kitchen table math, the sequel

Monday, September 15, 2014

Still swimming upstream, back as soon as humanly possible - I miss you!

I really want to get back to ktm -- right this minute.

The big news, now somewhat old big news, is that we've sold our book!*

The book about the basal ganglia.

Which I have been working on for --- is it 5 years?

(My 5-year quest to write a book about the basal ganglia is proof positive that just-in-time learning is poppycock, but that's a story for another day.)

Hudson Press is the publisher.

*The lead author is Eric Hollander.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Catching up - off-topic

Number one: Surfer.

For passers-by, a year and a half ago one of our dogs, Surfer, was diagnosed with stage 3 mast cell cancer.

For a dog, Stage 3 mast cell cancer is the Big One. The statistics I found had 80% of dogs diagnosed with Stage 3 mast cell cancer dying within eight months, and the younger of the two vets in the office we take our dogs to told me Surfer's diagnosis was the "pancreatic cancer of dogs."


As it happened, there was, at that very moment, a new miracle drug on the market that looked to be pretty effective, but Surfer nearly keeled over dead after just 2 weeks on Kinavet, which would have had to be taken for the rest of his days to work.

So I forgot about chemotherapy & just took palisadesk's dietary advice.

And it worked.

Surfer is completely fine. Beyond fine, he's fabulous. He's thin, energetic, tuned-in, and .... not sick. At least not as far as anyone can tell. The young vet, who likes to argue & pooh-pooh, actually said to me, a few weeks ago: "Whatever you did, it worked."

I did whatever palisadesk told me to do, so there you go.

Meanwhile Abby's the one I'm worried about; she's suddenly old, losing control of her back legs, deaf, and not looking good.

Here's hoping Palisadesk has more tricks up her sleeve.

Surfer is 13 years old. We got him 2 months after 9/11. Pit bull/Rottweiler/hound mix.

Abby is 12. Yellow Lab.


I've been Swallowed Up by Events (a story for another day) ---- and now, I aim to be back.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Congratulations, Karen H!

I think we've have our first kitchen table math wedding!

Karen H's daughter.

I'm pretty sure Karen was reading ktm from the very beginning....

I feel I've watched her children grow up from afar.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Trick sentence

Still on the clock, so I've only time to admire some sentences in the morning paper before I go write some of my own. Here's today's:

"With an insinuating pose and a seductive, throaty voice — her simplest remark sounded like a jungle mating call, one critic said — Ms. Bacall shot to fame in 1944 with her first movie, Howard Hawks’s adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel “To Have and Have Not,” playing opposite Humphrey Bogart, who became her lover on the set and later her husband."

That sentence is a little essay unto itself: a sentence-combining tour de force!

The September before last, I gave a department talk on precision teaching, and when I distributed a handout showing the number of subject-verb-[object] propositions a Times reporter had stuffed into just one fully readable sentence (17, as I recall), a couple of people were appalled. 

One said the Times has....hmmm. I'm forgetting the story now. 

Something like: the Times has some kind of widely circulating internal memo that lists the day's bad sentences so as to subject them to public shaming.

He said my 17-proposition pick should have made the list.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Off-topic ---

I'm sitting here at the breakfast table reading the paper, and I've come across this fabulous sentence in an op-ed by Daniel Levitin:

"Every day we're assaulted with facts, pseudofacts, news feeds and jibber-jabber, coming from all directions."


I must say, that pretty much describes a normal day for me, inveterate information-consumer that I am. 

Of course, I like jibber-jabber.

Speaking of which, I have a guillotine deadline on Thursday -- so back with more education jibber-jabber after that.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

1st major study of reform math: epic fail

In the August 2014 issue of Economics of Education Review:

We investigate the impact of an ambitious provincial school reform in Canada on students’ mathematical achievements. It is the first paper to exploit a universal school reform of this magnitude to identify the causal effect of a widely supported teaching approach on students’ math scores. Our data set allows us to differentiate impacts according to the number of years of treatment and the timing of treatment. Using the changes-in-changes model, we find that the reform had negative effects on students’ scores at all points on the skills distribution and that the effects were larger the longer the exposure to the reform. [emphasis added]


