Jul 09, 2016

Songs in the Key of Allovue

When I entered high school, video games were beginning to lose their appeal. So I sold my four video game systems and all their games at a garage sale and that money, plus some Chanukkah money, bought me my first guitar and amp. I had just tried joined a band ...

Apr 24, 2016

A note on sequels

I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, genres filled with long running book series. Until the last couple of years, I mostly avoided any series that wasn’t already complete. First, I don’t like truly “epic” sci-fi fantasy. On-going series without an end in sight, or series ...

Jul 06, 2015

Returning to Tumblr

I have had a Tumblr site for a long time but never knew what to do with it. What is Tumblr exactly? Is it a hosted blog? Is it a hosted blog for hipsters? Is it a social network? Why should I put content into Tumblr?

I have this blog ...

Jul 05, 2015

News on Assertions in R

How many times have you written R functions that start with a bunch of code that looks like this?

my_funct <- function(dob, enddate = "2015-07-05"){
if (!inherits(dob, "Date") | !inherits(enddate, "Date")){
    stop("Both dob and enddate must be Date class objects")

Because R was designed to be interactive, it is ...

Jun 15, 2015

Rhode Island Disease

When discussing policy in Rhode Island, I almost always encounter two bizarre arguments.

  1. Rhode Island is completely unique. Ideas from other places don’t adequately take into account our local context. What is working there either won’t work here or isn’t really comparable to our situation here.
  2. What ...

Apr 17, 2015

Acceptable Terms

An initial proposal has been made to the city of Providence and state of Rhode Island to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island and move them to a new stadium along the river in Providence.

The team is proposing that they privately finance all of the construction costs of the ...

Jan 23, 2015

A PostgreSQL Cheat Sheet for OSX and R

I keep this on my desktop.


brew install postgresql
initdb /usr/local/var/postgres -E utf8
gem install lunchy
### Start postgres with lunchy
mkdir -p ~/Library/LaunchAgents
cp /usr/local/Cellar/postgresql/9.3.3/homebrew.mxcl.postgresql.plist ~/Library/LaunchAgents/

Setup DB from SQL file:

### Setup DB
lunchy ...

Jan 11, 2015

Taking Control

Severing My Daemon

When I was in high school, I piggy-backed on a friend’s website to host a page for my band. We could post pictures, show locations and dates, lyrics, and pretend like we produced music people cared about. It was mostly a fun way for me to ...

Nov 28, 2014

The Power Of Sound

It has been said a thousand times before, but I feel the need to say it again. So much of what Star Wars got right was creating a fully realized, fascinating world. As much as stunning visual effects that have largely stood the test of time were a part of ...

Nov 28, 2014

Amazon Creating A Services Marketplace Online

A few thoughts:

  1. This is a very interesting way to take advantage of a number of existing Amazon technologies—primarily their payment processing and review system.
  2. Services are an increasingly important part of the economy and is less subject to commoditization. This is Amazon dipping into a massive growth area ...

Nov 19, 2014

School Funding Reform, Hard Work and Fraught with Potential

Because of the primacy of equity as a goal in school finance system design, the formulas disproportionately benefit less wealthy districts and those with high concentrations of needier students. … because of the universal impact on communities, school finance legislation requires broad political buy-in.

I think it is worth contrasting the ...

Nov 02, 2014


November marks the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The quick version is folks band together and support each other to write 50,000 words in November.

I would love to write a novel one day. I am not sure I could do it well, but I am pretty ...

Oct 06, 2014

Growing Up in the Internet Hate Machine

A terrible thing is happening this year. Women all across the internet are finding themselves the target of violence, simply for existing. Women are being harassed for talking about video games, women are being harassed for talking about the technology industry, women are being harassed for talking, women are being ...

Jun 13, 2014

When We Legislate and Ajudicate Our World View

The Vergara v. California case has everyone in education talking. Key teacher tenure provisions in California are on the ropes, presumably because of the disparate impact on teacher, annd therefore education, quality for students who are less fortunate.

I have fairly loosely held views about the practice of tenure itself ...

May 20, 2014

They really don’t make them like they used to…

I have never found dictionaries or even a thesaurus particularly useful as part of the writing process. I like to blame this on my lack of creative careful writing.

But just maybe, I have simply been using the wrong dictionaries. It is hard not to be seduced by the seeming ...

May 13, 2014

Pindown: Failed Dreams

I had never thought of a use for Brett Terpstra’s Marky the Markdownifier before listening today’s Systematic. Why would I want to turn a webpage into Markdown?

When I heard that Marky has an API, I was inspired. Pinboard has a “description” field that allows up to 65 ...

