kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/11/07 - 3/18/07

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Well that didn't work well. When I got Ken's email about the data, I was furiously working on a very large data set in SPSS with a deadline approaching quickly. So I downloaded the Wisconsin data, ran the stats and posted.

Oops. When I opened the data in Excel (with SPSS running in the background) I didn't see either the "number advanced" or "% advanced" columns because they ran off the right edge of my screen, and for some reason on this laptop, Excel and SPSS do not play nicely together with the video card. So if I want to scroll while running both, I have to do little tricks like minimize both, then bring up Excel.

Anyway, I corrected the error. Hurriedly. Because I'm dealing with a deadline.

If you want to run ANOVA (most stats tests) in Excel, it requires that the input data be in a contiguous block. So to run ANOVA, I had copied and pasted the data to another worksheet, and guess what? Some of it was the original % proficient data.

Anyway, it's fixed now, and I can go back to SPSS.

Ken v. Reading First in Madison

I don't know if you've been following the explosion Ken DeRosa created by fisking that article about Reading First, but he pointed me to the data, I analyzed it, and to make a long story short, he was right and she was wrong.

See here for the analysis.


8:25 pm Friday, March 16, 2007
Irvington school board sends mass email threat to "consider" legal action against any parent who employs the District's Top Secret email list. (context: No one has used the Top Secret list since last December. It is now March.)

10:45 pm Friday March 16, 2007
Ed reads email, comes upstairs, reports threat.

10:47 pm Friday March 16, 2007
Catherine gets out of bed, goes downstairs, switches on kitchen light.

10:47 pm Friday March 16, 2007
Christopher, attempting to sleep on family room sofa because Martine, stranded by sleet storm & failure of snow plough guy to show, is sleeping in his bed upstairs, starts yelling. "I'm trying to sleep! I'm trying to sleep!"

10:48 pm Friday March 16, 2007
Catherine: "I don't like being yelled at!"

10:48 pm Friday March 16, 2007
Christopher: "I'm trying to sleep! I'm trying to sleep!"

10:49 pm Friday March 16, 2007
"I don't like being yelled at!"

10:50 pm Friday March 16, 2007

10:51 pm Friday March 16, 2007
Catherine discovers cause of yelling offspring: C. is trying to sleep in family room and kitchen light is on.

10:51 pm Friday March 16, 2007
Kitchen light off.

10:54 pm Friday March 16, 2007
Catherine forwards Board email to K DeRosa of D-Ed Reckoning fame, requesting legal advice: Can you get me a legal opinion on this? Can the Board threaten to sue parents for using its Top Secret email list? Thanks--- Catherine

11:58 pm Friday March 16, 2007

They have no cause of action.

First, you are under no contractual obligation to keep their email list secret. You are not bound by their policy; they are. To the extent that they can claim a trade secret interest, they have not taken reasonable precautions to keep it secret.

Second, the list is now in the public domain through inadvertent disclosure. So if there was a protectible interest, it's now gone.

Third, they failed to take reasonable precautions to keep their list secret and failed to take reasonable measures to mitigate the damage once they discovered the list had entered the public domain. The list has been out for months now and they've taken no corrective action until just tonight. That is not reasonable action.

Once the genie is out of the bottle you can't put him back in.

That was fast.

email from the Board
Tex weighs in


This is an invaluable resource: Ask Dr. Math.

these words come to mind

from Tex, re: the Irvington school board's threat to "consider" legal action against any parent using its Top Secret email list to contact other parents:

Vague, threatening, blame shifting, dialogue suppressing.

Sums it up nicely.

email from the Board
Tex weighs in

Friday, March 16, 2007

email from the Board

Irvington Schools District Residents:

For roughly 9 years, the Board of Education has been committed to keeping you involved and informed by way of an email list, which now comprises over 1,600 residents. This list is used by the District to distribute a weekly newsletter, other informative communications and important notices. District Policy Number 3170 requires that the email addresses submitted to the district for inclusion in the list be kept strictly confidential and that the list should not be used for commercial purposes.

Last fall, during an emergency notification, a District employee mistakenly sent a message to the email distribution list using "cc" rather than "bcc". This allowed several community members to copy the entire list and use it at their discretion to send unauthorized messages to these confidential email addresses. Other community members have thereafter copied and used the email addresses as well.

The Board of Education and Administration apologize for this error and have taken measures to prevent it from happening again. Since we recognize that this is a serious breach of confidentiality, we will consider any legal action available to the District against anyone who makes use of this list in the future.

In addition, we request that any community member who has come into possession of these email addresses, directly or indirectly, to immediately delete them. As a community member, you have the right to send an email to anyone sending you an unsolicited email demanding that they desist. You also have the right to contact the sender's Internet Service Provider stating that the sender is sending you unsolicited emails and that the sender should have their account suspended.

