Marion Brady on How to Fix American Eduction

This is insanely brilliant. Brady explains quite clearly  how people like Bill Gates have really perverted everything about education in America by turning the entire motivation schemata upside down — and he also explains how to fix it in a very humane manner. Here is an excerpt:

Read the whole thing. and don’t let the title convince you it’s just a rant, because it’s not.

A part of this essay that I would like to highlight is how Brady thinks we educators (and other citizens) should be approaching the entire question of school:

There’s a now-familiar ancient Chinese proverb which, loosely translated, says, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”

When I made that radical switch, I began a search that continues, a search for experience-creating activities

   (a) so interesting, the teacher can leave the room and nobody notices,

   (b) so useful, the activity’s relevance is self-evident,

   (c) so complex, the smartest kid in the class is intellectually challenged,

    (d) so real-world, perceptions of who’s smartest constantly shift,

   (e) so theoretically sound, the systemically integrated nature of all knowledge is obvious,

    (f) so wide-ranging, the activities cover the core curriculum (and much more),

   (g) so varied, every critical thinking skill is exercised,

   (h) so scalable, concepts developed on a micro level adequately model macro phenomena

  , (j) so effective, when the activities themselves are forgotten, their benefits are fixed permanently in memory.

The raw material for creating a near-infinite number of activities that meet those nine criteria isn’t hard to find. It lies within the property boundaries of every school or randomly chosen slice of real life. Finding it is mostly a matter of looking at the too-familiar and the taken-for-granted until it becomes “strange enough” to see.

Entire URL:

which means this was published in the column of Valerie Strauss, at the Washington Post, who continues to be a great resource for all the rest of teachers and parents (not corporate executives). The only greater publicist for our cause that I know of is Diane Ravitch. I am glad that Valerie continues to be gainfully employed at WaPo even as her editorial writers consistently had a set of policies that were either at cross-purposes or diametrically opposed. I don’t know how she does it.


Unfortunately, Answer Sheet very seldom actually reaches the printed edition. It’s almost strictly online.

Then again, maybe that matters less, given publishing trends.

While obviously nothing is perfect I think that all of us members of the public who are concerned about schools* owe Valerie, whom’s I’ve never met in person, and the Washington Post itself, a debt for VS being able to continue being such a resource for so long!



God-Man at work

One of my favorite Tom the Dancing Bug cartoons:

Published in: on April 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Mendacity of Charter Schools

This is from “Better Living Through Mathematics” by way of Diane Ravitch’s blog:

What’s my problem with charter schools, you ask? I don’t know where to begin, but here it is in a nutshell: chutzpah. You open a school, take all sorts of private money to fund advertising and publicityexclude students from enrolling through a variety of strategies, and then expel those for whom you cannot or will not provide essential services or are discipline problems, underpay inexperienced teachers and work them to death so there is high turnover, then you instruct your teachers to “teach to the test” AND then have some students who might not measure up stay home on the day of the test, and then give your students copies of the test before they take itshut up your students in computer labs to be “supervised” by $15 per hour aids, then rake off money for your shareholders and hire all sorts of corrupt ex-government officials to promote your cause, scream when you are asked to pay your share for the space you use to displace kids in public schools, AND then pat yourself on the back when your test scores show up marginally better than the local public school, which doesn’t do ANY of these things….

and you have the chutzpah to say you are “outperforming” public schools?

Highly Qualified Teachers?

A great quote from Curmudgucation:

… TFA bodies are eligible to be foot soldiers in this battle to put effective teachers into the classroom. Now, despite their glowing PR, there’s no reason to believe that TFA bodies can magically erase the effects of poverty, but by the time test data has been gathered up to indicate their ineffectiveness, they will have moved on anyway. An endless revolving door churn through a black hole of teacher ineffectiveness perfectly suits the TFA model.

You might imagine that two years as an “ineffective” teacher might be a black mark on the record of a blossoming young Master of the Universe, but take heart– Michelle Rhee was ineffective as a classroom teacher and disastrous as a school leader, but that has not slowed her rise to lucrative fame as an education thought leader and celebrity spokesmodel one bit. You only have to be able to say you were in a classroom; it doesn’t matter to your career if you were great or terrible.

Read the rest of this column here.

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 3:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Correct Answers to High School Common Core Questions?

After wading through various hardware, software and connection problems on my iPhone, laptop and desktop, I have attempted some of the released model sample high school Common Core English and math questions.

I am profoundly underwhelmed by the questions and by the supposed genius of David Coleman — their mastermind and Rhodes scholar, who however has never taught any classes ever in any K-12 level.

