kitchen table math, the sequel: today's factoid

Monday, November 5, 2007

today's factoid

The nation’s 1,206 schools, colleges and departments of education constitute a sprawling enterprise, located at 78 percent of all four-year colleges and universities. They award one out of every 12 bachelor’s diplomas; a quarter of all master’s degrees; and 15 percent of all doctorates, more than any other branch of the academy.

Educating Researchers


I bet this report has Singapore shaking in its boots.


The rationale offered by [NCLB] authors: After almost 20 years of educational reform, the country needed to know which of the myriad policies and practices that had been tried actually worked. This required rigorous, scientifically based research relying principally on random controlled trials, the gold standard for research studies. The authors of NCLB believed there was a paucity of such research in education at the time the bill became law.

The federal research prescription brought a loud and impassioned response from the education community. Since the passage of NCLB, we have heard critics reject the prescribed methodology of “scientifically based research” and the accompanying assessment of the condition of education research. The new research requirements are characterized as representing ideological censorship and opposition to the liberality of education schools. What No Child Left Behind termed “scientifically based research” was the most expensive form of research, which few education schools could afford. Qualitative research, the most common methodology in education and one rejected as not scientifically based, was said to be a more appropriate way to answer some research questions.

There also have been conspiracy theories: The Republican White House and Congress created the new requirements to shift research funding from education schools to conservative think tanks.


Interestingly, the report says that there are more good programs teaching education research than there are good teacher education program.

Moving right along, Table 7 lists the highest-impact journals in education, law, and medicine.

Two of the five journals for education have nothing to do with the core subjects taught in K-12.

Journal of the Learning Sciences 2.280Review of Educational Research 1.960
Journal of American College Health 1.625
Learning and Instruction 1.617
Health Education Research 1.405
(p. 32)

Nobody working in the public schools is reading these journals anyway, which may be just as well:

Education research is likewise connected only weakly with practice. School administrators interviewed in the course of this study were regularly asked which education publications they read. The most common answers were Education Week, the trade paper, and publications from their own professional associations, such as unions and principals’ organizations. Almost never did they say they read scholarly journals; and when they did, the person being interviewed was invariably enrolled in a graduate program.

I suppose the fact that school administrators apparently do not know the difference between a trade paper and a refereed journal may explain the enthusiasm for Google as a curriculum.

threat level rising to red

The current issue of the Journal of Learning Sciences has an article on math ed:

When the Rules of Discourse Change, but Nobody Tells You: Making Sense of Mathematics Learning From a Commognitive Standpoint

That doesn't sound good.



concernedCTparent said...

Mathematics learning from a commognitive standpoint?

Doug Sundseth said...

A search on the nonce-word "commognitive" returned this Cambridge University Press page for Thinking as Communicating, by Anna Sfard. Presumably, this would be the same "Anna Sfard" referred to in the article you linked.

I think it's worth taking a fairly close look at what CUP wants us to know about this book. I've quoted most of the text on that page below and interspersed commentary.

"This book attempts to change thinking about thinking, convinced that many long-standing, seemingly irresolvable quandaries about human development originate in ambiguities of the existing discourses on thinking."

The quandaries originate in ambiguities of the existing discourses? Really?

I submit that it's rather more likely that the quandaries originate in the dimly-lit and sparsely filled expanses of the author's mind, but one can never be sure. How about, "I disagree with the consensus understanding of how people think"? (We'll soon see why that simpler form wasn't used.)

"Standing on the shoulders of Vygotsky and Wittgenstein,"

Pretense, thy name is, well, whoever wrote this tripe. Besides, the only reason to "stand on the shoulders" of anyone is to facilitate kicking him in the head. (Yes, I recognize the cliche; that doesn't make it better.)

"the author defines thinking as an individualized form of interpersonal communication."

Ah, yes, telepathy. How else can you read, "the author defines thinking as ... communication"? (I don't think the elision is unfair; please let me know if you disagree.)

"The disappearance of the time-honored thinking-communicating dichotomy is epitomized by Sfard's term, commognition, which combines communication with cognition."

"[C]ommognition"? Step away from the keyboard; you're damaging the language by its abuse. I suppose it's possible to find a more twee way to put that, but my (perhaps limited) imagination doesn't run that far.

