Monday, July 20, 2015

538 reasons the fight for education is so hard.

I was perusing the suggested articles from Google this morning and stumbled upon this doozy from the pop culture science phenom 538.  Naturally my blood pressure went up and my heart sank, because I knew immediately it was another piece of ammo for the education reformers to use when attempting to manipulate public opinion while instituting policies that destroy our educational systems in favor of one where students are sorted by their ability to meet random expectations, instead of one where we strive to help students find their way to meet society's expectations.  

First let me say, reading the article I didn't get the impression the author was attempting to involve himself in the debate.  In fact the majority of his discussion is focused on academic debate, and the value of how the science is moving forward.  Unfortunately there will be collateral damage, insofar as politicians will use this as an erroneus reason to institue more punitive and destructive policies.

Let's talk about why, even if we assume the entire thrust of the article is accurate (I have serious reservations about the true randomness of the study, as well as the ability of VAM mathematics to remove teacher effects from the noise, and I'm not alone), focus on educational success through testing is a poor idea.

1.  Teacher effects are a small portion of overall student achievement.

So much of the "Bad Teachers"  argument is centered on the idea that teachers are what holds children back from overcoming poverty, or from achieving at a level to keep America "globally competitive"  or fix the mismatch between open jobs and workers (both premesis are incredibly flawed)

The reality is that teachers account for about 20% of the achievement of students, so even if we assume that the premise of the research is correct, it won't make enough of a difference to significantly alter achievement.  Obviously all teachers should be of the highest quality, and we should evaluate teachers well and remove teachers that are actually bad, but the way we focus on this it seems as if this one thing would solve all of our problems, when in reality it obscure the changes we need to make as a society.

2.  Test scores are a poor indicator of overall success.

The main problem with every argument for VAM, SGP, any basis of evaluating teachers schools or students based on test scores, is that test scores are extremely limited forms of assessment.

We obsess over international test scores as an indicator of economic success, but there is no evidence for that, so a laser like focus on assessing education through test scores seems misguided.

We Obsess over student's achieving certain scores as a measure of whether they "deserve" to graduation is also misplaced, as their is no correlation between high test scores and life success for individual students.

Is the point of education to judge our schools and students and teachers on measures that don't actually predict anything that matters to us as individuals, or to our children leading happy successful lives?

3.  The cost of these tests is absurd.

So the test don't measure an appreciable effect on the child, the tests themselves aren't really good indicators of whether or not children will succeed, and yet we want to use them to judge teaches and children.  And at what cost?

1.7 billion annually.  Some argue that is a drop in the bucket compared to overall educational spending, But that number doesn't account for the ancillary expenses, such as the time for current employees, or the additional employees hired to manage the requirements for collecting and reporting the data.  Or the material purchased from the companies that make the tests to help prepare for the tests, or to remediate the students who don't score high enough on the tests.  Going along with that paying for staff to teach classes during the day or after school to help students pass the tests.

In addition to the monetary costs, there are also the opportunity costs, all that time focused on the tests (since jobs, funding, graduation, so many things depend on succeeding on them) takes away from the other things we should be teaching.  As a science teacher I spend too much time on facts and recall because of the content on the tests, time I should instead be spent on teaching students to develop experimental techniques, perform project based lessons, all the skills that we pay verbal homage to, but create policy that forces us to ignore.

In short, while we can discuss the quality of the techniques used to assess teachers and their scientific viability, we are in reality missing the point.  Is improving this science even where we should be focusing it?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Potato Chip Kelly, pieces from the bottom of the bag.

So I was completely wrong in my draft thoughts.  oh well, while Mariota going anywhere else is disapointing, watching Chip and Marynowitz put together a logical smart draft was comforting in a lot of ways, and speaks volumes about the long term outlook of the Eagles.

Today I want to cover a lot of odds and ends, little thoughts here and there.  The scraps at the bottom of the bag if you will.

Scrap 1 - Deflategate, or Ballghazi if you will.

Look, I am so fricking tired of hearing about this shit.  And I hate the patriots.   That said, I don't see how you as a logical person don't read those text messages between the two equipment guys and not come to the same conclusion, they did it, they have been doing it for a while, and Brady knew about it and wanted them to.

Seriously think about how you text with your buddies, and how you text with your buddies about your boss, and how you text with your buddies about your favorite athletes.  Now, apply those concepts to the texts.  See you can't not think they were doing it at Brady's behest.  Occam's razor baby.

One thing I have learned from all of this is my hatred of Patriots fans is well founded, god they are the whiniest babies on the face of the earth.  Your guys cheated, several times.  Every time you are a dick, or cocky, or trash talk that gets thrown in your face.  Deal with it.  And for god's sake let's move on.  we only have small windows of time to talk about actual football in between somebody associated with the NFL committing some Heinous act, let's not waste it on this anymore.

Scrap 2 - No Mariota No Cry?

So like the Majority of Philadelphia Eagles fans, I was sadly disapointed by the non drafting of Marcus Mariota, I am at least a little.

But think of the cost, just pick any random trade proposal that had been reported, multiple firsts, fletcher cox, Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin, Sam Bradford (Or if you prefer Nick Foles and a Second).  It would have narrowed the margin for error in team building significantly.  How excited would you be for our recievers without Algholor?  How excited would you be for our defensive backfield without the additions of Rowe, Shephard, and Evans to give us substantial depth?  the reality is Mariota isn't a sure thing, so the price would have been out of line with the likelyhood of return on investment.

