Monday, August 18, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why one New Jersey school district killed its student laptop program-

Hoboken Laptops
Seems as if Ars has now filed an open public records request to learn more about the laptop program in the Hoboken School District. I imagine there will be more information forthcoming from this story in the next few weeks. -Dr. Petrosino 

One school district in Hoboken, New Jersey has decided to abandon its one-to-one laptop program for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. Ultimately, the Hoboken School District decided the scheme was more trouble than it was worth—even when supported by federal grants.
“We had the money to buy them, but maybe not the best implementation,” said Mark Toback, the current superintendent of the Hoboken School District, told The Hechinger Report. “It became unsustainable.”
The district is now going through the process of identifying the remaining laptops and seeking a bid for their destruction. District officials did not immediately respond to an Ars request for comment (Ars has filed a public records request to learn more).
Jerry Crocamo, a district network engineer, told The Hechinger Report that despite his colleagues’ best efforts to keep the laptops in perfect working order, there was an average of six new repair cases every day. The issues varied: cracked screens, dead batteries, malware infections, and more.
“We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”
In addition to tough physical hardware, the district tried to plan in advance of software pitfalls. District officials attempted to block which websites students could access—in particular, pornographic sites—but the students figured out how to defeat that too. “There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Crocamo.
Finally, because these laptops were designed to be used in conjunction with the high school’s wireless network, the district claimed that it too got mucked up.
“A lot of people knew the username and password,” Toback said. “So a lot of people were able to walk by the building and they would get wireless access. Over a period of years, you had thousands of people. It bogged it down, it made it unusable.”
Cyrus Farivar / Cyrus is the Senior Business Editor at Ars Technica, and is also a radio producer and author. His first book, The Internet of Elsewhere, was published in April 2011.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hoboken School’s Laptop Program Fail-

My9 New Jersey

Hoboken, New Jersey (My9NJ) -
In 2011, every Hoboken middle school student was given a school appointed laptop. However, depending on who you ask, either the Hoboken school district spent about a quarter-million-dollars of federal stimulus money on computers that are being thrown out because a program was a failure, or the program was a success and these computers are being moved for use somewhere else.
Former board member Maureen Sullivan said that this program to give seventh and eighth grade student’s computers failed.
“Even before this year it was clear that the program just was no good and I think that just gives families the sense that the government just is gonna forget about you and they’ll promise you something, then take it away with one hand,” she said.
“When I was there it seemed that all the computers had already died or were on their last legs. These were already old computers; they’re at least two years old I think may be the youngest computers there now and some were dead in the storage room that were pictured in my article. I think the computers have sort of run their course and they have to go through the recycling or throwing away process now,” -Jill Barshay (Hechinger Report) 
Barshay said that when she spoke with the outgoing superintendent he told her that he personally made the call to pull the plug on the laptop program and not fund it anymore. She said that originally the program had very good intentions.
“This is a very low income high school and junior high community and they wanted to give kids who otherwise wouldn’t have computer access, they wanted to give them computers. What they didn’t do was plan how they were going to use them,” she said.
From (3/10/10)- Board member Maureen Sullivan voted against the (laptop) program. As of the mother of a 12-year-old, she said she had doubts whether 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds were best candidates for taking responsibility of the equipment. She also reasoned that the laptops will have mixed results when it comes to increasing test scores and will fail to improve their handwriting on written exams. Sitting next to her, board member Ruth McAllister didn’t believe the laptops would affect test results. When asked to vote on the first half of the agenda, McAllister said, jokingly, “Yes to all, and yes twice to the laptop program.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dualing Accounts of the Hoboken, NJ Laptop Program

Mothballed laptops locked inside a storage closet at 
Hoboken Junior Senior High School. (Jill Barshay) 
Recently the incoming interim Superintendent of Schools in Hoboken, New Jersey responded to report that went viral concerning a laptop program in the district. The article is titled "Why Hoboken is Throwing Away All of its Student Laptops" and was authored by Jill Barshay of The Hechinger Report. The interim Superintendent claims that Ms. Barshay "did not include some important details" in her reporting and posits that there were facts left out of the original article. The interim Superintendent also seems to be trying to keep this story from getting any bigger by pointing out that there are a "variety of news media wishing to create additional stories" from this incident. 
Below is a brief summary of Ms. Barshay's journalistic experience. I think I place a little more objectivity in her journalistic and investigative reporting skills than the current interim superintendent. Especially since the interim has had 1) no first hand experience of the laptop program and was simply 2) "briefed" on this issue by people in the district who were responsible for the programs implementation and success and 3) appears to be in damage control by questioning the journalistic expertise of an accomplished and nationally recognized reporter. 