In this paper, we estimate the impact of Quebec’s (the second most populated province in Canada) ambitious and universal school reform implemented in the early 2000’s on children’s mathematical ability throughout primary and secondary school. At the time of the reform, the performance of students in the province of Quebec was comparable to that of students from the top performing countries in international assessments. Nonetheless, the educational system in Quebec was still subject to severe criticism at home due to its alarmingly large high school dropout rate, especially among male students.6 To ensure the success of all students, the province decided to implement an ambitious reform introducing a new program in each and every school across the province which drastically changed the way teaching was delivered to all children in primary and secondary schools. The Quebec education program (MELS, 2001, 2003, 2007) relied on a socio-constructivist teaching approach focused on problem-based and self-directed learning. [emphasis added] This approach mainly moved teaching away from the traditional/academic approaches of memorization, repetitions and activity books, to a much more comprehensive approach focused on learning in a contextual setting in which children are expected to find answers for themselves. [emphasis added]

. . . . More specifically, the teaching approach promoted by the Quebec reform is comparable to the reform-oriented teaching approach in the United States. As of 2006, this approach was widely spread across the United States (although more traditional approaches remained dominant) and it was supported by leading organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Research Council, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Yet few studies in economics have addressed the impact of various teaching approaches, let alone the approach promoted by the Quebec reform.


[The] approach was designed to enable students to ‘‘find answers to questions arising out of everyday experience, to develop a personal and social value system, and to adopt responsible and increasingly autonomous behaviors’’ (MELS, 2005).

In the classroom, students were expected to be more actively involved in their own learning and take responsibility for it. Critical to this aspect was the need to relate their learning activities to their prior knowledge and transfer their newly acquired knowledge to new situations in their daily lives. ‘‘Instead of passively listening to teachers, students will take in active, hands-on learning. They will spend more time working on projects, doing research and solving problems based on their areas of interest and their concerns. They will more often take part in workshops or team learning to develop a broad range of competencies.’’ (MELS, 1999). This centralized approach in providing the program and training with a school-based execution is in many ways comparable to the current approach taken within the comprehensive school reform (CSR) models at the national level in the United States (Borman et al., 2003). The main differences are that in Quebec, implementation was mandatory in each and every school, funding was not tied to the implementation, and training packages and support are centralized in many ways. These differences are critical: they imply that the reform had to be implemented in all schools, and that the resources and training was not tied to individual school characteristics. Whether private or public, English speaking or French speaking, all schools across the province were mandated to follow the reform according to the implementation schedule. This implies that all children in Quebec were treated according to same timeline, and that parents were not able to self-select their children into or out of the reform, except by moving out of the province which they did not.

The school reform was planned at the highest level by civil servants at the Department of Education (MELS). The MELS imposes the program to be followed in each grade by every school. The 69 School Boards (60 Francophone and 9 Anglophone) responsible for all public schools, their superintendents and the school principals, are the channels and drive belts between the MELS and school teachers and students.



We find strong evidence of negative effects of the reform on the development of students’ mathematical abilities. More specifically, using the changes-in-changes estimator, we show that the impact of the reform increases with exposure, and that it impacts negatively students at all points on the skills distribution. . . . Students from the lower end of the distribution do not seem to be in a better position to successfully complete their schooling. Mathematical abilities are strongly related to school attainment and labor market outcomes, and for lower performing students they are at best equivalent post reform, but most likely lower.

The teaching approach dictated by the reform is based on socio-constructivism. According to Pinker (1997), proponents of this method believe that children must construct mathematical knowledge for themselves with the teacher only guiding the discussion on the topics and that repetitions and practice are seen as detrimental to learning. He argues that constructivism is not appropriate for mathematics. For him, ‘‘. . . without the practice that compiles a halting sequence of steps into a mental reflex, a learner will always be building mathematical structures out of the tiniest nuts and bolts’’. Certain skills for mathematics may be very difficult to ‘‘construct’’ at a young age and can possibly be better attained by old-fashioned practice and a more mechanical approach. Pinker suggests that the poor performance of the United States in mathematics could be linked to the teaching approach, which is mainly contextual with no teaching of mathematical concepts. The evidence presented in this paper supports this argument.

The distributional impacts of a universal school reform on mathematical achievements: A natural experiment from Canada by Catherine Haeck, Pierre Lefebvre *, Philip Merrigan
Well, well, well.

Contra Elizabeth Green (again), history does not fold itself meekly into a Bill Gates-approved narrative in which "the traditional approach we take to teaching math — the one that can be mind-numbing, but also comfortingly familiardoes not work."