Once again, we apologize for this error and will do our best to protect everyone's email confidentiality.

The Board of Education

$19,000 $21,000 per pupil spending.

Highest taxes in the country.

Friday night: email from the Board threatening parents with legal action.

Looking forward to the school board vote!

Not to mention the budget vote!

oh, wait!

This email arrived in the same batch:

The IHS drama club's production of The Music Man will conclude with performances on March 17 at 2 PM and 8 PM in the Campus Theater. Tickets for Friday night’s cancelled performance will be honored at the 2 PM performance, which was added due to the inclement weather. Tickets will be sold at the door. Tickets cost $15.00 for adults and $8.00 for students/senior citizens. Contact Linda Pierpont at 591-6645 with any questions. Everyone from the community is invited to attend this fantastic annual musical!

The next public meeting of the Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, March 20 beginning at 7:30 PM in the Campus Presentation Room. The focus of the agenda will be Dr. Matusiak’s Superintendent’s Recommended Budget. The entire agenda will be available on our web site on Monday under Board of Educatiopn>BOE Agenda/Minutes or simply by clicking: This meeting will be followed up by a Budget Forum on Saturday, March 24 from 8:30 AM until 11 AM in the Campus Presentation Room. Please note that the March 20 meeting is not on the District calendar and replaces the March 27 Board of Education meeting, which will not be held.

Friday, March 23 is the date for the Annual Otto awards, which will be held in the Campus Theater beginning at 7 PM. This annual night of mirth includes staff and students performances and awards to students as voted by their peers. Everyone in the community is invited.

Save the date! The PTSA will hold a general membership meeting on Wednesday, March 28 at 7:15 PM in the Campus Presentation Room. The featured speaker will be Dr. Steven Kipnis. He will be speaking on the abuse of over the counter and prescription substances by adolescents. He is the Medical Director of the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. His presentation will be followed by a question and answer session with Dr. Kipnis, parents, an ER RN, social worker and Officer Foley. Contact Michelle Buell at for additional information.

Please be reminded that Superintendent’s Conference Day will NOT be held on Friday, March 30 but will instead be held on Thursday, March 29. Therefore, all schools will be closed for students on Thursday, March 29 but open for students on Friday, March 30.

We hope everyone has a great week!

In case you're wondering, this is the only mass communication allowed here in Irvington.

Propaganda from our elected representatives on the Board.

Happy propaganda!

email from the Board
Tex weighs in

preliminary report is here!

Just got my copy; haven't read yet. (pdf file)

snow day

This is a photo of the castle across the road from us.

It's not really a castle.

I don't know what it is.

That boxy structure on top of the wall is a turret.

That's all I know.

Larger version here.

98 jobs that need ratio and proportion

now you know

schema theory

schema theory

here's Barry

I could go on

I need to get a letter written to Ed Week.

you may want to weigh in

suburban schools: good

urban schools: bad

right here

Thursday, March 15, 2007

when push comes to shove

I've always characterized myself as a supporter of NCLB, in spite of the fact that only Reading First appears to be working, and in spite of the fact that the law has drawbacks for kids like my own.

I didn't think I was an enthusiastic supporter of the law.

I thought I was a grudging supporter of the law.

Turns out I was wrong.

This morning, when Ed came upstairs and said WAPO was reporting that NCLB was going to be killed -- killed or eviscerated -- I felt stricken.

Funny thing is, Ed was stricken, too.

Back when NCLB passed he was hostile. We had a gazillion arguments of the George Bush didn't give the schools any money variety.

You can probably imagine how sympathetic I was to that.

The states haven't met their obligation to teach black and Hispanic kids ever, so the federal government needs to hand over a whole lot of money -- money that will be paid, presumably, by people who live in states -- and then maybe the states will think about it.

We had whopping big rows.

Now he's stricken, too.

We both are.

the Keller Plan at law school

I have been meaning to post this link for at least a year now.

I'm finally doing so in reaction to Redkudu's question about what Direct Instruction in high school might look like.

I took two courses taught by the Keller Method in college, one at Wellesley and one at Dartmouth. They were fantastic, and I still remember the material I learned in the Keller Method statistics course to this day.

Why did the Keller method come and go along with every other effective form of instruction?

Part of the answer is here:

In a profession as conservative as ours, any new development is viewed with suspicion, and it is necessary to lay carefully the groundwork for any innovation.[44] We did this by circulating information to our colleagues and conducting seminars describing the method and our particular implementation. The stratagem was successful, and the experiment has been received with interest, although it is also fair to say that the interest is coloured by a healthy scepticism.

