kitchen table math, the sequel

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Real World Math Problem

FAFSA's EFC is based on your gross before-tax income (including IRA and 401K contributions) and your excess assets. You are expected to save some of your after-tax income to pay for your child's education. During the year, you cut back and save as much as you can. However, when you fill out the FAFSA form, this after-marginal-tax bracket money is sitting in a non-retirement account and is used to increase your EFC. However, if you get a tax refund that comes in late, then it's not sitting in your account and you do not have to report it. Likewise, if you get a bonus (which is income) that comes in on July 1 and you use it to pay for college, it will not be sitting in your account when you fill out FAFSA following year.

One college accounts for this for student income because the percentages are high, but the comment was that this was "small" for parents. My son's college uses 8% after taxes and we're not talking about a meal at IHOP.

The no one right answer math question is: "What's up with that?"

Also, if you take IRA money out to pay for college, then that's added to your income and used in next year's EFC. Score one for Roth.

What's up with that number two?

In our case, our tax refund came in after FAFSA and before CSS Profile. I think I will take out a whole lot more in taxes and not file electronically.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Greetings from the midbrain! and housekeeping and email

Parachuting into my own blog for the first time in (days? weeks?) —I see Le Radical Galoisien is back!


Anyway, I've not been here because I'm there, in the basement of the brain, prowling the basal ganglia. The book's deadline has now been moved to September 1, thank heavens, but it's still going to be a race to the finish, or a slog. A guillotine deadline, as an editor of mine once said, and not happily.

Making matters worse, in the closing moments of 2014 I made a commitment, as my sole resolution for 2015, to clear out my office. Not just my office, but my family room and living room, too, which had become holding areas for office spill-over.

I am clearing out my office, as well as my family and living rooms. The latter two now have nary a file or folder insight. Success.

As of this morning I have scanned, filed, stored, and/or discarded 670 items. (Yes, I'm counting.)

The subset of those 670 items that has been scanned, filed, and/or stored has also been duly recorded on Workflowy, giving me a fighting chance of locating any one of them again when I need it.

(M. said to me the other day: "You should write down where you put things." I said: "I do.")

As it turns out, writing a book about the basal ganglia and decluttering 16 years of office accumulation at the same time was a crackpot idea, not to put too fine a point on it. Fortunately, because I'm writing a book about the basal ganglia (about the frontostriatal circuit, actually) I now know why writing a book about the basal ganglia and clearing out 16 years of office accumulation at the same time is insane:
[L]ots of multitasking requires decision-making: Do I answer this text message or ignore it? How do I respond to this? How do I file this email? Do I continue what I’m working on now or take a break? It turns out that decision-making is also very hard on your neural resources and that little decisions appear to take up as much energy as big ones. One of the first things we lose is impulse control. This rapidly spirals into a depleted state in which, after making lots of insignificant decisions, we can end up making truly bad decisions about something important. Why would anyone want to add to their daily weight of information processing by trying to multitask?
Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain by Daniel Levitin
Clearing away 670 items requires six hundred and seventy decisions, each one of them momentous as far as my brain is concerned.

I can't even begin to estimate how many separate decisions writing a book about the frontostriatal circuit requires. Every sentence in and of itself requires multiple decisions, since most of my sentences go through multiple revisions. That's just for starters.

Which brings me to the next issue:
In discussing information overload with Fortune 500 leaders, top scientists, writers, students, and small business owners, email comes up again and again as a problem. It’s not a philosophical objection to email itself, it’s the mind-numbing number of emails that come in. When the 10-year-old son of my neuroscience colleague Jeff Mogil (head of the Pain Genetics lab at McGill University) was asked what his father does for a living, he responded, “He answers emails.”
Several months ago (in the fall? the summer?) my Outlook calendar and email program blew up again. This has been going forever, along with multiple crashes of my not-remotely-ancient iMac, entailing multiple trips to the Genius Bar and, finally, a long-distance relationship with kindly Brad, who lives and works on the Apple mothership.

Each repair of my iMac took another bite out of Outlook, and I am now at the point where I can't retrieve anything from Outlook, not even addresses.

I can fix it, I'm sure, and I would if I had even one single synapse free to devote to the task.

But I don't. Not one.

So: if you've sent me an email and I haven't answered, that's why. I'm now mired in indecision over whether to simply set up another gmail address and post it here on the blog, or post the gmail address I've been using for family and local friends and use that for everything, or what.

I don't have any synapses to devote to that decision, either.

(While I'm on the subject of ancillary gmail addresses, should I set one up to sell the books I no longer want on Amazon? A tall-ish stack of books is sitting on the floor beside my desk, awaiting further action.)

I need more synapses.

OK, back to work  miss you all and will try to be present more often  !

Friday, March 6, 2015

On the Singaporean and American classroom environments

I am not entirely happy with the Singaporean education system, for various social, economic and political reasons. Intellectual dissent on the education system in Singapore, I suppose, is like intellectual dissent anywhere -- restricted to discussions in coffeeshops, blogs and online mailing lists, present in environments not unlike this blog. Yet, Americans seem to have the leg up sometimes. For one, Americans have a tradition of organised dissent actually accomplishing something. To Singaporeans, public dissent might evoke a general reaction like, "Ayah, you just sour grapes complaining lah," given our tradition of making public hullaballoos over small things like when a vendor rips us off for two dollars. the "underground" vibe seems more energetic

A "cynical" approach to things taught about National Education

Yet, Singapore's system does have its merits. I am not happy with the American education system either


With all the talk about Singapore Math, tracking/differentiated instruction, group work and classroom rigour, I just thought I'd chip in from the perspective of a student who used to study in the Singaporean education system, before comparing what I perceive to be the American classroom environment, having experienced both the elementary school classroom and the high school classroom in America.

Firstly, a few caveats. My examples of course will be very anecdotal, and there will be things that would be specific to the schools I attended, the socioeconomic background of the student bodies, and hardly least of all, my opinion of my peers, and so forth. I expect this to colour my accounts. But I also think there are biases and hidden variables worth talking about often glossed over by the "adults" when they talk about the educational strategies of both systems. (A small digression: despite being an 18-year-old first-year college student, I still don't regard myself as an adult.) Having also been to other schools and having friends in other schools in each stage of life, etc., and since a few things universal to each system become apparent through popular culture and national gossip, official procedures that everyone goes through, national competitions and the like, I still think it's valid to make some extrapolations.

