Data sampling

Dear friends and readers,

Why is it that these experts on collecting data seem so ignorant about the science of data collection? If we want “objective” data then the cheapest and most honest results can be gathered by sampling the population rather than gathering data on everyone. Most data in this world has been collected in that way for a very long time. So I was delighted to read in the latest Ed Week (April 2, p 30) that James Pellegrino who is an advisor to the development of the new Smarter Balanced CCSS tests and a distinguished expert in the field had this to say: “If we want to monitor the system as a whole we could use more effective strategies, like student sampling and matrix sampling of task. There are ways to do it that are more efficient to answer the kinds of questions that we want to have answers to…without requiring every kid…”

Yes, so why does this simple truth still not been tried when it comes to large-scale student testing? There must be a reason. Obviously some test makers make money on this, as well as text publishers, coaches, advisors, etc. But, like the NY State agents, who go in classrooms to monitor teachers, the main purpose may be to control teaching and schooling. I was amazed to discover in the early 1980s when I was planning a new secondary school that the NY Regent exams had a mythic importance. No college cared or even asked students for their Regent scores. A few got scholarships for their high scores. But…even teachers at the elite Stuyvesant high school based their teaching on the test. One teacher, who taught earth science, told me that alas my son was not in his class last year when he taught a better course. I was completely dub-founded. Why not teach it this year, I asked? Because, he told me, the NY State Earth Science Regents test covers different material this year and students score best by focusing on different, in his view, less important things.

p.s. Of course, test companies use sampling in developing their tests, insuring that the selection of items will fall on a normal curve or rank order consistent with past tests and predictive of future tests—where the “measurement error” is small enough to be useful. (“Measurement error” defines those that appear to be random mistakes, that do not seriously modify the expected ranking of scores.)

All in the Family

Dear readers, friends, and all,

A story about “All In the Family” caught my eye. (New Yorker, The Great Divide, by Emily Nussbaum, April 7, 2014) It retells an anecdote that I’ve used many times, but somewhat differently. She recounts how this clever satire by liberal Norman Lear intended to defuse and ridicule racism may well have fueled it by reassuring many Americans that you could be a racist but also loveable—in fact more so than the righteous liberal son-in-law.

What she doesn’t mention—as one of its side-effects—how the students in our high school (or at least the Latino and Black students) were influenced by it. I was chiding them once—about 25 of them—on their perhaps over-reaction to sometimes subtle, nuanced or even misinterpreted racism. No one, I said (naively) would be baldly racist on prime time. That’s some sort of progress, I contended. Hands went shooting up. What????? The most popular prime time TV show is blatantly racist, one after another claimed. Again, I said indignantly, “name one!” With nary an exception they all pounced on “All in the Family” and Archie Bunker as obvious refutations. They were completely unwilling to even consider my claim that the producer, Lear, had meant it as an attack on racism. Could they all be wrong and just Lear and me right?

Thanks, Emily Nussbaum for reminding me that the world appears differently depending….. And if we care about racism we need to check it out with those most closely affected by racism. “I didn’t mean…” is not irrelevant, but it’s no where near as relevant as we in the majority tend, or perhaps just want to believe. (It still intrigues me that Lear didn’t check it out first on those he was intending to help!) These “misunderstandings” leave us—black and white—in different universes time after time. That is at least one reason why desegregating schools by race and social class would be good for us all. And also, occasionally more painful.

Some thoughts

Dear readers, friends and all,

Some days it feels as though there’s nothing left to say—it’s all been said so many times. Reading the NY Times Sunday Review (March 30) was a revelation. There’s a great piece by Bruce Ackerman on Dignity. An interesting and important insight in a piece by Timothy Egan “A Mudslide, Foretold” that suggests a dismal ending. And Deborah Hargreaves on “Can We Close the Pay Gap?” (She points to an example of a German board consisting of half employees and half shareholders who voted for a pay cut for its CEOs.) It ends on a more optimist note, but…. the very idea of workers having a say on company policy would be a huge (utopian?) leap forward in the USA—a touch of democracy we view as utterly beyond our imaginations.