And why might there be a "thinking-communicating dichotomy"? I submit that it's likely because it's possible to think without communicating (ask a good poker player) or communicate without thinking (ask any engineer). 8-)

It looks to me as though thinking and communicating are different. That means there's a "dichotomy". (Clarification added in case the author, or anyone else as slow of thinking, ever reads this.)

"The commognitive tenet implies that verbal communication with its distinctive property of recursive self-reference may be the primary source of humans' unique ability to accumulate the complexity of their action from one generation to another."

How, exactly, do you "accumulate ... from one generation to another"? Normal people might wish to say "pass" or perhaps even "communicate". Hey, there's a word that might be useful here.

When I analyze that, what I see is "The reason that information is passed from generation to generation in humans is that humans communicate". I understand that this might be a stunning insight to Ms. Sfard, but to people from this planet, not so much.

Perhaps this is why the basic thesis is so thoroughly ambiguated in the book's description?

"The explanatory power of commognitive framework and the manner in which it contributes to our understanding of human development is illustrated through commognitive analysis of mathematical discourse accompanied by vignettes from mathematics classrooms."

Here we see that the framework is said to contribute to our understanding of human development. This contribution is illustrated by commognitive analysis? The technical term the author of this is looking to avoid is "circular reasoning".

"* Combines theoretical analyses and empirical studies which means it can be read as an introduction to a particular research paradigm"

Theoretical analysis and empirical studies? Which came first? Why does this byzantine prose purport to resolve "ambiguities of the existing discourses on thinking"? Well, at least the author worked in "paradigm", so it's all good.

"* Glossary of terms at the end of the book and summary section at the end of each chapter support non-linear forms of reading"

Oooh, a glossary and chapter summaries. Is there no end to the innovation?

"* The text is rich in data samples which can be used to learn and practice methods of discourse analysis"

Heh. We like data samples -- this blurb is a fine example of a data sample. And discourse analysis? What else might this be?

Doug Sundseth said...

Oops, inadvertently deleted the link to the page. Here it is:

Catherine Johnson said...

standing on the shoulders of Vygotsky and Wittgenstein

oh, well then

Catherine Johnson said...

We should start a pool:

will "commognitive" catch on, yes or no?

I'm saying no.

Catherine Johnson said...

thinking is communicating....

is that like ESP?

concernedCTparent said...

I still can't get past commognitive.

concernedCTparent said...

"Teacher education right now is the Dodge City of education: unruly and chaotic," said Levine, who now heads the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. "There's a chasm between what goes on in the university and what goes on in the classroom."

... the Dodge City of education.

This was in another report of the Education Schools Project. Is anybody reading this stuff?

Seems to me that instead of discrediting Levine's research, education programs need to take a hard look at what they're doing.

What does Levine say?

*Transform schools of ed from ivory towers to professional schools that focus on classroom practice

*The success of teacher ed programs should be measured by student achievement

*Teacher ed programs should focus on skills and knowledge that promote classroom learning

*Teacher ed programs should be five-years

*There should be mechansims for quality control in teacher education

*Close failing teacher education programs and invest in the excellent ones. Create incentives for career-changers and outstanding students to enter teacher education at doctoral universities

I'm with Sheriff Levine. It's time to descend upon Dodge City and bring some order to town.

Anonymous said...

"The interpretive framework for the study of learning introduced in this article and called commognitive is grounded in the assumption that thinking is a form of communication and that learning mathematics is tantamount to modifying and extending one's discourse."

obviously one should stop reading
after this (first) sentence;
doug has (eloquently) pointed this out
already. but even if one were
to accept "thinking as communication"
(for purposes of argument)
as a potentially useful or interesting
metaphor ... people who don't know
that "tantamount to" means
"the same thing as", well,
shouldn't use "tantamount"
in their abstracts.
people who don't know
that you can show *anything*
if you assume a known falsehood
should study at least a little bit
more about logic. so on.
fortunately, this'll have the usual
impact: none. "commognitive" will
become part of mainstream discourse
at right about the same time as,
i dunno, "agenbite of inwit" or something...
actually, "a of i" seems to've had
something of a run back there somewhere ...

Cheryl van Tilburg said...

"*Transform schools of ed from ivory towers to professional schools that focus on classroom practice."

Be wary of this's really code for "ignore quantitative research in favor of qualitative research done in the classroom setting."

When I got my masters in education in 2000, the program included a course in research -- but it was ALL qualitative research. In ed school, they call it "action research." Basically it means that teachers conduct their own mini-studies in their classrooms to determine what works and what doesn't.