Jill Barshay, a contributing editor, is the founding editor and writer of Education By The NumbersThe Hechinger Report’s blog about education data. Previously she was the New York bureau chief for Marketplace, a national business show on public radio stations. Barshay has worked at Congressional QuarterlyThe Asian Wall Street Journal and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She has also written for The New York Times, the Financial TimesThe Economist and The Washington Post, appeared on CNN, ABC News and C-SPAN and was a podcaster for Slate. A graduate of Brown University, the London School of Economics and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Barshay spent the 2010-11 academic year as a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in economics and business journalism at Columbia.

Fact-checking Campbell Brown: What she said, what research really shows

Former CNN correspondent Campbell Brown appeared on The Colbert Report recently in her role as head of the new Partnership for Educational Justice, an advocacy organization that is supporting seven parents in a lawsuit against New York State’s teacher tenure laws. (Supporting may be underestimating what the group is doing, given that she called the parents “our plaintiffs.”)  Colbert asked her some good questions but her answers were, well, questionable. In the following post, Alyssa Hadley Dunn,  a former high school English teacher who is now an assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University, fact-checks Brown’s answers. Dunn researches urban schools, educational policy, and social justice.
Fact check time: On Thursday night, Campbell Brown, a former journalist and CNN correspondent, appeared on The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert’s questions seemed difficult for Ms. Brown to answer. She was there to talk about her Partnership for Educational Justice, whose first initiative is supporting plaintiffs in a lawsuit against New York State’s teacher tenure laws.  Others have written about the ongoing debate between Ms. Brown and teachers’ unions leaders and about the connections between Ms. Brown and Michelle Rhee. Here, however, I am more interested in checking the “facts” that Ms. Brown uses to make her case. Quite simply: there is no research demonstrating causation between teacher tenure laws and lower rates of student achievement, which is the entire argument behind the lawsuit.
Let’s look at what she said versus what research actually shows. 
“All the research shows the least effective teachers are being centered in the most disadvantaged schools, so the poorest… So what the tenure laws do combined with these dismissal protections is make it almost impossible to fire a teacher who’s been found to be incompetent.”
What does Ms. Brown mean by “effective”? Presently, many states around the country determine teacher effectiveness using complex and controversial measures called “value-added models,” or VAMs. This means that, in addition to principal observations, teachers are evaluated based on students’ growth on test scores over time. Many states agreed to use VAMs to secure federal Race to the Top funds, yet research continually questions the use of VAMs. Organizations like the American Educational Research Association and the American Statistical Association cite years of research demonstrating that VAMs are inaccurate and unstable in determining the effects of individual teachers on student achievement. Even the Department of Education found a high rate of error with VAMs! (Just to be clear:  teachers, union leaders, and teacher educators are not against evaluating teachers. We simply differ—often very strongly—with Ms. Brown and others on the way that teachers should be evaluated.)
Now, if she meant to say “underqualified” or “least prepared” teachers are centered in high-poverty schools, then she would be partially correct, but not for the reasons she identifies. True, there are more first-year teachers, more teachers working outside of their certified fields in high-poverty schools, and more teachers from agencies like Teach For America, who place their “corps” members in schools after only six weeks of preparation. But teacher tenure laws are not to blame. In fact, teachers in these schools have higher turnover, and a majority leave before the three to five years required to get job security in many states.
This attrition of new and veteran teachers is the real reason that the least prepared teachers are working in the schools Ms. Campbell purports to help. And why is there attrition? Research shows that inequitable working conditions such as low pay, lack of resources, and an increase in bureaucracy cause teachers to leave high-needs schools. Without due process rights, it is even less likely that qualified teachers will want to work in high-needs schools with difficult conditions, because it would also mean that students’ lower test scores could jeopardize their employment with no available no recourse.
There are many ways to draw effective teachers into high-needs schools. Disregarding teachers’ rights is not one of them.
“If you look at student outcomes in New York, 91 percent of teachers around the state are rated effective or highly effective, and yet 31 percent of our kids are reading, writing, and doing math at grade level. How does that compute? How can you argue that the status quo is okay with stats like that?”
In this statement and the lawsuit as a whole, Ms. Brown advances the idea that teachers are the most important factor in determining student success. Oh, that this were the case! This would make my job as a teacher educator significantly easier, if all that mattered was that new educators knew their content and their pedagogy. But that’s not all that matters. The reality is that parents’ levels of education and income, poverty, segregation, school resources, and other out-of-school factors also contribute to student achievement, with some reports saying that teachers only impact up to 20 percent of student achievement and others demonstrating that teachers only account for between 1 percent to 14 percent of variability in test scores. Ms. Brown’s campaign is spending valuable resources (though she refuses to reveal how much or from whom) on arguing about a single factor (the teacher) that accounts for, at most, 20 percent of student achievement. Think of the ways this money could be better spent if she committed to addressing all, or even some, of the other contextual factors, like systemic poverty, that have an even greater impact on student success than individual teachers.