The major political problem is the distribution of grades. Keller himself warned that the Plan is not suitable for any teacher "...who believes that, because of genetic or environmental factors, only a handful of his pupils can ever be deserving of an A or its equivalent."[45] We anticipated correctly that this would be a problem. The Dean and Teaching Committee approved our assessment scheme in advance and on the understanding that our mark distribution might very well be skewed. The actual results were much better than we anticipated (see the section on statistics), but this just makes the political problem worse! There are several solutions to this problem, none entirely satisfactory. It is possible to modify the "no penalty for failure" rule. This would discourage students from using the examination system as a tutorial method. It would also dramatically increase student dissatisfaction with the examination system, particularly if the computer examination system is used.

Another solution is to reduce the marks given for completion of modules, mark the final examination ruthlessly and scale the final marks if necessary. There is little educational justification for this, but it is the most direct response to the problem. We intend to argue that successful completion of all modules is at least worthy of a credit,[46] so that the Keller Plan course would still be outside Faculty guidelines.

One strategy that might be a solution is worthy of exploration. Students would not receive full marks for a module, but instead a percentage of full marks based on their performance in the module examination.[47] The difference from the first solution is that students could re-examine until they reached a level which they found satisfactory. A class of very ambitious students could still yield a grade distribution which would leave the Faculty foaming.

time to order my hard copy of this article

now playing on YouTube

Ed just found Andrew watching this downstairs on the computer.


test post

on fear

I want to talk about fear. Here are some things I am not afraid of: storms, flying, snakes, the dark, spiders, fire, panhandlers at street corners, unfamiliar animals, credit card debt, blood, needles.

Here is what I am afraid of: low-water crossings. There’s a good reason for this.

In Texas, sudden rain means flash flooding. When I was young every entrance and exit to our neighborhood required passing through a low-water crossing. Once, my father decided he was going to brave one with my mother and me in the vehicle. We stalled mid-way. We were pushed by the current, the truck fishtailing from side-to-side. Water came in the doors. If not for a lone emergency truck which happened to be coming the other way, we may have been swept over. The truck pulled to our side, diverting the water around us, and we drove on. In high school, two of the girls who were in my group when we went to prom (casual friends, all piled into cars because we couldn't afford a limo) later tried to cross during a flash flood and one of them drowned. I’ve gone white-water rafting and been thrown out of the boat, and wasn’t afraid. It’s being trapped in a car that scares me.

So that’s a fear.

Recently I’ve talked about things that have changed my assumptions as a teacher, have made me question the established rhetoric, have made me look more deeply at what I’ve been told, especially when it comes to what is purported to work, and what doesn’t.

Dennis Fermoyle, and TMAO (via D-Ed Reckoning) have me thinking again. Dammit, you guys, I’m supposed to be on Spring Break! (Didn’t stop me from going up to school for three hours today, though. And I’ve been writing lesson plans for next year like crazy this week.)

TMAO's post says, "As I read these endless teacher accounts of being subjected to controlled curriculum, I grow tired rather than invigored, and think shut up rather than right on."

I’m not quite at the shut up stage, but I do wonder. I’ve talked about some colleagues who did not know what DI was, but they’d heard about it, and based their opinions of it on that. I’ve talked about how I was indoctrinated to be suspicious of DI through the subterfuge of calling it "teacher-centered" direction. My purpose here is not to expound on the merits of DI. Except for reading the Englemann book and some other resources found online, I’ve never seen it in action, nor have I seen any model for high school. (Though I do have one of the Englemann books on order to see for myself.)

I often question the idea of teacher autonomy coming, as I did, from several industries where there was no autonomy whatsoever. I’ve seen the argument time and again, and for a very brief time (while being subtly influenced to believe that DI was EVIL), was swayed by it.

Now, I like to think I can be graceful when the occasion demands (I do try not to feed the trolls), but let me just be blunt: Is it fear?

What I question is whether the debate doesn't sometimes stem from teachers' concern that with stricter accountability they may have to question whether a) they are experts in their subject matter, b) they have the skills to effectively teach subject matter they may be experts in, or c) the methods they believed to be effective actually are. Any of those is an easy fix, in my opinion, but it requires accepting responsibility, which is more difficult, especially if the acceptance of responsibility on the teacher’s part might mean the loss of a job due to ineffective measures to train teachers to mastery (or a preference for dumping low performers in favor of high performers for the sake of cost efficiency).

Somehow, I just cannot bring myself to believe that a more rigorously designed curriculum is the thing-under-the-stairs that will jeopardize teacher creativity. Truly, in my mind, it isn’t the play, it’s the way the actor delivers the lines. At the same time, I believe there is a deeper question of dignity to be addressed - devoted teachers do put themselves on the front line every single day, and we know that they sometimes come to harm at the hands of their students, and we know that they are often trivialized despite their efforts, and we know that they take care of children who are not their own, even though, by professional obligation, they should only be held responsible for the material (but that doesn’t stop them).