After all, when reporters, teachers on exchange programmes, educational certification inspectors, researchers, et al. visit schools and classrooms, I think it's safe to say you often don't get an exactly candid picture of what actually goes on. And while we ridicule at the type of learning that occurs in group work, and discuss in haughty academic reports the statistical p-value probability that "effective group work" occurred purely by random, how does one objectively discuss the impacts of things that resist quantification and are hard to detect from test scores, like "school culture", "peer support", "friendship", or "chilling effect"?

Now, I am neither content with Singapore or the United States' education systems

My primary school math curriculum in Singapore also employed group work, etc. I believe with the abolishment of the EM3 system (and I believe the entire EM system as a whole), math tracking doesn't exist anymore in Singapore as it once did. I am happy with this development. Essentially the majority of the pupils at each level will study the same curriculum with more or less the same pace.

Of course, after they graduate primary school, they'll be sorted into the Special / Express streams (differs only by whether you take a more advanced second language or not), Normal (Academic), Normal (Technical) streams, etc. Of course, secondary schools no longer have the GEP either, though they have the new Integrated Programme for those who get into IP schools and fulfill the entry requirements. (IP programmes, including implementations of the International Baccalaureat, often don't work out exactly as was planned on paper. I still have a major problem with the IP programmes' detection/admission of otherwise qualified students, and the fact that a mugging (exam-focussed) culture predominates over any intellectual one.

But of course, back to the primary school classroom first.

Caveat: I went to a fairly comfortable primary school [for P5 and P6; I was brought up in American elementary school in the American equivalent of Singapore K2 to P5). That is, my school fees were basically were 30 SGD (20 USD) every 3 months, while the government subsidised the rest, my classmates were mainly lower middle to mid-upper middle class (at one extreme), etc. I've heard stories happen in the "neighbourhood schools" with regard to work ethic, behaviour and so forth. I'm curious to know if our neighbourhood schools also have successful educational strategies on an international level, just that they enjoy less prestige and dare I say it, performance, than higher-ranked schools. I believe that if you make an analogy between primary school rankings to American college rankings, if Raffles Institution is the equivalent of Harvard, my primary school would have been like Penn State or something. The neighbourhood schools would of course be the local unis and stuff.

BUT anyway, after all these caveats, we didn't really differentiate kids based on academic ability into different classrooms that much, and I would say we enjoyed a fairly rigourous math curriculum. Of course, you always had the discussions over which class was the "best class", often determined by what kind of kids were in them. 6F / 5A

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Speaking of millennials

Which I was ....

Education Week reports that a new set of dismal international comparisons--of millenials, this time--is coming out next week. I can't tell whether the test is good, but, then again, I'd just as soon U.S. high school graduates not score lower than high school graduates in every country except France no matter how possibly lousy the test.



Here are 3 sample math questions.

Down the rabbit hole:
It's far from the first study to suggest American students are falling behind their international peers. But the analysis of U.S. millennials—those born after 1980, ages 16 to 34 during the study—specifically highlights that the skills gap goes beyond young people who are typically seen as more "at-risk," like immigrants and high school dropouts.


The ETS study, to be released this week, compares millennials in 22 industrialized countries, including the United States, who took part in the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC, in 2012, the last time it was given. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which runs the school-based Program for International Student Assessment, also runs the PIAAC, which is given directly to adults in their homes. Unlike the PISA, which measures academic content skills, the PIAAC measures practical, career-oriented literacy and numeracy skills, and, as of 2012, "problem-solving in technology-rich environments."


Across the board, young Americans fared poorly compared to those in the other countries studied. They tied for last, with Italy and Spain, in math skills. In problem-solving, they again performed at the bottom of the pack, with Ireland, Poland, and the Slovak Republic. U.S. millennials also had lower literacy scores than peers in 15 out of 22 countries, tied with a few, and outperformed only peers in Italy and Spain.


. . . the skills gaps persisted among students who are least likely to be considered academically at risk. Those who performed in the top 10 percent of all Americans in their age group still performed worse than the top performers in 15 other countries, including Germany and the Republic of Korea.

While a higher proportion of U.S. millennials versus those in other countries had earned a college degree, those with a four-year degree in the United States still showed lower math skills than those with college degrees in any country studied but Poland and Spain.* Moreover, the percentages of Americans who demonstrated the lowest-level math skills increased from 2003 to 2012, regardless of what level of education they had achieved.


Even those with a master's or doctoral degree demonstrated lower numeracy skills than their counterparts in all but a few countries. The average U.S. math score for millennials with a postbaccalaureate degree, 308, was not only below the average for countries studied who are in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but was below the average score for young adults with just a bachelor's degree in several countries, and near the score for top-performing students with less than a bachelor's degree in a few countries.


American millennials with a high school diploma or less performed lower than those with a secondary credential in every country but France.


. . . in the United States, native-born millennials showed a greater decline in skills from the 2003 to 2012 cohorts than did their immigrant peers.


Racial and ethnic performance gaps continued, with 12 percent of white and Asian young adults in America showing advanced levels of math skill, versus only 3 percent of Hispanic and 1 percent of black millennials. Yet on average, OECD countries had about 15 percent of all millennials performing at an advanced level, and white and Asian students in the United States performed below their counterparts in most other countries studied.

From the department of unintentional irony:
While a higher proportion of U.S. millennials versus those in other countries had earned a college degree, those with a four-year degree in the United States still showed lower math skills than those with college degrees in any country studied but Poland and Spain.
If a higher proportion of U.S. millennials finish college, then you would expect college-educated U.S. millennials as a group to have a lower average math score than college-educated millennials elsewhere. [Copy edit courtesy of Glen]

I wonder how the numeracy skills of U.S. education reporters stack up compared to those of education reporters in France and Spain.

Parents should pay attention to the Fed

Since the crash, I've become a Fed watcher.

I don't like what I see.

I'd been thinking for a while now that I want to start alerting ktm readers to the Fed's importance in our children's lives, but that idea, along with a hundred other things I've been thinking I want to do, has been languishing in the want-to-do queue.

Then this afternoon a quick trip to Marcus Nunes' historinhas blog spurred me to action.

So here it is.

Compare and contrast:
Many Fed officials want to start raising short-term interest rates before the economy reaches a point of full employment.

Nobody Knows Nairu, and That’s a Problem for the Fed By JON HILSENRATH | WSJ | 2/13/2015

This, too:

The reason Fed officials want to raise rates before everyone who is looking for a job finds one is that the Federal Reserve "fights inflation" by keeping people out of work. Keeping people out of work keeps wages down, et voilà. Inflation fought.

By law, of course, the Federal Reserve is required to promote "maximum employment."

