, I’m laughing at that idea.

To over-generalize a bit, critics sometimes seem unwilling to acknowledge that KIPP’s results are real no matter how well-documented they might be, whereas some proponents are quick to use KIPP to proclaim a triumph for the charter movement, one that can justify the expansion of charter sectors nationwide.

I know of no KIPP critic who denies the results are real. They all make much the same point—a point that the Mathematical study observes as well:

Students at three quarters of KIPP schools and parents at about half are required to make participation commitments before students enroll, as reported by principals. The “Choice and Commitment” pillar emphasizes that students and parents have a choice to enroll in a KIPP school and that everyone at the school (leaders, teachers, students and parents) make a commitment to do their part to achieve success. After the admissions lottery determines which students are to be offered admission (if applicable), one way KIPP schools implement this principle is by asking parents and students to sign commitment agreements during a home visit conducted by school staff. Almost half of KIPP principals (48 percent) report that their schools have such participation requirements for parents, and principals at more than three-quarters of schools (76 percent) report that students must sign a responsibilities agreement. Principals at KIPP schools in the matched comparison analysis are significantly more likely to report these participation requirements for parents (61 percent) than principals at all KIPP schools.

(emphasis mine)

To KIPP critics, any reluctance to concede that this commitment requirement isn’t all, or at least most, of the ballgame is just asinine, and insulting to boot. A big difference between KIPP critics and KIPP supporters is the degree to which each group believes that public schools could make the same gains, if they could restrict their population to parents and kids willing to accept home visits and sign commitment agreements. KIPP proponents think that the principals with just 2.5 years experience and brand new teachers that can be fired whenever the brand new principals say so contribute to the gains. KIPP critics demur.

It’s very difficult to put a number on this, but it’s safe to say that this model is not a good fit for a very large proportion of students, regardless of background.

Don’t pussyfoot, di Carlo, spell it out: it’s safe to say this model is not a good fit for white or Asian kids, regardless of background. In fact, no research I know of examines KIPP’s impact on white or Asian kids of any income level, because white or Asian parents are unlikely to ever find KIPP attractive.

It also isn’t a good fit for many low achieving black or Hispanic students, of course. But it’s worth remembering that, apart from Jay Mathews when he’s in super-booster mode, no one seriously argues that the KIPP model is acceptable for all but a fraction of a percentage of white or Asian students.

Ultimately, though, di Carlo continues to skate the larger issue. KIPP proponents are claiming that KIPP gets its results from superior teaching and management—and, not incidentally, use their claims and the gains to attack public schools. KIPP’s critics argue that the results are due to skimming the kids with motivated parents, attrition of the discipline problems returning to public schools, fewer special ed or ELL kids, and KIPP’s freedom to ignore constitutional requirements that public schools have to abide by. (I would add one more caveat: I am highly skeptical that the KIPP middle school kids are doing well in high school, or we’d hear of it. But that’s just me.)

On these points, the Mathematica study offers more support to the critics than the proponents.

Modeling Linear Inequalities

I committed to making a big leap forward in inequalities this year. They’ve always been low priority in my curriculum, nothing more than a subset of equations, even though as a programmer, I can come up with fifteen real-life examples of working with them—much more than I can for linear equations. But once I kicked off linear equations with modeling, I could see some obvious introduction points that would help them fall into place. I committed the time to design some new lessons and build some new handouts. And I completely forgot to take pictures of the boardwork, dammit.


Back to tacos and burritos, but this time I took away the “spend all the money” constraint. Stan could either make the purchase or he couldn’t. I gave them some starting combinations to test, and then they came up with their own.

By this time, they are old hands at modeling and easily came up with more true and false pairs. I then graphed all the points on the board, using blue for “True” values, and red for “False”.


“See that space between the TRUE and FALSE values? You can see pretty clearly there’s a line separating them, like this:


“Take a second. What might that line be?” I’m pleased to see several hands shoot up, but I pick on Karl, slinking away from my glance up front. “Karl?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if it wasn’t an inequality?”

“Well, then it’d be 3x + 5y = 60….oh. It’s the same line?”

“Yeah,” chimed in three other students.

“Yes, exactly. We are now working with linear inequalities, not linear equations. Solutions aren’t defined by a single point, but by entire regions. The line is the same in both equations and inequalities, but in an inequality, the line acts as a border between the TRUE and FALSE values. Everything on one side of the line is TRUE, and everything on the other is FALSE.”

From there, I give them one of the new handouts:

I’m really pleased with this one, as a first pass. The students plot the TRUE and FALSE values in different colors. Then they determine which of the linear inequality borders will correctly separate the regions. In one exercise, they become more familiar with solution regions, while also improving their ability to visualize lines from an equation (especially, god help me, positive and negative slopes).

