A Real Endorsement For MetatOGGer

I've been on vacation for a week; no kid, nothing. I have had lot's of time and have watched some movies I hadn't seen and did some mp3 fixing and rearranging. I found a program that helped me a lot. It's called MetatOGGer, and it is incredible.

I have thousands of music files I have accumulated over the years. How I got many of them is a mystery. Remember Napster before the fall?

Anyway, many of the songs are missing information, like the title, artist, or album. Some of the songs simply have question marks instead of information, meaning I have to listen to it to know what the hell song it is!

Well, no more! This little program, MetatOGGer, listens to your music and finds the correct tag information for you. Yes. It listens to your music so you don't have to!

I realize this technology isn't brand new, and I may be late. But man! Load up some questionable files and watch the little bugger discover information about your music library.

It's free, and seems to work great. Oh, and it's French (but it's in English).

No, I am not being paid for this endorsement. I just really like it!


Friday Cartoon Bonus Fun: Good Dog Edition

Friday Cartoon Fun: What's The Rush? Edition

Competition And The Uneven Playing Field

This is how we are going to reform education: make schools compete for money.
The Race to the Top program marks a new federal partnership in education reform with states, districts and unions to accelerate change and boost achievement. Yet the program is also a competition through which states can increase or decrease their odds of winning federal support. For example, states that limit alternative routes to certification for teachers and principals, or cap the number of charter schools, will be at a competitive disadvantage. And states that explicitly prohibit linking data on achievement or student growth to principal and teacher evaluations will be ineligible for reform dollars until they change their laws.

A Little Ditty...


Bill Gates And His Numbers

Bill Gates Among Top Quartile of Aspiring Wizards

One of Obama's bosses on education is making news noise again, with his corporate-spun notions on how to make the next generation of children the servants of Microsoft. Among his favorite ideas is turning urban education over to the KIPP-inspired brainwashers and prison guards trained in the happy talk pop psychology of CIA advisor, Dr. Martin Seligman, whose mind fix for the poor is viewed as the affordable solution to a social fix that is much too expensive for the richest men in the world to consider. Never mind that these KIPP testing chain gangs have teacher and student attrition rates that make such "schools" entirely unsustainable beyond the boutique model within which they now grind out their test scores while turning poor children into automatons.

Another of Bill's favorite ideas is a pay-per-score plan that rewards good teaching. What is good teaching? Well, good teaching produces good test scores. And what makes good test scores? Well, it's good teaching, of course. As the good professor explained about the origin of turtles, it's turtles, then, all the way down.
. . . .Fixing what is wrong with American learning, Gates said, requires new ways of looking at its problems.

Teachers are rewarded for "seniority and master's degrees," he said, and that is not the best way to ensure educational quality.

Critical in determining whether a student will drop out of high school, he said, is whether he or she connects with a good teacher in the fifth to eighth grades and develops a passion for lifelong learning.

A quality teacher would boost scores by 10 percentage points in a single year, Gates noted. "What that means is that if, in the United States, for two years, our teachers were all top-quartile teachers, the differences between the United States and the very best scores in the world would go away," he said. "We should identify those teachers, we should reward them, we should retain them, we should make sure other teachers learn from them."

The economic-recovery money creates new opportunities for public and private partnerships. . . .
And how would Bill have our teachers crank out the highest test scores in the world? Simple, he would have all teachers improve so that they would produce test scores that would put them in the top quartile of test score producers, i. e., test score producers such that they would be more effective than 75-99% of all teachers. Even for a duplicitous jerk like Bill Gates, this is an astonishing expectation to put on teachers, here or in Timbuktu. Here's why, as patiently explained by Richard Rothstein in Class and Schools . . . (2004):
. . . improving teacher quality so that all teachers rise to the top quintile of effectiveness is a fanciful goal. Policy makers who cite Dr. Sanders [or Bill Gates] do not appreciate how unattainable is a 40 percentile gain--voving teachers from about the 50th percentile in effectiveness to about the 90th [or 87th]. This is more than what researchers call a full standard deviation. In no field can a policy reform reasonably aim for such enormous gain.
And here is an analogy that Rothstein offers to "help think about whether we can possibly recruit or train teachers to be as good as the 90th [or 87th] percentile group:"
In 2000, real median household income in the U.S. was $42,000 a year. The 90th percentile income was $112,000 a year, nearly three times as much. We could imagine radical labor market or macroeconomic policies that might raise typical household incomes up to, say, $45,000 or even $50,000 in a few years. But policies to move the median to $112,000 are unimaginable. Improvement of 40 [or 35] percentile points up a distribution is not a real world aspiration (p. 65).
The value for Gates and the other Oligarchs of such fanciful thinking comes from putting the achievement bar at an unachievable level. In doing so, teachers, students, administrators will never do enough to satisfy the corporate bosses who stand on the sidelines with their junk science, their media scourges, and their big scary threats about China and India and Korea eating our lunch. See NCLB.