But the Federal Reserve has never promoted "maximum employment" in the sense of full employment, "full" being the proper synonym for "maximum."

Instead, members of the FOMC interpret "maximum" to mean 'whatever we say it means.' Typically, they see maximum employment as being 5% unemployment. That's 5% at a minimum, mind you. Their estimates of the proper level of joblessness have ranged as high as >6%.

If members of the FOMC see unemployment falling below 5%, they "tighten."

Tightening works 100% of the time. The Federal Reserve can always, without fail, stop growth in employment.

How do Fed officials decide how low is too low?

Beats me.

They don't appear to consult history (the U.S. had full employment with stable inflation in the 1960s); they don't appear to consult the experience of other nations (Japan's unemployment rate has fallen to 3.5% and we're still reading tragic stories about low inflation there); and they seem to have learned nothing from the fact that their past opinions re:maximum employment have been wrong time and time again. (Have they ever been right?)

They do what they do.

That is the long and the short of it: the Federal Reserve fights inflation by fighting full employment. That is why parents need to pay attention.

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the employment-to-population ratio, which is abysmal, though a lot better than it was. (77.2% for workers aged 25-54, compared to 79.2% before the crash. The low point since the crash was 74.9% in 2011.)

I'm talking about unemployed people who want to be employed and are looking for work.

The Federal Reserve consciously and intentionally sets policy to ensure that 5% of those looking for work won't find it.

The Wage Growth Gap for Recent College Grads

The Fed's desire to "normalize" policy before we reach full employment bodes ill for the earning potential of millenials:
Median starting wages of recent college graduates have not kept pace with median earnings for all workers over the past six years. This type of gap in wage growth also appeared after the 2001 recession and closed only late in the subsequent labor market recovery. However the wage gap in the current recovery is substantially larger and has lasted longer than in the past. The larger gap represents slow growth in starting salaries for graduates, rather than a shift in types of jobs, and reflects continued weakness in the demand for labor overall.
Be sure to check out the charts.

On a related subject, a while back I mentioned that I'd been wondering why it is that, when I was a child, my father, a farmer in central Illinois, could raise four children and send us all to college on one income.

Now I know the answer to that question.

Two words: policy elites.

More on this anon.

UPDATE: Just saw this.
The Federal Reserve is not sounding like an institution that is ready to raise its benchmark interest rate in June.

Fed Appears to Hesitate on Raising Interest Rate

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Debbie Stier's 28-day critical reading intensive

This is amazing.

Some of you may remember our discussing why charter schools do so much better raising math scores than reading scores. (Be sure to read the comments thread.)

Ever since my summer at Morningside Academy, I've suspected that, where reading comprehension is concerned, pretty much everyone is on the wrong track. (Everyone but palisadesk, of course.)

More to the point, I don't really buy the argument that good reading comprehension, or good scores on reading comprehension tests, take years and years to develop because good reading scores are a matter of background knowledge that takes years and years to develop.

Having now taught freshman composition for a few years, and having used as many Morningside techniques as I've been able to, my sense is that struggling readers can improve pretty quickly.

But that's just an impression. I don't have before-and-after scores.

Then there's the SAT, where math scores are widely perceived to be moveable, but reading scores are not. Certainly not quickly.

So guess what?

A month ago Debbie finally took the plunge and created a 28-day "intensive"* course in SAT-type reading ---- and it works!

Students are raising their scores significantly in 28 days.

It's incredible. I thought it would work, and Debbie thought it would work, but then again .... 28 days? That's not a long time, 28 days. I don't think I'm putting words in Debbie's mouth when I say that while we both thought it would work, we were also harboring a sliver of doubt.

But the first batch of scores have come out, and the kids are doing great!

It's incredibly exciting.

If I still had a teenager at home, I would definitely sign him up. (Maybe Andrew, once we get through Katie Beal's GrammarTrainer ---- boy, I would love that ---)

28-day critical reading intensive

* I love "intensive"! I would never have thought of using that word myself & nor would Debbie -- a marketing person told her to call what she was doing "intensive." Brilliant. "28-day intensive" makes me want to take the course.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What would happen if parents had choice?

This question has come up in the comments thread of "If you want your children to sit in rows, you have to pay extra."

I strongly support choice, partly because Ed and I had sufficient income to exercise choice by, first, moving to a district we couldn't afford* (because we thought affluent suburbs had private school education at public school prices)** and, second, withdrawing our 'neurotypical' son from our public school and enrolling him in a Jesuit high school.

Choice number 2 was the best money we ever spent.

As a simple matter of fairness, I believe that if we had choice, other parents should have choice, too.

How school choice would turn out is another question, and I certainly agree with froggiemama that the prospect of public schools taking the path colleges and universities have taken (more, more amenities) gives me the willies.

On the other hand, we do have evidence from other Western countries that I think should be part of the conversation.

We also have evidence from Project Follow-Through, in which low-income parents chose Direct Instruction over progressive education (must rustle up the link - sorry it's not here).

My two favorite what-do-parents-want stories:
Which reminds me: I recall reading that the U.S. has the least free school system among Western countries . . . is that the case? I no longer remember where I picked that up.

In any event, it's definitely the case that a number of Western countries fund parochial schools (or fund parents who want to send their children to parochial schools).

Also germane to the discussion: Andrew Cuomo is supporting tax credits for school choice.
In his fifth State of the State speech, the governor also called for an education tax credit for donations to public schools or scholarship funds that aid students in parochial schools, a top priority of Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
Cuomo proposes sweeping education changes 
I'm ambivalent about Governor Cuomo, but he does seem like a pretty savvy political operator:
While the bill is supported by some 20 unions, who say that it would help the children of their members, the New York State teachers’ union staunchly opposes it, calling it a backdoor voucher program that directs tax dollars to private schools.

Cuomo’s Education Agenda Sets Battle Lines With Teachers’ Unions
* Almost sufficient income
** Reality turned out to be exactly the opposite: public school education at private school prices.

Carmen Fariña's grandson has a tutor

She cited her experience with her 10-year-old grandson, who she said worshiped the high school boy her daughter had hired to tutor him. “Charlie goes like this” — she mimicked an expression of rapt attention — “every time Abe walks into the room,” she said. (Ms. Fariña’s frequent references to her grandson have become a running joke among principals.)
Chancellor Carmen Fariña Changes New York City Schools’ Course
American parents spend $7 billion annually on tutoring, in some cases as much as $400 an hour, to reassure themselves that they are giving their children every advantage in the academic rat race, and research on the impact of tutoring backs them up.
Closing the Math Gap for Boys
I was talking recently to a member of the school board here, who told me s/he didn't mind hiring tutors, but s/he did mind hiring tutors for "basic education."