Now we have a ton of Defensive Backfield Depth, a Ton of Inside linebacker Depth, good depth on the Outside linebackers (I'm not as low on Marcus Smith as some) and Great Defensive Line Depth.  On offense our recievers are high quality even if we don't yet have a bright shining star (any of Ertz, Matthews, Algholor or Huff could become that)  and our running backs are excellent.

Think about how frustrated we all are that our offensive line is old, and we haven't drafted a lineman in two years, how would that look if we traded a ton of picks?  And Quarterback is in flux, but the best way to hit the homer you need to be consistently successful in the NFL is to take as many swings as possible, not load everything into one swing. Think about what we have done since Chip has been here:  Keep Vick, Keep Foles, Draft Barkley, sign Sanchez (twice), trade for Bradford.  Swing, see if it lasts, swing, see if it lasts, swing see if it lasts.  Bradford is a good swing, lets' give it a shot maybe just maybe we won't have to take another swing.  But at least this way, each swing is still surrounded with a great team.

Scrap 3 - I like and agree with Michael Irvin?

Recently Michael Irvin stated he thinks the Eagles are the Team to beat in the NFC East because Demarco Murray makes them better then Lesean McCoy.

Read his comments, digest what he said.  Now at first I was thinking to myself, that's great but this is just another guy pissed that his team didn't pay out for the star that is his buddy.  Which is a natural reaction for a former player, but not an entirely logical one from the standpoint of effective football.  But then I started thinking about what he actually said, and he may have an incredibly logical hypothesis that bares real reflection.

Modern football is predicated upon the pass.  Rules on receivers, tackling, and hitting the quarterback make it quite challenging for a defense to consistently prevent success through the air.  Passing is more efficient, and most importantly allows you to pick up yards in chunks and potentially score quicker.  That is why overall the league has trended heavily toward passing, and scoring and away from running and defense.  When you run the ball you "control the clock"  in theory preventing the other team from having as much time with the ball, but if they pass, and have the potential to score quickly, the amount of time isn't as crucial as the amount of possessions.  Also, running the ball results in far fewer big plays overall, which means you score more slowly, making it hard for you to jump out to a big lead, and hard for you to catch up quickly.

As an adjustment to this trend, teams tend to play in "nickel" defense a lot more.  having only two linebackers and 5 defensive backs on the field.  In theory this makes running the ball a better option, but you still suffer from the time issue, and the slow scoring issue.  Unless you are Chip Kelly.  Irvin said "Everyone else will be playing Chess, but the Eagles will be playing Checkers"  that is exactly Kelly's goal.

Kelly Likes to run from the spread, 3 recievers, 1 TE, 1 RB, 1 QB, 5 lineman.  This Keeps the defense spread farther apart, and prevents them from closing quickly on runs up the middle, allowing each run to gain slightly extra yards.  To adjust, eventually the defense should bring an extra player closer to the line of scrimmage, which leaves someone open, and that is when chip wants the ball thrown fast for screens, or deep for explosive plays. At it's heart that is the simplest form of his offense, he adds the aspect of running plays as fast as possible for two reasons, first this allows him
 to focus on running the ball, but still being able to score quickly and have as many possessions as possible, second it allows him to prevent the defense from subbing and exhausts them for the end of the game.

There is more to it then that, and lots of little details that make it work, but the basics are laid out above.  So if you imagine you have a defense on the field in nickel, to deal with your spread offense, the defense has a of smaller, agile, fast guys.  Running against them with a running back whose game is dependant on agility, jukes and shiftiness is actually going to be less effective because it plays to the strengths of the defensive change.  But running against it with a back who wants to make 1 cut, follow the blocks and run over a guy plays to the defensive weaknesses since their speed and agility isn't as valuable.  This creates a situation where the defense will always have a weakness that Kelly asks the quarterback to spot after the snap instead of before, something we hope Bradford will do better then Foles.

Irvin makes a good point with a lot of subtle truth within the Ideas of Kelly's offense.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Potato Chip Kelly: What's your plan?

During my copius reading on the internet I stumbled upon this interesting article.  Interesting right, crazy Chip Kelly is desperate to get his hands on Johnny Manziel.  He recruited him to Oregon oh so long ago, he must need him back now.

Then there was this, woops wrong angle.  Crazy Chip Kelly doesn't want his former recruit Manziel, He wants his former QB Mariota.  I mean it isn't like we haven't heard that before, or anything.

Truthfully though, all snark aside, there  have been some odd goings on from within the Eagles brain trust.  Things like this, or this, or this  Mychal Kendricks traded?  Not selling Sam Bradford jerseys at the team run pro-shops? Someone wants an Eagles secondary player?  What is going on?

I don't know anything about the direction the team is going, I have no idea what they are thinking, and I would imagine the majority of these rumors are overblown reporting of minor conversations between team executives.  But as they say where there is smoke there is fire.

So let's see if we can observe the actions and the rumors, and divine a bit about what the old Chipster has up his sleeve.