So, my question is: is it fear? Or is there a concrete argument against minimally standardized practices in education besides the loss of teacher autonomy? Are there assurances which might be made which could help maintain the dignity and enthusiasm of teachers while transitioning to something perceived as being restrictive and career-threatening? Can we get there from here, and how so?

Head Start, Piaget, and me

Twenty-two years after the creation of the preschool program for low-income children, its cofounder, Edward Zigler, acknowledged, "We simply cannot inoculate children in one year against the ravages of a life of deprivation." Nevertheless, Zigler remains confident that Head Start brings some benefits to the children it serves.

On average, poor children enter school with far fewer vocabulary, literacy, math, and social skills than their middle-class peers. They start off a step behind and never catch up; the gap in academic proficiency follows them to the end of their schooling.

Since 1965, taxpayers have spent more than $66 billion on Head Start to provide comprehensive health, social, educational, and mental health services to poor children. Currently, the $6.6 billion program enrolls more than 900,000 three- and four-year-olds at a cost of roughly $7,000 per pupil.


Today, nearly four decades since Head Start was launched, the school readiness gap between poor children and their middle-class peers remains stubbornly large. On average, low-income children enter kindergarten with a vocabulary a fraction of the size of their middle-class peers'. They are also less likely to know the letters of the alphabet or even how to follow words left to right across the printed page. Nicholas Zill, vice president of Westat, a research firm, notes, "Poor kids make gains in most of the elementary schools that they go to. The gains are parallel to those of more advantaged kids, but the gap still remains."

This achievement gap persists into high school. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as the "nation's report card"), poor students score substantially lower than their middle- and upper-income peers, at all three grades--4th, 8th, and 12th--in all subjects. In math, science, and history, three to four times as many middle- and upper-income students receive "proficient" scores when compared with poor students, who are much more likely to be rated as "below basic," the lowest level on the tests.


Westat's Zill points out:

When you look at where Head Start has been in the last few years, they've been bending over backwards to avoid literacy skills. The Piagetian slant has been very strong. The ironic thing is that most Head Start parents want their kids to learn those skills.
Head Start for Poor Children?


That's ironic, alright.

Amazing how these low income parents want their kids to learn academic content.

Amazing how pundits don't seem to be able to get this.

how politics don't work

Have I ever mentioned my theory that you don't want to see the right and the left agreeing on stuff?

Just in case I haven't, and just in case you were inclined to disagree, check this out.

David Brooks is conservative.

Politika Erotika is not conservative. (Which we know, because.... ummm ..... Politika Erotika seems to have a lot of dirty photos accompanying re-postings of New York Times op-ed columns.)

OK, now that I've offended anyone who has a defined political position (I'm sorry! I am!) I'm going to crash ahead with this......

When you've got ill-informed pundits on the right banging on about character deficits in the poor, and ill-informed bloggers on the left re-posting conservative character deficit columns in full, your goose is cooked.

Our schools, not to mention our pundits (and our bloggers), need to stop worrying about everyone's character and start worrying about teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic.

And history and science.

Head Start, Piaget, and me
Reading Last

character ed & the decline of Britain

Ed's been reading Martin J. Wiener's book English Culture and the Decline if the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980.

Martin says Britain lost its position as industrial giant thanks to character education run amok.

I believe it. (more later)

Ed is thinking that character education may always be anti-intellectual.

It's possible:

Gladwell on character

The difficult part, however, was coming up with a way of keeping Jews out, because as a group they were academically superior to everyone else. Lowell’s first idea—a quota limiting Jews to fifteen per cent of the student body—was roundly criticized. Lowell tried restricting the number of scholarships given to Jewish students, and made an effort to bring in students from public schools in the West, where there were fewer Jews. Neither strategy worked. Finally, Lowell—and his counterparts at Yale and Princeton—realized that if a definition of merit based on academic prowess was leading to the wrong kind of student, the solution was to change the definition of merit. Karabel argues that it was at this moment that the history and nature of the Ivy League took a significant turn.

