Data driving me crazy.

As an artist and retired art teacher I believe that classrooms, like all the built environment, should reflect good design principles.

But what are those?

A tweet by Michael Antonucci intrigued me.

Some of you may know Antonucci as a guy obsessed by teacher unions and a writer on the same topic. As you might guess, he is critical of the NEA. Not like I’m critical. I believe in the value of teacher unions. He thinks they are an assault on individual liberty. We have met a few times at NEA national meetings, which he covers for his web site and other outlets. I enjoyed our conversations even though we rarely agreed on the main stuff.

Antonucci rarely gets into teaching practice which is why I was intrigued by the tweet.

I went to the source.

Two researchers at Carnegie Mellon did a funded research study comparing test success in a sparsely decorated classroom as compared to highly decorated classroom.

Students did better in a sparsely decorated classroom.

You can see the picture of the sparsely decorated classroom in the video. It looks like a jail cell.

The study consisted of 24 kindergarten students divided into two groups. They were given a science lesson and then tested.

Jesus. Aren’t there rules about the humane treatment of subjects in a research study?

For the study, 24 kindergarten children were taught in laboratory classrooms for six science lessons on topics they were unfamiliar with. Three of these lessons were taught in a decoration-heavy  classroom, and three lessons were given in a spartan classroom.

The results showed that children learned in both classrooms but they learned more when the room was not heavily adorned. Children’s accuracy on test questions was higher in the sparse classroom (55 percent correct) than in the decorated classroom (42 percent correct).

I want to stop for a second and comment on the two researchers in the video. It appears that one of them has arranged her books on the shelf by color spectrum. I’m sorry. But even for someone advocating sparse classrooms for kindergarten students being taught science, arranging books on a shelf by color seems to be behavior that is a little obsessive.

I don’t want to even get too much into the issue of what conclusions can be drawn from a study of 24 kindergarten students.

I taught art to kindergarten students. Way more than 24 of them. They are snowflakes. No two are alike. Generalizing from a group of 24 is dangerous.

What if a study showed that after teaching science (whatever that  means) to a room of 40 kindergarten students who came from poor families, had no breakfast, walked a mile through a safe passage zone in sub-freezing weather, then scored lousy while in a room with peeling paint, no heat and no books.

I suppose that is a different design issue.

There is a telling remark by one of the researchers. She says that since we can’t do anything about the impact of poverty, teaching in a sparse classroom is something we can do to improve test scores.

I’m sorry, but why exactly can’t we do anything about poverty?

Now there’s a research question!

In doing research it is important to define the question properly.

These two researchers wanted to know whether a highly decorated classroom distracted 24 kindergarten students from performing well on a science test.

I think the question was whether a science test distracted 24 kindergarten students from looking at things that interested them.

Listen to Hitting Left with the Klonsky brothers on the radio.

39 cents on the dollar. The problem for Illinois isn’t rich folks leaving. It is who is being left behind.


There is this thing that happens when you talk to Republican (and some Dems too) politicians. I offer this up to readers who don’t have or don’t seek the opportunity to do that.

They are convinced that the problem with Illinois is that we have an economy and tax structure that threatens to force rich people and corporations to leave the state.

No matter that we have the most regressive tax system imaginable. No matter that we still allow the largest corporations in Illinois to collect and keep the state income tax they collect from employees.

I say to them, “You know who is leaving the state? High school kids because Illinois public colleges and universities are too damn expensive. 40% of Illinois high school graduates who go on to college have to go somewhere else.”

Yes. Props to State Reprsentative Will Guzzardi for introducing a bill to make college tuition free in Illinois.

I got into a discussion with one Republican candidate at yesterday’s Illinois Retired Teachers Association luncheon.  He swore to me that taxes were driving the wealthy out of state.

“Which one of the many homes are they going to?” I asked. “How many is Rauner up to now? Nine is it? Including the one he bought to clout his kid into CPS’ Walter Payton?”

The recent news reports on the improvement in family income shows that the problem in Chicago and Illinois isn’t who is leaving the state, but who in the state is being left behind.

Across the country and in Illinois family income has risen for the first time since the Great Recession,.

The increase in family income does not include African Americans families.

While the median income of white Chicagoans continues to climb, the black median income was more stagnant. That’s created a widening gap between the median incomes of white and black Chicagoans, even as the gap remained steady nationally. Median income for black Chicagoans now equals about 39 cents on the dollar compared to white Chicagoans.

When I pointed this out to some of the Repugs in the room, they looked at me like I was speaking German.

Where, by the way, there is no college tuition.

Keep Goldman Sachs out of ESEA. No to Pay for Success.


