Monday, November 23, 2015

Missouri state senator aims to block student's dissertation on abortion
Hidden in all the other chaos at the University of Missouri earlier this month was this story, in which a Missouri state senator tried to prevent a student from completing a dissertation about abortion. As far as I can tell, the attempt was unsuccessful and the dissertation will be completed. However, it's not necessarily because academic freedom prevailed -- rather, the student and university showed that the dissertation work was not funded through scholarships and grants from the university or otherwise tied to state funding, which could be construed as against Missouri's law that prohibits using public funds to promote non-life-saving abortions. Academic content standards like the Common Core are a hot-button topic. Not as hot as abortion, I'd say, but still hot enough that I would not be shocked to hear about anti-Common Core lawmakers attempting to muck around in the work of those of us who study academic standards like the CCSS. We're still seeing resistance from science committee members of the U.S. House of Representatives who think it should be up to them to decide what the National Science Foundation finds worthy of funding (, as they question climate science research and various kinds of work in the social sciences. As a grad student whose primary funding came from the NSF, I'd rather Lamar Smith not get to pick and choose what research he likes and dislikes. Similarly, I think we need research to better understand how abortion policies affect the lives of women, regardless of the source of funding.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Racial Wealth Gap Persists Despite Degree, Study Says - The New York Times
Growing up I was told a college degree was the key to a better job, higher salaries, and a better life. That's still largely true, but more true if you're white than if you're Black or Latino/a. The differences are especially stark when you look not at income, but at wealth.

The Smartest Dumb Error in the Great State of Colorado | Math with Bad Drawings
The sign featured in this post by Ben Orlin is just up the hill from where I sit, and I think of it as an elaborate explanation of what I once heard from a veteran math teacher: "If you have 2 dogs and 3 houses, you don't have 5 dog houses."

Iowa's next exams? The smarter you are, the harder they get
This Des Moines Register story about standardized testing is a pretty good look at the shifting landscape of large-scale assessment in schools. In Iowa, the Iowa tests, such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, have been regularly administered for decades. But with new multi-state standards, accountability needs, and advances in technology, Iowa is one of many states demanding their tests do more and do it affordably.

The President and The Yes Men
I was aware that the University of Iowa was searching for a new president and then quite suddenly in my Twitter stream I saw an announcement of a hire followed by a lot of discontent, frustration, and anger. Bruce Harreld was chosen for the job despite questionable qualifications, and as details of the search process become more clear it seems he may have been the only person seriously considered by the Iowa Board of Regents. Many have cried foul and some have protested, and in this blog post, one says Harreld and his selection for the job is so preposterous it could possibly be confused as performance art rather than reality.

Financial Woes Plague Common-Core Rollout - WSJ
I empathize with teachers and school leaders in places where academic standards have become such a political football (even more than usual) that policymakers have reversed course and either gone back to old standards or proposed new, better, but don't-exist-yet standards. Such is the case in Oklahoma, where a couple years of building capacity to support the Common Core State Standards came to a halt when lawmakers decided to take the state in a different direction. Some of what schools did for CCSS was probably just in the name of high-quality teaching and learning, and those investments were hopefully well-made. Books mentioning CCSS that now have to be hidden away represent dollars wasted.

How (and Why) to Generate a Static Website Using Jekyll, Part 1 – ProfHacker - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education
I always seem to have a need to build one website or another, and I like the idea of static content, but I haven't yet invested the time in learning something like Jekyll. Maybe it's because GitHub is still a bit of a black box to me, or maybe it's because I don't know how easily others would be able to manage a site I create, but I'll return to posts like this if and when I get to creating new sites. I'll also revisit, Vincent Knight's post about using Jekyll as a teacher.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Obama Administration Calls for Limits on Testing in Schools
This news about limiting testing in schools is a bit more mixed than some people seemed to think. First, 2% of time on standardized testing isn't that far off from what I've experienced here in Colorado: out of a 1080-hour school year, students might spend about 12 hours on state testing in the spring, 4 hours on another test in the fall, and maybe another 4 on a test like the ACT or a pre-ACT test. That's 20 hours, which is slightly less than 2% of 1080 hours. However, in some districts these tests are accompanied by all kinds of in-district tests which, while not required by the state or Department of Ed, still feel like an imposition on many teachers and students. So while the message that testing is important and necessary is still clearly being communicated by the Department of Education, proponents of less testing hope that there's a shift in tone away from the high-stakes use of testing we've had in the NCLB era.

Building A Worldwide Math Community
Using social media helps build connections with people before you've "met" them. Kristen Gray writes about how this is particularly helpful when you find yourself at an academic conference like NCTM, because what used to be strangers are now acquaintances.

The Other Autistic Muppet
Saying Fozzie Bear is autistic isn't exactly a clinical diagnosis, but I liked this article for the way it expands thinking about autism and what it might look like in people (or puppets?) who we don't immediately think of as autistic.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bringing it back home: Why state comparisons are more useful than international comparisons for improving U.S. education policy
A few years ago Gene Glass wrote ( that rather than using international test data to compare ourselves to other countries (which our policymakers love to do), we should better understand the great variability of educational outcomes within our own country and learn what students and schools in higher-scoring areas are doing that's different. In this new report from the Economic Policy Institute, they recommend the same thing and add their findings to a growing body of evidence that shows that while average test scores across the U.S. might not rank at the top of the world, students in certain states or students of higher socioeconomic status in the U.S. score similarly to students in Finland or Singapore. So rather than think there's some "exotic" solution to import from a country on the other side of the world, maybe some of the keys to our educational troubles are already here and staring us in the face if we just focus on the variability within our own country.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Common Core Math is Not the Enemy
This is a nice short post promoting flexibility in our thinking about how computation should be taught. The truth is, whether we teach for flexibility or not, this kind of flexibility is present in people who are numerically and computationally fluent, and that this is a skill that can be learned when it is part of a well-designed curriculum. Of course, not all are convinced that mathematics education should look this way, and it's easy to pit algorithm vs. discovery in a false dichotomy. But that's unnecessary, just as making Common Core the enemy is unnecessary.

Evidence at the Crossroads Pt. 1: What Works, Tiered Evidence, and the Future of Evidence-based Policy
This looks like the start of a nice series of blog posts about research evidence use in schools from the William T. Grant Foundation. I like the setup here: about 10 years ago we made a big push for using "what works" and set high standards for high-quality research, mostly in the form of randomized controlled trials. Now we're seeing that research use in schools is more complex than that, and local school leaders need more information not about the average effects of a treatment, but how that treatment can be expected to work under their local conditions and the resources needed for quality implementation.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Remember Your Old Graphing Calculator? It Still Costs a Fortune — Here's Why
As a math teacher, it was frustrating to tell high school students they needed to spend $100 or more on an outdated piece of technology that I knew was overpriced. That was more than 5 years ago, and math teachers are still telling their students this. Now, working on building digital curriculum, I have the frustration of knowing that the $100+ students spend on a calculator is probably better spent on a Chromebook or a cheap tablet, either of which is far more powerful than the calculator. However, these calculators fill a certain niche and their lack of power and connectivity makes them allowable during testing, a "feature" TI is happy to preserve as long as they can.