Nominations Solicited for the 2017 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 15, 2017

Image result for al copeland

It is time once again for us to solicit nominations for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  The criteria of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award can be summarized by quoting our original blog post in which we sang the praises of Al Copeland and all that he did for humanity:

Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards.  Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997.  And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.   Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists.  From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.

Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian.  But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.

Last year’s winner of “The Al” was Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who prevailed over a very competitive field of nominees, including Tim and Karrie LeagueRemy Munasifi, and Yair Rosenberg.  Edmonds stood up against fascists at considerable risk to himself by declaring that he and all of his fellow prisoners of war were Jews to foil the Nazis’ effort to separate Jewish prisoners.  It is this type of courage in the face of illiberalism that we need more of in these times.

The 2015 winner of “The Al” was the internet humorist, Ken M.  Ken M did more to improve the human condition than just make us laugh by making idiotic comments on social media (although that would have been enough).  His humor reveals the ridiculousness of people trying to change the world by arguing with people on the internet.  Given how much time ed reformers waste on social media, especially Twitter, Ken M’s humor is a useful reminder that many of the people reading your posts are probably not much swifter or influential than the Ken M persona.  Ken M beat a set of strong nominees, including Malcolm McLeanGary Gygax, and John Lasseter.

The previous year’s winner was Peter DeComo, the inventor of the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System.  To save a life DeComo had to trick border control officials to bring a model of his artificial lung machine into the US from Canada because the device had not yet been fully approved by the FDA.  DeComo won over a worthy field, including Marcus Persson, the inventor of Minecraft, Ira Goldman, the developer of the “Knee Defender,”  Thomas J. Barratt, the father of modern advertising, and Thibaut Scholasch and Sébastien Payen, wine-makers who improved irrigation methods.

The 2013 winner of “The Al” was Weird Al Yankovic.  Weird Al beat an impressive set of nominees, including Penn and TellerKickstarter, and Bill Knudsen.

The 2012 winner of “The Al” was George P. Mitchell, a pioneer in the use of fracking to obtain more, cheap and clean natural gas. Mitchell won over a group of other worthy nominees:  BanksyRansom E. OldsStan Honey, and Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes.

In 2011 “The Al” went to Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon.  Thanks to Anna for nominating him and recognizing that advances in equal opportunity for women had as much or more to do with entrepreneurs than government mandates.  Haas beat his fellow nominees:  Charles Montesquieu, the political philosopher, David Einhorn, the short-seller, and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul.

The 2010  winner of  “The Al” was Wim Nottroth, the man who resisted Rotterdam police efforts to destroy a mural that read “Thou Shall Not Kill” following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist.  He beat out  The Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional spokesman for Dos Equis and model of masculine virtue, Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV football broadcasts, Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical and subverter of a German chemicals cartel, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.

And the 2009 winner of “The Al” was  Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag.  She won over Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing,  Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban,  Ralph Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

Nominations can be submitted by emailing a draft of a blog post advocating for your nominee.  If I like it, I will post it with your name attached.  Remember that the basic criteria is that we are looking for someone who significantly improved the human condition even if they made a profit in doing so.  Helping yourself does not nullify helping others.  And, like Al Copeland, nominees need not be perfect or widely recognized people.


Connecticut Did Less with More

October 13, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A faction of folks in Arizona’s K-12 debate yearns to be Connecticut, but be careful what you wish for-you just might get it. In 2009 CT 4th graders scored a whopping 15 points ahead of Arizona 4th graders in NAEP math. By 2013 that had narrowed to a five point advantage on 8th grade math.

In 2015 only a single point separated AZ and CT on 8th grade math. CT literally spent more than twice as much per pupil as AZ in 2013-14. The 8th grade NAEP shows the two states pretty evenly matched across subgroups in math and reading. Call me crazy but I think it is Connecticut who should envy Arizona on K-12 rather than the other way around.

Emergency Shortage of (Common Sense in the Hiring of) Teachers

October 12, 2017


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective carries an article of mine with a headline I’m particularly proud of: “Teacher Hiring Devastated by Emergency ‘Common Sense Shortage'”:

New moons cause teacher shortages because teachers have accidents driving in the dark without moonlight. Full moons cause teacher shortages because teachers become werewolves.

Claims about the causes are always changing, tailored to whatever is in the news. The claim that there’s an urgent, emergency shortage that we need to address right now never goes away.

News reports about lots of “emergency certifications” in Oklahoma are misleading:

These exceptions are being described as “emergency” certifications. This term has been adopted not only by the old guard but by many others, including some of their critics. I suspect it comes into wide use not only because the old guard and the click-addicted media benefit from public hysteria, but also because the schools seeking permission to make these hires think they’re more likely to get it if their need is described as an emergency. However, the state refers to these simply as “exceptions” to the standard certification requirements. This more neutral description might permit a more careful analysis…

If these exceptions are evidence of a problem, the obvious thing to do is target our response to the particular localities and disciplines where the overwhelming majority of the exceptions are being granted. That way Oklahoma can solve the problem it actually has, not some other, imaginary problem.