Further, no one is arguing that “the status quo is okay.” Whether measured by test scores or other ways, this is clear. But the irony in her statement is that the status quo has been and continues to be shaped by neoliberal “reforms” that Ms. Brown supports. These reforms are stifling creativity with the never-ending onslaught of high-stakes testing and are demoralizing and deskilling teachers. They are perpetuating structural and institutional racism when they support charter programs that increasesegregation and contribute to the preschool-to-prison pipeline. What needs to change for the “status quo” to improve is reformers like Ms. Brown who, as Colbert put it, “plays the good-for-child card” in an attempt to manipulate public opinion.
“It takes on average 830 days to fire a teacher who’s been found to be incompetent.”
This statistic, which Ms. Brown peppers in all of her speeches, appears to be from a research brief of the New York State School Boards Association. This brief was based on the results of a self-report survey to which only 59% of districts responded and in which New York City (the largest district) was not even included. Jessica Glazer has written about whether or not the numbers are even accurate, and Bruce Baker points out, importantly, that quality may vary significantly between districts. Further, since the data was collected, after 2008, the state made efforts to reform tenure laws, changing the minimum years from two to three. Now, according to one report, only a slim majority of teachers receive tenure on the first attempt, and, in 2013, disciplinary cases took, on average, only 177 days statewide.
Additionally, I question Ms. Campbell’s use of one study (that used data between 5-10 years old) as her primary empirical evidence for such a drastic campaign against teachers’ rights. This research examined the context in only one state and left out the most populous city in the state, yet Ms. Campbell argues it is generalizable enough to be used as evidence for bringing her campaign across the country. To make the argument that these results are true for whole nation is misinformed at best and dangerous at worst.
“This is not about blaming teachers… I am blaming the teachers unions because they’re fighting attempts to change laws that are anachronistic, that everybody thinks need to change. ”
Those teachers unions she’s blaming? Guess who makes up the membership of those unions? That’s right: teachers. There is no way around it. Whether she wants to admit or not, because she knows the bad press that would result, Ms. Brown is clearly blaming teachers. Also, not “everyone” thinks teacher tenure laws are outdated. Clearly, the protestors outside The Colbert Report do not, as they held signs saying, “Campbell doesn’t speak for me.” Those tweeting #questionsforcampbell before the show aired were also obviously in disagreement.
In other interviews, Ms. Brown has said “tenure is permanent lifetime employment.” This is an incorrect definition of teacher tenure, and both anecdotal and research evidence demonstrates that teachers with tenure are still terminated. Tenure has little to do with protecting “bad” teachers. As educational historian Diane D’Amico writes about the history of teacher tenure, “teacher tenure never really protected teachers and nor was it supposed to.” Should a teacher who has been found to be incompetent work with children? Of course not. That is not what Ms. Brown’s opponents are arguing. It is, despite Ms. Brown’s claims to the contrary, really about due process. Job security means that teachers are entitled to a fair trial if they are wrongfully terminated, say for standing up for students’ rights or whistleblowing about inequitable treatment of themselves and others.
“It comes down to what your priorities are, and if public education is about kids, then every decision we make should be focused on the question of ‘is this good for a child?’ And that should be the driving focus and the priority when we decide what our policies should be and what our laws should be.”
Ms. Brown, we agree on this. I wholeheartedly concur that educational policies should be determined by what is best for children. What I remain unconvinced about, however, is how eliminating teachers’ rights is what is best for children. We know that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions. So is an environment of demoralized and unsupported teachers who are fearful to speak up the environment in which we want our students learning?
I would also ask Ms. Brown her own question: Is it good for a child if those making the policies have no understanding of what is happening in the classroom and have never been teachers or administrators? This would be hard for Ms. Brown to answer, I imagine, because on the team and Boards at the Partnership for Educational Justice, there appears to be only one person with any in-school teaching or administrative experience. Instead, their biographies read like a Who’s Who of protégés of philanthropists and organizations that are well-known for education “reform.” These connections include Teach For America, StudentsFirst and Michelle Rhee, Eli Broad, and Chris Christie, to name a few.
Is it good for a child if organizations committed to “reclaiming the promise of public education” demonize teachers in the process?
On the contrary, what research actually shows is best for children is teachers with long-term and sustained preparation in content and pedagogy; an equitable education that is not segregated by race and socioeconomic status; and student-centered, hands-on pedagogy thatsustains students’ cultures and challenges them to be critical thinkers and engaged citizens. None of this has anything to do with teacher tenure laws. None. If we keep blaming teachers, we are missing the bigger picture.
As Albert Camus wrote, “Good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” Whatever Ms. Brown’s intentions are, they lack an understanding of both the current landscape of teaching in high-needs schools and of educational research. It’s time to get some facts straight.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Hoboken is Throwing Away All of its Student Laptops - WNYC News

