kitchen table math, the sequel

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The 45 percent

Déjà vu:
When we talk about remedial courses, we usually talk about community colleges, where more than half of students take them, and where they pose a significant barrier to graduation for many.

But a new report from the advocacy group Education Reform Now and the advocacy publication Education Post broadens the lens. According to their analysis of state and federal higher education data, 45 percent of students who place into remedial courses come from middle- and high-income families. That describes Diaz, who attended private school in the affluent Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles.

This was what Michael Dannenberg, a co-author of the report, calls a "whoa" moment: "realizing that students from all income backgrounds are suffering the consequences of mediocre high schools."

Taking High School Courses In College Costs Students And Families Nearly $1.5 Billion
How is this a "whoa moment"?

How is this a "whoa moment" for the co-author of a report on US education?

I blame No Child Left Behind (a law I supported and still do.) All of the language surrounding NCLB implied (and assumed) that white schools were good, black schools bad. The injustice was happening to just one category of student.

That was always wrong, but it stuck.

Subitize this

Matthew Tabor has just posted a video called "Common Core Explained" on The 74.

I watched half of it, and am now having so much trouble finding words to express my astonishment, that I'll just leave it to Matthew:
I love The 74 -- they (generally) do an outstanding job, with news and opinion worth reading. I read all of it every day and point people to their perspective whenever I can.

However, the appropriate academic term for this Math 2.0 video series is "absolute horseshit."
You can say that again.

In the first minutes of "Math 2.0," we learn that "Common Core math" teaches children to subitize.

"Subitizing" means you see 3 pennies and immediately know you have 3 pennies. You don't have to count.

Subitizing, as it happens, is an innate ability. Chimpanzees can subitize, too; in fact, chimps do it better than humans. They can subitize up to the number 6. We stop at 5.

I'm pretty sure I remember that all creatures can do it, but I'm not going to spend 15 minutes Googling "Can goldfish subitize" to find out.

Another thing: I'm having a hard time believing that formal instruction in subitizing is part of the Common Core, but I'm not going to Google that, either.


Still here

But just barely.

Endless book revisions, local property tax calamity, house fixing-upping -----

I need an island get-away.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Is Common Core increasing direct instruction?

I don't know the answer to that question. I'm asking.

My new copy of Education Week has a front-page story titled "Will the Common Core Step Up Schools' Focus on Grammar?"

I find that interesting (I have yet to read) because I'd been wondering the same thing about direct instruction after seeing the graphics in Ed Week's story Kindergarten Today: Less Play, More Academics.

By the way, I have no particular position on Kindergarten on way or the other. In my day, Kindergarten was .... well, what was it? I remember sitting at tables with other children, going out to recess, and sitting on the rug to listen to show and tell. We didn't learn to read.

Siegfried Engelmann taught academic skills to pre-school children, which served them well, so I'm certainly not against direct instruction in academic skills at that age.

My point in posting is that this looks to me like a significant change in the direction I definitely want to see for first grade and up, and I wonder how real, and how widespread, this change is. My own district is all constructivism all the time now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Chicago statement

In The Economist:
WHEN Louisiana State University fired a professor in June 2015 for using rude words in a class designed to prepare teachers for careers in inner-city schools, it was an early skirmish in a conflict between students (one of whom had complained) and faculties over free speech that has since spread across the land. The university’s faculty is now considering something that others in the same position have done: copying the University of Chicago.

In response to a number of universities cancelling invitations to controversial speakers and challenges to academic freedom, Geoffrey Stone of Chicago’s law school was appointed chair of a committee that would restate its principles on free speech. The statement was issued a year ago, shortly before the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication, for its cartoons of Muhammad.

Since then the debate over permissible speech on college campuses has only become more contentious. A website,, lists speech-curbing demands from students at 72 institutions. Administrators are tying themselves in knots in an effort to balance a commitment to free expression with a desire not to offend.