If Gates had his way, of course, none of us on this side of the curtain would know enough to peek backstage. That is not the case, however, yet. In fact, you can come out from behind the curtain now, Mr. Gates: your balloon is ready to take you aloft.

Go See A Show In Los Angeles, Or Is That DC?

A well recieved one-man show is ending this weekend in LA DC. Go see it!!


Tuesday Cartoon Fun: He's Gone Edition

"Powerful Market Forces In The Service Of Better Teaching"

Read that title above again. Got it? Market forces will serve education. Of course we all know education costs money, not makes money, right? Oh, unless you're Bill Gates and you want to find a way to make money of someone else's work. Again.
Gates on the Alignment of Common Core Standards, Curriculum, and Testing; the New Education Marketplace

Today, Bill Gates went in front of the National Conference of State Legislators and claimed national standards, merit-pay, high-stakes testing, a common curriculum, and innovation will unlock the "powerful market forces in the service of better teaching." The billionaire tech nut is overly intoxicated after chugging the Chubb and Moe/Milton Friedman competition kool aid, full-on convinced we'd have a better education system with more standardization and competition, fewer teachers, and a hell of a lot more computer time. Absent from his rant is any mention of poverty, the lack of healthcare for millions of children, or the joblessness created by Wall Street style capitalism (which certainly hurts our children). Gates' entire speech is worth reading (available here), but here is one key snippet:

Fortunately, the state-led Common Core State Standards Initiative is developing clear, rigorous common standards that match the best in the world. Last month, 46 Governors and Chief State School Officers made a public commitment to embrace these common standards.

This is encouraging—but identifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards.

Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests—next-generation assessments aligned to the common core.

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. Imagine having the people who create electrifying video games applying their intelligence to online tools that pull kids in and make algebra fun.

There can also be—and there should be —online videos of every required course, taught by master teachers, and made available free of charge. These would help train teachers. They would help students who need some review or just want to get ahead. Melinda and I have used online videos when we’ve helped our own kids on some of their school work. They are phenomenal tools that can help every student in the country—if we get the common standards that will encourage people to make them.

If your state doesn’t join the common standards, your kids will be left behind; and if too many states opt out—the country will be left behind. Remember—this is not a debate that China, Korea, and Japan are having. Either our schools will get better—or our economic position will get worse.


My Commemorative Album

I have had this for forty years...

Happy 40th anniversary.

My Summer Garden

Someone will get this when I lose the house...

The Scoop Of Death

I admit, I go to Starbucks frequently enough to have a gripe, though it speaks to a larger societal issue that I may not address.

I like to get a grande-no-whip-mocha. When I order I always say "A grande no whip mocha, please." I then pay and go wait for my drink in the waiting-for-my-drink area. It is here that one can watch the talented barrista concoct the thing.

Inevitably, the whipped cream can comes out, and before I can say it, my no-whip mocha get whipped. Shit.

I am then forced to tell the barrista that I did not want whipped cream, causing the barrista to look at the cup for the telltale marking. No such marking. They then say "no problem" and proceed to take their big-ass spoon and scoop the whipped cream, along with a dollar's worth of coffee, and dump it, topping my mocha with milk.

Now I am upset. Not extremely upset, but upset enough to ask for a new one. I ask because it is a common, lame mistake, and my ask to fuck-it ratio is low, so I feel I am justified.

But they give me the look. Why? Why should I be okay with them scooping some of what I paid for into the garbage, then handing it to me as "fixed"?

Who's with me?

Schools And The Achievement Gap

Here is some research telling us what we already know, but won't seem to acknowledge, at least publicly. We begin to solve the achievement gap problem by addressing poverty, not by shutting down schools, blaming teachers, or putting our faith (and tax $$) in Bill Gates or Eli Broad.

Common sense, people. This is not rocket science...

h/t The Core Knowledge Blog

He Was Trusted For A Reason

Flashback: Cronkite Warned In Lead-Up To Iraq War — ‘We Are Going To Be In Such A Fix’

Americans of all ages and the journalist community are remembering the life and career of Walter Cronkite, famously revered as “the most trusted man in America.”

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald notes that the media is largely glossing over Cronkite’s “most celebrated and significant moment” — “when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn’t trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false.” Indeed, few journalists have noted Cronkite’s criticism of the Iraq war just as the invasion took place in March 2003:

At a Drew University forum, Cronkite said he feared the war would not go smoothly, ripped the “arrogance” of Bush and his administration and wondered whether the new U.S. doctrine of “pre-emptive war” might lead to unintended, dire consequences.