Mothballed laptops locked inside a storage closet at Hoboken Junior Senior 
High School. School staff will inventory them and 
hire a recyclingcompany to discard them. (Jill Barshay) 
Once again the Hoboken School District under the leadership of the political group known as "Kids First" makes national news. This time with their "innovative" laptop program that has been an utter failure. From the beginning, the Board did not allocate enough resources for professional development, training, and effective ways to incorporate laptops into the day to day operation of a school. Additionally, it was well known at the time that laptop programs are expensive, demand many resources, and were never really shown to be very effective. Of course, laptops give the appearance of rigor and quality and were hailed as innovative and cutting edge by a number of board members and district administrators. However, as the article points out, most of the administrators around when the laptop program was initiated are now gone. Another consequence of the instability in administrative leadership in the district (i.e. 5 interim or full time superintendents in 5 years). -Dr. Petrosino 

Inside Hoboken’s combined junior-senior high school is a storage closet. Behind the locked door, some mothballed laptop computers are strewn among brown cardboard boxes. Others are stacked one atop another. Dozens more are stored on mobile computer carts, many of them on their last legs.

That’s all that remains from a failed experiment to assign every student a laptop at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. It began five years ago with an unexpected windfall of stimulus money from Washington, D.C., and good intentions to help the district’s students, the majority of whom are under or near the poverty line, keep up with their wealthier peers. But Hoboken faced problem after problem and is abandoning the laptops entirely this summer.

“We had the money to buy them, but maybe not the best implementation,” said Mark Toback, the current superintendent of Hoboken School District. “It became unsustainable.”

None of the school administrators who initiated Hoboken’s one-to-one laptop program still work there. Toback agreed to share Hoboken’s experiences so that other schools can learn from it.

Despite tight budgets, superintendents and principals around the country are cobbling together whatever dollars they can to buy more computers for their classrooms. This year alone, schools are projected to spend almost $10 billion on education technology, a $240-million increase from 2013, according to the Center for Digital Education. Educational technology holds the promise of individualizing instruction, and some school systems, like Mooresville, N.C., and Cullman, Ala., have shown impressive student learning gains. But districts like Los Angeles and Fort Bend, Texas, which jumped on the tech trend without careful planning, had problems when they gave a laptop or tablet to every student and are scrapping them, too.

By the time Jerry Crocamo, a computer network engineer, arrived in Hoboken’s school system in 2011, every seventh, eighth and ninth grader had a laptop. Each year, a new crop of seventh graders were outfitted. Crocamo’s small tech staff was quickly overwhelmed with repairs.

We had “half a dozen kids in a day, on a regular basis, bringing laptops down, going ‘my books fell on top of it, somebody sat on it, I dropped it,’ ” said Crocamo.

Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers.

“We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”
Crocamo’s time was also eaten up with theft. Despite the anti-theft tracking software he installed, some laptops were never found. Crocamo had to file police reports and even testify in court.
Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.
“There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Crocamo.

All this security software also bogged down the computers. Teachers complained it took 20 minutes for them to boot up, only to crash afterwards. Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.

Hoboken math coach Howard McKenzie says he also had problems with the software itself.
“We wanted to run a program for graphing calculators, but it didn’t work very well; it was very sticky,” said McKenzie “We kind of scrapped it.”

Ultimately, the math teacher just showed it to the class on a Smart Board, an interactive whiteboard.
Superintendent Toback admits that teachers weren’t given enough training on how to use the computers for instruction. Teachers complained that their teenage students were too distracted by their computer screens to pay attention to the lesson in the classroom.
Michael Ranieri, a junior at Hoboken’s high school, aspires to be an electrical engineer. He said when he did use the computers for schoolwork, it was mostly for word processing and internet browsing. He would write an essay on the laptop for English class, for example, or research information using Google.

“We didn’t really do much on the computer,” said Ranieri. “So we kind of just did games to mess around when we had free time. I remember, really big, was Crazy Taxis that we used to play. If we found solitaire on line, we used to play it.”
Ranieri said he was relieved to be free of the stress of keeping track of his laptop. Families had to sign papers agreeing to be financially responsible if the computers were lost. Every week Ranieri roamed his classrooms looking for his.

“It was usually under my desk in English class,” he said.
Superintendent Toback inherited the laptop program when he arrived in 2011. At first, he tried to keep it going, but he faced skyrocketing costs, which hadn’t been budgeted for. The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. New laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each, Toback said. Additionally, licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

And the final kicker: the whole town was jamming the high school’s wireless network.
“A lot of people knew the username and password,” Toback said. “So a lot of people were able to walk by the building and they would get wireless access. Over a period of years, you had thousands of people. It bogged it down, it made it unusable.”

Allison Powell said Hoboken’s headaches are not unusual. Powell is a vice president for state and district services at iNacol, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, where she works with school leaders on how to use computers to personalize instruction by delivering different lessons to each child.

But Powell said many schools continue to make Hoboken’s mistake of shopping for technology without a plan to make teaching in the classroom more effective.
“Probably in the last few months I’ve had quite a few principals and superintendents call and say, ‘I bought these 500 iPads or 1,000 laptops because the district next to us just bought them,’ and they’re like, now what do we do?” Powell said.

This summer, Hoboken school staff will go through the laptops one by one, writing down the serial numbers and drafting a resolution for the school board to approve their destruction.
Then they’ll seek bids from recycling companies to figure out how much it will cost Hoboken to throw them away.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet at Teachers College, Columbia University. Read more about how schools are bringing technology into the classroom.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hoboken Selects New Interim Superintendent - 5th superintendent under Kids First in the past 5 years

Update: On Thursday July 17 the Hoboken BOE picked a retired suburban male to be the interim Superintendent. In true fashion, Kids First bypassed their own minority assistant superintendent in favor of a non-minority to run a mostly minority district. More details to follow. 

This is the 5th superintendent under Kids First in the past 5 years.....

Here is what is being said on Hoboken Patch about this appointment

OOC July 17, 2014 at 11:05 PM
Update: Tonight the BOE picked a retired suburban guy to be the interim Superintendent. In true fashion, Kids First bypassed it's minority assistant superintendent in favor of a non-minority to run a mostly minority district. Here we go folks. The circus is about to add a new clown.
BBG  July 18, 2014 at 01:29 PM
Happy to see my cohorts are trashing the BOE, I would have made a better BOE member but I lost. I hope nobody figures out my new name either, it should hide my identity well.
OOC July 19, 2014 at 04:30 PM
In true Kids First "do as I say, not as I do" fashion, they met behind closed doors on three separate occasions, totally excluding any public input or discussion and selected a retired double dipper to lead the Public Schools for two years. It's amazing how Kids First can look the other way when it is to their advantage to skirt their own self proclaimed "transparency". Was it the fact that they hired someone who has absolutely no urban education experience that made them want to avoid the public? Was it the fact that they wanted to hide that the guy will be collecting a public pension and getting over $600.00 a day from the taxpayers? Maybe it's the fact that the guy never worked in an Abbott District? Or was it the fact that they bypassed a minority assistant Superintendent in favor of a guy who never worked in a District serving mostly minority students? Could it be that they just want to hide the continued chaos they cause by promoting the constant revolving door of Superintendents and Business Administrators? Kids First sure does know how to operate behind closed doors while pretending to be the real "Reformers". Seems to me that the micromanagement of the District by Kids First keeps chasing away superintendents and Business Administrators. Really, who wants to deal with the chaos except maybe a guy who will now come close to doubling his take from the public dole? Good job, Kids First!!! Can't wait to see the next School Report Card and QSAC results.
CH July 20, 2014 at 05:45 PM
Outofcontrol, Could you fill in some info? How many people applied for the interim position? What were their names? What is the name the person they selected? Did the current assistant apply for the position?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hoboken Board of Education- AGENDA (SPECIAL SESSION) Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Hoboken Heights", Ernest Lawson, circa 1905
7:00 P.M.