Apr 02, 2014

Symlinking Your Data

I frequently work with private data. Sometimes, it lives on my personal machine rather than on a database server. Sometimes, even if it lives on a remote database server, it is better that I use locally cached data than query the database each time I want to do analysis on ...

Mar 10, 2014

Expressiveness Counts

Education data often come in annual snapshots. Each year, students are able to identify anew, and while student identification numbers may stay the same, names, race, and gender can often change. Sometimes, even data that probably should not change, like a date of birth, is altered at some point. While ...

Feb 27, 2014

Latinos in Rhode Island Face Housing Burden

We burden Latinos (and other traditionally underserved communities) with expensive housing because of the widespread practice of using homestead exemptions in Rhode Island. By lowering the real estate tax rate, typically by 50%, for owner occupied housing, we dramatically inflate the tax rate paid by Rhode Islanders who are renting ...

Feb 18, 2014

Appreciating the Beauty of dplyr

Hadley Wickham has once again1 made R ridiculously better. Not only is dplyr incredibly fast, but the new syntax allows for some really complex operations to be expressed in a ridiculously beautiful way.

Consider a data set, course, with a student identifier, sid, a course identifier, courseno, a quarter ...

Feb 10, 2014

Freedom Should Be Reserved for the Wealthy

These quotes are absolutely striking, in that they give a clear glimpse into the ideological commitments of the Republican Party. From Sen. Blunt and Rep. Cole, we get the revelation that— for conservatives— the only “work” worth acknowledging is wage labor. To myself, and many others, someone who retires early ...

Feb 06, 2014


My Democracy Prep colleague Lindsay Malanga and I often say we should start an organization called the Coalition of Pretty Good Schools. We’d start with the following principles.

  1. Every child must have a safe, warm, disruption-free classroom as a non-negotiable, fundamental right.
  2. All children should be taught to read ...

Jan 07, 2014

Garrahy Complex: Rules for Public Investment in Parking

James over at TransportPVD has a great post today talking about a Salt Lake City ordinance that makes property owners responsible for providing a bond that funds the landscaping and maintenance of vacant lots left after demolition. I love this as much as he does and would probably add several ...

Dec 10, 2013

Did public schools build economies, or did economies build public schools?

We find that public schools offered practically zero return education on the margin, yet they did enjoy significant political and financial support from local political elites, if they taught in the “right” language of instruction.

One thing that both progressives and libertarians agree upon are that social goals of education ...

Dec 04, 2013

Calculating Age with Precision in R


Turns out the original code below was pretty messed up. All kinds of little errors I didn’t catch. I’ve updated it below. There are a lot of options to refactor this further that I’m currently considering. Sometimes it is really hard to know just how flexible ...

Dec 03, 2013

A Different Angle on PISA

A quick look at the “student engagement” measures in PISA which may have some interesting interpretations.

Nov 23, 2013

A Good Long Read on Assessment and Accountability

Although it clocks in at 40+ pages, this is a worthwhile and relatively fast read for anyone in education policy on the future of assessment if we’re serious about college and career readiness. There is a ton to unpack, with a fair amount it agree with and a lot ...

Nov 21, 2013

Bilingual Education at Providence Public Schools

“We are trying to work towards late-exit ELL programs so (students) can learn the concepts in (their) native language,” Lusi said. Administrative goals have recently shifted to a focus on proficiency in both languages because bilingual education is preferred, she added.

But instituting district-wide bilingual education would require funding to ...

Nov 20, 2013

DeBlasio: Weak on Implementation

De Blasio and his advisers are still figuring out how much rent to charge well-funded charter schools, his transition team told me. “It would depend on the resources of the charter school or charter network,” he told WNYC, in early October. “Some are clearly very, very well resourced and have ...

Nov 19, 2013

More evidence for “mere facts”

To recap, the first study discussed above established that children from disadvantaged backgrounds know less about a topic (i.e., birds) than their middle-class peers. Next, in study two, the researchers showed that differences in domain knowledge influenced children’s ability to understand words out of context, and to comprehend ...

Nov 19, 2013

The four ways to really fix education

  1. More schooling, reoriented calendar
  2. Wider range of higher education
  3. Cheaper four-year degrees
  4. Eliminate property tax-based public education

This is an interesting list. I don’t agree with number four. There are several benefits to using property taxes not the least of which is their stability and lagged response during traditional ...

Nov 18, 2013

It’s Poverty Stupid… or is it?

If I had to point to the key fissure in the education policy and research community it would be around poverty. Some seem to view it as an inexorable obstacle, deeply believing that the key improvement strategy is to decrease inequity of inputs. Some seem to view it as an ...