The admissions office at Harvard became much more interested in the details of an applicant’s personal life. Lowell told his admissions officers to elicit information about the “character” of candidates from “persons who know the applicants well,” and so the letter of reference became mandatory. Harvard started asking applicants to provide a photograph. Candidates had to write personal essays, demonstrating their aptitude for leadership, and list their extracurricular activities. “Starting in the fall of 1922,” Karabel writes, “applicants were required to answer questions on ‘Race and Color,’ ‘Religious Preference,’ ‘Maiden Name of Mother,’ ‘Birthplace of Father,’ and ‘What change, if any, has been made since birth in your own name or that of your father? (Explain fully).’ ”

At Princeton, emissaries were sent to the major boarding schools, with instructions to rate potential candidates on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 was “very desirable and apparently exceptional material from every point of view” and 4 was “undesirable from the point of view of character, and, therefore, to be excluded no matter what the results of the entrance examinations might be.” The personal interview became a key component of admissions in order, Karabel writes, “to ensure that ‘undesirables’ were identified and to assess important but subtle indicators of background and breeding such as speech, dress, deportment and physical appearance.” By 1933, the end of Lowell’s term, the percentage of Jews at Harvard was back down to fifteen per cent.

If this new admissions system seems familiar, that’s because it is essentially the same system that the Ivy League uses to this day. According to Karabel, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton didn’t abandon the elevation of character once the Jewish crisis passed. They institutionalized it.

Starting in 1953, Arthur Howe, Jr., spent a decade as the chair of admissions at Yale, and Karabel describes what happened under his guidance:

The admissions committee viewed evidence of “manliness” with particular enthusiasm. One boy gained admission despite an academic prediction of 70 because “there was apparently something manly and distinctive about him that had won over both his alumni and staff interviewers.” Another candidate, admitted despite his schoolwork being “mediocre in comparison with many others,” was accepted over an applicant with a much better record and higher exam scores because, as Howe put it, “we just thought he was more of a guy.” So preoccupied was Yale with the appearance of its students that the form used by alumni interviewers actually had a physical characteristics checklist through 1965. Each year, Yale carefully measured the height of entering freshmen, noting with pride the proportion of the class at six feet or more.

JS Online: Class sizes to increase

JS Online: Class sizes to increase

Its ideology over common sense. Ability grouping is such a dirty word in education, that schools are willing to cut their own throats before acknowledging that students learn at different paces. Ironically, the same people who insist on mixed ability classes, also love to talk about differential instruction.

According to the article:

Waukesha - The School Board voted Wednesday to raise class sizes, reduce music instruction and all but eliminate the district's elementary library, elementary guidance and gifted programs to balance its 2007-'08 budget.
I am no expert, but I just don't see why gifted education needs to cost districts any more money.

If instead of paying for a separate pullout program, which requires a specialized teacher, schools set up classrooms (or groups within classrooms) by ability, high performers wouldn't need all the BS enrichment that passes for gifted education.

And yes, I talk from personal experience. I have sat through my sons gifted pull-out class several times, and the only thing that has been taught to them all year is 30 Latin route words.

Just to put this in perspective, he has been in the gifted program for the last 24 weeks at about 2 hours per class. Accounting to holidays, this equates to roughly 40 hours of instruction for the year.

40 hours to learn 30 Latin words to gifted kids! Somehow, I really don't think the tax payers are getting their moneys worth.

an administrative hassle

I missed the latest big math meeting.....this is the one in which 5th grade parents were going to be filled in on 6th grade math.

It's all a big mystery, as things here so often are.

A friend sent this reaction:

Tracking: first we’re tracking, then we’re not. Then we are, then we’re not. So, I don’ t know if we are or not. Changes were going to be made but the teachers in 6th couldn’t handle too many changes.

The deal here is that the middle school principal wants to get rid of the accelerated math course.

A month ago, at a principals' meeting with parents, he said they were dumping the accelerated course. Last year's principal wanted to dump it, too; he told us so.

Unfortunately the superintendent had already sent around a letter saying they'd be tracking kids in 6th grade, which two of us present at the meeting remembered WIRES CROSSED!

Anyway, going into the 5th grade meeting I posted a series of The Trouble with Middle School Math posts on the Forum:

I love the internet.

At the meeting parents were concerned about what would happen if their kids did well in the non-accelerated track.

Could kids move to the accelerated track?

Apparently the new assistant superintendent for curriculum said "sure."

Then they asked the principal who said probably not, because moving kids from one track to the other would be an "administrative hassle."

Which was not the answer people were looking for.

I wish I'd been there, because I could have pointed out that moving kids OUT of the accelerated course is never an administrative hassle.

Moving kids OUT can be accomplished NOW, TODAY, RIGHT THIS MINUTE!

It's moving kids IN to the accelerated track that poses an insurmountable administrative hassle.

There's a discrepancy.

failure to cess

It bothers me that I have no idea why the principal would tell a roomful of parents he's never met that he won't be able to move their kids from the regular track to the accelerated track because it would be an administrative hassle.

There may be almost nothing worse he could have said, and he apparently chose to say this after the assistant superintendent had given the exact opposite response, which makes it even worse.