Using the traditional approach, Quebec schools produced students whose achievement "was comparable to that of students from the top performing countries in international assessments."

Using constructivism, they produced students whose achievement suffered at every grade level, and at every skill level to boot. Good students did worse, bad students did worse, in-between students did worse. Everyone did worse in constructivist math.

Because constructivism doesn't work. 

As to the teachers, whom Green cites as the source of Reform Math failure, the article notes that "Extensive training was provided to support the new program."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Does anyone remember the math wars?

The New York Times is out with yet another entry on the failure of traditional teachers to teach math to Americans:
My hunch is that how we learn math in America has very little to do with best practices and a lot to do with how teachers remember learning math when they were children.
Can you spell Weltanschauung?

Free advice: Never trust a "hunch" when your hunch is identical in every respect with the worldview of a Most Emailed story in the New York Times.

If your hunch is identical in every respect with the worldview of a Most Emailed story in the New York Times, it's not a hunch. It's conventional wisdom and nobody needs to hear it again.

Contra Elizabeth Green, we do not have to accept that the traditional approach we take to teaching math — the one that can be mind-numbing, but also comfortingly familiar — does not work. It should be obvious to anyone who actually looked at our history that "the traditional approach to teaching math" worked perfectly well for many American students.

Here's Barry Garelick:
From the 1940′s to the mid 1960′s, at a time when math and other subjects were taught in the traditional manner, scores in all subjects on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills increased steadily. From 1965 to the mid-70′s there was a dramatic decline, and then scores increased again until 1990 when they reached an all-time high. Scores stayed relatively stable in the 90′s.

The decline in SAT scores doesn't fit the narrative, either.

Do we know when state legislatures passed laws requiring teachers to have degrees in education?

I'm trying to track that down.

Speaking of the math wars, it's been a couple of decades now since the NCTM, an organization whose membership consists almost entirely of public school math teachers, accepted that the traditional approach we take to teaching math does not work.

Chris is turning 20. Neither he nor any of his peers learned their math facts at school.

Disclosing relationships at The New Yorker

Since reading Elizabeth Green's endorsement of Common Core in a Times excerpt of her book, I've been trying to remember how other newspapers and magazines handle disclosure.

I'm pretty sure the Wall Street Journal always includes a disclosure about ownership in any stories mentioning Murdoch, but I need to check.

I've just this moment found a good model for disclosure in a blog post at The New Yorker:
An earlier version of this post did not disclose the author’s relationships with some sources whose research he cites. Gabriele Oettingen is a professor at New York University, where the author also teaches. Heather Barry Kappes is a former student of the author’s, with whom he has collaborated. The post has been updated to reflect this.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"The Flipped Classroom" at CUNY's Idea Lab

I have a piece on flipped classrooms at Idea Lab!

Does it matter if writers are funded by Bill Gates?

Back when I was first writing ktm, and was just discovering constructivism, I watched an Oprah Winfrey special on a Bill Gates-funded school in San Diego (I think it was). High Tech High.

The camera followed Oprah around the school for what seemed like a very long tour. The rooms were strikingly different from standard academic classrooms. For one thing, there were no books. No desks, really, either. Just groups (teams!) of kids building stuff. Every class looked like shop class, only with plastic and metal instead of wood.

Finally Oprah said, "I don't see any books. Don't you have books?"

The tour guide, who may have been head of school, said rather proudly that, no, they didn't have books.

I expected the guide to add that all their books were on computers because they were high-tech-high (e-books weren't around yet), but she didn't. The answer was just a simple 'no.' The school didn't have books. Because technology, I guess.

The look on Oprah's face was priceless. She more or less wrinkled her nose, then said, "I don't think I'd like this school very much."

A fabulous moment.

Naturally, I was aghast, and I wanted to write a post about the show.

But I didn't.

My co-creator of ktm, Carolyn, had just taken jobs at Microsoft, along with her husband Bernie; they'd pulled up stakes and moved to Seattle.

Given Carolyn's professional situation, I didn't think I should be writing posts sharply criticizing Bill Gates.