I think it is fairly safe to draw the conclusion that Chip decided he couldn't make it work by adjusting his system to a group of talented players whose flaws were different then what he wanted (Shady's dancing, Nick's lead feet, Desean's look at me act.)  and a team that was financially constructed in a way that wasn't allowing him to direct resources in the direction of his choosing.  So he cleaned house, not because he didn't see the talent, but because he saw trying to bend the talent and the system to meet was butting him against a ceiling that was lower then his aspirations.

 So Chip started using what was removed to bring in pieces that fit his needs specifically.  Murray and Matthews, talented bruising one cut runners that he feels comfortable rotating.  Kiko Alonso a young fast talented linebacker who can run with Tight ends, giving them flexibility in coverage. Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, big physical corners that fit the scheme Billy Davis likes to play well.  All with their own flaws (much of which he seems to be banking on covering with sports science) but whose strengths are the things that make his system go.

Then there is Sam Bradford.  The still young (he is only a year + older then Foles)  somewhat talented (the evidence from his production is not good, but the physical tools that made him the #1 pick are still evident)  quarterback.  Bradford has a reputation for intelligence, has a slightly stronger arm then Foles, according to some advanced stats is one of the more accurate throwers in football, and has an absurdly low interception percentage.

Chip has stated he wants his QB to be like a point guard who distributes the ball to wherever the defense isn't.  For this he is looking for intelligence, a quick mind, and what he termed "repetitive accuracy"  from what we can tell it seems Bradford could check off this boxes, but it just doesn't feel right.  Chip doesn't need a running QB, but his offense works better with one.  That doesn't mean he wants Michael Vick, but Aaron Rodgers would be more up his alley.  Add to this the multitude of rumors from all over the place and I have a few bets on what is happening.

First, I think Chip would be content with Bradford as his quarterback.  I think he sees a healthy Bradford as an upgrade on Foles in many ways, but most importantly he won't have an offense that turns the ball over nearly as much, giving him more opportunities to execute the gameplan.

Second, I think Chip is gunning for Mariota, but much like the Jeremy Maclin situation he has a price he is willing to hit, and if it goes higher he walks away.  I believe him when he says that good teams build through the draft, because if he doesn't believe that he is an idiot and Eagles fans are doomed.  But I do believe there is a mortgage he would be willing to pay for Mariota.  I believe his preference for larger corners makes Boykin expendable, and the presence of Alonso, and the resigning of Ryans makes Kendricks a trade chip as far as Chip is concerned.  Considering how talented Kendricks is it is one hell of a trade chip too.  I also believe Chip is very willing to unload Bradford, if he is getting his QB.

So it would seem plan A is to use whatever draft picks they are willing to sacrifice, which will be more then we like but fear not the Eagles are good at this late round draft thing.  As well as some combination of Kendricks, Boykin, and Bradford to move up for Mariota while keeping their draft pick stock reasonably full.

But the draft is a fickle thing, and many teams will do unexpected things, and many teams will pay absurd prices for players that can severely hamper their ability to build a team.  So I also believe there is a plan B.  In the scenarios I'm seeing it appears as if Sanchez was brought in as a mentor/insurance policy for the young passer Chip wants, if it is Mariota he is the emergency plan, but I think Chip sees a different possibility where Sanchez plays a more active mentorship role.  In my Plan B, the rumors with the Browns come to fruition and the Eagles acquire one of their first round picks.  If this is not enough to grab Mariota, instead Chip uses his two first round picks to unload and reload totally.  He most likely trades Kendricks for some high value, Boykin for some Value, and uses those picks, and his two first rounders to take some new offensive line blood, a new wide receiver, and Brett Hundley.  It isn't as crazy as it sounds he is a supremely talented player with experience in a system like Chip's.  He cant play right away, but he might be worth taking a swing at.

Plan C I imagine is to play the draft smart, Keep Bradford, add more piece, and if he doesn't work out take another swing at the QB position.  You don't win in the NFL without an Elite QB, which can mean different things in different systems, but it is a fact of life.  But it is also a fact that those QB's have come into the league in a myriad of ways, so the most logical approach is to take as many swings as possible until you hit it out of the park.

April 30th can't come soon enough

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Framing the Argument, how public relations put the corporate reformers at the forefront of the debate.

Earlier today yahoo recommended this article for me. Yahoo doesn't know me at all, either that or Marissa Meyer secretly hates me.

While I hate linking the article here, I think it brings to the forefront one of the major issues that those who are trying to save education have, we don't message nearly well enough.

Go ahead, waste 5 minutes of your life and read that trash.  Look at how carefully the author works to frame tests as a positive for the poor, and minorities.  Note how they use children and their innocence to bolster their argument, how they very subtly cast teachers and their union as villains.  Then look at how they somewhat smoothly eave the reader from opting out of tests to school choice, and take another shot at teachers and their unions in the process.  Notice the use of words with specific connotation like trapped.

The reality is that teachers are behind the eight ball, because we aren't public relation experts we are education experts, and the big money isn't there if we win this oh so important argument.  The big money is there for the taking if the corporate reformers win, so they have more to invest in the public relations process.  It is sad, and as an educator it is frightening.

Let's take a moment and discuss some of the arguments made in the article.