Ha, ha! Just kidding. The obvious thing to do is raise teacher salaries across the board, shut down accountability systems statewide, and give the old guard all the other things it wants. Such measures will have only a very indirect effect on the localized and specialized areas where certification exceptions are being granted. But that’s not what teacher shortage hysteria is ever about.

PS: Special guest appearance by Matt Ladner and his Brookings “Super Chart!”

Please help us address our emergency shortage of blog comments by leaving your thoughts below!

Cohort NAEP Gains by Spending

October 11, 2017


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I’ve been cooking up some new charts on NAEP statewide cohort gains for math and reading by state K-12 per pupil spending trends. Imo the cohort gains are pretty good overall measure of statewide school quality, albeit not a perfect one. Student demographics influence all scores, but if school quality is going to assert itself they should have less of an influence on 8th grade scores than 4th grade scores simply because the kids have been in school longer. Thus question addressed along the horizon in this chart is how much math did your state’s students learn between 4th grade in 2009 and 8th grade in 2013? This is plotted against the trend in per capita spending between 2007 and 2014 per NCES.

So let’s note a few things here. First once again there is a lack of a discernible relationship between spending trend and academic outcomes. You had some states that made bid increases that bombed, and others that made big cuts and lead the nation in gains (take a bow Arizona educators and policymakers!)

Maybe this was a fluke. What happens if you do it again for math cohort gains between 2011 4th graders and 2015 8th graders?

Using my Professor X mutant super-power, I am reading your thoughts. You were thinking “Okay Ladner we get it something good is going in math. What about other subjects?” Fair enough- we can only do cohort gains in math and reading, so here is the cohort reading gains:

Well would you look at that- tied for second. Cohort gains are one method for measuring gains, but we can also look at over time gains for different cohorts of students, which allows us to bring in 4th and 8th grade science. Here is what those look like for the entire period we can get readings on all six tests (new results will be released in January 2017):

Can Arizona keep it up? I certainly hope so and we will find out in January.

Arts Integration Is a Sucker’s Game

October 11, 2017

I have a piece in Education Week that is part of a forum on arts education.  You can also find my piece on a newly launched blog that is part of the National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab that I direct at the University of Arkansas.  Since readers of this blog may not travel in circles that would take them to Ed Week or to my NEA Research Lab site, I’ve reproduced the piece below.

Arts advocates are earnest in their support of arts integration through science, technology, engineering, art, and math instruction. But as a strategy for promoting arts education, STEAM is almost certainly counterproductive as well as pedagogically unsound.

Instead, the best way to ensure that students are exposed to the arts is to set aside regular times in the school day for arts education to be taught by designated arts teachers in separate arts classrooms. If arts instruction is integrated into science, math, and other subjects, schools will be tempted to curtail separate arts classes and staff. School leaders could claim that the arts are being covered at other times, in other places, and by other staff, so there is less need to set aside specific time for the arts. By trying to put the arts almost everywhere, integration is likely to result in arts education almost nowhere.

Pursuing arts integration would be like most new-age religions: initially attractive but quickly forgotten without the regular reinforcement provided by ritual and sacred spaces. Most religious movements have learned that the best way to encourage people to contemplate the divine is to designate special places and times for worship. We might say that people should integrate religion into all aspects of their lives at all times, but the reality is that most people have a hard time doing so without reserving a time, place, and leadership for religious practice.

If you find the religious analogy unpersuasive, consider this thought experiment: Imagine that educators suggested teaching math by integrating it into the rest of the curricula. Do you think math education advocates would believe humanities teachers could cover the topic just fine? It is telling that math educators are generally not seeking to have their subject taught in arts classes.

Of course, some educators seem to think that all subjects should be integrated into all others. Why stop at STEAM? Why not add history to make it SHTEAM or add physical education to make it PHSTEAM?

The problem with this approach is that academic disciplines help organize and convey knowledge more effectively. It is pedagogically unsound to integrate all disciplines, especially when teaching young children, because it demands that students combine knowledge they do not yet possess. Students cannot gain new insights from the connections between geometry and the arts until they first have some mastery of those subjects. We cannot expect students to run before they can walk.

This type of interdisciplinary instruction also places too many demands on teachers, who would need expert knowledge in multiple fields as well as command of effective techniques for integrating them. There are exceptional teachers who can pull off true interdisciplinary instruction, but those cases are rare.

“There are exceptional teachers who can pull off true interdisciplinary instruction, but those cases are rare.”

Most arts advocates are trying to turn STEM into STEAM not because they find interdisciplinary instruction so attractive, but because they recognize that the arts are being squeezed out of the curriculum and hope to protect them by joining other, more “popular” subjects. Like the plot of a teen movie, the bullied kid hopes to find protection by joining the cool group. That story is unlikely to turn out any better for the arts than it does in those films. The only way for the arts to ensure their place in the curricula is for advocates of the arts to stand up for themselves and argue for why the arts are important on their own.