That makes two members of our school board, that I know of, who pay tutors to teach their children at home. (Last year the then-board president told the administration, on camera, that he had hired a math tutor for his daughter.)

I don't know whether the other three members of the board employ tutors. I'm guessing two of them do. If they haven't hired tutors already, they will, because everyone does.

Our current superintendent's take on the matter: the reason Irvington parents hire tutors is "culture."

That's what his predecessor thought, too.

Her observation -- this is close to a direct quotation -- was "Everyone knows Westchester parents hire tutors because they push their children to get ahead."

I always get my back up, hearing this.

What is it about my culture that makes me waste money on tutors, exactly?

And how is my culture any business of yours, anyway?

And why am I, the parent with the supposedly wonky culture, the focus of analysis?

I don't think I know a single parent, in my district, whose children went through all 13 years of K-12 without tutors, and all but one hired tutors because their children were having trouble, not because their children were at the top of their class but the parents wanted more.

Just one parent I know arguably fell into the "culture" category, but even that parent wasn't hiring tutors because of her culture. Pushing her kids to get ahead because of her culture, yes. Hiring tutors to do the job, no. Hiring tutors was simple realism. She had worked in the schools herself, and was matter of fact about their failings. Rely on your public school for the basics, she told me; for anything beyond the basics, hire a tutor.

That's not culture.

That's survival of the fittest. Her household had assessed the situation they found themselves in, and they had adapted.

My question is: when did this happen?

When did it become taken for granted that kids--all kids--have trouble learning at school, and the solution is for parents to hire tutors?

Echoing my board member, I don't actually mind if (some) parents are hiring tutors just so long as the superintendent minds and is working to reduce the need for tutors.

But he doesn't and he isn't.

Ditto for Carmen Farina, apparently.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Question: When can you trust your intuition?

Answer: When you possess knowledge stored in long-term memory, not on Google.

I'm semi-beavering away on the writing exercises for Ed's textbook (with Katie Beals) and on Eric Hollander's & my book on the compulsive-impulsive dimension, which has meant long stretches away from Kitchen Table Math (frustrating!)

Trying to organize my collection of articles on the basal ganglia, the orbitofrontal cortex, associative learning, OCD, ADHD, addiction, impulsivity, compulsivity, the cognitive unconscious, intuition, cognitive biases, cognitive heuristics, Go/NoGo (I'll stop here), I came across this:
When should I trust my gut? Linking domain expertise to intuitive decision-making effectiveness
Erik Dane, Kevin W. Rockmann, Michael G. Pratt
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 119*2012) 187-194

ABSTRACT: Despite a growing body of scholarship on the concept of intuition, there is a scarcity of empirical research spotlighting the circumstances in which intuitive decision making is effective relative to analytical decision making. Seeking to address this deficiency, we conducted two laboratory studies assessing the link between domain expertise (low versus high) and intuitive decision-making effectiveness. . . . Across both studies, and consistent with our overarching hypothesis, we found that the effectiveness of intuition relative to analysis is amplified at a high level of domain expertise. Taken together, our results demonstrate the importance of domain expertise in intuitive decision making and carry a number of theoretical and practical implications.


While theory suggests that people may perform well using intuition . . . , we expect that the benefits of intuition are most likely to be realized by certain individuals -- those who have acquired a substantial degree of expertise in the focal domain (Kahneman & Klein, 2009; Klein, 1998; Salas et al., 2010). Domain experts are well equipped to capitalize on the potential benefits of intuition because they possess rich bodies of domain knowledge that foster the rapid and sophisticated associative processes that produce accurate intuitions (Dane & Pratt, 2007). Although little work has demonstrated just how much expertise must be accrued before the benefits of intuition begin to take hold, the benefits of intuition are generally most evident - and most striking - among those who have engaged in intense, repetitive practice for a number of years, or even decades (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 2005; Ericsson & Charness, 1994; Simon, 1987).

By the same token, we expect that intuition is likely a poor or misguided decision-making approach for those with very little domain expertise (i.e., domain novices). On this point, research suggests that the intuitions of domain novices are generally based on relatively simple, context-insensitive heuristics (Dane & Pratt, 2007; Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). These intuitions tend to be biased and thus inaccurate (Bazerman, 2006; Hammong, Keeney, & Raiffa 1998).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If you want your children to sit in rows, you have to pay extra

Reading David Cutler's "The Private-School Stigma," I came across this:
In a Washington Post opinion piece last year about their book, the coauthors also wrote that private schools too often use their autonomy from state regulations to teach in such a way that may please parents but isn’t effective for learning. In the piece, the Lubienskis wrote:

For example, private school students are more likely than their public school counterparts to sit in rows, complete math worksheets and believe that mathematics is 'mostly memorizing facts'—a narrow view that captures neither the breadth of the discipline nor the reasoning that is central to it. In contrast, public schools have moved beyond traditional, repetitive exercises, and more often ask students to solve complex, real-world problems and to learn geometry, data analysis, and early algebra ideas, in addition to basic arithmetic.
So it's official.

If you want your children learning inside a teacher-centered classroom, you have to a) make enough money to pay for private or parochial school; b) live in an area that has a decent private or parochial school or two; c) hope your kids get in.

Can you spell 'hegemony,' part 2

The private/parochial school option may not be long for this world.

For one thing, the National Association of Independent Schools seems to come down on the side of progressive education, no surprise given that many private schools were founded as progressive alternatives to public school in the first place, at least here in New York:
The 70-odd private schools in or near Manhattan are a varied lot, but with few exceptions they share one notable quality: age. They have the mystique of wood-paneled privilege that is hard to manufacture anew and that continues to radiate the glamour that makes even pop divas like Madonna aspire to Scottish castles and English nannies. Many of these schools are housed in fine, old Upper East Side buildings or ivy-covered campuses; students often wear uniforms, including blazers or kilts; they honor traditions like teas and Founder's Days; they may even call teachers "Sir." History has given each of these institutions a unique character. Towne and Allen-Stevenson are small, traditional schools with a neighborhood tone; Little Red Schoolhouse and Trevor Day have a staunchly 1920s left-wing feel; Grace Church, Marymount, and Sacred Heart have proud religious affiliations.