This is the second SPECIAL SESSION planned for this week (previous planned special session was on Tuesday, July 15). Any updates or additional details will be posted when made available. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Community Eligibility Option (CEO) - Breakfast and Lunch for ALL Students

Dedication of 14th Street Viaduct by Freeholder Romano
Hoboken, NJ July, 2014 

Community eligibility is the newest opportunity for schools with high percentages of low-income children to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. It increases participation by children in the school meal programs, reduces labor costs for schools, and increases federal revenues. In short, it allows for a healthier student body and a healthier school meal budget.
Included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, community eligibility completely eliminates paper applications. Instead, schools are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of “identified students” – those certified without application for free school meals because they are in foster care or Head Start, are homeless, migrant or living in households that receive SNAP/Food Stamps, TANF cash assistance or the Food Distribution on Indian Reservation benefits. Under the Community Eligibility Option program many qualifying school districts can offer free breakfast and lunch to ALL district students. Chicago has just adopted the program as has Detroit and other cities across the country. -Dr. Petrosino 

Under a relatively new program called the Community Eligibility Option (CEO) all school meals will be free starting in September 2014, the district confirmed to WBEZ Thursday.
This September, however, will be the first time "well-off" schools join the program as well. Entirely free meals reduce the labor of cash collection and tracking which students have to pay full and reduced prices for their food. This tiered system (with incentives for schools reporting higher poverty levels) led to fraud among CPS employees in the past.
“This transition will also allow us to improve quality of food and infrastructure in our lunchrooms, allowing us to redirect the dollars we no longer have to subsidize back to the classroom,” the district said in an email to WBEZ Thursday.
Under the CEO program, the federal government reimburses the district based on its percentage of low-income students, and CPS officials say that the continued rollout of the program has already meant savings.
“Our predominantly high [low-income] population—nearly 90 percent—allows us to meet the threshold to ensure that reimbursement rates won’t cost the district revenue,” a CPS spokeswoman said in the email . “In FY14, due to our expanded participation in the Community Eligibility Option (CEO) program (from 200 to 400 schools this year), we no longer had to subsidize the program with general fund dollars. We've also received a larger blended reimbursement this year of $2.93, up from $2.76 last year.”
CPS representatives also says a swipe card payment system will be rolled out for all students in the district by the end of 2014.
More Information: CLICK HERE 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Becoming an expert takes more than practice

Hoboken, NJ June, 2014
Practice doesn't make it perfect.
Deliberate practice may have less influence in building expertise than previously thought, according to an analysis by researchers at Princeton University, Michigan State University and Rice University.
Scientists have been studying and debating whether experts are "born" or "made" since the mid-1800s. In recent years, deliberate practice has received considerable attention in these debates, while innate ability has been pushed to the side.
The recent focus on deliberate practice is due in part to the "10,000-hour rule" coined in Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 book "Outliers," which says that amount of practice is the key to success in any field.
The new research, from psychological scientist Brooke Macnamara of Princeton and colleagues, offers a counterpoint to this recent trend, suggesting that the amount of practice accumulated over time does not seem to play a huge role in accounting for individual differences in skill or performance in domains including music, games, sports, professions and education.