But best of all was an essay by Lewis Dartnell entitled “Civilization’s Starter Kit.” It reminded me of a personal story from long-ago. It was the 1950s when we were all protecting ourselves from the possibility of a world-wide atomic disaster. I was driving on Chicago’s “outer drive” from my south side habitat to the north side, along Lake Michigan. I imagined that the whole world was—almost—wiped out. The only remaining adults were me and some “primitive” islanders (this part of the story I had a little trouble with). Somehow we connected and, lo and behold, I was their one hope of trying to reconstruct the modern world rather than go through it all over again. There couldn’t be a better-educated but more useless remnant of a lost world to have survived “to tell” the story. I could tell them great literary stories and discuss literary theory, contemporary politics, even ancient history but… I had no idea how to help them with what they wanted—to re-invent electricity, or automobiles, or the telegraph or telephone, much less e-mail. I couldn’t even start a fire, or suggest better agricultural tools or methods. And alas, few if any of the graduates of the schools I was later to “invent” would have done much better.

That’s what astrobiologist Lewis Darnell takes up.

“My father,” he writes “used joke that I had three degrees, but didn’t know anything about anything, whereas he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Life.” He imagines my scenario—if he were a member of a small society of survivors. His degrees fit him to do research into what factors planets need to support life. How to pass that on, he asks. His list includes reinventing germ theory, and all that follows (like washing ones hands, etc). Then comes stockpiling staples so that they can be used later. Then, of course, the millstone. Tuning clay into bricks and fire-proof pots. Not to mention the invention of iron and steel knives. Or there’s “plain old glass” or its close kin —soap. Just a few “ordinary” substances” brought together in a certain ratio, et al. and – we have glass! The author indulged himself—by learning how to make glass. “I may never have to practice the alchemy that transform sand, soda and quicklime into this miraculous transparent membrane, but the world feels closer and more in focus for the knowing.”

There’s an aim that lies totally outside of our educational ideas—although actually John Dewey’s Lab School over a century ago dabbled in this kind of reconstruction! But, today? Imagine proposing such a list of essential practical knowledge, plus experience, into the so-called Common Core.

Few Adults Crawl

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Sometimes I think maybe we shouldn’t publish anything new and read all the wonderful “old” stuff. Like Few Adults Crawl by Tony Kallet (who died much too young) of Mountain View Center in Colorado. It was published by the North Dakota Study Group in 1995 and is (I think) still available.

This is how it starts: “Should our children grow up to be audacious? Bold and daring, spirited, adventurous? To ask the question is to set the goal. How can we but say, yes, we do want to encourage audacious thinkers who will challenge and test and probe? And yet, I suggest that such of what we do in school hinders the attainment of the goal, blinders the growth of such thinkers.” (He reminds me of Alfie Kohn when he asks simple questions about the impact of lining up, raising one’s hand et al.) He asks over and over. “”What are the alternatives?”—the unthinkables we don’t think about. Every chapter is worth talking about.

Some of my favorites are “The One Sided Child” where he asks why we insist on “well-roundedness”? or “Notes on a Teacher’s Job” where he posits three fascinating tasks: preparing the environment, “binding time, space and ideas,” and “the cultivation of misperception.” It’s wonderful. And “Some Thoughts on Imitation and Other Matters” where he compares teaching instrumental music and learning to read—a topic of great interest to me since I was so poor at the former and good at the latter! And more and more. Write to the Center for Teaching and learning, University of North Dakota for your own copy. Or click here to download the pdf.

FairTest to Honor Michelle Fine



Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 6 – 8:30 PM
Julia Richman Education Complex, 317 East 67th Street, New York, NY

Michelle Fine is Distinguished Professor of Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY).  A highly influential educator and activist, her work addresses questions of social injustice that sit at the intersection of public policy and social research, particularly with respect to youth in schools and criminal justice.

