kitchen table math, the sequel: case studies versus "data"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

case studies versus "data"

This explanation of the case study approach, as opposed to the "data" approach, is going to be extremely useful here in Irvington:

Schools just don't do (and appreciate) what parents do at home. Most parents make sure learning happens. Schools don't do that. That's why I believe a lot can be learned by looking at individual kids and what their parents do, not at statistics. Schools want more parental involvement because they see a correlation with student results (statistics). They just don't realize what that connection really involves (study individual cases). This involves things that the school should be doing. Nobody can argue against parental involvement, but what are the details - practicing math facts at home? In other words, doing their job?

I'm going to send this to our administrators and board. People are beginning to grapple with this problem here, I think, and this is perfect.

Previously the administration has had two ways of looking at tutoring:

  • Westchester parents hire tutors when they don't need them.
  • Tutoring is really just a form of providing your child with very reduced class size.

We had a terrific meeting with the assistant superintendent and the assistant principal of the middle school today. It seems clear that the administration is beginning to understand the enormity of the parent reteaching that goes on here. It's not just "tutoring"; it's not just "help with homework." Many students here are experiencing almost a separate school at home, at least in the subjects in which they need a separate school at home.

Today, in the meeting, we gave two examples of what is taking place:

Last week Ed spent 2 hours walking a 9th grader we know through a h.s. writing assignment no 9th grader could possibly do. No graduate student would have been able to do it, either. Essentially, the assignment asked students to write a book, or perhaps a series of books, in two paragraphs. Not possible.

Fortunately, this student just so happened to have a professional historian as a familiy friend. So he and his mom came over, and Ed figured out a way for the student and his Ph.D.-bearing mother to do the assignment. The final product wouldn't be good -- it couldn't be -- but it would be as good as it could be under the circumstances.

What happens to students who don't happen to have a historian friend who can "help with homework"?

The other story we told is heartbreaking.

One of Christopher's sweetest friends -- this is such a great kid -- has some family problems (divorce), parents aren't professionals, etc.

Last year Chris' ELA class was given an assignment that was way over the kids' heads.

(I'm going to add my standard disclaimer here: we think the world of this teacher -- I might even be able to document the amount C. learned in her class. Here, I'm talking about a particular problem with writing instruction that we're seeing in many, many classes.)

Anyway, the writing assignment was far too advanced.

Ed spent hours breaking it down, teaching each part, selecting an appropriate text for C. to write about, and so on.

C. ended up with an A.

His friend, who was on his own, got a D or perhaps even an F. He was sad and demoralized; Chris was proud and happy. Ed said, afterwards, "It's like emotional blackmail. If you don't help your kid he's going to be miserable."

What conclusion does C's friend draw?

He told us this summer. One of C's other friends was telling the others that his mom was going to get him a game system if he made honor roll. C's average-student friend said, in his sweet, direct voice, without a trace of envy, "That would be difficult for me."

Then he looked at Ed and me and said, "I'm an average student."

It breaks your heart.

We brought these stories to the meeting, and for the first time, I think, the stories were heard.

Steve's comment about the need for case studies will explain part of what is needed here.

But how does one level the playing field?

I have some thoughts about that, courtesy of Susan J.

Does anyone else?


Doug Sundseth said...

1. Teach.

2. Test what you taught.

3. Remediate the things that were not taught well. (You know what these things are because you correcte the test you just gave and saw what all the kids were getting wrong.)

4. Rinse.

5. Repeat.

It's a complex and difficult process (what if the teacher lost a finger sometime in the past and could no longer count to five?), but teachers are supposed to be trained professionals, neh?

SteveH said...

"But how does one level the playing field?"

Maybe you don't have to level the playing field if homework was appropriate. The goal isn't to provide alternate parents (or turors). The goal is to fix the problem. You first have to understand the problem.

I liked what Catherine started doing before, which was documenting exactly what she and Ed have done at home. I think back and now wish I kept a log over all of these years.

"Ed said, afterwards, 'It's like emotional blackmail. If you don't help your kid he's going to be miserable.'"

Most teachers can spot some of the projects done by parents, but not all, and they can't spot all of the other forms of help. I have spent countless hours providing background information for my son related to homework. (...and he is a good student!) In the end, he might do all of the work, but he is starting from a much higher level. It's a lot easier to "construct" things with content and knowledge.

It would be nice to hear more stories about exactly what parents do at home beyond just providing a nice quiet space for doing homework. I'm going to start keeping a log of times and exactly what I do.

SteveH said...

"1. Teach.

2. Test.

3. Remediate

4. Rinse.

5. Repeat."

Isn't education more mysterious than that? :-o

Doesn't this assume that they can define exactly what they are doing?

Anonymous said...

"It's like emotional blackmail. If you don't help your kid he's going to be miserable."

I don't have a problem letting my kid take the heat if he has put off a simple assignment and then goofs up with it. But when you're re-teaching just to get the assignment going and it happens every week or so, then it is a problem.

What's so ironic about all of this is how much schools claim to care about a kid's self-esteem. So many decisions outside of academics seem driven by the need to preserve self-esteem.

I have spent countless hours providing background information for my son related to homework

Same here.

My favorite grade school assignments are when they have to write something and are told to use the Internet for "research." They can't scan, they can't extrapolate a main idea, they can't summarize, but they are told to use the vast world of the Internet before they put together their assignment.

I'm beginning to appreciate our little World Book and Britannica encyclopedias.

Doug Sundseth said...

"Isn't education more mysterious than that?"

Well, I did leave out the special sauce and the sesame-seed bun, but I'm pretty sure those are optional.

Doug Sundseth said...

Lest it be thought that I'm minimizing the difficulties, let me present a paraphrase of a famous saying:

“Everything in [education is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced [teaching].”

Finishing a basement is simple, but that doesn't mean it is easy; there's a great deal of work, dislocation, and mess in the process. The same is true of education.

concernedCTparent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catherine Johnson said...

Maybe you don't have to level the playing field if homework was appropriate. The goal isn't to provide alternate parents (or turors). The goal is to fix the problem. You first have to understand the problem.



How did I forget---of course. The homework needs to be at the level of the child; the homework needs to be something the child can do WITHOUT the parent providing him with vast quantities of background knowledge, direct instruction, and etc.

Catherine Johnson said...

Our school doesn't care about self esteem. The words "self esteem" are never uttered, never.

The focus is character education, bomb threats, rules, and guards.

That's it.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think I've mentioned the fact that the middle school principal was a principal in Albany, right?

We are living the fun-filled lives of single black moms in urban schools.

Loving every minute of it.

Catherine Johnson said...

I was sorting through my emails-from-the-principal the other day, and I found one where he cautions me about my inflammatory language.

In an email.

He urges me to take a constructive tone.

This is the guy who has 15 out of 15 black and Hispanic kids flunking the 8th grade assessments.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think I'll go ahead and say this here: the middle school principal has not worked out, and does not have his students' best interests at heart.

This is a widely shared view.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm again cursing the fact that Andrew erased 4 hours of notes.

Catherine Johnson said...

or, rather, notes covering 4 hours

Catherine Johnson said...


grade on the DBQ was a '2'