deliberate practice graph
Overall, deliberate practice — activities designed with the goal of improving performance — accounted for only about 12 percent of individual differences observed in performance.
"Deliberate practice is unquestionably important, but not nearly as important as proponents of the view have claimed," said Macnamara, who received her Ph.D. from Princeton in June. As of July 1, she is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University.
The new analysis by Macnamara, David Z. Hambrick of Michigan State and Frederick Oswald of Rice is the subject of their paper, "Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education and Professions: A Meta-Analysis," published online Monday, July 1, by the journal Psychological Science.
The researchers scoured the scientific literature for studies examining practice and performance in the different domains.
Of the many studies they found, 88 met specific criteria, including a measure of accumulated practice and a measure of performance, and an estimate of the magnitude of the observed effect. The selected studies had a total sample size of 11,135 participants. The researchers took those studies and performed a "meta-analysis," pooling all of the data from the studies to examine whether specific patterns emerged.
Nearly all of the studies showed a positive relationship between practice and performance: the more people reported having practice, the higher their level of performance in their specific domain.
The domain itself seemed to make a difference. Practice accounted for about 26 percent of individual differences in performance for games, such as chess and Scrabble; about 21 percent of individual differences in music, such the piano and violin; and about 18 percent of individual differences in sports, such as soccer and wrestling.
But it only accounted for about 4 percent of individual differences in education, such as an undergraduate psychology class, and less than 1 percent of individual differences in performance in professions, such as soccer refereeing and computer programming.
Furthermore, the findings showed that the effect of practice on performance was weaker when practice and performance were measured in more precise ways, such as using practice time logs and standardized measures of performance.
"There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective. It is just less important than has been argued," Macnamara said. "For scientists, the important question now, is what else matters?"
Macnamara and colleagues speculate that the age at which a person becomes involved in an activity may matter, and that certain cognitive abilities (such as working memory) may also play an influential role. The researchers are planning another meta-analysis focused specifically on practice and sports to better understand the role of these and other factors.
David Lubinski, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University who has studied talent identification and development, said the researchers' work highlights the importance of accounting for ability, commitment and opportunity to explain individual differences in human performance.
"Although overly stressing one of these critical components may attract attention, the authors show why all three are required for a comprehensive understanding of human performance," he said. "The view that essentially anyone can do essentially anything is not scientifically defensible."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Superintendent of Madison, CT on school reform: ‘It is not working’

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has just asked for a “pause” in implementation of a controversial new teacher evaluation system that uses student standardized test scores to assess teachers as well creation of a task force to study the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Is “a pause” the answer?
You might think Malloy did this because of the growing opposition to both in his state, but blogger Jonathan Pelto points out here that he did it not because he really believes there is a problem with the school reforms but because he is trying to assure his re-election this November and can read the political tea leaves.
Whatever Malloy’s motives, here’s a powerful letter that Madison Schools Superintendent Tom Scarice wrote to state legislators explaining why Malloy’s “pause” isn’t the answer to the real problems. Incidentally, teachers, parents, community members, educators and others in his district together approved a teacher evaluation plan that does not include the use test scores. The state hasn’t approved it yet but the district is using it anyway.