But it is what Victoria Goldman, co-author of The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools, calls the Baby Ivies that are the million-dollar prize of this Survivor game. These are the crème de la crème, the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of the K-12 set. Decades ago, these schools could easily be divided into two broad categories. The coed, progressive schools—Dalton, Fieldston, Friends Seminary, Horace Mann, Riverdale, and St. Ann's—appealed to New York's artistic and intellectual elite. The unisex traditional schools—Buckley, Collegiate, St. Bernard's, and Trinity (now coed) for boys or Brearley, Chapin, Nightingale-Bamford, and Spence for girls—educated the children of the Protestant establishment, at least until adolescence, when many of the boys went on to board at Groton and Choate. (St. Bernard's and Buckley still only go up to ninth grade.) These days, all the schools pride themselves on a progressive, multicultural curriculum that counts as today's conventional wisdom; you would be just as likely to find a first-grade "interdisciplinary project" on Eskimos at Collegiate as at Dalton and a tenth-grade African-American literature course at Spence as at Fieldston. All of them "respect different learning styles." Yet despite the trendy veneer, the curricula remain fairly rigorous, and the schools still turn out graduates who know the difference between a Van Gogh and a Vermeer, speak French, and play decent tennis.

Survivor: The Manhattan Kindergarten by Kay Hymowitz
And then there are the forces of hegemony, which are pervasive and powerful, and which explain why every reform is the same non-reform all over again, for the most part. The hegemon never quite wins, so the battle never (quite) ends.

That's one theory.

Hirsch has a different take on the one hundred years' war:
The history of American education since the 1930s has been the stubborn persistence of illusion in the face of reality. Illusion has not been defeated. But since reality cannot be defeated, either, and since it determines what actually happens in the world, the result has been educational decline.
And this:
In a conflict between ideology and reality, reality always trumps.
I think that's true.

"Reality always trumps" explains why our schools grind on and on, innovating and disrupting, disrupting and innovating, adopting open classrooms, flipped classrooms, station classrooms--any permutation they can dream up--but nothing ever sticks, and the conflict never ends.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Station math, part 2

Julie writes:
My 7th grader, who was in an accelerated math class this year (in GA) experienced these same math stations. He said it was like being in elementary school all over again.

This same teacher "flipped" her classroom by making videos of her reading the textbook and examples aloud. He was expected to watch the videos each night before doing homework problems...but he couldn't stand it. He wanted to just read the book to himself and get the homework done.

Same teacher wanted parents and students to follow her on Twitter to keep up with daily son has no interest in using Twitter.
Part of what is going on in my district, and I imagine in Julie's district, is that administrators here are focused first and foremost on "infusing technology into the curriculum." This is the prime directive.

Just how to infuse technology into the curriculum remains a mystery, however, so the district has elected to buy a bunch of stuff and have teachers "innovate."

Which reminds me of a funny conversation. (Not funny ha-ha, I'm afraid.)

A fellow dissident here in the district invited me to a meeting she had scheduled with the high school principal re: flipped classrooms. As we sat down, the principal, who is new to the district, told us he "believes in" flipped classrooms.

"I encourage teachers to take risks," he said.

Having spent years of my life chewing over this and related issues, I had a response at the ready: "You're taking risks with other people's children," I said.

"Teachers have tenure and a union, they're not the ones taking the risk. The kids are taking the risk, and they haven't been asked whether they want to take the risk you're forcing them to take."

(I actually said these sentences, out loud. I didn't just think of saying them later on and wish I had. Very satisfying!)

The principal, who seems like a very nice guy, looked horrified. Clearly, it had never crossed his mind that "teachers taking risks" could be construed as anything other than an unalloyed good--let alone a borderline abuse of his authority as head of school, which is pretty much what I was suggesting.

Since then the administration has gotten a bit of an earful on the subject of experimenting with other peoples' children.

But the experiments continue apace.

"Station math" is, I gather, another effort to infuse technology into the curriculum, I guess because one of the stations has movies, and movies are technology.

So....time flies. I'm old enough to remember when SMART Boards were technology.

My district has beaucoup SMART Boards. We had to buy one for every classroom because we had a SMART Board equity gap.

Maybe the problem is presenters....

I've just come across a blog by Raymond Johnson, who writes:
I hold some grudges when it comes to the topic of research to practice in education. A few highlights: A principal who (probably rightly) thought I was struggling to engage my students told me to watch Barbara Streisand's performance as a college professor in The Mirror Has Two Faces and "do what she does, because her students love her." The question, "Which academic journal did she read that in?" sarcastically crossed my mind, and no, I never watched the movie. At a state conference presentation about RtI, a presenter told us to only use research-based intervention strategies. When a teacher at my table asked, "How do we know if a strategy is research-based?" the presenter responded, "I figure if it's something you find in writing, and didn't just make up by yourself, then it's research-based."
Schneider's From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse, Chapter 1: Bloom's Taxonomy
I guess Wikipedia counts.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Kai on teachers writing curriculum

Kai writes:
Wasn't Englemann the same one who said (paraphrased), "Making curriculum and teaching it at the same time is like building the airplane as you try to fly it...".

Curriculum is hard. At one of my schools I spent 30 hours over the summer just making a scope and sequence with four other people. "Making your own curriculum" is just shorthand for non-systematic throw it against the wall and see what sticks.
Building the airplane while you try to fly it---I love that!

I don't remember reading that before.

Let me tell you: 30 hours to write a scope and sequence with four other people sounds fast to me.

That reminds me!

Daniel Kahneman has a fabulous curriculum-writing story in Thinking, Fast and Slow:
A few years after my collaboration with Amos began, I convinced some officials in the Israeli Ministry of Education of the need for a curriculum to teach judgment and decision making in  high schools. The team that I assembled to design the curriculum and write a textbook for it included several experienced teachers, some of my psychology students, and Seymour Fox, then dean of the Hebrew University's School of Education, who was an expert in curriculum development.

After meeting every Friday afternoon for about a year, we had constructed a detailed outline of the syllabus, had written a couple of chapters, and had run a few sample lessons in the classroom. We all felt that we had made good progress. One day, as we were discussing procedures for estimating uncertain quantities, the idea of conducting an exercise occurred to me. I asked everyone to write down an estimate of how long it would take us to submit a finished draft of the textbook to the Ministry of Education. I was following a procedure that we already panned to incorporate into our curriculum: the proper way to elicit information from a group is not by starting with a public discussion but by confidentially collecting each person's judgment. ... I collected the estimates and jotted the results on the blackboard. They were narrowly centered around two years; the low end was one and a half, the high end two and a half years.

Then I had another idea. I turned to Seymour, our curriculum expert, and asked whether he could think of other teams similar to ours that had developed a curriculum from scratch. This was a time when several pedagogical innovations like "new math" ha been introduced, and Seymour said he could think of quite a few.