Arts advocates have made this mistake before, trying to demonstrate arts education’s value by claiming that it increases performance in math and reading. Unfortunately, as researchers Ellen Winner, Thalia R. Goldstein, and Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin documented in a 2013 report for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, there is little evidence that arts instruction improves outcomes in math or reading. Some arts advocates saw priority being given to math and reading, so they hoped they could borrow some of that protection by claiming that the arts contributed to those subjects. By failing to emphasize the demonstrable benefits of arts education for those subjects, the strategy undermined the arts’ case for integration.

Arts advocates need to make the positive case for what arts education teaches, not hide behind the skirts of math and science. The arts teach particular ways of thinking about and viewing the world. The arts teach some vocationally useful skills. And most importantly, the arts connect us to our cultural heritage and teach us how to be civilized human beings. Education is not entirely about the pragmatic, but should also convey the beautiful and profound—something the arts do well. That is why arts education should be preserved in its own right.


Two Minute Face Validity Check on AZ Preliminary School Grades 2-Arcadia versus Shadow Mountain

October 7, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yesterday I did a quick face validity test on Arizona’s new school grades by comparing the schools closest to where I live. That didn’t go terrible well for the grading system. This morning before my bike ride I decided to do a second two minute test: comparing the district high school in the neighborhood I used to live (Shadow Mountain High School in the Paradise Valley district) to the one I live near today (Arcadia High School in Scottsdale Unified).

If someone would like to justify the red columns getting a “B” while the blue columns get a “C” the comment section awaits. If you are running Arcadia High, this is going to look to you like Shadow Mountain had a larger swoon on ELA than you from 2016 to 2017, had less math improvement than you (you had a smidge and they were flat). Moreover you outscored them in both math and reading in 2017, but they got a “B” and you got a “C.” Good luck getting the Arcadia High folks on board with this.

Greatschools btw gives both Arcadia and Shadow Mountain a 6 out of 10 for their academics. In other words, Greatschools gives them both the equivalent of a D. With proficiency rates in the twenties for Shadow Mountain and the thirties for Arcadia, it is hard to argue with that assessment. If there is a D-plus to be had here, clearly Arcadia is the school more deserving of it. The state could really, really use higher levels of achievement at both of these schools btw.

The subject at hand however is the grading formula used to create these preliminary grades. It certainly seems to lack face validity to me, but the Greatschools ratings seem to be defensible and thus useful to parents.

Arizona’s New School Grades Lack Face Validity

October 6, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Reviewing Arizona’s ESSA plan the Fordham event the other day inspired a growing sense of dread as I trudged through page after page of extreme complexity regarding the state’s plan to grade schools A-F. “If Jurassic Park scientists spliced the DNA of a Franz Kafka nightmare with a Rube Goldberg machine, it would look something like this…” I recall thinking to myself six or so pages in (less than halfway) through the description of the formula.

When we discussed the concept with Arizona lawmakers originally, the idea was a straightforward mix of 50% proficiency rates, 25% gains for all students, and 25% gains for the students who scored at the bottom 25% on the previous year’s test. This formulation is both easily understood and provides an incentive for schools to avoid having students falling hopelessly behind. Why settle for something tried, true and elegant when you can develop your own new and improved version?

An ultra-complex formula provides opportunity for things to go wrong. Grades were released today, they are almost entirely based on AZMerit scores, and the grades failed the very first check of face validity I tried from schools in my own neighborhood. The above charts show AZ Merit scores from Ingleside Middle School (Scottsdale Unified) and Archway Veritas. Respectively these are the closest and the second closest schools to where I live.

Greatschools gives Archway Veritas a 10 out of 10 ranking and Ingleside an 8 out of 10. Hard to quibble with that- Ingleside’s scores are above state averages while Veritas scores are far above state averages.

Under the newly released Arizona grades, Ingleside received a “B” from the state, while Archway Veritas received a “C.”  Despite the fact that Archway students had a 30% proficiency advantage in math, and a 24% proficiency advantage in ELA, they received a lower grade. Hmmm. This alas is simply the first test of face validity I ran, which lasted all of two minutes. If I were to spend a bit more time, I’m confident I could find even more inexplicable results.

Arizona suspended letter grades years ago due to the introduction of new tests. I know many of the people involved in the effort to revise the formula to be outstanding people who care deeply about improving Arizona K-12. Nevertheless, these grades lack face validity in my book and ought to be revised using a straightforward formula. Failing that, the legislature should adopt new school labels along the lines of “Blue” “Green” and “Poka Dot” to satisfy the feds and leave the task of ranking schools to private platforms such as Greatschools and others, which is where the eyeball traffic resides already. The state, alas, seems unequal to this task.

Anyone from either districts or charter schools will find plenty of things to complain about with a bit of examination. They will be upset. They will have a right to be upset. Fortunately Arizona’s nation leading academic progress is being driven from the bottom up.