Sep 17, 2013

A New Calculation for Student Mobility

A brief discussion on the complexity of determining the number of schools a student has attended within a single school year using a minimal set of information.

Sep 13, 2013

Documentation of Business Rules and Analysis

One of the most challenging aspects of being a data analyst is translating programmatic terms like “student mobility” into precise business rules. Almost any simple statistic involves a series of decisions that are often opaque to the ultimate users of that statistic.

Documentation of business rules is a critical aspect ...

Aug 22, 2013

Some Changes for Rhode Island State Aid to Education

In December 2009, the education department head, Professor Kenneth K. Wong, another graduate student and myself were part of a three-person team consulting the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) on how to establish a new state funding formula. We worked with finance and legal staff at the department to ...

Aug 15, 2013

What can be done for Rhode Island Pensioners?

Proposing a small improvement to Rhode Island’s pension reform.

Jul 23, 2013

Smarter Balance Released Items Scare Me

CCSSI Mathematics posted a scathing look at the items released by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). While the rest of the internet seems to be obsessed over Georgia leaving the Partnership for Assessment of College and Careers1, the real concern should be over the quality of these test ...

Jun 20, 2013

Economic Policy Institute is Wrong

The Economic Policy Institute has release a short issue brief on the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act (RIRSA) by Robert Hiltonsmith that manages to get all of the details right but the big picture entirely wrong.

The EPI Issue Brief details the differences between the retirement system for state workers ...

Jun 12, 2013

Calculating Age in R

A few months back I wrote some code to calculate age from a date of birth and arbitrary end date. It is not a real tricky task, but it is certainly one that comes up often when doing research on individual-level data.

I was a bit surprised to only find ...

Jun 02, 2013

Linear Thinking

Apple will be revealing new details for both of its major operating systems at WWDC on June 10, 2013. The focus of much speculation has been how Apple will improve multi-tasking and inter-app communication in iOS7. As batteries have grown, CPUs have become increasingly powerful, and the application ecosystem has ...

May 30, 2013

Cleaning URLs with TextExpander

One thing I really dislike about Google Reader is it replaces the links to posts in my RSS feed. My Pinboard account is littered with links that start with I am quite concerned that with the demise of Google Reader on July 1, 2013, these redirects ...

Dec 20, 2012

The Slow Trek to Pelican

Update: Please see below for two solutions.

I have grown increasingly unhappy with Wordpress lately. My blog is simple. My design tastes are simple. My needs are simple. I like control. I am a geek. And I really need an excuse to learn Python, which seems to be rapidly growing ...

Nov 20, 2012

A little knowledge is a wonderful (dangerous) thing

Applying the lessons of cognitive science to education is not a straight forward task. Even with the best intentions, we may do more harm than good.

Nov 04, 2012


The key benefit that Apple has is ecosystem. Catching up with high quality hardware is just not enough.

Nov 02, 2012

Paul Cuffee Middle School, Addressing Emotional Needs

I like this piece in Slate on Paul Cuffee Middle School, a charter school right here in Providence. Most of what I know about child development seems to suggest that middle schools are sort of ridiculous. At the moment children are looking for role models and close relationships with adults ...

Oct 09, 2012

Where I Share

I have been meaning to write this post for the past couple of weeks. Like most other people, I am constantly experimenting with different ways to publish and share my thoughts and engage with social networking. Lately, I have settled into what feels like an “end state” workflow1. I ...

Oct 01, 2012

What Can Management Do? iOS6 Maps Monday-Morning Quarterbacking

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has suggested the iOS6 Maps debacle falls on the shoulders of Scott Forstall1. When I first read the piece, I felt like it was unfair to blame management for this kind of failure. In my experience, the Maps application is wonderful software. The turn-by-turn directions are elegant ...

Oct 01, 2012

Thoughts on Grit

I have not had the opportunity to read Paul Tough’s newest book on “grit”2. I have, however, read Paul Tough’s New York Times Magazine article on grit and recently listened to an EconTalk podcast where he discussed How Children Succeed.

The thrust of Tough’s argument, if ...

Sep 19, 2012

Thoughts on Grading

Bruno is a skeptic on standards-based grading. He seems to think that “mastery of content” is too abstract for students to work toward and rightly cites evidence that motivation and changed behavior are tightly linked to a sense of efficacy, which in turn is tightly linked to feeling as though ...

Aug 22, 2012

There must be an easier way… survey questions in R

So I have this great little custom function I’ve used when looking at survey data in R. I call this function pull(). The goal of pull() is to quickly produce frequency tables with n sizes from individual-level survey data.