I had no idea whether blasting a Bill Gates-funded school on a blog I shared with Carolyn would bother her, and I didn't ask. I didn't want to put her in the position of having to express an opinion one way or the other. Nor did I know whether blasting a Gates-funded school on our blog would bother anyone she worked for. I was pretty sure no one at Microsoft would see anything I wrote, but you never know.

So I said dropped the idea.

I didn't change my views.

I didn't become an advocate for schools without books.

I just let it go.

That's how social influence works.

Bill Gates is funding too many think tanks, schools, unions, interest groups, politicians, journalism projects, politicians, etc. In the world of education, you can't turn around without bumping into the guy.

We need writers to point this out.

Invisible gorillas I have known and loved

Seeing as how there are about 5 other things I'm supposed to be doing right now, I am instead cruising the abstracts for Psychological Science articles.
The Invisible Gorilla Strikes Again
Sustained Inattentional Blindness in Expert Observers
Psychological Science July 17, 2013

Trafton Drew
Melissa L.-H. Võ
Jeremy M. Wolfe

Researchers have shown that people often miss the occurrence of an unexpected yet salient event if they are engaged in a different task, a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness. However, demonstrations of inattentional blindness have typically involved naive observers engaged in an unfamiliar task. What about expert searchers who have spent years honing their ability to detect small abnormalities in specific types of images? We asked 24 radiologists to perform a familiar lung-nodule detection task. A gorilla, 48 times the size of the average nodule, was inserted in the last case that was presented. Eighty-three percent of the radiologists did not see the gorilla. Eye tracking revealed that the majority of those who missed the gorilla looked directly at its location. Thus, even expert searchers, operating in their domain of expertise, are vulnerable to inattentional blindness.
I'm going to have to tell my story about sitting on a subway with a knife pointed almost directly in my face (or my boyfriend's face, at any rate) & not noticing.

I did notice that my boyfriend (I was maybe 20-years old at the time) was looking anxious as all get out.

That, I noticed.

I also noticed the couple standing immediately beside him, arguing over something to do with an apartment they were going to. As I recall, they were ticked off at its resident--they agreed on that--but they seemed to disagree on what to do about it. So they were arguing.

Didn't see the knife one of them was brandishing.

Or the gorilla.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bill Gates is likely not just a funder but the major funder of Elizabeth Green

In the comments section, Hainish writes:
I checked, and Gates is one (two?*) out of over 25 contributors! It seems very misleading to say that she's "funded by Gates." One of the other donors on the list is the Walton Foundation . . . Can you imagine someone cherry-picking that particular donor to smear Green by association? (I can!)
I should explain.

I believe that I'm not cherry-picking when I cite Bill Gates, and only Bill Gates, as Chalkbeat's backer. I assume that Green's major donor --by far -- is Gates (or possibly Gates/Walton).

Unfortunately, I don't have easy access to Chalkbeat's 990 forms, so I haven't fact-checked.

In terms of bias, the presence of multiple donors on the donor page doesn't matter if one donor is providing most of the funding. I'm a member of a list that recently dealt with the multiple-donor issue re: Thomas Fordham Institute. Fordham, too, has a list of donors, but Gates is the big one:
Based on their 2012 990 there, Fordham had a total $2.8M income from grants in 2012. Given that Gates gave Fordham $1M in April 2013 (and $1.5M in 2011), clearly Gates is a major contributor. Gates' grants are probably split over 2 years or more in Fordham's tax forms. Other grants seem to be on the order of $100k-$300K. [email excerpt
Bill Gates is in a category unto himself. (Chalkbeat has been taken to task for the Walton funding, by the way.)

From a Chalkbeat story written by Green in 2008:
One of the world’s most expansive philanthropies, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, emerged yesterday from a year-and-a-half-long silence on one of its major investment areas, releasing a plan to dramatically alter the foundation’s approach to improving American schools.


In the crowd were some of the most important names in education: the presidents of the two major American teachers unions; the current U.S. Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings; at least one former Education Secretary, Dick Riley, who served under President Bill Clinton; and several people named as possible Education Secretary in the Barack Obama administration now being formed. That group includes Schools Chancellor Joel Klein of New York City; Arne Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago; the former chairman of Intel, Craig Barrett; and the co-chairs of Obama’s education advisory board, Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond and the New York City-based education entrepreneur Jon Schnur.

The education A-list crowd flocked to the Seattle conference because the direction the Gates Foundation takes will undoubtedly have a significant impact in schools across the country. In the last eight years, the foundation has invested $4 billion in education projects, and that is not counting its investments in scholarships and libraries.....