One consequence of this has been to call attention to the Chicago Statement, which has been adopted by Purdue, Princeton, American University, Johns Hopkins, Chapman, Winston-Salem State and the University of Wisconsin system, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Fire), a pro free-speech non-profit which is actively promoting it. It is brief (three pages) and emphatic.

“It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive,” it states. “Concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable.” The responsibility of a university, it concludes, is not only to promote “fearless freedom of debate”, but also to protect it.

The committee gave much consideration to concerns about “hate speech” and “micro-aggressions”. Whatever harm such expression caused, it concluded, should be redressed by “individual members of the university…openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose,” rather than by censorship.

The widening adoption of the statement came as a surprise, says Mr Stone, because it was built upon the college’s own history, including a controversial invitation by students in 1932 to William Z. Foster, then the Communist Party candidate for president. The proper response to unpopular ideas, responded then-president Robert Maynard Hutchins, “lies through discussion rather than inhibition”. In 1967, during protests over civil rights and the Vietnam war, and demands that the university itself should take a stand, a faculty committee chaired by Harry Kalven, one of Mr Stone’s professors, concluded that would be wrong: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic”.
From what I can see, suppression of speech on campus is as bad as it looks; nothing I've read in news accounts is exaggerated.

So I'm rooting for the Chicago statement.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Wisdom of the crowd

I opened my Wall Street Journal app this morning to see this:
The campaign in Iowa performed its usual task of starting the long process of winnowing out the presidential field, but it failed to fully resolve this year’s underlying mystery: Why are voters toying with radical change at a time when, objectively speaking, the country isn’t in bad shape?

Why Iowans Entertain Radical Messages from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Amid Seeming Prosperity By GERALD F. SEIB
I can answer that.

"Objectively speaking," this time is different.

This time, the country didn't recover from the recession. In every other recession of the 20th century, including the Great Depression, economic growth went back to trend.

This time, no.

Yet only the people seem to know it.

They're not happy.

*Perhaps the 19th century as well -- I don't know the history.


Blast from the past!

I'm watching the Iowa caucuses on CNN ... and the announcer is in Coralville.

I lived in Coralville!

I don't recognize the building they're showing .....

Very fun.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Most emailed

I have no doubt Adam Grant's op-ed on raising a creative child, which ran in yesterday's Times, is being emailed to teachers across the land:
Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world....

What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.


In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet “only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,” laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. “Those who do must make a painful transition” to an adult who “ultimately remakes a domain.”

Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.

So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.


SINCE Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000-hour rule” suggesting that success depends on the time we spend in deliberate practice, debate has raged about how the hours necessary to become an expert vary by field and person. In arguing about that, we’ve overlooked two questions that matter just as much.

First, can’t practice itself blind us to ways to improve our area of study? Research reveals that the more we practice, the more we become entrenched — trapped in familiar ways of thinking. Expert bridge players struggled more than novices to adapt when the rules were changed; expert accountants were worse than novices at applying a new tax law.


Hear that, Tiger Moms and Lombardi Dads? You can’t program a child to become creative. Try to engineer a certain kind of success, and the best you’ll get is an ambitious robot. If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.

How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off by Adam Grant | 1/31/2016
Creativity good, practice bad.

Oh, man.

Setting aside the mischief this is going to do, how many "adult geniuses who change the world" do we actually need?

And how often does a lone genius change the world?

Should all expert physicians "fight to fix a broken medical system"?

Should all expert attorneys "try to transform the laws themselves"? (All of the laws?)

As to the rigidity of experts, which is a real phenomenon, the solution isn't to get rid of experts.

Monday, January 11, 2016

"9-minute read" - "Recovered or not"

I've mentioned several times that I became a macro aficionado after the crash -- a macro aficionado and a Fed watcher, heaven help me.

Macro is off-topic for kitchen table math but, then again, most of us here:

a) have jobs;
b) are married to someone who has a job;
c) used to have jobs;


d) are the parents of children who have jobs, don't have jobs, or will need to get a job one day.