Senator Edward Meyer
Legislative Office Building, Room 3200
Hartford, CT 06106
Representative Noreen Kokoruda Legislative Office Building, Room 4200
State of Connecticut
Hartford, CT 06106
Dear Senator Meyer and Representative Kokoruda:
As a superintendent of schools it is incumbent upon me to ground my work with my local board of education. My work must be grounded in two areas: in accurately framing problems to solve, and most importantly, in proposing solutions grounded in evidence, research, and legitimate literature to support a particular direction. Any other approach would be irresponsible and I’m certain my board would reject such shortcuts and hold me accountable.
In our profession, we have the fortune of volumes of literature and research on our practices. We have evidence to guide our decision making to make responsible decisions in solving our problems of practice. This is not unlike the field of medicine or engineering. To ignore this evidence, in my estimation, is irresponsible.
Legislators across the state have heard from, and will continue to hear loudly from, educators about what is referred to as education reforms. Webster defines “reform” as “a method to change into an improved condition.” I believe that legislators will continue to hear from the thousands of educators across the state because the reforms, in that sense, are not resulting in an improved condition. In fact, a case can be made that the conditions have worsened.
To be fair, the reforms did, in fact, shine a light on the role of evaluation in raising the performance of our workforce. There were cases of a dereliction of duty in the evaluation of professional staff. This is unacceptable and was not the norm for all school districts.
However, I would like to make the case that these reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research, the evidence that supports professional decision-making, like a doctor or engineer. It is simply a matter of substance. The evidence is clear in schools across the state. It is not working.
We have spent the better part of the last 12 years with a test-based accountability movement that has not led to better results or better conditions for children. What it has led to is a general malaise among our profession, one that has accepted a narrowing of the curriculum, a teaching to the test mentality, and a poorly constructed redefinition of what a good education is. Today, a good education is narrowly defined as good test scores. What it has led to is a culture of compliance in our schools.
We have doubled-down on the failed practices of No Child Left Behind. Not only do we subscribe to a test and punish mentality for school districts, we have now drilled that mentality down to the individual teacher level.
We have an opportunity to listen to the teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students, to make the necessary course corrections. We know what is coming. We’ve seen it happen in other states. We can easily look at the literature and predict how this story ends. New York, Kentucky and so forth, these states are about one year ahead of Connecticut. Why would we think it will end any differently for our state? We can take action to prevent the inevitable.
We have an opportunity. You as legislators have an opportunity. Our students and communities are counting on us.
I am pleased to see that the Governor has asserted his authority to address this deeply rooted problem. But we cannot stop there.
I ask the following:
1. Do not be lulled into solutions that promote “delay.” Although the problem is being framed as an issue of implementation timelines and volume, I contend that this is much more about substance than delays. Revisit the substance of these reforms, particularly the rigidity of the teacher evaluation guidelines.
2. As you revisit the substance, demand the evidence and research that grounds the reforms, just as a board of education would demand of a superintendent. You will find, as I have, that the current reforms are simply not grounded in research. As legislators, demand the evidence, particularly the literature that illustrates the damaging effects of high stakes test scores in teacher evaluations. Demand the evidence that demonstrates that this approach is valid and will withstand legal scrutiny. Demanding evidence is how every local board of education holds their administrators accountable.
3. Build on the Governor’s first steps and create even greater flexibility for local districts to innovate and create. This is 2014…standardizing our work across all schools is not the answer. That’s the factory / assembly line mentality that got public schools into this mess. We need a diversity of thought, similar to a “crowd sourcing” approach, if we are to solve the problems of the 21st century. Above all, commit to the principle that “one size fits all” does not work. We would never accept that from individual teachers in their work with students, why should we accept “one size fits all” for very different school districts across the state? There are indeed alternative approaches that fit the context and needs of individual districts. I would be happy to provide with you with our example. You, as legislators, can create the space for innovation to thrive. Promote innovation, not mere compliance.
4. Revisit the No Child Left Behind waiver that was filed with the U. S. Department of Education. This is consistently presented as the trump card in any discussion involving modifications to the reform package passed a couple of years ago. We’ve been told that we cannot make changes because of promises made to the federal government. Was there a lower threshold for compliance with the No Child Left Behind waiver? Can we take a more aggressive approach for our state and not be dictated to by the federal government to this degree? This resonates at the local level and ought to at least be considered.
5. Finally, do not be a cynic, but be a skeptic about the common core. How can this be done?
*Demand the evidence to support whether or not the standards are age-appropriate for our youngest learners. Demand the input of early childhood experts like the 500+ nationally recognized early childhood professionals who signed a joint statement expressing “grave concerns” about the K-3 standards. Or perhaps seek input right here in Connecticut from the early childhood experts at the Geselle Institute in New Haven.
*Demand the evidence that supports that every child should master the same benchmarks every year when we know that all children develop at different rates.
*Demand an accurate accounting of the current and, more importantly, future costs of implementing the common core and the new Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing system.
*Demand the evidence that supports coupling the common core to unproven tests. In just weeks, many students will sit for these new tests. They will serve as subjects to “test out the test.” It is quite possible that you will hear even more from parents after the tests are administered. Be proactive and seek these answers in advance of the inevitable questions you will be asked.
I want to close by stating that I personally have between eighteen to twenty more years to serve in this state and I look at these problems in a very long-term sense. What can we do now, not for this year or next, but in the long-term to be the shining example for the rest of the country that Connecticut’s public education system once was considered? I’m committed to this work and I will continue that commitment for nearly two more decades.
I ask you to seize this opportunity. Thank you.
Thomas R. Scarice