“Every little country in the world that has a border conflict with another little country … they now have a great example from the United States,” Cronkite, 86, said in response to a question from Drew’s president, former Gov. Thomas Kean. [...]

While many are confident the United States would easily oust Saddam Hussein, Cronkite said he isn’t so sure. “The military is always more confident than circumstances show they should be,” he said.

Cronkite speculated that the refusal of many traditional allies, such as France, to join the war effort signaled something deeper, and more ominous, than a mere foreign policy disagreement.

“The arrogance of our spokespeople, even the president himself, has been exceptional, and it seems to me they have taken great umbrage at that,” Cronkite said. “We have told them what they must do. It is a pretty dark doctrine.”

Cronkite chided Congress for not looking closely enough at the war and attempting to ascertain a viable estimate of its eventual cost, particularly in light of Bush’s commitment to tax cuts.

“We are going to be in such a fix when this war is over, or before this war is over … our grandchildren’s grandchildren are going to be paying for this war,” Cronkite said.

“I look at our future as, I’m sorry, being very, very dark. Let’s see our cards as we rise to meet the difficulties that lie ahead,” he added, in a play on Bush’s dismissive remarks about France.

But Cronkite, who spent many days and nights on battlefields and in campgrounds with U.S. forces, also spoke of supporting the troops.

“The time has come to put all of our, perhaps distaste, aside, and give our full support to the troops involved. That is the duty we owe our soldiers who had no role in deciding this course of action,” Cronkite said.

“Walter was always more than just an anchor,” President Obama said in a statement released Friday night. “He was someone we could trust to guide us through the most important issues of the day; a voice of certainty in an uncertain world. He was family. He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down.”

Update: The Nation's John Nichols reports that as the war in Iraq went horribly awry, he asked Cronkite whether a network anchorman would speak out in the same way that he had. "I think it could happen, yes. I don't think it's likely to happen," he said with an audible sigh. "I think the three networks are still hewing pretty much to that theory. They don't even do analysis anymore, which I think is a shame. They don't even do background. They just seem to do headlines, and the less important it seems the more likely they are to get on the air."

Monday Cartoon Fun: 40th Anniversary Edition

Some cool restored videos of the first moonwalk here.


Mike Rose On Education "Miracles": They Don't Exist

Mike Rose is always smooth, kind, and level-headed. I think even he is nearing his wits' end with the reformers and their shallow fix-alls that are actually degrading education, not reforming it.
Of Classrooms and Miracles

Despite a childhood of incantations and incense, of holy cards and stories of crutches being tossed, I don’t believe in miracles. So it is with a mix of sadness and exasperation that I’ve witnessed a language of miracles – along with a search for academic cure-alls and magic bullets – infuse our educational discourse and policy.

We started off the new century with the Texas Miracle, the phenomenal closing of the achievement gap and reduction of dropout rates through a program of high-stakes standardized tests. (The Texas Miracle would then spawn the federal No Child Left Behind Act.) Politicians and media-savvy administrators have also found the miraculous; the governor of my state, Arnold Schwarzenegger, referred to an Oakland charter school as an “education miracle.” And the pundits have appropriated the lingo. A recent New York Times column by David Brooks on the charter school of the Harlem Children’s Zone was titled “The Harlem Miracle.” And so it goes.

Upon closer examination, some of these miracles turn out to be suspect, the result of questionable assessments and manipulated numbers. The Texas Miracle didn’t hold up under scrutiny. And some, like the Harlem Children’s Zone – which is a commendable place – gain their excellence through hard work along multiple dimensions, from teaching and mentoring to utilizing outside resources and fundraising. There’s nothing miraculous about their success. (See Diane Ravitch’s May 12, 2009 entry in “Bridging Differences” for more on this.)

Along with talk of miracles, we have the belief in educational wonder drugs and magic bullets: single-shot solutions to complicated problems: high-stakes testing standards, charter schools, small schools, alternative teacher recruitment, slash and burn CEO management, etc. Each of these solutions has potential merit. Standards can bring coherence to a curriculum; small schools can result in increased student contact; alternative recruitment and credentialing bring new blood into the teaching force; some districts need the serious administrative shake-up that managerial house-cleaning can provide. All good. But for these efforts to work, to increase the quality of education, other factors have to be present as well.

The structural change that leads to the small school needs to be accompanied by a robust philosophy of education, a set of beliefs about ability, learning, knowledge, and the purpose of education. As well, you’ll need a decent teaching force with opportunity built in for ongoing development. And what about curriculum? Or a set of ideas on how to connect school with community? The structural move of creating the small school may be central in all this, truly important, but, at its best, it will be a necessary but not sufficient condition for educational renewal. As Debbie Meier once said, you can have crappy small schools too.