So: jobs.

I've just come across this "9-minute read" from Third Way, and I think it may be the best I've seen. I say that as a person who has read approximately a gazillion articles, studies, blog posts, and white papers on the subject of unemployment in the wake of the Great Recession at this point.

According to Third Way, depending on how you measure unemployment, we are either nine-tenths, two-tenths or just over halfway to a full jobs recovery.

Recovered or Not: What’s Really Happening with U.S. Unemployment?

Meanwhile the Hamilton Jobs Gap Calculator says we are still 2.5 million jobs short.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Is math by hand better than math by keyboard?

Sorting books this afternoon, I came across Tahir Yaqoob's What Can I Do to Help My Child with Math When I Don't Know Any Myself? and found this passage:
The actual process of using your muscles to write something is a powerful long-term memory aid. The more that you write out things (and in different ways), the more your long-term memory will be etched out. It is not good enough simply to read and think (although this is important for reviewing large amounts of material shortly before taking an exam, but only if you have done the long-term ground work). Writing out full solutions to problems in math is especially important compared to other subjects, whether it is part of reviewing for exams or whether you are learning new material.

Writing things out can also help you to understand difficult problems. For example, if you see a fully worked solution to a problem in a textbook, but don't understand one or more of the steps, try simply writing out the solution yourself. You may be surprised that while you are doing that, you suddenly understand something that you didn't before. Sometimes the brain has a strange way of working. Despite its enormous capacity , the. brain can really benefit from an external "scratch pad." When you come across something that you don't understand, sometimes just writing out the steps in a brief form can make a great deal of difference.

What Can I Do to Help My Child with Math When I Don't Know Any Myself? Paperback – February 7, 2011 by Tahir Yaqoob - p133
I've always found this to be true, both for C. and for me. I don't know why. One of these days I'll get around to reading The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, which I hope will explain the phenomenon.

The OECD report on students and technology (Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection) found that using the computer for drill was associated with reduced achievement:
The decline in performance associated with greater frequency of certain activities, such as chatting on line at school and practicing and drilling, is particularly large (Figure 6.6). Students who frequently engage in these activities may be missing out on other more effective learning activities. Students who never or only very rarely engage in these activities have the highest performance.
Given my experience, the "other more effective learning activities" these students are missing may be drilling by hand.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Speaking of credentialism and college tuition

I was bemoaning the fact that 18-year olds today must take on more debt to earn a college degree that will get them a lower-paid job than in previous eras, and a few minutes later came across this:
It’s been eight years since the Great Recession caused many states to scale back their higher education budgets, and the vast majority of states haven’t fully restored that spending despite improvements in the overall economy.

A new report from the research firm Young Invincibles, a millennial advocacy group, finds that 48 states -- all but Alaska and North Dakota -- are spending less per student on higher education than they did before the recession. Louisiana’s funding has fallen the most since the recession (41 percent), followed by Alabama (39 percent) and Pennsylvania (37 percent).

On average, states have cut funding per student by 21 percent since the recession. Tuition at public schools has increased 28 percent over the same period. (Private school tuition has increased about 20 percent in that period, according to the College Board.)


Three-quarters of American college students attend public colleges.

As States Cut Funding, Tuition at Public Colleges Soars
Inflation matters, too.

In a low-inflation environment, employees have lower raises and repay debt in more expensive dollars.

Credentialism & "hiring blind"

This is interesting.

According to the Wall Street Journal, some companies are hiring "blind":
Compose is among a handful of companies trying to judge potential hires by their abilities, not their résumés. So-called “blind hiring” redacts information like a person’s name or alma mater, so that hiring managers form opinions based only on that person’s work. In other cases, companies invite job candidates to perform a challenge—writing a software program, say—and bring the top performers in for interviews or, eventually, job offers.