Next, I give them a notes handout I’ve modified over the years.


as well as board notes a few days later:


I made two HUGE changes this year from previous years, changes I suspect most math teachers will recognize.

First, I abandoned “above and below the line” test for the solution region. This seems so obvious to math teachers, but it’s really only meaningful to about half the students. Worse, the test only works with slope intercept form, and has no validity in standard form. The purple math link above tells the student to solve the equation for y—yeah, because solving inequalities is such a breeze, particularly with negatives. It’s a kluge. I didn’t even mention that test.

Instead, I had them use (0,0) for a test value and had them test the value for all forms. MUCH better. No “hey, remember the first way I taught you? Above and below the line? It doesn’t work in standard form, so here’s another way!” Testing values always works.

(Liam in the comments pointed out that the test value can’t be on the border, and I do cover this. I don’t put it in my notes, though. I used to, but the kids would get very confused at the caveat. So now I wait until they are confident of the (0,0) point test and then introduce an example in which the point is on the border equation. I’m discovering that it sometimes takes me a couple years through before I figure out the best way to create fully complete notes.)

Second, I had them write “true” or “false” by the test point, and then shade the same or opposite side of the line. This gave them a visual and kinesthetic step in the process: One, test the inequality with (0,0). Two, write “true” or “false”. Three, shade the correct side of the line.

I’m sure in later years I’ll further hone this, but this was the first time I felt good about my linear inequalities unit. From there, systems of inequalities was an obvious step:


I did a day of modeling systems, but no, I didn’t go onto linear programming.. Instead, I moved onto practicing graphing without the models, and they did great.

I used one of my favorite worksheets as a quiz. The average grade was a B+. Check out this sample—see the “true” markings? By golly, they listened.


I was so emboldened by my success I went onto absolute values, which I usually only cover for tests. They did all right with that, too.

I’m grading the second unit test, covering linear equations, inequalities, and absolute values. So far, it’s looking very good.

Writing for free, but not as a Writer

I can write, but I am not a Writer. Not only am I not a Writer, but the conditions for Writers today are simply not that good, in part because there are people like me who write, but are not Writers.

Razib Khan

I didn’t think the Nate Thayer hooha had any relevance to my life until I read Razib’s post and realized that I, too, am not a Writer, but someone who can write. Once I wrote a political website that started from scratch six weeks before an election and was selected for the Library of Congress Web Archive; not only wasn’t I paid, I actually forked out some funds for the domain name. I didn’t expect even a token payment when my two op-eds were published in top-ten circulation newspapers, so I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the past year writing two essays, which both got a nice reception, for free. I was filling out an application today and was surprised to see how often I mentioned an unpaid writing project as an achievement worth mentioning on my resume.

I didn’t accept non-payment to build up my reputation as a Writer, so that some day I’ll be able to charge for my work, but because I want the validation that comes from a reputable source publishing my ideas, and I want an audience, whatever audience exists to read my ideas. Writing is just the means of creation of a package of ideas, and the ideas are what drive me to write.

Take this blog, which represents hundreds, and eventually thousands, of hours of unpaid writing time. Ideally, it will never be publicly linked to the person who wrote those op-eds and essays for free. It will not be picked up by Education Week and provide me an additional paycheck. I can’t use it on my resume, either. Yet this blog represents my greatest writing achievement and a source of considerable pride, a package of information and ideas validated by the growing audience and the recognition by advocates and reporters. Not in the slightest does it matter whether people know it’s me.

I like to think I write well. But I could never be a Writer. Never mind that I’m too slow, and too long, to do this for pay. Never mind that I love teaching and wouldn’t want to give it up. I don’t want to be a Writer because I’m not interested in telling someone else’s story. Advocacy groups would want me to support one particular position. News sites would want me to offer neutral analysis—except, of course, most education reporters are anything but neutral. Straight reporting would require too many tradeoffs in story selection and that I keep my opinions out of the story. Columnists (at least these days) have to find their place on the political spectrum and get a following, or they won’t be columnists. None of these functions sound appealing—assuming anyone would want me in a paid position in the first place, or that I could convince anyone to pay me to write for them.

So for someone like me, publication at a reputable, critically-acclaimed outlet offers exposure to a larger, or different, audience. The more that people read my work and realize that education is complicated, that pretty much every advocacy position is flawed, and that there aren’t any easy answers, the more I have achieved my goal—with or without money. The only payment that would further my goals would be, say, a book deal, and even then, it wouldn’t be the advance or the status of Writer that mattered, but the validation and the audience that comes with it.