You can look at them for yourself here.

The English section compares two poems about Daedalus and Icarus (the waxy feathers flight melt-in-sun myth). One poem was originally by Ovid, a Roman poet, but we are reading it in one particular translation into English. The other one is by a modern author.

I actually read quite a bit of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Latin about 50 years ago while a student in a DC public school and two high schools elsewhere. (This except was taken from that enormous work which goes on and on.) I don’t have any of Ovid memorized*, but while taking the ‘test’ I kept thinking more and more that a halfway decent argument could be made for every single one of the proposed answer choices, but even more than on other IQ- type tests, I was being asked to guess what David Coleman or one of his acolytes would think was the correct answer.

(As an example: with a little effort I could write a well- defined polynomial function such that the number that comes after 0, 2, 4, 6, is not 8 but -22.31415777 instead. I remember well a student telling me the next number in that sequence should be 0, since she guessed that the pattern just repeats. Frankly, she was at least as right as me!)

Knowing that the stories of Icarus, Perseus, Minos, the Minotaur, and Daedalus were made up and embellished by various Greek and Roman authors from a basis of ??possibly some distorted historical facts or else pure patriotic propaganda or ??? And knowing how pompous and full of c#%p I thought most Roman poets were, I gradually came to the conclusion that the best answer to just about all of those questions was one of these (take your pick):

1. Who cares?
2. None of the above.

3. I don’t feel like playing your little obscure mind game.

4. I reject your rule that in today’s society with ubiquitous electronic devices that are often (but not always) able to connect students to world-wide, instantaneous sources of information, students would be prohibited from doing so and would be obliged to parse two long, stupid and very ambiguous and pretentious pieces of literature, and guess what DAVID COLEMAN was thinking.

Did I mention that I’m not very impressed with either poet’s work?

When I got to the math section, I began to throw up my hands again. I mean, who in their right mind wants to solve math problems by writing on a keyboard the way they want you to?

It takes much more time and is much more technically difficult to solve problems on a keyboard than it is with a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. (Graph paper would be nice but not required.) for example- just try writing a proportion and factoring equations and drawing and labeling a diagram via Mouse & keyboard? It’s nuts!

It’s fairly simple, and cheap, to give students a piece of paper and a pencil and eraser. It would take time for an experienced teacher to look at the student’s efforts, naturally, and figure out how much the child understands. But- woo-woo — that wouldn’t produce large bucks for Pearson, Apple, Microsoft and a whole bunch of corporate profiteers.

And this is how teachers are going to be judged– by “improvements” in scores on this sort of cockamamie, poorly thought out test? I think if a teacher could somehow teach well enough that 90 % or more of his or her students actively boycotted the test, he or she should be given a nice framed certificate and a pat on the back and have his or her suggestions for improvement to schooling taken seriously for a change!!



*I’d be glad to recite the first few lines of the Aeneid if you like. Poor Vergil wrote book after book of this supposed founding myth of Rome, but by the end of the work, the hero had barely even reached Italy!

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 10:07 am  Comments (6)  
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Which of these writers is joking, and which one is dead serious?

Can you tell which of these two writers is dead serious, and which one is just kidding-in-earnest?

Writer B: (or ‘blue’)

“The model that we established for evaluation with the inclusion of teacher observations of student learning indicators to making sure that we are looking at student outcomes and other features — that was arrived at by consensus through our Performance Evaluation Advisory Council.”

 “We received a waiver to enable us to administer the Smarter Balance Assessment this year on an optional basis, and a lot of other conclusions get drawn from that including the fact that we needed to decouple data, state data, from the evaluation system.”

Writer G: (or ‘green’)

I remember the moment when, as a boy, I fell in love with learning….My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Vick, sat down with me in the late afternoon and gently pried from my hands Hardy Boys book No. 42, “The Secret of the Mummy’s Strategically Dynamic New Paradigms.”

“Colin,” she said. “I know you’re a good boy with a bright mind. But your EAPE scores don’t point to project-based learning across the curriculum. You need to scaffold texts to other texts, and to that end I’m going to start interfacing with your developmental space.”

“Miss Vick,” I stammered, “can you disintermediate that for me in a way that unpacks the convergence in assessment-driven terms?”

If you think they are both serious,  click here.

If you think they are both joking, click here.

If you think Blue is joking,  click here.

If you think Green is joking,  click here.

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 11:22 am  Comments (2)  
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An Astronomer Looks at the Zodiac

Or, has your “sun sign” changed after 2000 years?

And did you know that the Zodiac has at least 15 constellations?