Bosses say blind hiring reveals true talents and results in more diverse hires. And the notion that career success could stem from what you know, and not who you know, is a tantalizing one....
In Hiring without signals, David Henderson raises the possibility that hiring blind could put a dent in credentialism. If companies hire without knowing whether a new employee had a college degree, will college degrees become optional?

I hope so.

One of the more horrifying aspects of the crash and the economic stagnation that has followed, at least for me, has been the brave new world young people must navigate:

a) credential inflation -- jobs that didn't require college degrees before the crash now do (nursing being one example) probably because employers had so many hundreds of applicants for each job that they used college degrees as a sorting mechanism
b) tuition inflation at state universities because tax revenues collapsed
c) higher debt loads for new graduates
d) far lower inflation than in times gone by, with the result that today's college graduate will be repaying student loans in more expensive dollars (and with lower raises) than previous generations

Put those four together, and we have a generation of college students forced to go into debt that's higher and harder to repay than the debt taken on by previous generations, all for the sake of acquiring a job previous generations could hold without going to college at all.

Could blind hiring change this?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Robert Pondiscio, education reform, and the white working class, part 1

Robert Pondiscio has a terrific article on Donald Trump, education, and blue collar white Americans that we've been talking about on Facebook (come join if you haven't already--!)
If my Dad were alive today—and fifty years younger—I suspect he'd be a Trump voter.

My father got a high school education, enlisted in the Army, and fought in the South Pacific during World War II. After the war, he was hired by American Airlines, the only company whose paychecks he would ever cash. In forty-plus years on the job, he went from working as a mechanic to flying transcontinental routes as a flight engineer (a job made obsolete long ago by microprocessors).

He earned enough to move his family from Yonkers to Long Island, with its affordable houses and good schools. His own father had been an immigrant pick-and-shovel man. My Dad did him one better by following the playbook common to men of his moment and mindset: learn a trade, word hard, play by the rules, and things will work out. On the day he dropped me off at college (I was the first in my family to attend), he was still badgering me to learn TV repair, plumbing, or heating and air conditioning. College was fine, but its benefits seemed nebulous to Depression-era guys like Dad. It wouldn't hurt, he insisted, to have "a skill to fall back on."

Within a generation, however, his kind of life and the playbook he followed have largely ceased to exist.


The ground has not merely shifted beneath the feet of blue collar white Americans with no college degree; it has liquefied. "You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age," Frum notes. "They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, 'That's my guy.'" If he were my age today, my Dad would almost certainly be struggling among them. The country that allowed him to become upwardly mobile through sweat, toil, and time—not credentials and connections—is gone.

As this new sobriety over the issues animating Trump supporters, if not Trump himself, settles in, I'm hoping for a parallel rethinking among education reformers. What, if anything, can be done to bring this huge contingent of pissed-off Americans, or at least their children, in for a softer landing before they give up entirely?

Frankly, we missed it. With our focus on closing the achievement gap between blacks and whites, framing reform as the "civil rights issue of our time," and the attention and praise we have heaped on inner-city charter schools—one of reform's few bona fide success stories—we have tacitly made education reform a race-based endeavor. In doing so, we largely overlooked a crisis that's been hiding in plain sight for years. There are about twice as many non-Hispanic whites as blacks living below 150 percent of the poverty line in the U.S. It's a fair bet that their kids aren't doing very well in school—and that they see Donald Trump as "my guy."
A couple of things.

First (and I can't remember whether I've been saying this on ktm, believe it or not), although I was a strong (and public) supporter of NCLB from the get-go, I realized pretty early on that the race-based aspect of NCLB was a problem.

Being from the heartland myself, it's possible I was more aware than some of the changes taking place outside big cities and affluent suburbs. I've gone home to central Illinois every year of my adult life; I've seen those changes firsthand. (Of course, I've seen the same changes taking the Amtrak out of New York City into the small towns of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.)

However, as a white parent sending children to predominantly-white suburban public schools, I had another vantage point that may have been more eye-opening: the new law and its supporters gave districts like mine a free pass.