He fell silent. When he finally spoke, it seemed to me that he was blushing, embarrassed by his own answer: "You know, I never realized this before, but in fact not all the teams at a stage comparable to ours ever did complete their task...."

This was worrisome; we had never considered the possibility that we mint fail. My anxiety rising, I asked how large he estimated that fraction was. "About 40%," he answered. By now, a pall of gloom was falling over the room. The next question was obvious: "Those who finished," I asked. "How long did it take them?" "I cannot think of any grow that finished in less than seven years," he replied, "nor any that took more than ten."


Our state of mind when we heard Seymour is not well described by stating what we "knew." Surely all of us "knew" that a minimum of seven years and a 40% chance of failure was a more plausible forecast of the fate of our project than the numbers we had written on our slips of paper a few minutes earlier. But we did not acknowledge what we knew. The new forecast still seemed unreal, because we could not imagine how it could take so long to finish a project that looked so manageable. ... All we could see was a reasonable plan that should produce a book in about two years....


We should have quit that day. None of us was willing to invest six more years of work in a project with a 40% chance of failure. Although we must have ended that persevering was not reasonable, the warning did not provide an immediately compelling reason to quit. After a few minutes of desultory debate, we gathered ourselves together and carried on as if nothing had happened. The book was eventually completed eight(!) years later. By that time I was no longer living in Israel and had long since ceased to be part of the tam, which completed the task after many unpredictable vicissitudes. The initial enthusiasm for the idea in the Ministry of Education had waned by the time the text was delivered and it was never used.

This embarrassing episode remains one of the most instructive experiences of my professional life.
Planning fallacy

Auntie Anne and Anonymous on teachers writing their own curriculum

Anonymous writes:
When I was a new teacher I would have croaked if I had had to write curriculum. And it would have failed miserably. What I did develop over time was the ability to extend curriculum in some realms. But I was glad to have a logical, tested curriculum for Grade 1 Reading. It's too important to be left to multiple teachers winging it.

My ideal writing team, where curriculum is concerned, is a classroom teacher working with a disciplinary specialist. Classroom teachers have pedagogical content knowledge, mathematicians have the curse of knowledge, et voilà, at least potentially: real math kids can actually learn and comprehend.

(I'd always heard that the Singapore Math series was written by math teachers partnered with mathematicians, but Barry tells me that story is apocryphal.)

The only reason teachers can't write curriculum is that they already have a job teaching.

Auntie Anne:
But these days, "our own curriculum" is often the teacher spending 5 or 10 minutes googling for a worksheet--this was our kids' 6th grade math from start to finish.

Our school likes to say that the curriculum they buy (formerly EM, now moving over to SM) isn't their "curriculum," they just use that as the basic outline and go from there.

Now, there are some websites I love for worksheets ( is my favorite,) and good sites for information and explanations ( for example), but nothing compares to a carefully constructed, brick-by-brick textbook for completeness, coherence, and consistency.

Here in these parts, the curriculum is becoming Google.

Onward and upward: Station math

I learned this week that our 6th-grade math teachers have adopted a new way of teaching math.

One day a week, they teach the whole class.

On the other four days of the week, students are given a menu of options, each one of which corresponds to a station in the classroom. Some stations have videos.

Children select a station and spend the class doing whatever it is they do at math stations while the teacher circulates the room "working one on one." 

In the beginning, students were told they couldn't ask the teacher questions because she would be too busy to answer. That's: no questions at all. Not even three before me

That rule has now been rescinded, it seems.

So parents are hiring tutors, and some parents have asked that their children be switched to "Academic Intervention Services" so they can have a teacher who actually teaches. 

The board wasn't alerted to the change, and it's not clear how much parents even know that their children are now receiving only one day of direct instruction per week. The parent I spoke to knew about it because she picked up on a line in a Back to School Night handout and put two and two together.

None of the administrators admits to having anything to do with it. 

Somehow, the entire 6th grade math program turned into a writers workshop for math without anyone's being the wiser. 

Another wrinkle: accelerated math placements aren't made until January of grade 6. Since mine is a nominally high-performing district, the goal in placement decisions is to keep as many kids out of accelerated classes as possible -- which, according to my source, has meant that parents of the mathematically talented kids have had to suck it up, hire tutors, and keep their opinions to themselves. 

A child who is having trouble learning math at stations is a child who's not getting the nod.

Vanishing act....

My book is due May 1 and Katie's and my writing curriculum, which accompanies Ed's textbook, is due now, plus I made ONE New Year's resolution, which is to completely and totally de-clutter my office ....

Not exactly sure how blogging fits in there -- !

Miss you guys!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wrong again: noise in the classroom

Progressive educators seem to like noisy classrooms, I've noticed.

Here's Carmen Farina:
“Once I was about to visit a principal,” [New York City Schools Chancellor] Ms. Fariña said, “who told me, ‘You’re going to love coming here because you can hear a pin drop.’ I said, ‘I better not come because that isn’t going to make me happy.’ ”

Schools Chancellor Brings Joyful and Fierce Style
And here's reality:
...[E]merging research suggests that quieter noises can have varied effects on student learning and memory.


Low or barely perceptible sound—be it from a lecture in the classroom next door, a heating system that keeps turning on and off, or even a classroom aquarium filter—can increase stress and interfere with memory and learning....

“You can’t depend on the kids to complain,” said Ruth M. Morgan, a speech pathologist at Ephesus Elementary School in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Kids generally go with the flow, and they wouldn’t let you know there’s too much background noise.”

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Noise is measured in decibels on a logarithmic scale; every 10 decibels marks an increase in sound that is twice as loud. Normal conversation is usually in the range of 60 to 65 decibels, and children often speak more softly than adults, as low as 35 decibels.


...In a 2013 study in the Journal of Urban Health, a publication of the New York Academy of Medicine, 8- and 9-year-old students who had higher “ambient” noise levels in school performed significantly worse on standardized tests in mathematics and French language, after controlling for their socioeconomic backgrounds. A difference of 10 decibels of regular background noise was associated with 5.5-point-lower scores on average in both subjects.

Similarly, a prior study found students were highly distracted by a television playing in an adjoining room, even when it was barely audible, but they were unable to identify why they were having trouble concentrating.


The results don’t surprise Ms. Morgan in Chapel Hill. She noticed that while the classroom didn’t seem particularly loud, both she and her students seemed to be having trouble following conversations during sessions in which students worked in groups.

“So much of class now is the children speaking to each other, doing buddy reading,” she said. “And children’s voices are softer; I was having difficulty hearing them.”