  • he offers no evidence about the frequency of parents paying for tutoring, nor does he offer evidence that the parents want their children to take those tests.  Where is the logic that people would hate tests but think those are fine?
  • He ignore the obviousness of the opt out moving being about two key things, valueless tests (the SAT and the ACT get you college admission)  and too many tests (why add more if you take the SAT or the ACT?) 
  • He makes the claim the new tests are better, with no context as to what better means, and no evidence as to them actually meeting that criteria.  
  • He claims that these tests are important to minorities "trapped"  in failing schools so they can see the failure.  but offers no indication as to how these tests can help us improve.  Nor does he acknowledge the bevy of research that indicates that all these tests do is measure your socioeconomic status.  
  • He makes a leap that allowing test opt outs, should allow school opt outs without addressing the motivation for test opt outs is so that schools can spend more time on education and less on test prep.  Thereby making the school a better place for the students.  
  • He almost doesn't seem to realize that test scores are not why parents choose schools.  

Basically the article claims the existence of a false world based on the authors perceptions of reality, and expects us all to live in it.  What makes me sad, is far too many of us too willing to embrace it.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Urban Charters, the Cause of and Solution to, all of Life's Problems.

So I love flipboard, as a news aggregator it is fabulous.  the presentation is pretty the categories are useful, and the articles tend to be stuff I don't find at the other websites I check out for news, it makes me happy, Until I stumble upon an article that just makes my blood boil, then I can't sleep at night, I can't focus on my job.  I must be a moron, where so much of my contentment and sense of self can be derailed by more charter school cheerleading in the form of the newest CREDO study.

Sigh.  I hate charter schools, not for what they were envisioned to be, but for the cesspools of test prep and financial corruption they have become.  There are charters in this country that focus on interesting and valuable things, special education, the arts, engineering, emotional support, and those can be valuable and important parts of a rich tapestry of public education.  But what you generally are discussing when you discuss "Charters"  is a test prep factory whose board and or sponsors and or management company has a purpose of  stealing money from the public under the guise of educating your children better.  When in reality, all they are doing is segregating our schools further, giving parents of many colors the option to get away from "those" children.  The individuals you grow up to step on on your way to the top.

So naturally while perusing business insider the other night on my Flipoard, I saw the linked article and immediately began crying.  Everything I have thought and felt all these years was wrong, my hatred for charters was misplaced, I was contributing to holding back the impoverished from achieving their potential.  It was so obvious (see what I did there)  how did I miss it.  Shame on me, shame on me.  Then my pride kicked in, and having been a former urban public school teacher I got pissed.  Who were they to think they were better then me, this had to be some high class bullshit.

So I did something we never do, but we all should do.  I opened the study and read it.  Seems pretty convincing, maybe I was wrong.  I wanted to be sure though, so I opened the technical appendix and was greeted with some math that was mostly beyond me (I love statistics, but it is not my specialty, education is)  but I kept going, moving on to the details of their categorization of students, and it was there I found some information that leads me to the conclusion that we must discuss this study with all that it tells us and all that it misses, and it is not some wild flying piece of evidence that confirms the beliefs of policy makers and rich hedge fund managers everywhere.

First my usual disclaimer.  Test scores are so limited it hurts.  Using a test score to make a determination about your education level, about your readiness for society, about how functional you will be when you grow into an adult, is tantamount measuring someones height when you want to determine their weight.  It might be a nice piece of information when trying to decide if they are overweight, but it is not the most important piece of evidence, by far.  That said, we live in a world where test scores are our mode of argument (damn economists)  so let's argue on that basis.

As I see it there are three main points of criticism that are not addressed by the techniques used in the CREDO study, and therefore in my opinion render their conclusions limited, and their evidence of little value for policy decisions moving forward.

First is the issue of poverty.  the CREDO study makes the claim that charter schools can improve the test scores of students while servicing similar amounts of students in poverty.  to make this claim they use the number of students qualifying for Free or Reduced lunch.  To be fair to CREDO that is our standard measure of "poverty" in public schools, and it isn't great, but it does give us a common place to being our discussion.  But, there have been some (I'm looking at you Jersey Jazzman) who have convincingly made the point that free lunch, is significantly different then reduced lunch and one of the new games charter schools play is to grab kids from poverty for their stats, but focus on the students who qualify for reduced lunch, making their outside of school challenges just a little easier.  and in the world of statistical significance over large sample sizes, the smallest change can be important.

I'm not saying that the schools in the CREDO study serve more reduced price then free lunch students, I'm saying they don't address it, and before we bow down to this study as the answer to all our prayers, or the panacea that ails our country, we better find out if it is the case.  Because to assume the only place it matters is in Newark NJ where the Jersey Jazzman did his work, would be Niave.

Second is the issue of special education.  All teachers in public schools are quite familiar with the challenges presented by IEP's, as inclusion is the model of the day.  What any teacher will tell you is that not all special education students present the same challenges in the classroom on a daily basis.  there is a great difference between a student who has a high level of intellectual ability, but a slow processing speed, and a student who has the social development of a 3rd grader in a 10th grade classroom.  There is a great difference in need and accomadation between a student with ADD who might need frequent refocusing, and a student with social emotional issues so severe they barely attend class because they are fighting the strongest demons of depression or worse.  Not the CREDO study though, those students are all the same, and charter schools serve "Special education students"  better then public school.  If you believe that then I have a bridge in NY to sell you.