-Bev Johns, Chair, ISELA – Illinois Special Education Coalition

ISELA, the Illinois Special Education Coalition, opposes the inclusion in ESEA of Pay for Success as a possible use of Federal funds authorized under ESEA.

A majority of the 15 Statewide Associations that are Members of the Illinois Special Education Coalition voted last week to seek to remove in the Conference Committee between the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, used to be called No Child Left Behind) the provisions that allow States and local school districts to use Federal funds for Pay for Success.

In both the State of Utah, and in Chicago, Illinois, Goldman Sachs and the Pritzker Family Foundation are being paid public funds for children NOT receiving special education.

For every child that avoids special education in a specific population receiving early education, Goldman is paid a fee ($9,100 in Chicago) every year for each and every child that continues to avoid special education.

This is a dangerous incentive not to identify children as needing special education.

In Utah a demonstration project claimed a 99 percent success rate: of 100 children suspected of being eligible for special education, 99 were later NOT so identified.

There is no evidence that any complex educational program exists that has a 99 percent success rate,let alone for the tremendously varying types of disability recognized under Federal law.

The permissive use of Federal funds for Pay for Success is now in both the House and the Senate ESEA bills.

These are the parts of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate ESEA bills that need to be removed in the Conference Committee.

House ESEA (was No Child Left Behind): HR 5 – Student Success Act Title II Subpart 1 Grants to States Sec. 2113 (b)(2)” (F) support State or local Pay for Success initiatives that meet the purposes of this part.”

Title II Subpart 1 Formula Grants to States Sec. 2211 (d)(3)(A) “(ix) Supporting State or local Pay for Success initiatives that meet the purposes of this part.”


Senate ESEA (was No Child Left Behind): S.1177 – Every Child Achieves Act (1) allows states and local school districts to invest their Title I, Part D funds (Programs for Neglected, Delinquent, and At Risk Children and Youth,

$47.6 million in FY15) in Pay For Success initiatives; 2) allows local school districts to invest their Title IV, Part A funds (Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities, $70 million in FY15) in Pay For Success  initiatives; and (3) allows states to invest their early childhood coordination funds (Early Learning Alignment and Improvement Grants, newly authorized program) in Pay For Success initiatives


Contact your own U.S. Representative and your two (2) U.S. Senators.


In Conference Committee on S.1177, please remove Pay for Success as an allowable use of funds through Title I, Part D (Prevention and Intervention Programs for Children and Youth Who are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk) and Title IV, which funds programs addressing student health and safety, from the Senate version of ESEA on the ESEA bill.


In Conference Committee, please remove from H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, the provisions that make Pay for Success initiatives an allowable use of state and local funds in Title II and in the Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant.


Pay for Success has been used in Utah to prevent 99 percent of children supposedly headed for special education from actually being identified for special education, and paid Goldman Sachs and other investors for each child NOT placed in special education. This is a huge financial incentive to NOT identify children as needing special education, and there is absolutely no research stating 99 percent Keeof students in special education should not be there.

In Chicago, Pay for Success may allow Goldman Sachs to double its investment, depending on how many students are NOT identified for special education.

The Poverty-Achievement Index. Now what?


As a retired teacher just looking at the data I suppose I should be thankful to Linda Lutton from WBEZ and Melissa Silverberg and Tim Broderick from the Daily Herald for providing some.

Rather than just rank schools without regard for issues of poverty, they have created a Poverty-Achievement Index.

Now we can bracket out kids who live in poverty and compare them to one another and compare how their schools compare to one another and how they compare to kids and schools who don’t face the challenge of being poor.

And we can compare the teachers who teach kids in poverty to one another.

Why doesn’t this put a smile on my face this morning?

On the one hand, at least they are taking poverty into account when talking about schools.

Frankly, to her credit Linda Lutton has been doing this for years.

But a little voice in the back of my head is telling me that the last thing schools need is more bar graphs and pie charts comparing kids, schools and teachers to one another.

Didn’t we know that kids who live in poverty face incredible learning challenges?

And that the teachers who teach them face incredible teaching challenges?

And the parents who raise them face incredible life challenges?

How does a new way of ranking help us?

In the richest country in the world children represent a disproportionate share of the poor in the United States; they are 24 percent of the total population, but 36 % of the poor population.

In 2010, 16.4 million children, or 22% lived in poverty. 

There is value in looking at how teachers, schools, students and parents face the challenges of poverty and manage to beat the odds.

I don’t see how that really comes from a new index that ranks and compares them.

The shame is in that so many face the odds.

And that the number is growing.

Don’t call it “diversity.” Call it “racial segregation.” And “powerless.”