Michelle has authored, co-authored, or edited more than 20 books, 70 chapters in key national and international volumes, and 80 journal articles. Her most recent book, with Michael Fabricant, is “The Changing Politics of Education: Privatization and the Dispossessed Lives of Those Left Behind.” A recognized pioneer in participatory action research, Michelle’s scholarship and activism address critical issues of what she calls “circuits of dispossession and resistance,” documenting how youth contend with, are affected by, and resist inequities and the rising “punishment paradigm” in prisons, schools, communities, and social movements.

Her activism includes serving often as expert witness in gender, race, and education discrimination cases, including test-based graduation requirements in urban districts. Most recently, Michelle has been intensely involved with MCAS – Montclair (NJ) Cares About Schools – an activist group of parents working with educators, labor and civil rights groups, in a struggle over corporate reform and testing in a racially integrated suburban school district.

Honorary Chairs (in formation):

Susan Fuhrman, Emily Jane Goodman, Maxine Greene, Regina Peruggi

Host Committee (in formation):

Sophie Sa (chair), Julie Blackman, Ann Cook, Linda Darling-Hammond , Richard Fine,
Barbara Reisman, Carole Saltz, David Surrey, Stephanie Urdang,
Virginia Vanderslice, Reva Jaffe-Walter

Attachment Size
FINE-ReplyForm.pdf 77.23 KB

Who Owns America

Read the following keeping in mind that I’m outraged  at the treatment that Israeli have imposed on Palestinians.

I’d feel more sympathetic with the academics’ boycott of Israel if they decided to boycott every nation with a similar history of colonial abuse, etc etc. We might start by boycotting ourselves. We actually are living on land that is not, as in Israel, strictly speaking “ours.” We occupied the land from coast to coast by might of force, and never have had any intention of returning it to its original owners. We claimed it because—we could. Or because we were fleeing from oppression and needed a place where we could be free (and sometimes that meant free to be just as oppressive to others not like us). We murdered off or imprisoned in reservations the previous natives. And unlike the Israelis, Europeans had no ancient claims to the Americas, nor were there any Europeans with long distant and continuous roots in the land.

Would we seriously consider that Whites should go back where they came from? After all, it is not the Native Americans’ fault that they were mistreated elsewhere. Nor is the Native Americans’ fault that African-Americans were brought to the Americas against their will.

While I want us to respond morally to the Palestinian’s just arguments, I’m not willing to select the Israelis as the target—among all the villains—of my righteous indignation until I face squarely how I might react to giving all of my land back to its natives much less all of it, “from sea to shining sea.”

We White Americans are not alone in being the victors of a colonial adventures. There are probably very few nations today with a history of continuous occupation of “their own” land—rather than dispossessors of one after another natives. But, I’m still stuck siding with the “losers”—and wish that there was a way that allowed both Native Americans and European settlers to more fairly co-exist, as I wish the people now residing in the land of Palestine could find such a solution before their rights too are a matter of distant memory, if remembered at all. And I applaud putting pressure on the Israelis, but….  But righteousness doesn’t sit comfortably on my shoulders given how unwilling I am to spend a lot of energy making things right for those “I” displaced (at the time, my ancestors were in parts of Poland and the Ukraine, but then that’s another whole story.)

The Tyranny of the Minority: How 11% of Americans blocked the extension of Unemployment Benefits


To see full post, click on the link.

Originally posted on Roger Meier:

The U.S. Senate had a vote on February 6th 2014 to extend Unemployment Benefits, and the vote was 58 in favor, 40 opposed with 2 abstentions.  Actually the vote was for Cloture, required to pass before sending a piece of legislation to the floor for a final vote.  All legislation in the U.S. Senate need to go through Cloture, and Cloture requires a Super Majority of 60 Yea votes before a bill can proceed for a final vote.  This means that if 41 Senators are opposed to a piece of legislation they can block it from coming up for a vote by denying Cloture.  So while the vote was solidly in favor of extending unemployment benefits 58-40, without the support of 60 Senators it did not achieve Cloture and the Unemployment Benefits were not extended.

For most of history voting to reject Cloture was only used by the minority…

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