Some sounds are also more vulnerable to distortion: s-, sh-, and ch- sounds in speech are particularly easy to mistake when competing with low-frequency mechanical sounds, such as the hum of a computer fan or heating system.

Ms. Morgan said she thinks her school’s noise issues may be common in older schools, where former “open concept” classrooms were later closed in with walls that typically have less noise insulation than new construction, allowing students to hear more lectures and mechanical sounds in other rooms.

Low-Level Classroom Noise Distracts, Experts Say

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Can teachers write their own curriculum?

A few years ago, our then-assistant curriculum director, a terrific woman and an advocate for children whom I miss to this day, explained to the school board that our math curriculum was not Math Trailblazers.

I was in the audience at the time, and I was annoyed, because our curriculum most certainly was Math Trailblazers.

"People say our curriculum is Trailblazers," she said, "but it's not. We write our own curriculum."*

At the time, I was somewhat regularly in touch with a parent who had worked as an editor for a textbook publisher. Apprised of the 'we write our own' exchange, she was aghast.

In the world of publishing, where curricula actually do get written and published, writing a curriculum is a massive undertaking that consumes months of effort and multiple bodies playing multiple roles.

Not here. In my district writing-our-own-curriculum meant giving teachers two-week stipends over the summer to meet with a Trailblazers specialist from Bedford (the only other district still using Trailblazers, everyone else having dumped it) and be briefed on tweaks.

Trailblazers finally disappeared last year, but the curriculum situation has not improved. It's probably worse; the old-time curriculum adoption process seems to have been scuttled in favor of unilateral decisions made by the central executives. And our current curriculum director's new Powerpoint, titled "Teaching for Understanding," includes the observation that "Conventional linear (text-book [sic] driven) scope and sequence is a major impediment to developing understanding."

Naturally the words "we write our own curriculum" make me crazy because, as an adjunct who actually does write her own curriculum, not to mention an author who writes her own books, I know exactly how time-consuming writing a curriculum is.

Writing a curriculum takes forever.

Here's Siegfried Engelmann on the subject of writing and time:
As part of the endorsement of whole language, the ["Report Card on Basal Readers"] concludes that teachers should throw out basal readers and teach without them, using literature. The baseless are seen as an evil that deprives reading specialists of their right to make instructional decisions.

There are several problems with this solution: The first is that teachers are typically slaves to instructional programs and follow them very closely (even when they tell other that they don't). The second is that there is no evidence to support the assertion that typical reading specialists are capable of designing instruction that is effective (and a lot of data to suggest that they aren't). The third and most serious problem is that a reading specialist who designed even one grade-level of a program that worked well with the full range of kids, wold have to work on it no less than 6 hours a day for a minimum of two years.

War Against the Schools' Academic Child Abuse by Siegfried Engelmann, p 24
Six hours a day, five days a week, for two years.

Sounds about right to me.

Full disclosure: I am writing part of a textbook.

It's taking forever.

Later on one of our school board members, whom I had lobbied heavily on the subject of Singapore Math, took to calling our curriculum "Irvington math."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

Charlie Hebdo website back up

Charlie Hebdo, RIP

UGH: NY Daily News CENSORS image of Hebdo’s Muhammad Cartoon in report on attack

Ed just spoke to a French friend whose mother lives on the same street as the Charlie Hebdo offices.

She says she grew up reading the writers who were killed. She can't believe they're gone.

Still here...

Thanks to Palisadesk, Surfer is still with us!

Of course, now he has a tumor the size of a grapefruit on his spleen, so .... it's always something.

I love our vet.

He told me: "As your vet, I have to tell you to remove his spleen. But as a person, I don't think I would."

Then he told me his wife is a vet & she would smack him if she heard him give me that advice because "she whips spleens out of dogs all the time."

Our vet is hugely entertaining. I like that in a vet.

He's also a good soul.

Two days after Thanksgiving, Abby (the Labrador) had a near-death experience. Blood all over the basement floor, emergency room, bladder infection, all of it leading to -- surprise! -- liver failure.

I don't know whether bladder-infection-to-liver-failure is a Thing, and neither did my vet, though I have since heard from the mother of one of C's friends that her own aged dog recently went through the same sequence.

Two Monday's after Thanksgiving, Abby was so sick she looked like the photographs I remember seeing of starving people in Biafra, or in the death camps. One of her liver enzymes was supposed to be 200-ish; that day it was 12,000 and rising. The vet said he'd never seen a number that high.  She was dying.

He kept her in the office all day, on IV fluids and antibiotics. Later on, he told me he'd expected to put her down that day, but by evening she was still alive, and a bit restored.

Which created a new problem: she was still desperately ill and, by rights, needed to spend the night in the hospital. Probably several nights.

The vet called & danced around the problem. He said he would drive into the office in the middle of the night to check on her, but otherwise, if she stayed there, she would be alone.

That's what I call a good soul. He doesn't live close to his office; he has young kids get to school first thing in the morning. Waking up in the middle of the night to check on a possibly dying dog who has already lived longer than the norm for her breed is above and beyond.

I said I'd keep her home overnight & bring her back the next morning.

When I arrived to pick her up, our vet took her down the stairs to the parking lot himself, then pointed out she'd walked them on her own, which she hadn't been able to do that morning.

Then he lifted her into the back of my car. The vet's aide was there, too, standing with us in the parking lot, but the vet lifted her himself.

Abby survived.

She is amazingly restored: chipper, tuned in, and hungry as only a Lab can be. She was no longer eating or drinking

Her poor legs are done for, and she seems awfully thin. She's probably done for, too, but she has a vet who will get up in the middle of the night and drive 20 miles just to look in on an old dog, and that has made all the difference.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Frederick Hess: Common Core tests were the fix for NCLB

Frederick Hess writing in National Affairs:
In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act marked a dramatic win for standards-based reform — but at the price of abandoning the push for "national" standards. NCLB required states to adopt standards in reading and math, administer annual tests geared to those standards, use tests to determine which students were proficient, and analyze the outcomes to determine which schools and systems were making "adequate yearly progress" — including the absurd requirement that 100% of students be proficient by 2014. Schools and systems that didn't perform adequately were subject to federally mandated sanctions. The crucial compromise was that states could set their own standards and tests. In fact, NCLB specifically prohibited national testing or a federally controlled curriculum.

What followed was not difficult to anticipate. The possibility of sanctions gave more than a few state leaders reason to adopt easy tests and lower the scores required for proficiency. A "race to the bottom" was soon underway, prompting an effort to combat the gamesmanship.