Not all special education students are created equal, but all should be educated fairly.  Charter schools create a separation of students where, "normal" (whatever that means)  students don't have to be educated with "those"students.  The CREDO study makes the claim that charters in the urban environment to a better job with special education students then urban public schools.  Except they never make an effort to classify the types of special education students by need.  Again the excellent work of the Jersey Jazzman (at this point I might as well sell him a controlling interest in my blog)  points out that while charter schools can (they don't always) serve a comparable percentage of students with disabilities, you must look closer at the types of disabilities they service, not something the CREDO study bothers to do.

If they can't/wont't service students with the most challenging disabilities, what can we really learn about improving education from them?  What replicable lessons can we learn from what they do?  Or is it just more propaganda to funnel money away from public schools and into the coffers of the hedge fund managers who support these schools?  Is it just a legal and acceptable way to recreate segregation in the public school, but this time not just by race but by disability as well?

Final criticism is retention.  Charter schools as a whole do a horrible job retaining students.  Many charter schools only admit students for the first few years of their schooling, refusing to add students at the higher grades (imagine you move into a town and the public school says sorry, we can't take your kid because they haven't been with us the whole time.  1.  ouch  2.  think that doesn't effect test scores?  but I digress).  Charter schools regularly have their class sizes shrink by 50% or more by the time those students are taking the tests that matter. (suspcious, no of course not, look over here at this bad bad public school)  and in some cases don't even try to hide it.  (google search success academy attrition there are too many articles to link)

The CREDO study does make some attempt to address this fact, but it misses a clearly salient point, are these charter schools through their policies that lead to student attrition artificially selecting for students who have some trait that aids them in doing better on tests?  It is entirely reasonable that some social skill developed by these students makes them more skilled in test taking, and/or learning in a way that directly correlates to test success.  Something the article doesn't even think about.

So what we have here is a study that some policy maker, or some charter school advocate is oing to grab onto as THE piece of evidence that proves that public schools are the worst and charter schools are the best, and if you disagree then you are a stinky face poopy head.  Unfortunately not enough people will look closely at the study and really think about the information that is missing.

Of course the biggest flaw in all of this is the base assumption that whatever skills or educational techniques that are required to succeed on these tests are something we want for our children, are something we want in our population, in our workforce, for ourselves.  With all the flaws that can be pointed out in this study, that is the single most important question that is never asked, is this really what we want for ourselves and our children?

It almost seems....obvious... that that should be answered first

Monday, March 23, 2015

American Education 1% Sucess, 99% Failure, Part I

I stumbled upon this article in my reading on the internets the other day.  So naturally I poured myself a Captain and diet and went back to work grading my students papers, once again wondering what is wrong with this country.

As a teacher I can't help but be driven to the bottle by the way America treats education.  Just read some of Diane Ravitch's website for a cornucopia of information about what is happening.  Read the Jersey Jazzman  for a detailed look at how awful things are in New Jersey, and wonderful statistical analysis of exactly what the data about american education is, and exactly how it is ignored.  Read Edushyster for a sarcastic look at exactly how ridiculous all of this has become, because sometimes Sarcasm is the only thing we have left.

Most teachers honestly, barely register the bigger picture of how education is being destroyed, they just see small brushfires on an increasingl regular basis.  Things like excessive testing, overbearing evaluation procedures, increasing numbers of students who live in poverty, or speak english as a second language, or have moderate to severe learning disabilities.  We see curriculum changes we didn't decide on, tests that we barely know anything about, that we must get our students to pass for their sake, the schools sake, and our own.  All the while we are constantly asked to do more in less time, for less pay (our salary increases barely keep up with average COLA increases)

We are struggling to do a job we probably love (more on that later) on a daily basis, so trying to keep track of the systematic long game to dismantle public education is missed by us.  Our career, our passion, our desire to effect change in this world one child at a time is being ripped away, and our heads are so far underwater we can barely see it happening.  Then all of a sudden a neighbor, or a family member, or a friend makes an offhand remark about "teachers" or our salaries, or our summers "off"  or how every member of our profession is stupid because teachers don't have high SAT scores, and our heart breaks, and our head wonders where that came from.

So I wanted to lay out the plan that has been ravaging public education for decades, try to put the pieces in place so that people can see the big picture, and maybe be inspired to work in whatever way they can to work hard to stop it in its tracks.

Part I - American Schools are the Suxxors! (look this guy can't even use real words the future is screwed!)
Before I begin this analysis I want to point out that every measure of "success" used to judge education by both sides of the argument here is a test, a test with some variation of multiple choice, and some variation of free response essay/problems.  One of our biggest failures as a worldwide society is allowing ourselves to be sorted into successes and failures by tests.   Any educator can tell you the inherent problems with creating one size fits all assessments to determine the progress in a students learning.  Our first and biggest problem is our obsession with objective tests and rubric assessed Open response work.

That said, our need to acquiesece to the data driven world, and our obsession with appealing to economists determines that we must base our arguments around tests.  So I will, but it makes my skin crawl, because no test measures problem solving or thinking skills (plenty of research on that)  and the more "challenging"  you make the questions in an effort to test thinking skills, the more you test only a students ability to read and decode language tricks.