This is a little presentation I did last week on the Zodiac for something called the “Encyclopedia Show“. Out of eight ‘acts’ in this cabaret show on “The ZODIACalypse!!!”at a place called The Dunes in Columbia Heights in DC, there were two musical selections, a few poems, a stand-up comic, an interview with a professional astrologer, and some rants and skits.

Most of the presenters (but not all) seemed to be quite skeptical about the many claims made by proponents of, shall I say, ‘traditional’ astrology. At some point the organizers will post a video of the night’s affair, as they have for other ones. Past shows seem pretty good and I may come back to watch more of them, in the future.

My role was as straight man, I guess, narrating a little powerpoint presentation using slides I gathered from many places, including a bunch of beautiful images from NASA’s wonderful  Astronomy Picture of the Day and other places. I actually got a lot of laughs and applause, and a bunch of folks came up and told me they really enjoyed my part. Some of my fellow-astronomer friends came and didn’t regret it either.  It was actually a lot of fun.

Here is the link to the PPT itself on Google Drive. Feel free to use or modify it as you like, and enjoy. And here is a link to a YouTube video of my talk.

NOTE: I see that I got the terms “equatorial plane” and “ecliptic” confused in my talk. “Ecliptic” is the apparent path of the sun through the heavens, i.e. along the Zodiac. The equatorial plane of the Earth is just that, a projection of the Earth’s equator into space. (These two planes are different, as I correctly noted; they form an angle of about 23.4 degrees to each other.) My bad.


Here is a slide so you can cut to the chase: what is your sign, really?

traditional and modern zodiacJust for fun, I did a search of the sun-signs of the 44 US presidents. You would think they would all be rather similar, right? Nope. Look for yourself:

presidents and sun signsHowever, that had to be cut from my presentation because it was already too long.

I also wanted to show a short video by magician James Randi where he debunks astrology 100%, but it, too, had to be cut. Here is the link:

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Remember the book “Godel, Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid?” and Douglas Hofstadter and Artificial Intelligence? What they are doing now:

GEBcoverThis book was a sensation back in 1980.

It was an absolutely, amazingly brilliant work from a totally unknown first-time professor/author.

So much so that Scientific American’s Martin Gardner praised it to the skies, rightly so, pushing it to the best-seller book lists, and not because was yet another detective novel or a political rant or a ghostwritten memoir by someone rich and famous.

No, it was an well-written, highly entertaining book about the connections among mathematics, computer languages,  English and other ancient and modern human languages, DNA code, artificial intelligence, science, history, music,  what it means to be human and to think and do stuff. Brilliant, original ideas and clear, sparkling language on every beautifully-written page — with lots of illustrations and diagrams, too!!

The fact that the author’s father (Robert) shared the Nobel Prize in nuclear Physics in 1961 considerably upped the odds that Hofstadter would grow up in intellectual atmosphere that valued independent thinking rather than mindless obedience. According to this Atlantic review, his parents more than tolerated young Douglas’ tendency to go off on various tangents and delve into them deeply and thoroughly and even obsessively for some period of time, until he felt he had another hunch or tangent, which he would again jump into with both feet and all his weight. And all of it carefully and brilliantly documented.

Those documents, I discovered in reading this essay, became the book GEB.

He and the rest of the Artificial Intelligence community agree that they have gone in different directions since then.

AI today no longer tries to imitate the actions of the human brain, but they are doing some pretty amazing stuff with sheer computational speed and power.

Hofstadter thinks that may all be very nice, but that approach does not really help understand how humans think — how we make all those connections in our head in which we strip off 99% of the details about one thing and find one or two ways in which it relates to another thing, constantly and unexpectedly

[I gave some copies to some of my students; I wish I could have afforded to give away more. Instead, I developed lists of books on math and science and math field trips and tessellations and had kids read some of the books and do various projects that I though would illustrate some topic and develop pride and character and a belief that math of whatever sort I was teaching to them was actually worth something and useful in real life as well as pretty cool as an abstract creation of humanity...]

Douglas Hofsadter, the author of GEB is not working for Google or Apple or any other such company helping to develop complex computer  programs that do complex things either very well at least some of the time — because DH thinks they won’t lead to more understanding of human or animal intelligence. According to this review, DH has the greatest job in the world — he doesn’t have to teach classes. or  attend any meetings at all, or perform experiments. or write grant applications. For a number of years,. he took over the Mathematical Games that Martin Gardner used to write for SciAm, and renamed it “Metamagical Themas” – an anagram of the original name.

A few interesting quotes from the article: (The man who would teach machines to think…)

“Correct speech isn’t very interesting; it’s like a well-executed magic trick—effective because it obscures how it works. What Hofstadter is looking for is “a tip of the rabbit’s ear … a hint of a trap door.”