I have no idea what to make of it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Think Math!

Are you familiar with the Think Math! textbooks?

Apparently, this is a new K-5 series published by Harcourt. My school will be piloting Think Math! next month. (Yes, the exclamation point is part of the name.)

At first glance, it appears that the developers have tried to address many of the objections to NSF texts while maintaining some constructivist components.

Here is some info from their website

. . . developed by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) in Newton, MA with support from the National Science Foundation.

Think Math! does not pit skill against problem solving. Rather, it builds computational fluency through plentiful practice in basic skills as students investigate new ideas and solve meaningful problems. Lessons provide glimpses of ideas to come, letting students build familiarity and develop conceptual understanding as they apply, sharpen, and maintain skills they already have.

What makes Think Math! unique (not just another NSF-supported program)? Think Math! provides focused practice, which enhances conceptual understanding as it increases computational fluency. The curriculum allows students to get involved in solving real problems, figuring out what to do without first being told. Instruction is then used to provide good explanations of reliable techniques. The materials, and some teaching techniques recommended in the lesson plans, also reduce the number of words, using visual models to convey information instead. By puzzling out what’s missing, students can “read” the mathematics and figure out what to do without written directions.
Perhaps most unique, the program features embedded professional development for teachers both in understanding the mathematics content at a deeper level and in suggested teaching techniques. Professional development is located in a feature of many lessons titled About the Math, and in thoughtful explanations throughout the teacher’s guide.

There’s much more information on their site that I’m just starting to read. The first question that comes to mind is why adopt a text that has no proven track record when there are others (Singapore, Saxon) that have demonstrated success? This sounds like another experiment with our children being used as guinea pigs. Also, will our school receive NSF funding if we implement this?

My school piloted Growing with Math last fall and had planned to pilot TERC Investigations this spring. I have been vocal in expressing my concerns, and then last month a few days after I circulated an email to a small group of parents the school informed us that they had decided not to pilot TERC. My email, which included the Inconvenient Truth video and other choice references, was apparently forwarded to many other parents and made it to the BOE and to the school administration. At one point a PTA officer asked me to please email my “readers” to let them know that the TERC pilot had been cancelled.

I would appreciate any comments and advice.


This is not going well. More technology! More 21st century learning! Different learning environments!


Alexander conference call

The last two days have been me running around losing my mind trying to deal with about fifteen different sudden emergencies, but Alexander's office sent out a summary of the act, I read through it, and here are the questions I've prepared (note that I can't monopolize the call, since there are I believe eight of us). Sections from the summary are in quotation marks.

"Increasing research investment"

This makes me nervous for two non-fiscal reasons. First, governmentally funded research these days tends to become politicized to the point that the principles of science are abaonded in favor of pushing an agenda (global warming). Second, there has to be some way of screening applicants, other than the NSF or some other similar organization, so things like "Animals, Women and Weapons: Blurred Sexual Boundaries in the Discourse of Sport Hunting" don't get funded. What kind of mechanisms can be put into place to safeguard against these two potential problems?

"Strengthen educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and critical foreign languages, specifically"

Strengthening the skills of thousands of math and science teachers by establishing training and education programs at summer institutes hosted at the National Laboratories and by increasing support for the Teacher Institutes for the 21 Century program at NSF."

This is laudable, but it seems to be a band-aid on a bleeding artery. If math and science teachers need to have their skills strengthened, then there's a problem in the education schools. Why not address that problem? For example, most states do not require that teachers have a degree in the subject they're going to teach, and education schools often require few courses, often watered-down. Why not offer incentive to states to change their teacher certification laws so math teachers have math degrees? (Yes, I'm channeling Newt Gingrich here.)

And leading up to the next points, by leaving standards up to the states, NCLB has created incentive for states to fudge, if not lower, their standards. So:

"Creating partnerships between national laboratories and local high-need high schools to establish centers of excellence in math and science education."

Certainly commendable, but whose standard of excellence will we follow? How do we determine if a program has achieved a standard of excellence?

"Providing math now grants to improve math instruction in the elementary and middle grades and provide targeted help to struggling students so that all students can master grade-level mathematics standards."

So how do we determine if programs have improved, and what standards do we use to measure improvement?

Also, targeting ALL students is unrealistic. There always have been and always will be kids who have no interest in learning, and will not learn, for whatever reason. This is reality. NCLB makes the same naive error. ALL students will never come up to grade standards. I'm not saying let all of the students at the bottom of the curve go to the devil, but a number of those kids are not teachable. Any education program has to be realistic about that.