So Let's talk about the failure that is American Education.  Cause not only am I bad at my job, so is everyone who does it everywhere, ever. (with the obvious exception of private school teachers, charter school teachers, and Teach for American "Corps" members, privately I strive to reach their heights)

Since public education was instituted in this country, we have been bad at it.  But things really started to get heated in the early 80's when under Reagan we had our Holy Grail of how bad American's were at education "A Nation at Risk."  a Horror story told to mothers everywhere to remind them that if we didn't buck up and fix all of our schooling problems their children would become the underlings of this Soviet's cause they are smarter and work harder (in communist Russia education schools you!).  Everyone was better then us, we were lazy, entitled and were going to lose our edge and fall by the global wayside.  30+ years later, everyone is better then us, we are lazy, entitled and we are going to lose our edge and fall by the global wayside.  And this time, our military won't even be able to save us cause we are all too stupid to join.

Man the worrying is so exhausting, I can barely keep typing.

Let's get a couple of things straight.  American's have NEVER been good at international tests.  Since the first international mathematics test ever given, we have always scored in the bottom of the countries involved, and yet here we are the largest economy in the world (okay china and india are either right behind or have passed depending on who you talk to and when you read this, but it certainly isn't all roses there) and the biggest superpower on the world stage.  The reasons for this aren't so obvious, we aren't the biggest country so it isn't just size, we aren't living off of our laurels because by any number of measures of innovation (Patents, Nobel Prize winners etc...)  we are still among the most if not the most innovative.  Perhaps, just perhaps these tests aren't highly correlated with economic success (a ridiculously narrow measure of success BTW)  and perhaps if they aren't highly correlated, success on them certainly can't be connected in any causative way?

You know what though, let's ignore the obvious question (ha, get it cause this blog is called....oh never mind)  and instead operate under the premise that these tests are in fact important, and do in fact matter to our success as a nation.  According to the PISA, an organization devoted to testing children worldwide (sadists)  who is affiliated with the OECD and organization dedicated to ranking countries on lots of things so we can all feel good about what we do well, and bad about what we don't, our kids are really mediocre.  I mean seriously our country is the richest in the world, we spend a ton on education (really we do spend a lot depending on how you look at it)  and we get THIS!?!?   The low end of mediocrity?

Forget it, you know what this whole blog post was wrong, I'm going to side with the anti education people, we are doomed.  See you think I'm kidding here, but I'm not.  I do believe we are doomed, and that we are failing our children.  I just know it has nothing to do with our education system and everything to do with our massive problems with income inequality.   If you believe in the value of tests such as the PISA America as a whole is failing our children just not necessarily how you expect.
Remember how we mentioned the OECD measured different countries on factors of what they do well and poorly?  Well we do real poorly for our children.  Of the nations considered "industrialized"  by OECD only one has a higher level of children that live in poverty, Romania.  That's right our 25% child poverty rate is second only to Romania.  (and some recent studies point to an even higher rate of child poverty in public schools then that)

So?  you may be asking.  Well research upon research upon research has linked child poverty to challenges in education.  (seriously, google it and get comfortable because you will never run out of reading material)  the causes are many, the effects are many, but children that live in poverty are behind the eight ball and struggle to keep up let alone excel.  And no matter how hard we wish it blaming them, their parents, or their teachers won't make that go away.  In fact if you look at american schools where the poverty level is 10% of the student body or lower (you know like a normal industrialized nation) we are freaking awesome!  Seriously, in some instances best in the world, every other instance top 5, freaking awesome.

Don't believe those weird foreigners?  (seriously who are they to judge us 'MERICA!)  Let's take a look at the NAEP results.  The NAEP is a test we give to a statistically valid sample of students from each state around the country (wait?  math can tell us how we are doing without torturing children several times yearly?  Huh shame our policy makers are idiots) every few years.  Proficient on the NAEP is considered to be about B level work in a normal classroom.  We have been consistently improving since at least the 90's (the improvement flatlined once NCLB started to take hold, surprise surprise) .  Not only that, we had been closing the gaps associated with race (again until NCLB went into effect).  And our high school graduation rates are the highest they have ever been!

Light up that cigar and pour me some scotch, because by any rational scientific measure, we are a success when schooling our children.

Except that isn't what I see in the paper, that isn't what I hear from politicians, or policy makers, or the news.  Increasingly that isn't what I hear from parents.   It isn't because we are failures, it isn't because we don't educate our children well, it is because our country, our society has failed our children and it is too daunting and too expensive to fix, so we need a scapegoat, and that scapegoat is us.

Please understand, our educational system is not a failure.  That is a lie to push an insidious agenda on the american people, and hide the truth of where we really do fail.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Potato Chip Kelly: Stale Cape Cod chip, Or Fresh Tostitos Fajita Chips, Part II

Last time we took a look at all the eagles losses this ridiculous offseason, and tried to judge the changes in terms of what they did for the team.  We however weren't just looking at the on the field product but rather the impact of each change on the state of the organization, monetary considerations, Scheme Fit, Chip's vision.  All aspects of a transaction are important to accurately analyze the value of the transaction, we did the losses last time, this time let's look at our gains.

LB Brad Jones - Depth addition.  Jones is a physically talented linebacker who hasn't realized the promise he showed as a rookie.  But look at what you want from him, he wasn't brought in to be a starter, he wasn't brought in to solve problems at a position.  He is here to insulate against injury, and to provide value on special teams (perhaps lessen the loss of contributors there like Casey).  The focus on maintaining consistently high quality special teams is potentially going to be a huge strength of Kelly, and a benefit to Eagles fans everywhere.  Neutral - he seems like a quality addition, young enough with some upside but for what he is, depth and Special teams he can't be such an important contributor to rate as super impact at this juncture.  