The real power of standards lies in their ability to change what is tested, and thus to change how curricula and textbooks are written, how teachers teach, and how students learn. As Finn and Petrilli put it, the standards are ignored, and "[e]ducators instead obsess about what's on the high-stakes test." This is why advocates are so impassioned and why critics are justified in fretting about the implications of the Common Core. When coupled with tests, accountability systems, and teacher evaluation, the Common Core becomes the invisible but omnipresent foundation of American education.


[T]he Common Core is neither necessary nor sufficient for fixing the problem it was designed to solve. The critical rationale for the Common Core was concern that states had gamed and manipulated testing under NCLB. But a more modest solution was already available. Every state has long participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests students in reading and math (and sometimes in other subjects) in grades four, eight, and twelve under carefully controlled conditions and provides a rock-solid means for comparing performance. In fact, NAEP results were already being used to flag states that appeared to be gaming their NCLB tests. Common Core advocates, however, thought that relying on NAEP was an unsatisfactory, makeshift solution. Instead, they embraced the Common Core standards.

Solving the "race to the bottom" problem would have required the Common Core tests to replicate NAEP's careful protocols. However, perhaps recognizing that states might not have signed on if they were subject to transparent coercion, Common Core advocates were remarkably laid back about what states would actually be required to do when it came to policing test conditions, accepting mandatory passing scores, or establishing strong oversight boards. Thus, advocates failed to build in controls to prevent states from manipulating outcomes. States can administer the Common Core-aligned tests much later in the school year than is recommended (thus inflating measures of student learning), ignore guidelines on testing conditions, and set their own proficiency scores. The only "safeguard" against any of this is state officials' inclination to do the right thing — which is precisely what it was before the Common Core. Meanwhile, many Common Core states have decided not to use the program's new tests at all; as a result, barely 40% of students are currently slated to be tested with one of the two new Common Core tests, and at least 19 different tests will be used nationwide next spring. Given the critical role of the tests for maintaining standards, this undermines the purpose of the Common Core — and in a fashion that seems unlikely to lead to purposeful experimentation or rethinking. Within a few years, testing may be only slightly less fragmented than before the Common Core, and many established tests will have been jettisoned for slapped-together replacements.

How the Common Core Went Wrong
Common Core was all about the tests.

NCLB had failed -- so the thinking went -- because (some) states gamed the system by writing easy tests (or writing hard tests but setting easy cut scores).

So Common Core would create common standards and, hence, common tests. Hard tests.

Like Jason Zimba, I might have thought, a few years back, that changing the tests would do the trick. Create good tests, let the schools take it from there.

But having sent three children through public schools, and having read some of the literature on foreign aid and its many debacles, I now have a much greater appreciation for the slipperiness of reality.

Or the slipperiness of culture, more like.

I'm extremely tardy getting Barbara Oakley's op ed & new book posted, and it looks like I won't get to it today, either.

But I do want to quote her passage on culture:
Today's Common Core approach to teaching STEM is at least superficially appealing. The goal of placing equal emphasis on conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application is laudable. But as with any new approach to teaching, the Common Core builds on the culture that's already there. And the culture that has long reigned in STEM education is that conceptual understanding trumps everything. So bewildered math teachers who are now struggling to teach the Common Core are leaning on the old thinking, which has it that if a student doesn't understand—in the "ah-ha," light-bulb sense of understanding—there's no way she or he can truly become expert in the material.

True experts have a profound conceptual understanding of their field. But the expertise built the profound conceptual understanding, not the other way around. There's a big difference between the "ah-ha" light bulb, as understanding begins to glimmer, and real mastery.

How We Should Be Teaching Math
Like NGOs disbursing foreign aid, the Common Core had to build on the culture that was already there.

The culture that's already there inside public schools pits "knowledge" against "thinking," "problem solving," and "understanding," with knowledge the loser. Here in my district, in fact, our curriculum director has produced a new Powerpoint, titled "Teaching for Understanding," which poses a rhetorical question:
Is it possible to have a great deal of knowledge but limited understanding?
Harder tests aren't going to raise student achievement inside a culture whose denizens believe that knowledge is an impediment to understanding.

Auntie Ann points out the obvious

Lot of these studies about the problems with reading on screens--including amount absorbed and lack of sleep--need to get through to schools that putting everything on electronic media instead of good old books is a bad idea.

Yes, carrying 3-4 textbooks home every night is like lugging a backpack full of bricks, but there has to be some happy medium out there somewhere.
Thank you!

Can't believe I didn't think of that.

(I did think of it where my own kids are concerned. I've been bugging Chris to get off his laptop in the evening, and I've been asking myself whether I have what it takes to pry Andrew* from his.)

Put together the finding that e-readers affect circadian rhythms with the fact that teenagers' circadian rhythms are already delayed ....


* For passersby, Andrew is 20 years old and autistic.

Jason Zimba teaching his children math

For passersby, Jason Zimba is one of 3 writers of the Common Core math standards.
Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Jason Zimba begins a math tutoring session for his two young daughters with the same ritual. Claire, 4, draws on a worksheet while Abigail, 7, pulls addition problems written on strips of paper out of an old Kleenex box decorated like a piggy bank.

If she gets the answer "lickety-split," as her dad says, she can check it off. If she doesn't, the problem goes back in the box, to try the following week.

"I would be sleeping in if I weren't frustrated," Zimba says of his Saturday-morning lessons, which he teaches in his pajamas. He feels the math instruction at Abigail's public elementary school in Manhattan is subpar — even after the school switched to the Common Core State Standards.

But Zimba, a mathematician by training, is not just any disgruntled parent. He's one of the guys who wrote the Common Core.

And four years after signing off on the final draft of the standards, he spends his weekends trying to make up for what he considers the lackluster curriculum at his daughter's school, and his weekdays battling the lackluster curriculum and teaching at schools around the country that are struggling to shift to the Common Core.


Zimba gave up an academic career in which he had the freedom to wonder about abstract physics problems in the peace and quiet of his Vermont barn. But, he says, "I'm now participating in a much more urgent problem."

That problem is how to elevate the academic achievement of American students, especially the most disadvantaged, so the country can maintain its competitive advantage in the global economy. These days, Zimba and his colleagues acknowledge better standards aren't enough.

"I used to think if you got the assessments right, it would virtually be enough," he says. "In the No Child Left Behind world, everything follows from the test."

Now, he says, "I think it's curriculum."

The Man Behind the Curtain
The theory behind CC was that common tests were the ticket.

Common standards would produce common tests would produce common curricula.

No more race to the bottom.