Once NCLB became law, our district became high-quality by definition. No matter what our administrators did, no matter what cockamamy programs they embraced, no matter how many tutors we parents hired, no matter how much reteaching we did, our school was good because our kids did better on the state tests than underprivileged black and Hispanic kids attending urban schools.

Virtually everyone I knew believed (and still believe today) that all white suburban schools are better than all urban schools, period.

A couple of you will remember my adventures trying to get my district simply to perceive the fact that KIPP, in the Bronx, had an algebra pass rate that was double my district's. Doug Sundseth actually created a bar chart to illustrate.

I couldn't do it. I would look people straight in the eye and say "KIPP has 80% of its 8th grade students passing Regents 1 in 8th grade; we have 40%" and ---- nothing. Blank stares.

The one time I did manage to get a rise out of a fellow parent, she protested, saying: "KIPP has to have higher scores. They have to fundraise."

Which, actually, is true: KIPP had to show results, my district didn't.

But no one saw the problem with this state of affairs. By definition, no matter what, our schools were superior because our schools were affluent and white. The great injustice of the day was that inner-city black and Hispanic kids couldn't attend excellent schools like ours.

Before NCLB, I'm told, my district was much more modest in its claims, and much more realistic. Each year students in all grades took a standardized test, much like days of old when each year students took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or some such, and each year the then-superintendent would tell parents that student achievement in our district fell roughly in the middle of student achievement across all Westchester schools.

Roosevelt's minimum wage

Education reform's race-based narrative has always reminds me of a story my mom told me about my grandfather during the Great Depression.

He was working at a gas station when Roosevelt created the minimum wage.

His boss immediately lowered my grandfather's wage to the minimum.

That was NCLB in my district.

Again, I say this as a person who supported the law privately and publicly--and who would support it still today, in some variant.

* I can't link to Doug's chart because, lo and behold, the original kitchen table math is down because Outlook has been down so I didn't get the email invoice etc, etc, .... dealing with all that now & will include the link when the site is back up.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Liberal education is more fun

In the Telegraph:
What's wrong with education for education's sake?
Should a career be the focus of education? Michael Mercieca, CEO of Young Enterprise says 'yes', Kieran McLaughlin, head of Durham School says 'no'

Kieran McLaughlin, head Durham School

"What’s the point of an education? It’s easy in this time of measurement, targets and league tables to lose sight of what the primary purpose of our schooldays should be: to acquire a knowledge of the culture, history and intellectual progress of our civilisation, as well as of those that have gone before.

The epitome of an education should be the Arnoldian “best of what has been thought and said” and the measure of any civilisation, of any culture, is the extent to which learning is held as important.

From the ancient Greeks, through the Arabic, Chinese and others up to the present day, the cultures which have most achieved greatness have been those which have fostered learning for its own sake and a scholarly endeavor.

To continue to make this progress, to develop technologically or to simply think about things in a different way, we need the bedrock of our forebears’ knowledge to build on.

Newton’s famous quotation that he stood on the shoulders of giants applies to more than just science, and new ideas across the disciplines come from a constant reworking of the old.

However there is a much more immediate reason for pursuing learning for its own sake: it’s great fun.

Anyone who has ever taught a child – whether it be how to ride a bike, why the dinosaurs became extinct or how to use Pythagoras’ theorem – will have seen the light in their eyes when they have finally mastered a tricky concept.

Those Eureka moments are what make teachers continue in the profession, as they find joy in witnessing the joy of learning.

Intellectual thirst is hard-wired into us as human beings and it continues in us beyond childhood. A greater knowledge and understanding of the world leads to a greater appreciation of its beauty and rigour, and as a society and as individuals we are the richer for it."
Fans of liberal education are on the defensive.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Expert witness, 8th grade edition

This "Op Doc," a verbatim re-enactment of a legal transcript, is both obnoxious and hilarious.