Before using pull(), I create a big table that includes ...

Aug 06, 2012

Pay For Quality: Join

I like paying for good software. There are applications I use every day, some for hours a day, that make my experience on the web and on my computers better. I have paid for Reeder on three platforms, Tweetbot on two1, Pinboard, and many others. I like to pay ...

Jul 12, 2012

Follow up to Nesi’s Notes Guest Post: Woonsocket School Funding

Some expanded thoughts beyond my Nesi’s Notes guest post on school funding in Pawtucket and Woonsocket.

Jul 12, 2012

Legal Context: Can Woonsocket Successfully Sue the State for Additional Aid?

My last post ended with an important question, “Who is responsible for ensuring students are receiving a certain minimum quality education?”

This is my attempt at answering that question.

Does the state have a legal obligation to fiscally ensure that Woonsocket students are receiving an equitable, adequate, and meaningful education ...

Jul 12, 2012

Limitations of the Nesi’s Notes Analysis and Some Additional Questions

There are several questions that come to mind when looking over my analysis on Nesi’s Notes. The first thing I wondered was whether or not Woonsocket had raised local revenues by similar amounts to other communities but had chosen to spend this money on other municipal services. Ideally, I ...

Jul 12, 2012

Using the Common Core Data on NCES

My analysis on Nesi’s Notes depended entirely on the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core Data. The per pupil amounts reported to NCES may look a bit different from state sources of this information. There are several explanations of this. First, the enrollment counts used to generate per ...

Jul 10, 2012

Update on Social Promotion

This poignant post from Michael Goldstein ends with a few policy thoughts that largely support my previous post.

Goldstein’s second point is worth highlighting:

Anyway, in a small school, large-scale research isn’t the key determinant anyway. The team’s implementation is.

On the same day that Shanker Blog ...

Jul 10, 2012

Ranked Likert-Scale Visualization


See below for more information now that Ethan Brown has weighed in with some great code.

A recent post I came across on r-bloggers asked for input on visualizing ranked Likert-scale data.

I happen to be working on a substantial project using very similarly structured data so I thought ...

Jul 09, 2012

Work Place Liberty in the Context of Education

How can we tell if principal directives are fair to teachers?

There has been a great conversation circling some blogs I read over the last week about liberty in the work place.1 Issues of fairness in the work place are a constant in today’s education conversation. Whether some ...

Jun 13, 2012

Algorithms: Design and Analysis Part I

Day one of a MOOC I thought I would take. I enjoyed it, but never continued because of the time committment.

Jun 07, 2012

Fixing Dyer Street

With little public investment Dyer Street can become one of the most important streets in Providence.

Apr 25, 2012

Downtown Improvement District

My favorite tax bill.

Mar 20, 2012

Providence needs a little innovation

Have you ever tried to access public information about Providence on the web? Due to the recent, and new, requirement that residents reapply for their homestead tax exemption in Providence, I decided to poke around the Providence webpage to see what kind of public information on property was available online ...

Feb 15, 2012

Social Promotion, Tutoring, and Funding

Social promotion, in education circles, refers to the practice of allowing students to move on to the next grade level or course even though they are unable to demonstrate they have mastered the skills and knowledge they were expected to learn. Ending or reducing social promotion has been a major ...

Feb 09, 2012

Worth It: Five Stories from the Last Week

I read literally hundreds of posts from RSS feeds every day. I use Google Reader as an aggregator, Reeder to actually read through my feeds, and Pinboard for social bookmarking and posting1.

In order to capture just a small slice of the stories I really enjoyed, I’ve decided ...

Jan 31, 2012

Bank of America will leave 111 Westminster

I was pretty disappointed, but not surprised, that Bank of America has chosen to leave 111 Westminster Street. The building is an iconic anchor to downtown Providence. Unfortunately, this space has not been properly refurbished to more modern standards or for multi-tenancy. I share some ideas for a use befitting the space.

Jan 25, 2012

Providence Pensions— Let’s Call a Spade a Spade (or the COLA a Raise)

Ted Nesi has done a pretty solid job tracing the history of some awful decisions made by union-dominated boards that resulted in a significant number of retirees in the early-90s receiving 5% or 6% annually compounded interest on their retirement income. These are often called COLAs, or cost-of-living adjustments.

Today ...

Jan 23, 2012

Providence Real Estate Sales in R

The past few months I’ve been learning how to use R. This morning, I decided to try out two first— importing a table of data that is being read of the web and overlaying location data onto a map.