There's nothing wrong with action research, in-and-of-itself. But ed schools are preaching that action research is superior to controlled, scientific research. This might help explain why many educators don't read scholarly research publications...

Cheryl vT in Singapore

Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Although with articles on "mathematics learning from a commognitive standpoint," maybe not reading scholarly journals isn't such a bad thing.

(I should mention that my research prof actually used the "ivory tower" quote in my class to justify not teaching quantitative research analysis.)

Catherine Johnson said...

obviously one should stop reading
after this (first) sentence

That's what I did.

Catherine Johnson said...

The disappearance of the time-honored thinking-communicating dichotomy is epitomized by Sfard's term, commognition, which combines communication with cognition


another time-honored dichotomy bites the dust

Catherine Johnson said...

It looks to me as though thinking and communicating are different. That means there's a "dichotomy".

this was my thought

Catherine Johnson said...

The success of teacher ed programs should be measured by student achievement

also the success of schools should be measured by student achievement

Catherine Johnson said...

In ed school, they call it "action research."

I've seen this a lot lately.

Do ed schools give good training, at all, in how to do action research??

This is a concern to me now that we have data-driven instruction happening....

In theory I'm in favor of data-driven instruction, but if you've had essentially no training in math or statistics, then....

Then I worry.

Cheryl van Tilburg said...

"Do ed schools give good training, at all, in how to do action research??"

This probably depends on the ed school, but in my experience, the training on action research was abundant -- ridiculously abundant. Here's a good pdf that explains action research:

This paper explains the birth of action research back in the '70s:

"Education practitioners questioned the applicability of scientific research designs and methodologies as a means to solve education issues. The results of many of these federally funded projects were seen as theoretical, not grounded in practice" (page 14).

To me, this is the red flag... Examining your own practice in a thoughtful, meaningful way is great -- and hopefully all teachers conduct this reflective research as a matter of course.

But educators shouldn't simultaneously dismiss the (admittedly scarce) solid quantitative research out there because it's "too theoretical." In my view, that's educational malpractice...and sadly very common in ed school.

Cheryl vT in Singapore

Unknown said...

I received my BS Ed in May 2006, as a second career. I was not the oldest in my cohort, but the great majority were in their 20's. The school program was quite strong, although the advanced math education class was a sad example of what is happening in elementary education.

I was in a cohort of 15 or so students, and I was the only one who could actually do the math that the prof was showing us the ed. strategies for. She was a nationally certified curriculum adviser with a PhD. and kept telling the class: "You need to know how to do this math, I'm not here to teach you math". "You need to get some more math education before you step into a classroom".

She was amazed at how poor the student's skills were, although it was her first University level class. I wonder if her expectations have since declined.

Catherine Johnson said...

But educators shouldn't simultaneously dismiss the (admittedly scarce) solid quantitative research out there because it's "too theoretical." In my view, that's educational malpractice...and sadly very common in ed school.

Excellent point.

This is, on the topic of educational research, a reprise of what I went through early on confronting constructivism.

It's not that any given tenet of constructivism or action research is outright wrong (though, in the case of constructivism, some are)'s that the constellation of the pieces is dreadful.

To combine a belief in action research with a rejection of empirical research is what you do when you believe in orthodoxy, not reality.

Any person committed to knowing what is actually going on, as opposed to what he believes is going on, is going to be interested in any and all sources of information.

Catherine Johnson said...

What was your first career?

Anonymous said...

The factoid at the beginning seems a little off... 1206 schools, colleges, and departments of education represent 78% of all four-year colleges and universities? That implies that there are only 1546 or so 4-year colleges and universities in the US.

Infoplease, found via Google

says that in 2005 there were 4,140 total "institutions", 1666 of them 2-year. Meaning that 2470 or so "institutions" were 4-year. That's a significant discrepancy from the factoid.

(Of course, I'm not sure I trust a site where one of the larger items in the "tag cloud" box is colleages.)

Andy Lange

Catherine Johnson said...


No report should have an error of that magnitude ---

Unknown said...

If you were asking me about my first career it was circulation. I worked for the NYT National Edition in CA, The Racing Times (a daily newspaper,now defunct due to the untimely death of Robert Maxwell) and a trade magazine publisher.

I saw Yoram Sagher speak on Singapore Math when my boys were in K & 1st and their school adopted the curriculum and was inspired to get my Ed degree.