LB Kiko Alonso - Somewhere Chip Kelly must have a giant vault of gold coins he swims around in for fun, because his #duckbias is so strong he must secretly be Scrooge McDuck, and we are all living a duck tail.  Seriously though, do you want this guy in an exchange for shady? Easy answer no.  Shady is blatantly the more talented player.  Like all things however this is not as simple as talent.  First off Alonso is a Linebacker, and the historical comparisons indicate they age much better then RB's, Alonso is also a much cheaper player right now, and his injury gives him a much higher value because now he is a restricted free agent when his rookie contract is over, not a full free agent.  Also, to run a successful 3-4 defense talented linbackers are a priority to make it work, and Look at what the Eagles have now:  OLB Brandon Grahm ( a darling of PFF because his rate stats on pressuring the QB are elite)  ILB Mychal Kendricks ( a supreme physical talent who has been putting it together to play at a star if not elite level)  ILB Kiko Alonso ( a supremely talented ILB coming off a rookie of the year award, not the official one, who put up great stats and can really cover TE's a premium skill in the pass happy NFL)  and OLB Connor Barwin (perhaps the epitome of versatile balanced LB, he does everything above average, and sometimes everything at a star level)  That is a nasty group of relatively young LB who could dominate the league in our defense for years.  Positive - the injury is a concern, the interceptions bunched at the beginning of his rookie campaign might be a concern, but the combination of cost/risk/reward makes his addition a spectacular one, even if it makes you wonder if Chip Kelly only communicates through quacks.

CB Byron Maxwell - In bars and basements everywhere in Philadelphia, Eagles fans are sacrificing cheesesteaks to the gods of football in hopes that this is not a repeat of #Dreamteam and Namdi Asomuagha.  Let me calm your fears, first Maxwell is not married to the star of Scandal, so he probably needs the money to maintain his lifestyle.  Second this is not a case of the Eagles signing a star to fix all their problems.  Maxwell is obviously highly regarded as part of a unit, not as an individual player per se.  When you get to play with Sherman, and Thomas, and Chancellor obviously you will appear better then you are.  But don't assume Maxwell has no talent, or is a some scrub who was elevated by those around him, he is a solid above average CB in his own right, and in fact does some things better then his opposite Sherman.  The second reason not to freak out about this signing is that it is obvious the eagles targeted Maxwell because of his talent AND his scheme fit.  You can see an excellent breakdown on Birds24/7 as to how Maxwell fits what the eagles do, but the fact they it is obvious how he fits their scheme/desire for CB's makes this signing a much better get then the spreee of 2011 group.  Look, the eagles overpayed, but the cap is always going up, and sometimes you do have to overpay to settle a position that has been a cesspool for so long, as long as you do so with detailed knowledge of what the player brings it is ok.  Positive - This is an overpay for Maxwell, but it was necessary to bring some stability to the defensive backfield, and his presence can elevate whomever they put on the other side, and at safety making each individual piece contribute to the betterment of the group as a whole.  

CB Walter Thurmond  - # DuckBias, #Seahawkseast, #WTF?   seriously though, Thurmond isn't a bad get on the cheap.  He is a talented guy, who fits the Eagles style of defense and brings some versatility (he is comfortable in the slot)  He isn't too expensive, is on a 1 year prove it deal and gives the eagles some options.  Maybe we can finally use his presence to let us see Boykin on the outside, or maybe his presence leads the eagles to trade Boykin for picks or as part of a package for Mariota, or maybe we just have some excellent competition for two spots on the defense between Boykin, Thurmond, Carrol and Watkins.  The only way this doesn't work is if he gets hurt, or he plays so damn well we can't afford him cause we overpayed for maxwell.  Neutral - Honestly if Boykin ends up on the outside this becomes a clear positive because I can't believe he isn't talented enough for that, and if Boykin ends up traded because of this in some sick draft day deal it also could end up being a positive.  But right now it appears as simply a solid depth signing, the kind of things that good teams do because it could work out great, or not hurt you enough to screw you over.

RB Ryan Matthews - Ryan is a good get, talented, young, not too expensive.  He was one of the two best RB in football running out of the shotgun (Guess who the other one was)  he is injury prone, but I'm getting the sense that Chip is trying to do two things here, 1 insulate himself from injury by having multiple backs, and betting on his sports science to give him an edge.  The first is a reasonable approach, and the second is the kind of things smart coaches do, you run risks on what you believe in.  It may not work, but it is the only way to approach building a team to develop a philosophy and embrace it.  If you don't believe in yourself you will never win.  Positive - If you told me the Eagles saved cap room, got Ryan Matthews, to replace McCoy and added Kiko Alonso I would have jumped for Joy at how brillian the Chippah was, a backfield of Polk, Sproles, Matthews, and Practice squad player/Rookie to be named later would be a good one.