None of this is to say I don’t sympathize with the Nate Thayers, the Writers who are seeing a near cataclysmic decline in income. The Atlantic is seeing record profits, a rare happy tale in a the recent publishing landscape. What does it mean if a publication can only achieve record profits by refusing to pay for the manufacture of its product? It’s one thing to occasionally pick up a well-written piece by an amateur who wants the audience. It’s quite another to just survey the landscape of written work and scavenge the pickings for the article that has the potential to increase their click—wait, we’re calling it “hits” now—count with an author who’ll value the exposure over cash. Is that the future of magazines without a deep pockets dilettante? Editorial vision and quality control secondary to manufacture?

If so, that will ultimately redound to people like me, who write but aren’t Writers, and who have done their bit to contribute to this situation, because one key aspect of our goal is “reputable outlet validating our work”. We’ll just have “hit”-whoring publications who will only care about quality after traffic, and billionaire mouthpieces that pay well, but require a certain viewpoint. And of course, to a certain extent, what else is new?—but really, it’s worse. The market is fragmenting even further, and the disintegration of another gold standard is nigh.

I find it increasingly difficult to get excited about technological innovations any more.

Why Charters Skim, and Why They Should Stop

Matthew DiCarlo of Shanker Blog deconstructs the larger meaning of the excellent Reuters article on selection practices of charter schools.

So, in the “traditional” model, public schools are supposed to be “general practitioners” – they must accept all students and serve them well. The charter/choice model, on the other hand, takes a somewhat different view – schools must accept those who apply, but different models will work well for different students. If we make schools compete for those students by giving their parents a choice, this will encourage schools to develop varying models, and to attract and retain those students for whom their approach is well-suited.
….For example, the flagship model of the charter movement is the high-cost, high-intensity approach of so-called “no excuses” schools, which rely on practices such as tutoring, extremely long school days and rigid discipline policies. But not all students, regardless of their backgrounds, thrive under these conditions, and so some of them leave (or don’t apply in the first place). Despite all the controversy about this selection and attrition, it is a crucial element of a choice-based system – students who don’t fit in well with a given approach will go elsewhere.
….In other words, one might speculate that the sheer extent to which raw absolute testing outcomes are judge and jury serves as an impediment to the “something for everyone” end goal of school choice. So long as these measures are the coin of the realm, operators will tend to compete and innovate for higher test scores, and there may be less incentive to cater to constituencies or develop/expand models that are not necessarily compatible with this priority. (emphasis mine)

These regular public schools take everyone they get, but there is a de facto screening process of sorts, by which entry into the schools requires income sufficient to live in the area. Put simply, if you can’t afford to live in a “good” school district, your children can’t attend its schools. That is one big reason why regular public schools are heavily segregated by race, ethnicity and income.

In brief: of course charters are selective. As specialists, that’s their job. And in each district, comprehensive schools act as the “general practitioners” who take all comers. But hey, before you get all righteous about it, public comprehensive schools in desirable districts are exercising choice, and this, too, is a bad thing we should fix.

I like DiCarlo’s work, but this line of thinking is disingenuous crap.

First, catch that guilt trip! All you folks opposed to charter schools, remember that public schools are viciously, ruthlessly, sorting by income. Sure, charters are sorting by ability, but only those kids shut out in the cold after geography does the job.

Then there’s diCarlo’s acknowledgement that while, in theory, each charter could specialize in teaching a different category of kids, in practice, they all want to raise test scores.

But hey, sorting’s reasonable—not the probably illegal methods outlined in Reuters, but the behavioral requirements sorting and academic expectations sorting and all the other tacit methods of getting rid of the unmotivated. Don’t get fussed about charter sorting unless you’re going to go nuclear over those dastardly rich folks keeping their schools free of pesky black or Hispanic poor people.

So let’s see. Public schools belong to districts. Any child in that district can attend the school. The public schools are ferociously bound by state, federal, and constitutional law. But because Americans self-segregate by income, these schools are morally equivalent to charter schools that take public funds, limit/select their population—and then brag about their success in raising test scores while pretending they aren’t selecting.

Di Carlo ignores the fact that charter school “success”, achieved by this selection, is used to condemn those “general practitioner” schools required to take the leftovers that none of the charters want. Charter school “success” at educating blacks and Hispanics is further used to pummel all schools, rich or poor, who have an achievement gap. Since charter schools can improve on the achievement gap, slightly (none of them have even come close to closing the gap), their “success” is portrayed as an indictment of all teachers, those lazy, fat, union-dependent slobs who just want to phone it in and teach “easy” kids and pretend that the other kids just can’t be taught. Moreover, the “general practitioner” schools forced to take all comers are portrayed as “failing schools” and face risk of closure for not doing as well as the “specialist” schools—except, remember, we’re pretending they aren’t specialists. But that’s okay, because we can start more charters to take on the kids that no one wants, but of course, those schools will “fail” as well—and, since they aren’t bound by the same rules as the true publics, they’ll be able to get away with all sorts of shenanigans.