The size of Gates’ investments is expected to continue apace in this next phase, a foundation spokesman said.

As a result, some observers said Gates’ new direction is more important to the future of American schools than the identity of the next U.S. Education Secretary.

“In a way, being Secretary of Education is less significant than being Bill Gates,” the education historian Diane Ravitch said, guessing that the foundation gives more money annually to education than the U.S. Department of Education has available in annual discretionary funds. “I’d rather be Bill Gates.”
I don't have a firm view on the issue of donor-backed, one-issue journalism.

I like think tanks, which exist to produce reasonably solid research and opinion papers devoted to a particular political or policy view. I'm a big consumer of think-tank white papers.

I'm not sure I'm sold on donor-funder journalism, which is what Chalkbeat purports to be.

At a minimum, I think Chalkbeat should disclose funding sources within any reporting on their donors. I had no idea Chalkbeat was funded by Gates (or by the Walton Foundation, for that matter). I was reading their stories 'straight,' not suspecting a bias toward charter schools or Common Core. Whether or not that bias is present is neither here nor there. Disclosure is good form.

Here's another Chalkbeat story on Gates I've just come across:
Gates announcement A-list, continued: So many power players! by Elizabeth Green November 12, 2008
One thing's for sure: way too much Bill Gates.

He doesn't know what he's doing, and he shouldn't be able to assemble policy "A-lists" to explain to them what comes next in public education.

Be gone, Bill Gates!

From the horse's mouth

AP courses and exams are being revised to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization.
Trevor Packer, Senior Vice President, AP and Instruction – Senior Vice President, AP and Instruction - April 9, 2014
Oh, goody.

To be fair, AP history courses have always covered too much material. At least, that's what Ed always said. (For passersby, Ed is a historian of France & modern Europe.) Back in the day, Ed would occasionally be asked to work on AP Euro. He always said 'no' because he thought the courses crammed too much content into too little time.

He completely changed his mind once he started dealing with public schools as a parent.

He used to tell friends: 'I thought AP courses weren't great-- now I want Chris taking as many AP's as he possibly can.'

So, as much as it pains me to concede the point in our contemporary context, in theory it would be a good idea to thin out the content a bit.

Unfortunately, when thinning out content means "emphasizing inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization," you're not talking about a sensible edit.

You're talking about 12 months of DBQ-mongering at the expense of Roger Williams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Dorothea Dix, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Clay, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Theodore Roosevelt, Lost Generation authors (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Lewis), and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Yes, I do realize that current AP courses engage in quite a bit of DBQ-mongering.)

Real historians don't write DBQs.

Also, you can't do proper inquiry & depth without knowledge.

Knowledge stored in memory, not on Google.


I've told you all (right? many times?) that Ed is one of the inventors of the DBQ.

He doesn't like me to say that because he's not positive he and his colleagues really did invent the DBQ. Somebody else might have invented it first.*

But it's safe to say Ed and his group were the re-inventors of DBQs, and here's the thing: they invented the DBQ as a testof memorized knowledge.

Memorized, as in committed to memory and recalled later, on a test.

He and his group were writing new, rigorous, multiple-choice history tests for California. They designed the DBQ as a final and minor element of the exam, which would give advanced students a chance to show that they were beginning to be able to apply the historical knowledge they had memorized.

And note: only advanced students were expected to be able to write a DBQ successfully. All students could pass the test on the basis of knowledge stored in long-term memory. The DBQs were a bonus, so to speak.

A few years ago, in response to some folderol going on around here, in my district, I actually interviewed Ed about his work on the DBQ. Have got to dig out those notes and finally write them up.

AND SEE: Paul Horton on the new CC standards and DBQs

*I've come across journal articles on "controlled composition," which I have yet to read, and I suspect Ed's right. Other people probably thought of DBQs before Ed and his group did, although I've never seen any indication that other people came up with the specific concept Ed's team did.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Elizabeth Green is funded by Bill Gates

Needless to say, I was horrified by Elizabeth Green's Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, which is the single most breathless endorsement of constructivism I've ever seen in the Times. Actually, it may be the only breathless endorsement of constructivism I've seen in the Times.