The map on the left shows how Chicago wards voted in the last election for mayor. Green wards voted for Mayor Rahm. Red wards voted for Chuy Garcia. The map on the left shows segregated Chicago. Blue is white. Green is Black. Orange is Latino. The line up perfectly with the results of the election.

This morning I found two pieces of data that I think are interesting and that I wish to share with you.

The New York Times has published a map and data that shows that if you are born in Cook County and poor, the odds are you will stay poor your entire life.

They call that lacking income mobility.

A passive phrase. Like shit happens.

This is a timely piece of information because I just got into one of those Facebook exchanges with a friend over the idea of American exceptionalism and the ability to pull yourself up by your boot straps if you just tried hard enough.

This is a myth. In America most poor kids grow up to be poor adults.

Friday, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver posted an article with data about the relationship of diversity to segregation.

At some point the words racial integration became the word diversity.

I can’t pinpoint the moment. But there was a point when I noticed it. Maybe 1982.

Maybe it was around the same time we changed the way we pronounce the name of the planet, Uranus.

We no longer had racial segregation. We had a lack of diversity.

Segregating people was an active phrase. It was something we actively did.

Lacking diversity was a passive phrase. As in, how did that happen? It was like that when I got here.

The change in language led to things like corporations having diversity training.

Which never challenged racism.

Nate Silver’s data shows that Chicago is an incredibly diverse city and an incredibly segregated one.

It is diverse because lots of different kinds of people moved here.

It is segregated because of intent and policy.

What Silver doesn’t mention is how the policy and practice of segregation impacts political power.

As in our last election for Mayor.

The votes of four Lakefront white wards elected Mayor Rahm.

In fact most white Chicagoans have never voted for a mayoral candidate of color.

I believe that before something can be addressed, it must be named.

Like racism.

In 2014 CPS suspended a third of our African American male students. Rahm owns it.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 6.45.03 AM

Thirty-three percent of African-American boys in CPS high schools were suspended in 2013-14 — versus 6 percent of white and Asian boys.

Twenty-four percent of students with disabilities in CPS faced suspension and 27 percent for students with the lowest test scores, compared with 7 percent for those with the highest scores.

Sixty percent of the suspensions in CPS were due to breaking school rules – not for violence or criminal behavior.

This is the data that comes from the report on CPS discipline from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research.

While CPS was forced to cut back out-of-school suspensions when earlier numbers exposed similar bias, the numbers suggest that not much has changed.

Out-of-school suspensions have been replaced by other measures that keep students out of classrooms.

A far better measure of student learning or performance in school than a PARCC test is the data that they are kept out of the classroom by biased school discipline practices.

CPS leaders continue with policies that force the most needy students out of the classroom while doing nothing to address the underlying issues and conflicts that give rise to the suspensions.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to paint a glowing picture of his governance of CPS and mayoral control.

He wants to own it.

He owns this too.


February, 2015 political map of Chicago.

Political map of Chicago


Data: Steve Bogira, The Reader:  “The mayor’s best vote totals citywide were 73 percent in the 42nd Ward (the Loop, River North, the Gold Coast); 72 percent in the 43rd (Lincoln Park); and 64 percent in both the 44th (Lakeview) and the Second (Near North Side). This is the mayor’s turf—within a mile or so of the lakefront, from downtown north, up to about Uptown, where incomes, and his support, begin to fall.


Les Perelman’s BABEL generator. You try it.


My friend Les Perelman and some grad students came up with software that generates gibberish. They named the program BABEL,  the Basic Automated BS Essay Language Generator.

Why would MIT grad students want to generate gibberish?

To demonstrate the problem with computer-based scoring of test essays.

Les submitted the results to AES, Automatic Scoring Engines.  

“It works spectacularly well in producing nonsense that received high scores from various AES machines,” wrote Les.

BABEL even works well with ETS’ e-rater. Though ETS would not give me direct access to its scoring engine, ETS allows prospective test takers to take practice Graduate Record Exam (GRE) essays that are instantly graded by e-rater for $13. I have bought a number of these packages and have used the BABEL Generator to produce essays that consistently receive scores of 5 and 6 on a 1-6 point scale on each of the two writing assignments that comprise the writing portion of the GRE.

Naturally ETS has banned Les from future access to their scoring engine.

I tried it.

BABEL asks for three keywords.

I picked Chicago, politics and schools.

Here is what BABEL produced:

Chicago has not, and no doubt never will be misplaced. Human society will always enlightenment teachers; some of intercessions and others for a accumulation. a lack of Windy City lies in the field of literature but also the field of philosophy. Teachers is the most prototypically collaborating commencement of mankind.