It’s all based on a huge lie, but apparently di Carlo is okay with this because if we really wanted to change things, we’d force those rich and middle class districts to take their share of the kids no one wants—that is, “economic desegregation”.

But parents are smarter than edupundits, and far more willing to acknowledge the obvious: school quality is primarily about the peers. Low income parents who compete for charter access do so not to get their kids better teachers, but to get them better classmates. Parents who buy or rent in districts with good schools are paying to keep their kids away from low income black and Hispanic kids—few suburban parents hold their kids’ teachers in particularly high regard (good lord, if they were any good, they’d have been something other than teachers). We tried economic desegregation with busing; it failed. Moreover, the achievement gap holds intact in good school districts; poor white kids still outperform wealthy black kids and tie with wealthy Hispanic kids pretty much everywhere. Not only would economic desegregation be woefully unpopular and drive parents out of public schools, it would fail to close the achievement gap. Bad idea in every way. But until then, apparently, di Carlo is cool with charter selection, dumping the kids no one wants back in the truly public schools.

Does no one find it troubling that charters are using any sort of selection on public funds? Apparently not. This is what bothers me the most. I am repulsed by schools like Bullis Charter suing their local district for public funds to run a quasi-private school, and the only difference betweeen Bullis and KIPP is that all the kids at Bullis are rich.

So what is the answer? I think it starts by accepting that parents want peer effects, and that geographic limits on school districts are natural and normal. Within those limits, public schools (unlike charters) are required to accept all comers.

The answer continues by accepting that some kids have absolutely no desire to be in school, and these kids are disproportionately found in the lowest income communities and schools. While these kids deserve an education, any experienced veteran of low income public schools, whether administrator, teacher, or simple volunteer, can testify that these kids have a profoundly destructive impact on the classroom, on the teacher’s ability to teach and the students’ ability to learn.

So how do we fulfill our commitment to educate all children while still preventing these kids from doing any harm? First, allow public schools to permanently expel incorrigible students. Here, finally, is a legitimate role for charters: let them take the truly difficult kids, the incorrigibles, the willful destroyers. Let them enforce their behavior requirements or their educational agenda or whatever on kids who have no choice but to comply, because they can’t go back to public school.

This agenda, of course, will make it extremely difficult to recruit teachers. Charters will no longer be able to beguile high-achieving do-gooders with romantic tales of helping kids who “just need a chance”, who can pretend, for a few years at least, that they are educating the kids who public teachers just didn’t care about. Instead, they’ll need to pay big bucks to teachers willing to be enforcers to a dangerous population. No takers? Off the kids go to the alternative schools, where they can fill out worksheets.

As for those well-meaning philanthropists who want to give a boutique education to a few select low-income kids, let them start a private school.

What would such a policy entail? Well, the impossible. We would have to accept that permanently expelled students would be disproportionately black, Hispanic, male, and low-income—but that the students who benefit from this policy would also be disproportionately black, Hispanic, male, and low-income. Then we’d have to accept that this policy would not magically improve academic performance of low-income students, and that charter schools educating the toughest kids would have an even more dismal record of academic achievement. And none of that’s happening, which is why the Education Realist’s opinion is not heavily sought in educational circles, be they eduformer or progressive.

But consider what this would achieve. Poor kids would be given a secure and welcoming school environment without the requirement of a parent willing to enter a lottery. The kids who routinely destroy that safety and security would still be educated, but in a tougher and more restrictive environment, losing some rights due to their behavior. Knowledge of this dire fate might—just might—make more kids appreciative of the environment they have, and less likely to act out.

Giving all kids a safe, controlled environment in which they can learn and feel that the larger society cares about them, whether or not their parents do, is no small thing. Couple that with an incentive to behave, because otherwise a much tougher school awaits, and maybe a number of borderline kids will stay and “invest”, as TFA rather tediously puts it.

So what it comes down to, really, is who determines what kids should be expelled for the good of the majority. Right now, charter schools are making this determination and sending these kids back to the genuinely public schools, who have to take everyone. It’s time to look at giving public schools that determination, and leave charter schools to experiment with the genuinely hard to educate, as opposed to skimming the kids who want to learn. It will scale better, if nothing else.