N ow, some quotes from Hofstadter himself, which I got from a collection of his quotes, and which remind me why I thopught his work was so brilliant in the first place:

Meaning lies as much

in the mind of the reader

as in the Haiku.

 “How gullible are you? Is your gullibility located in some “gullibility center” in your brain? Could a neurosurgeon reach in and perform some delicate operation to lower your gullibility, otherwise leaving you alone? If you believe this, you are pretty gullible, and should perhaps consider such an operation.”

 “Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”

“Sometimes it seems as though each new step towards AI, rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not. ”

“In the end, we self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages are little miracles of self-reference.”

“I would like to understand things better, but I don’t want to understand them perfectly.”

“This idea that there is generality in the specific is of far-reaching importance.” 

Arne Duncan as a Ridiculous Spin-Meister

From EduSanity comes a finely crafted response to last week’s attempts by Arne Duncan to belittle and denigrate his critics. Here is an excerpt:

In the “real world” Minister Duncan doesn’t even have a background in education.  Duncan became CEO of the Chicago Public Schools because he’s from Chicago and played basketball with Barack Obama back in the day.  He hasn’t taught a single public school child – rich or poor – in his life. It takes some serious gumption to stand on his soapbox filled with no experience and tell others like me what the “real world” of education is like.

Duncan then takes hypocrisy to all new heights when he accuses us of focusing on “false debates”, because as Education Secretary he doesn’t actually engage ANYBODY in a substantive debate.  He appears on friendly television shows and fields softball questions from fawning reporters.   He answers questions on Twitter for an hour each week – picking only those questions that allow him to spew his rhetorical propaganda while he ignores questions that require substance.  He stands behind the podium and laughs like Baghdad Bob at the silliness of those who oppose him and the power of the federal government. He refuses to actually engage in any sort of substantive debate with anybody who is actually qualified to question his reforms.  This I can promise you:  Put Arne Duncan on camera with me and a moderator and this armchair pundit would make him look like Sarah Palin looking for Russia out her window.  It will never happen.

Arne the Education Secretary is playing the role of Arne the politician.  If you look at his quotes above with a critical rhetorical eye you will see that Arne is not trying to bring American citizens and American educators together, he is trying to divide us.  Many of the so-called “armchair pundits” he is referring to are practicing classroom teachers.  These are the “courageous” educators who risk their jobs to stand up to the classist, racist and divisive education policies that Duncan and his corporate cronies have foisted on American school children.  These “armchair pundits” are busy filling backpacks with bags of cereal and granola bars on Friday afternoons because their students may not get a meal over the weekend.  These “armchair pundits” know that poverty is not an excuse – it is a reason. 

Published in: on October 8, 2013 at 1:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Real Gold in On-Line Learning

A Wall Street insider writing at EduShyster has done a wonderful job in showing how the company called K12, Inc, the major on-line-learning corporation, is all about executive profits and very little about actual learning.

A tongue-in-cheek but apt quote from the article:

The company does do a wonderful job of reducing waste like teacher salaries, where it spends about 62% less than public schools per pupil. However, the business model requires that much of these savings be reinvested where it can do the most good, namely, executive compensation, which in 2012 alone amounted to $11 million. Since the company’s earnings that year were  just $18 million, there can be no doubting K12, Inc['s] strong commitment to talent retention. Going forward, there is no reason to doubt Mr. Perelman’s commitment to “achieving operational efficiencies,” i.e. further reducing teacher compensation; we do hope that in the future, however, these “efficiencies” will be distributed less lopsidedly between management and shareholders.

A commenter does an even better summary:

Isn’t capitalism wonderful?! Consider one major proponent – Craig Barrett – former CEO of Intel Corporation and self-proclaimed god of education. He’s certainly making his millions sitting on the boards of K12 Inc. (with its financial mismanagement and corruption problems), President and Chairman of Basis Charter Schools, Co-Chair of the Business Coalition for Student Achievement, and Chairman of Change the Equation – all part of his initiatives to rule the world of learning. Plus, founder and Chair of the Board for Achieve, Inc. – the creator and primary pusher behind Common Core and its companion, the PARCC evaluation system – creating even more money for Barrett and his cronies. There’s lots of money to be made in education, especially when you hound the public into new initiatives that ultimately require new curriculum – books, materials, technology – and assessments, mostly designed by the same mega-companies that have gobbled up everyone else and are now aligned with the corporate heads that haven’t even seen a classroom in decades. Shame on them!!

Published in: on September 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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