RB Demarco Murray - ugh.  Okay lets start with the good Demarco is an awesome running back, not quite Shady in terms of talent, but in some ways better.  Demarco was one of the two best running backs in football running out of the shotgun last year (now they both play for us)  Demarco thrived in an uptempo offense in college, Demarco is like best friends with our new QB, Demarco potentially rip defenses apart in our offense, even if they stack the box.  Now let's start with the bad.  Ummmmm, hey Demarco, that was a lot of carries last year do you have any legs left?  speaking of legs, are there other ways you imagine they could be injured?  cause you have quite a few already.  Oh yeah 18 million garaunteed?  Holy Shit man.  Look Demarco is awesome, he is a great back with a ton of talent, who fits what chip wants better then Shady ever would.  But you can't ignore three things about this signing, 1.  cost he and Matthews are really expensive, 2.  Injury  the 370 carries thing is probably bunk, and he has lass carries in his career then Shady, by a lot.  But he has been hurt a lot, and it's great we prepped for that with matthews or maybe #sportsscience saves us all, but man that is risky for 18/21 million guaranteed against the salary cap. 3.  Chip is now trying to prove that he knows more then everyone by valuing running backs more then our current understanding of football says that we should, that is Ballsy and scary.  Negative - He is expensive, injury prone, and just ran a lot for the stupid cowboys last year.  There is  few too many negative risks in this signing for me to let my faith in Chip overwhelm the concern.  

QB Mark Sanchez - #Sanchize!  Okay this won't be a popular opinion, but I like this.  I personally wish that Matt Barkley had shown us enough to become the next god of Philadelphia football, but it ain't happening. So go ahead name a back up QB you would rather have then the Philadelphia Eagles version of Sanchez?  Can't, right cause there isn't a better one in football.  Listen we were doomed last year, no one wins enough to do anything special when your starting QB goes down for 8 games, but Sanchez was the best he has ever been in Kelly's system, and if we can have that guy for 2 or 3 games in case of emergency, totally a good investment.  Particularly if you are hedging your bets on Mr. ACL, or looking for a quality veteran to have your rookie understudy.  Either way this makes sense, and you get what you pay for.  Just don't expect Sanchez to  lead you to the superbowl.  Positive - The sanchize ain't your savior, but he does bring quality to the worst position in football, backup QB. 

OLB Brandon Grahm - I loved Trent Cole, almost bought his jersey.  I spent the last three years waiting for the to trade Graham.  He was a disappointing draft pick, he wasn't a scheme fit, he couldn't cover, it just seemed like there was an endless list of why he needed to go, and then he almost ended up with the Giants, across for Jason Pierre Paul.  Good god I would have hated that.  Look we got him on an entirely reasonable contract, his rate states for pressuring the QB are through the roof, even if they dip a bit with constant use he should still be elite in that category, he plays the run well, and he can cover enough to keep the offense guessing. But bottom line, this is a good guy, who has worked his ass off constantly to live up to his draft status, I believe he will be better then Cole and we will all be able to celebrate the guy who fought through challenge after challenge to finally live up to his potential.  Positive - at the end of the day, I would bet money he is more productive then Trent cole, and before this contract is over ends up one of our more productive pass rushers.

QB Sam Bradford - Look this guy has no chance, He will never have a nickname as fabulous as Nickfolian Dynamite.  Although upon further reflection who will?  I loved Nick Foles, I wanted him to succeed so bad, but as last year wore on I became increasingly convinced he wouldn't, increasingly convinced that his ceiling was in reality significantly lower then his magical 27-2 run.  Let's assume for a second that Bradford isn't really that good, that what he has shown us so far in his time in football is who he is.  There would still be one thing he brings to the table that Nick didn't, Bradford doesn't turn the ball over, and that is obviously something Chip values.  Bottom line, bad Bradford might run this offense better then Foles.  Good Bradford has a lot more in terms of physical/mental tools then Good Foles, so this is  good trade in terms of risk/reward even if on the surface we hate it.  I also think our perception of value is skewed.  I know a lot of people are pissed the Eagles took on a huge cap hit, gave up a 2nd round pick and Foles for  Bradford, but that perception is skewed by the injuries, and the fact that football people still believe in the Bradford that was drafted, and not the one that was screwed by turnover and bad coordinators in St. Loius (seriously why do people keep hiring coaches who think running the ball with no risk is a wise decision?)  Also, don't forget this is another #sportsscience gamble, where chip believe in himself and his program and thinks he can alleviate some injury concerns.  Neutral - 27-2 is fresh in our minds, Nickfolian Dynamite is such a loveable guy with these moments that make you think he can be something special, but his bad moments should equally make us think he never will, and Bradford has way more potential then Nick.  The only reason this isn't positive is because of three things 1.  cost, 2.  injury, 3.  Mariota.

So what is it we have here is Chip an idiot or a genius?

I see this in stages

1st stage - all the additions/subtractions but Bradford/Murray -  All of these make perfect logical sense, in terms of on the field/cap/considerations of fit with Chip's scheme this is a good offseason, with a lot of potential.

2nd Stage - Bradford.  This is a high risk/high reward move.  What if Foles is great in St. Louis?  What if Bradford gets hurt?  But what if this turns into a Drew Brees level Acquisition for the Eagles?  Or what if Bradford really is Mariota Bait?  Overall this transaction is painful but at worst neutral depending on what happens

3rd stage - Murray.  WTF?  seriously?  after you traded McCoy to save cap space?  If this was any other team with any other coach I would be laughing about how stupid they were.

As it is i can't decide if Chip is an idiot or a genius, but i can tell you it probably won't be anything in between.  And at this point all we can do is hope, that whatever happens, whatever changes are still yet to come, we get the delicious fajitas tostitos and not a bag of cap cod chips that have been in the pantry for too long.