Verisimilitude, especially for acceptance, articulates a query on rapaciously but discordantly antagonistic consequences by instructor. If conveyances voyage or belittle contemplation, pique that is consistently inappropriate but is iconoclastic, quotidian, and reproving with politics can be more venomously portended. Additionally, political relation, often at a assumption, can be the ligation. In my experience, all of the affronts to our personal epigraph of the exposition we taunt afford the allocations in question. Even so, armed with the knowledge that the divisive surfeit mortifies impropriety, most of the probes for my reprimand blubber. Our personal injunction to the aggregation we disparage acquiesces. Chicago which performs all of the demonstrations might certainly be an amygdala on our personal assassination with the taunt we surprise as well. The rumination of devices may be inauguration but is petulant yet somehow discrepant, not remuneration that depreciates contretemps and denounces dictates. In my theory of knowledge class, none of the dictators at our personal axiom by the exposure we allure collaborate and probe quips which civilize the advancement. The more a circumstance that gambols should be reprobation, the less provocation can diligently be a Gaussian onslaught.

As I have learned in my semiotics class, teacher is the most fundamental amplification of humankind. Though interference for veracity inverts, information processes brains. The same pendulum may process two different orbitals to process an orbital. The plasma is not the only thing the brain reacts; it also receives neutrinoes for disruption with Chicago. Due to advancing, humanely but egotistically admonished accumulations collapse also on Chicago. a startling teacher changes the dictum at Windy City.

The authentication, frequently to a retort, contravenes politics. The sooner the people involved attest, the sooner contemplation sanctions confluences. Furthermore, as I have learned in my literature class, society will always verify political relation. Our personal congregation of the convulsion we expel will be demolition with apprentices and may risibly be commission. The inspection might, still yet, be elidible in the way we respond or utter the inflexibly and pusillanimously atrocious acquiescence but accumulate intercessions. In my semantics class, almost all of the tyroes at my escapade convulse or augur the appendage. a quantity of political relation is inchoate for our personal speculation on the authorization we encounter as well. The avocation denigrates conjecture, not a ligation. In my experience, many of the circumscriptions by our personal assassin at the appetite we ascertain bemoan insinuations. The less rancor that seethes is antipodal in the extent to which we demarcate most of the adjurations for the realm of reality and infuse or should unyieldingly be a trope, the more affronts articulate the trope of parsimony.

Politics with agronomists will always be an experience of human society. In any case, armed with the knowledge that sublimation may perilously be compensation, most of the domains at my aggregation dictate commencements but quibble and disseminate inquiries which fascinate a rumination. If elated agriculturalists intercede and appease sanctions to the admonishment, teachers which choreographs assassinations can be more naturally assimilated. Instructor has not, and undoubtedly never will be articulated but not risible. Chicago is genially but fallaciously whimpering as a result of its those in question.

Would this get me into Harvard? Who knows?

But Les’ research suggests it would score well on an AES.

You try it.


Because it was awesome.


The folks at Education Next have given the thumbs up to field trips.

Even though it won’t be on the test.

Education Next is a group of corporate education reformists. Like the Fordham’s Michael Petrilli and Fred Hess.

 Here is the study.

In case you were worried, the value of field trips is now research-based.

Our goal in pursuing research on the effects of culturally enriching field trips is to broaden the types of measures
 that education researchers, and in turn policymakers and practitioners, consider when judging the educational success or failure of schools. It requires significantly greater effort to collect new measures than to rely solely on state-provided math and reading tests, but we believe that this effort is worthwhile. By broadening the measures used to assess educational outcomes, we can also learn what role, if any, cultural institutions may play in producing those outcomes.

I used to do an annual field trip with my 4th grade students to the Chicago Loop.

I have no data to show that this was a meaningful experience other than the screeches of delight and the number of times “awesome” came out of the kids’ mouths.

Ninety kids rode the Metra train to the Transportation Center on the west side of the Loop. They broke into groups of ten with a parent, a teacher and a map. They were to find five examples of public art and five examples of Chicago architecture by known Chicago architects. They had an hour to get across the Loop to Millennium Park where we had lunch.

They had to climb a Du Buffet. They had to slide down the Chicago Picasso. They had to walk through a revolving door. They had to learn to walk on the right side of the sidewalk. They had to turn their backs to the Chase Bank Building and look at its sloping columns by leaning back and staring up. They had to walk into Macy’s and right in the middle of the perfume section look up at the Tiffany glass ceiling tiles.

After lunch in front of the Gehry stage at Millennium Park we crammed under The Bean and splashed in the fountain of spitting faces.

They would be dry by the time we finished the fast march across the Loop to catch the 2:30 train back home.

The next time in class there would be no test.

Instead my students drew and painted the most glorious images of Chicago.

I feel no relief knowing the research supports the value of the experience.

That is because I always knew.

Because it was awesome.