I read it this morning, just before a meeting with Ed and his editors at Oxford, and as we were rushing to get ready I joked that Green was probably funded by Bill Gates.

Then tonight it occurred to me that I should check.

Chalkbeat: About Us

The Times has no business publishing an advocacy piece, albeit an advocacy book excerpt, without disclosing the Gates connection.

UPDATE 7/29/2014: Bill Gates is very likely the major funder of Elizabeth Green

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Palisadesk on violence on schools & bad principals

On the question of whether some schools are more violent than others, palisadesk writes:
I can speak to this with some assurance. I have been in 3 schools in the last decade, all within the same neighborhood (if you positioned them on a map, they would make an uneven triangle, each less than a mile from the others).

The area has a great deal of gang activity, drug dealing, drive-by shootings and vandalism, little of which is evident in the daytime; except for drug paraphernalia in the parking lot and conspicuous police cars, I rarely see any evidence of crime. We have had several lockdowns due to armed suspects in the area, and the school is locked down until police inform us it is safe. The reason they give is that they don't want an offender entering a school and attempting to take hostages.

Actual crime is really not that big a deal for the most part. Crime and violence in elementary schools has not, in my experience, ever been a big issue (I am talking K-8 elementary), and has not increased in my experience.

But, violence in elementary schools does occur and is of a lesser order than crime. It includes the usual bullying and schoolyard fights that have always been with us, occasionally punctuated by an incident of a student with a weapon. Violence and disorder are more of the disruption and uncontrolled-behavior sort, where there are kids running around unsupervised, taunting, harassment in the bathrooms, egregious swearing and opprobrious epithets, minor assaults, mostly against each other but also staff, etc.

A measurable portion (I wouldn't want to estimate an exact percentage) is due to increased numbers of mentally ill children and children with severe autism. Whereas we used to have other facilities for kids with real psychiatric disorders, most of them have been closed, and those children are in our schools, often with no support. Most children with autism are also included in general ed classes, although we do have some segregated programs as well.

Given all that, there is a huge difference among the last three schools where school climate and student behavior are concerned. The poverty level is about the same; school size about the same (550-700), demographics about the same (1-2% white, 2-3% Asian, a mixture of many black and brown subgroups). No middle class families.

Yet, school A, where I spent 8 years, was pretty well-disciplined and positive, with some good strategies for dealing with offenders and problems WITHOUT using suspension and expulsion. For one thing, suspension rewards the ones who don't want to be there in the first place, and they misbehave on purpose to get a free pass to the mall for a few days.

After a change in administration, however, things started to slide, and now, 5 years later, the place is a zoo and its academic standing is practically the lowest in the district where it was formerly respectably in the middle. School B had a lot of neighborhood issues due to being in the middle of a housing project (so non-students were often on the grounds etc), and the older students were more likely to be involved in undesirable extracurriculars. Still, the environment was relatively calm and classes orderly and children learning -- but one knew that it was a matter of constant vigilance.

Now I am at school C, a Frisbee throw away, and it is a completely different world. I am told it was pretty much like the first two some years back but a new principal came in and over time it has become a high-achieving, calm, enthusiastic place. The staff are outstanding, families love the school and support it in a variety of ways, we have lots of special activities to help kids broaden their horizons and gain background knowledge (principal is an active campaign for sponsors for different projects). In 4 years I have never seen or heard of a student fight, playground brawl or weapons issue. No drugs.

Academically, we outperform not only all the other schools in the (low-SES) area, but many of the middle-class and upper-class ones as well.

I think strong leadership of the best kind is what is needed -- and is in very short supply. An outstanding principal can transform a school (incrementally), and a bad one -- and I have worked for several -- can destroy one for years to come.

With all the yadda yadda about good teachers and bad teachers, you would think we would hear something about bad principals, the harm they do, and the need for great ones.

I've been active in reform efforts for a long time and the silence is deafening.
I completely agree, though I think NCLB focused much more on the school, as opposed to the teacher. At least from my perspective, it's been the Race to the Top era that has produced such a single-minded focus on the individual teacher.

Which reminds me....Sandra Stotsky has just posted a comparison of NCLB to RttT.

It's obvious to me we're not going to fix schools by linking teacher evaluations to Common Core tests. (Just typing those words -- 'fix schools by linking teacher evaluations to Common Core tests' -- plunges me into yet another Something happened in 1985 reverie.)