Finally -- and I'm no luddite, but have been using technology in classes since the 80s -- all this talk about "innovation" leaves me dubious. What "innovation" usually means these days in education is pour more money into computers and neat toys, and follow more pedagogical "theories" that the data demonstrate do not work.

Was that cynical?

Pondering Assessment

Greetings all,
I attended a workshop on problem solving given by the school board's math task force. I was told by the presenter that the text I am using does not contain a single level 4 question. As I scratched my little head in disbelief, I could not help but wonder how my former students are getting such high marks in high school calculus. I guess the two years they spent with my substandard textbooks was not too harmful.

Back in February, I attended a regional professional network committee conference on using data. The meeting itself was a complete waste of taxpayers' dollars, but I was left with a few new questions. I usually hear grumblings from fellow staffers about lousy tests from textbook writers. Since I never taking a course in writing assessments, I tend to use the assessment instrument given to me by the publisher. I figure if I follow the program, then the assessment should be useful. Maybe I am truly misguided. To make a long story short, I'm trying to better my assessment skills in the classroom. Currently, I am reading Frank Baker's book ( on item response theory.

While working through the calculations for item difficulty and item discrimination, I began to ponder the connection (correlation) between these calculations and the idea of level 1, 2, 3, and 4 questions. What should an Item Characteristic Curve look like for a level 4 question or a level 1 question? I don't have a clue, and to make matters worse, I have no idea who to ask for an answer.

Any ideas?

Engelmann teaches fractions to disadvantaged 5 year olds

from War Against the Schools' Academic Child Abuse:

In the summer of 1966, the Anti-Defamation League expressed interest in making a film showing the achievements of the disadvantaged black preschoolers we had been working with at the University of Illinois. Two years earlier, these kids had been selected for the project as four-year olds on the basis that they came from homes that were judged particularly disadvantaged and nearly all of them had older siblings in classes for the mentally retarded. These kids came to our school half-days as four-year-olds and as five-year-olds.

The school, The Bereiter-Engelmann preschool, received a lot of bad press. It was called a pressure cooker. Sociolinguists took shots at it on the grounds that we ostensibly did not understand "black English," or even know the difference between "thinking and speaking."

Despite our alleged mental deficiencies, we managed to teach these kids more and make them smarter than anyboy else had done before or after. That was our goal, particularly with this first flight of kids--to set the limits to show what could be done. We felt that this demonstration was particularly important because Headstart was looming in the wings, and it was clearly moving in a direction of being nothing more than a front for public health, not a serious educational project. We saw this as a great contradiction because disadvantaged kids were behind their middle class peers in skills and knowledge.

We taught reading, language, and math to our preschoolers. And they learned these subjects. They also learned to learn well and therefore how to be smart. A film showing what these kids could do might moderate what seemed to be the inevitable mandate of the Office of Economic Opportunity to designate Headstart as a "social experience" based on the model of the middcle-class nursery school. It seemed obvious that the model would not work.

We rounded up seven of the kids who were in our top group. (We grouped kids for instruction according to their performance.) They were in the middle of summer vacation, and we didn't have an opportunity to work with them before the film to "refresh" or rehearse them. A professor at the University of Illinois found out about the filming and asked if she could bring her class to view it. Why not?

So seven little black kids came into the classroom, sat in their chairs in front of the chalkboard with big bright lights shining on them, with two big cameras on tripods staring at them, and with a class of university students in the background. And these kids did it. There were no out takes, no cut sequences, nothing but the kids responding to problems that I presented, the types of problems I had taught them to work. These were not necessarily the problem types that one would present preschoolers as part of a 12 grade sequence, but they were good problems to show that these kids could learn at a greatly accelerated rate.

On the film, the kids worked problems of addition, subtrction, multiplication, and fractions. They worked problems in which they found the area of rectangles and problems in which they found the length of an unknown side of the rectangle (given the number of squares in the rectangle and the length of one side). They worked column-addition problems that required carrying and problems that did not require carrying. They even worked problems involving factoring expressions like 6A + 3B + 9C. And they used the appropriate wording: "Three times the quantity, 2A, plus 1B, plus 3C."

The kids told me how to work a simple algebra problem: "The man at the store tells you that 1/4 of a pie costs 5 cents. You want to buy the whole pie. How much is the whole pie?"

After telling me how to work the problem by multiplying the reciprocal of 1/4, I wrote the answer as $20. The kids jumped up to correct my sign error, one boy observed, "Wow, you have to pay that much for a pie?"

And the kids did dimensional analysis involving the equation: A + B = C. They told me how to rewrite the equation so it told what A equals (A = C - B), what B equals (B = C - A), and what C equals (C = A + B).