Research on charter schools demonstrates the kind of variability you’d expect if you don’t believe in miracle cures: some charters are terrific, some are average and some are awful. The same set of issues I raise for small schools applies here: what you do within the new school structure matters immensely.

The kick-ass-and-take-names managerial clean-up that we’ve seen in places like Washington, DC and New Orleans has indeed disrupted the status quo, and I’ll leave it to those who know those districts well to judge the legitimacy of the shake-up. But what interests me is what happens once the new broom sweeps clean. Then the same weighty questions emerge, questions involving curriculum, teacher quality and development, remediation, school-community connections, etc. To address these crucial issues, the school manager will need knowledge of human development, of teaching and learning, of the wisdom of the classroom. Because few of the new CEO types possess such knowledge – might even consider it less important than structural changes – you have the rush to the magic bullet.

Let me consider one more magic bullet, since recently it’s been making its way through opinion pages and commentaries: alternative teacher recruitment, most notably Teach for America. (See, for example, Thomas Friedman’s April 22, 2009 New York Times column or the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer for July 7, 2009.)

I admire Teach for America and the public service spirit that drives its recruits. In the early 90s, I met with founder Wendy Kopp, participated in TFA summer training in Los Angeles, and I’ve taught students who have gone into the program or came out of it. And my own introduction to education came via an earlier alternative program, The Teacher Corps. So my concern is not with Teach for America itself but with the way it has been defined as yet another wonder drug, the ingredients of which are the idealistic energy of youth and an elite education. Sadly, Teach for America has become a weapon in the education wars, rather than a laudable vehicle through which young people can contribute to the education of a nation.

I’m all for idealistic, hardworking enthusiasm, and I welcome into the nation’s classrooms these graduates of fine schools. But most of them teach for two years (and possibly a third) and then move on to the careers they went to college to pursue.

I’m troubled by two more issues related to the magic bullet discourse here. First, many who champion TFA seem to affirm an idiosyncratic model of professional development: that these young people’s elite undergraduate educations and their energy trumps extended training and experience. There is no other kind of work, from styling hair to surgery to the pro football defensive backfield where experience is so discounted. No TFA booster, I’d wager, would choose a med student fresh out of a cardiology rotation over a cardiologist who has been in practice for fifteen years.

I also want to consider the assumptions about knowledge and teaching here – or more precisely the use of the status of one’s undergraduate institution as a proxy for being able to teach what one knows. Knowing history or chemistry or literature is essential to teach these subjects, but – again this is common sense – knowing something does not mean you are able to teach it…as countless undergraduates who have sat through bad lectures can verify.

Let’s consider this elite school proxy for expertise in teaching from one more perspective. I went through my Possible Lives and Karin Chenowith’s new How It’s Being Done, both of which contain a number of first-rate teachers. I also looked at the Council of Chief State School Officer’s National Teacher of the Year Program. Only a handful of these top-flight teachers got their bachelors degrees from institutions typically defined as elite. A number hail from state universities. And a considerable number come from small, local colleges with teacher education programs. Expertise in teaching is more than a function of one’s undergraduate pedigree.

What miracle talk and magic-bullet solutions share is the reduction of complexity, of the many levels of hard, creative work necessary to make schooling successful in the United States.

More so than many other domains of public policy, education is bedeviled by a binary polemics, a tendency to define an issue in either/or terms and then wage a pitched battle over the (exaggerated) differences. So we have the math wars, the whole language versus phonics explosion, the knowledge versus process clash, and so on. These are fierce battles in which each side reduces the other’s argument – often to the point of caricature – and then assails it.

The miracle/magic bullet discourse plays right into this state of affairs, both emerges from and contributes to it. Part of believing in this single-shot causality requires a simplification of difficult issues and a dismissal of other possible variables and remedies. If you have the single truth, then everything else is a target.

There’s one more concern, and that has to do with failure. What happens when the miracle fades, when the magic bullet doesn’t cure the disease? For some who are ideologically inclined there is despair, a throwing up of the hands and retreat to the dismissal of public education that we’ve witnessed over the past two or three decades.

I propose that we leave the holy cards at the schoolhouse door, that we admit that educational excellence is achieved through dedicated effort along multiple dimensions – structural, curricular, and pedagogical – and that we call a moratorium to the demonizing either/or polemics that create more heat than light. Unfortunately, that moratorium would probably require a miracle – but it’s one I’m ready to pray for.

"No, Lord. I Am Your Bitch!"

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