Obnoxious because the filmmaker elected to give the smart person a Northern accent, the dumb person a Southern accent.

Hilarious because the expert witness, who was paid $940 for his services, actually cannot do middle-school math.

Verbatim: Expert Witness
The “expert witness” in this case would not answer questions without his “formula sheets,” which were computer models used to reconstruct accidents. When asked to back up his work with basic calculations, he deflected, repeatedly derailing the proceedings. The lawyer’s questioning became increasingly specific, until the conflict revolved around two short words with very different meanings: “won’t” versus “can’t.”

The deposition is a warning for experts who rely heavily on technology. When it comes to expertise, knowing how to plug numbers into software is not a substitute for understanding the subject matter.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Jerome Groopman on replication

I've been mulling over the replication issue, not least because I was using a lot of social science research for the book. Given that our topic is the cognitive unconscious, I was especially worried because the research on priming may be especially suspect.

I ended up jettisoning studies I had originally intended to include, just to be on the safe side (assuming there is a safe side).

I find this observation by Jerome Groopman helpful:
I have been intrigued by the controversy over the Open Science Collaboration, a loosely organized group of researchers who seek to reproduce the findings of published studies in a variety of fields. As the head of a laboratory, I know how daunting this can be. Even the most trivial deviation from a technical protocol—culturing cells, quantifying proteins, detecting RNA—can make an experiment difficult to replicate. A basic-science laboratory like mine is a relatively controlled environment compared with the human body, so it’s not surprising that confirming findings from clinical research, particularly experiments involving the mind and behavior, is even harder. In August, the Open Science Collaboration reported that it had reattempted a group of studies from the fields of cognitive and social psychology and failed to reproduce the results of nearly two-thirds of them. This should not be taken as an indication that the original researchers were either sloppy or dishonest. But it does suggest that we should regard such results with a skeptical eye, especially since experimental studies in psychology are too quickly touted in the general media as revealing fundamental truths about our nature.

The Most Notable Medical Findings of 2015

Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant

Merry Christmas

(I'm going to see if we can get an in-focus photo taken on Sunday...)


A big year.

Andrew graduated high school in June and, in August, moved into Jimmy's group home.

His move was sudden and a shock to everyone's system; we hadn't planned to move him to a group home until he was 22. But a room came open in Jimmy's house, which is of course where we had hoped Andrew would live, and the system changed, so if we didn't take that spot, we wouldn't have a spot at all.

Apparently New York is now filled with aging parents living with aging developmentally disabled children ... and so far I haven't been able to figure out what, exactly, is going on.

It's possible there's another 'reform' underway, similar to deinstitutionalization; the literature we've been given to read inveighs against the horrors of developmentally developed adults having to share bedrooms in group homes. Apparently, living alone in an apartment with a succession of aides coming in and out respects human dignity; living with 6 other people in a house with aides coming in and out doesn't. That seems to be the idea.

Beyond that, the other concept seems to be that developmentally disabled adults should have homes of their own ----- funded and staffed by parents?

I can't tell. (Very odd not to be able to parse the politics of a situation you're directly involve in.)

So that's Andrew. Safe and sound, it looks like.

Now that he's settled, we know where we want to be next: down the road from the group home, in walking distance. So we're working on that.

Chris is in his senior year at NYU (imagine!) -- and, very big news, has just learned he's been accepted by NYC Teaching Fellows for next year! He found out on the way home when he checked his spam filter.

As for me, I've finished a draft of my book, and have two final exercise sets to edit and revise (Katie Beals did first drafts, thank heavens .... )

The sad news: Surfer and Abby have died, both on the day after Thanksgiving. Abby's death has hit me especially hard. She was with me all the time, often sitting directly on my feet if possible.

The happy news: I've regained my composure sufficiently to have figured out what's next, and that is a puppy from MuddyBay Retrievers.

Last but not least: I have blogging time again!

Very excited to get back to ktm... I've been away far too long.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!