With a little bit of Google skills and just enough ...

Jan 18, 2012

What if the technology revolution in schools is really about the simple stuff?

The complicated school day is essentially designed so the minimum number of staff are away from kids at any given time. Some folks are trying to combat this with common planning time and other scheduling gymnastics. These attempts are up against a strong opposing priority— students must be with an ...

Jan 13, 2012

Value-Added on Core Knowledge Blog— some thoughts on Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff

Jessica Lahey wrote an interesting post over on Core Knowledge Blog that I decided to comment on.

After I read back my comment, I realized it would be worth copying over here as it’s own blog post.

The most interesting part of the Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff study is ...

Jan 07, 2012

Associated Press: Israeli schools not looking so good against OECD peers.

I read an interesting article this morning on Israeli schools. Facing extreme poverty among Arab-Israeli’s and the ultra-orthodox, Israel struggles to maintain three separate school systems and succeed. It reminded me of some interesting centralized policy reforms in Israel that have led to great natural experiments. For example, so-called ...

Dec 19, 2011

GrapheR is an awesome GUI for R beginners

If you’re just beginning to use R and want a quick and easy way to make some charts/graphs, etc, GrapheR is a great package to quickly produce high quality plots through a self-explanatory GUI. Here‘s an article in The R Journal today.

My only complaint is that ...

Dec 14, 2011

House wants unemployed to earn GEDs against all economic sense

Congress thinks aboutr enforcing a GED requirement for recepients of unemployment. What does research suggest?

Dec 12, 2011

Diane Ravitch, rebuttals.

A bit of a mea culpa, where I share smarter, more nuanced, and more informed takes than what I offered on this blog on a recent TNR article about Diane Ravitch.

Dec 11, 2011

How to use Picasa with iOS5

I’m mostly writing this post because I had a fairly hard time finding a resolution to a real pesky error. For some reason, my iPhone 4S was recognized by Picasa but always failed to import photos. Whenever I tried, the Picasa was clearly scanning through the files and then ...

Dec 08, 2011

How Social Reading Should Work

Is there anyone out there among the thousands of social startups who understands how I read?

Nov 29, 2011

Contracting Technology in Education

The Special Education Information System in NYC is getting a lot of slack for failing to live up to the promise and cost. This stirs up some thoughts on government contracting and large IT projects from my experiences at the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Nov 28, 2011

Is Diane Ravitch a reliable historian?

In which I speak mostly out of turn on the reliability of Diane Ravitch on the heels of a story in The New Republic.

Nov 06, 2011

Why isn’t the Core Connector using Westminster with full RoW?

I love that Providence is pursuing a streetcar. There are really just two things I don’t understand about the Core Connector‘s proposal. I’m going to tackle one in this post.

Why is the entire streetcar route shared with general traffic with no dedicated right-of-way? Truthfully, this isn ...

Oct 16, 2011

GoLocalProv — Bad at Math

A local news webpage makes a sloppy mistake.

Oct 15, 2011

TEA Party and Occupy Wall Street

I wondered to myself If I could explain these two movements in a few sentences. Is this fair?

The Taxed Enough Already (TEA) Party movement is a response to two large government spending packages, the “bailout” and the “stimulus” package. These people felt that it was inappropriate for the government ...

Oct 06, 2011

School facilities— anachronistic, expensive, isolating, and all around bad public spaces?

I wanted to write a lot more about this, but I just don’t have the time.

This storyis about rezoning schools in downtown Manhattan which is struggling to meet the demands of emerging residential neighborhoods. Reading this story (and struggle) just brought up something I’ve thought about ...

Sep 26, 2011

Downcity Residents Should Support the Core Connector and the Tax Makes Sense

I examine the direct costs associated with building a street car in Providence if they pursue the proposed special tax assessment zone. It turns out, taxing nearby residents for operations expenses is a pretty good deal for everyone.

Sep 16, 2011

Justin Baeder asks the Wrong Question on Teacher Evaluation

The flaws in up-and-coming teacher evaluation systems can be directly connected to the early union battles caused by mistrust.

Sep 15, 2011

Libertarians and Charity

As an undergraduate I largely avoided political science because I couldn’t imagine getting interested in reading The Republic, Leviathan, or Wealth of Nations. Political philosophy, and philosophy in general, just seemed like a horrible painful exercise, so I avoided it. Of course now that I’m involved in public ...

Sep 14, 2011

Apple Migration Assistant

Apple makes setting up a new Mac a breeze.

Sep 08, 2011

Community Voice at the Knowledge District Development Framework Meeting

Some thoughts after my first experience at a public planning meeting.