The person at the top sets the tone, and the person at the top is the principal. Individual teachers can't create a school climate. ("It's the culture, stupid.")

By happenstance, just this week I read an op-ed titled: What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

Agree completely with this passage:
The first [incorrect] belief is that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” This statement became known in education policies through the influential McKinsey & Company report titled “How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top”. Although the report takes a broader view on enhancing the status of teachers by better pay and careful recruitment this statement implies that the quality of an education system is defined by its teachers. By doing this, the report assumes that teachers work independently from one another. But teachers in most schools today, in the United States and elsewhere, work as teams when the end result of their work is their joint effort.

The role of an individual teacher in a school is like a player on a football team: all teachers are vital, but the culture of the school is even more important for the quality of the school. Team sports offer numerous examples of teams that have performed beyond expectations because of leadership, commitment and spirit. Take the U.S. ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a team of college kids beat both Soviets and Finland in the final round and won the gold medal. The quality of Team USA certainly exceeded the quality of its players. So can an education system.
I had a shocking experience of this phenomenon nearly two years ago.

I had attended Morningside Academy's Summer Institute, and had student taught there.

After that experience, I visited another precision-teaching school.

The difference was shocking.

I remember reading the same thing on the DI list. Even when a school is using Direct Instruction curricula and the teachers are well-trained, school culture is still the most important factor determining whether students actually learn. (I probably can't find that email any more, but that's what I recall.)

engageny is a full curriculum, I think

I noticed in the Comments thread for Allison's post people talking about whether engageny is or is not a full curriculum.

I think it's intended to be a complete curriculum (but I could be wrong).

Last fall my district replaced Math Trailblazers with engageny and nothing else. The curriculum director told us that they'd saved roughly $100k by going with the NY state curriculum (which had not been written when they adopted it).

I mentioned in the comments thread that, a few years back, I went to a talk by David Steiner, who said that the state was going to write a complete math curriculum states would be free to use or not. He didn't say anything about writing a supplementary curriculum. The plan was to write a complete curriculum districts could use instead of a curriculum they'd purchased from a textbook company.

I think what they've posted is the result.

Here's the wording from the website:
In order to assist schools and districts with the implementation of the Common Core, NYSED has provided curricular modules and units in P-12 ELA and math that can be adopted or adapted for local purposes. Full years of curricular materials are currently available on EngageNY, for grades Kindergarten through 9th grade in Mathematics and Kindergarten through 8th grade in English Language Arts (ELA). NYSED is working with our partners to deliver high quality curricular materials for all remaining grades in both Mathematics and ELA. In Mathematics, full years of instruction will be available for all remaining grades this summer. In ELA, full years of instruction will be available in 9th and 10th grade this summer and 11th and 12th grade this fall.

Common Core Curriculum
They've posted 105 lessons for Algebra 1.

I counted.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Can you spot the error?

Can you spot the error?

This is the EngageNY 8th grade, module 7 Teacher's Guide for part of the lesson on irrational numbers.  You can find the rest here:
Hint: extremely egregious error. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

School violence, suburban schools, charter schools

Followup to School violence 1940 - 1950

The 1940-1950 chart: School Survey Hoax:

I'm going to number sections of this post, just to make things quicker (for me & for people reading)


In the wake of learning, from the Comments thread (thank you!), that the 1940-1990 school chart is way too vivid to be true (I wondered about that -- should have listened to myself), I've done some Googling re: school violence.

Haven't finished, but while I was at it, I remembered this passage from Elizabeth Warren's book The Two-Income Trap:
Today's parents must also confront another frightening prospect as they consider where their children will attend school: the threat of school violence....[T]he statistics show that school violence is not as random as it might seem. According to one study, the incidence of serious violent crime--such as robbery, rape, or attack with a weapon--is more than three times higher in schools characterized by high poverty levels than those with predominantly middle- and upper-income children.[41] Similarly, urban children are more than twice as likely as suburban children to fear being attacked on the way to or from school. The data expose a harsh reality: Parents who can get their kids into a more economically segregated neighborhood really improve the odds that their sons and daughters will make it through school safely.[42]

41. Thomas D. Snyder and Charlene M. Hoffman, Digest of Education Statistics, 2001, NCES 2001-130 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, February 2002), Table 150, Percent of Public Schools Reporting Crime Incidents and the Seriousness of Crime Incidents Reported, by School Characteristics, 1996-1997.

42. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice, 2000, NCJ 190251 (December 2001), Table 2.0001, Students Age 12 to 18 Reporting Fear of School-Related Victimization.
Setting aside the question of whether school violence was significantly higher in 1990 than in 1940, the fact is that parents universally believe suburban schools are safer than urban schools.

I'm pretty sure urban parents have the same perception of charter schools.

Charter schools radiate an image of safety and calm.

I believe parents choose charter schools in part because they believe their children will be safer in a charter school than in a traditional public school.


Are charter schools actually safer?

Hard to tell. They may not be.

From 2013:
Teachers' perceptions of school safety across all school levels tended to differ by sector. Private school teachers were less likely than teachers in other sectors to report being threatened with injury in the past 12 months. Among private school teachers, 3.9 percent reported injury threats, compared with 9.6 percent of traditional public school teachers. Teachers in charter schools (10.8 percent) and BIA schools (12.6 percent) were most likely to report being threatened with injury...


Among traditional public public school teachers, reports of being threatened with injury varied by community type. Teachers in central city schools were more likely to report threats of injury in the past 12 months than teachers in urban fringe/large town schools and teachers in rural/small town schools. In central city traditional public schools, 13.5 percent of teachers reported injury threats. In urban fringe/large town schools, 7.9 percent of teachers reported injury threats. In rural / small town schools, 8.6 percent of teachers reported injury threats.
They need to disaggregate the data. I have no idea what proportion of charter schools are "central city."

One note: the fact that charter school teachers report a threat level as high as they do weighs against the idea that charters are cherry-picking the easy students.


Has there "always" been violence in schools?

The answer is 'yes,' but that is neither here nor there.

There has always been violence, period, but some places and times have been more violent than others.

The question is whether schools had become significantly more violent by 1990 than they were in 1940.

At the moment, it looks to me as if the government didn't really start collecting statistics on violence in schools until around 1990. (I may be wrong about that, but so far that's what I'm turning up.)

The label "school violence" didn't really exist prior to the 1970s (which is not to say that school violence didn't exist):

Source: "The School in School Violence: Definitions and Facts" | Michael Furlong & Gale Morrison | Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders | Summer 2000, Vol.8, No. 2, p. 72

Setting the quest for school violence statistics aside, it's well established that there was a large increase in "violence-related injuries and homicides among adolescents during the late 1980s and early 1990s."(Furlong & Morrison, 2000)

That increase affected the schools:
In some ways, society has expected a protective bubble to exist between the problems of our communities and the spillover into the school setting. Schools have remained relatively safe environments for teachers and students (Furlong & Morrison, 1994; Garbarinio, 1992); however, in some areas, the community norms and behaviors regarding violence have thoroughly invaded the school (Devine, 1995). This is particularly true in urban environments where there is a commitment to subculture norms and values that endorse the use of violence in solving conflicts (Devine, 1995; Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967).


Do some schools keep order better than others?


Within the same city and the same demographic, some schools keep order and some do not:
The 11 (Philadelphia) schools differed significantly on all five measures of school climate. The largest between-school differences were found for planning and action; clarity of rules; and student influence. Schools, therefore differ considerably in the degree to which students perceive that the school is making any effort to implement school improvements; in the clarity of school rules; and in the degree to which students have any influence on school policies. Note, however, that sizable but smaller effects were found for the other two climate scales as well: students feel more respects and they perceive that school rules are more fair at some schools than at others. Schools are not at all identical in the rules, procedures, norms, and practices that make up school climate.

While one might expect that 11 public schools in the same large, urban school district would evidence similar levels of disorder, this was not the case at all....Schools varied to a great degree in how safe their students felt.


Four of the five school climate variables significantly predicted victimization: respect for students, planning and action, fairness of rules, and clarity of rules. Student influence on decision making had no effect. Respect for students had the greatest influence on lower levels of victimization.

The Effects of School Climate on School Disorder | Wayne N. Welsh | The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 2000 567: 88
Rules and respect (warm/strict): that is the recipe for safe schools as well as for good parenting.

We've known for decades that "authoritative" parents raise more successful kids, and yet somehow no one's ever heard of the research.

Kids need authoritative surrogate parents at school, too.


Traditional public schools expel students all the time.

That includes SPED kids.