The last problem type I presented on the film was the simultaneous-equation problem:

A + B = 14
A - B = 0

They had worked on similar problems in which A and B were the same size (inferred from A - B = 0) and they quickly told me that the numbers were 7 and 7. There was still time left so I presented them with a brand new problem type:

A + B = 14
A - B = 2

I pointed out that when you start with A and minus B, you end up with 2. So A is bigger than B. They frowned, they thought; and finally the little girl sitting on the end of the group -- who is now an engineer -- said in a wee voice, "8 and 6." These were kids who had not yet entered first grade.

The film made no difference in deterring Headstart from becoming a program that produced no real gains. Nor did it give notice that failure with disadvantaged kids was a failure in instructional practices. We had shown , however, that all the disadvantaged black kids we worked with could learn to read and perform basic arithmetic operations in the preschool and that the average IQ gain of these kids was 24 points.
pages 1-3

I tear up every time I read this.

The children of the poor don't need lessons in good character.

They need knowledge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Engelmann on teaching deaf children

Ken found this passage in Chapter 4, pp. 11-22:

Although we abandoned the vocoder, we continued to teach deaf children language, using our beginning language programs. In most settings, children use a signing system that has provisions for indicating word order, tense, and number (American sign syntactical). In other words, children are generally not responding with verbal responses, but with signs that convey the syntax of the language. The beginning language program sets the stage for teaching writing and extended vocabulary. One of my associates and co-authors, Don Steely, was involved in several experiments that showed the enormous performance differences between middle school and high school classrooms that use the Direct Instruction approach and those that follow the traditional recommendations of deaf educators. With a good language-instruction sequence, we can obviate many of the problems children have in writing passages that are syntactically acceptable.

Unfortunately, this passage, too, is over my head.


He doesn't seem to be talking about a method of signing phonemes.

another Myrtle find

good grief

Myrtle may have surpassed even Google Master. (I have to say....I'm wondering whether Myrtle IS Google Master!)

Check this out.

Myrtle on Chinese

from Myrtle:

According to Diane McGuiness in her book, "Why Our Children Can't Read And What We Can Do About It"

Chinese is not logographic. She calls this a misconception due to the syllable structure of the Chinese language. "Just under half of all Chinese words are only one sylable long...a word and a syllable at the same time. Most Chinese syllables consist of ony two basic sound sequences CV and CVC. The Chinese language has very few consonant clusters or "blends" and a grand total of 1,277 tonal syllables...this open simple syllable structure means that the Chinese language is riddled with homophones, those words that sound alike with different meanings, which makes it necessary to use abouty 200 classifiers. Ninety percent of all Chinese words are written as compound signs, with the syllable sign and the classifier sign fused together."

Then she goes on...

"Harold Stevenson and a group of American, Japanese, and Chinese scientists tested over 2,000 fifth grade children in Taiwan, Sendai, and Minneapolis. The children read text of comparable difficulty, with similar vocabularies averaging around 7,000 words. What they discovered first is surprising. Tawainese children do not begin by memorizing the 1,277 syllable signs, as whole language teachers might imagine. Instead, they are taught the individual sounds of their language using a Roman alphabet...Once these sounds are mastered they begin to memorize the syllable characters..."

At any rate, she also says that they found out that the Chinese children in Beijing who did not learn to read this way had difficulty identifying Chinese words out of context.

And the source she cites for all this is,

Stevenson, HW, Stigler, JW, Lucker, W & Shin-ying, L (1982). Reading disabilities: The Case of Chinese, Japanese and English. Child Development, 53, 1164-83

Then to make it crystal clear she says, "No culture has ever used the word as the sole basis for a writing system. Not even the Chinese."

This is a bit over my head.

But fascinating.

I may have to order McGuiness' book. [update: done]

Speaking of books on reading, back when C. was in first grade I read Straight Talk about Reading by Susan Hall & Louisa Moats & thought it was great.

That was the book that gave me the factoid about 10% of kids spontaneously starting to read with systematic instruction in phonics.

Because Christopher spontaneously started to read early in the second half of his Kindergarten year, and because I was reading Hall & Moats at the time, I assumed he'd had systematic instruction in phonics at school. Now, of course, I wonder.

Another possibility: Divine Intervention. His teacher had told us, just two weeks before he began to read, that he was at risk for reading disability.

She based this in the fact that his handwriting was extremely poor. (She was right about that; bad handwriting is a flag).

Naturally I figured: OF COURSE.


Then two weeks later, voila. He was reading.

All of a sudden.

Out of the blue.

There is a God.

dyslexia in China

from Science News:

Cultured Readers: Chinese kids show new neural side of dyslexia

Bruce Bower

A group of Chinese grade-schoolers with severe reading difficulties has taught scientists an intriguing lesson: Brain disturbances that underlie the inability to read a non-alphabetic script, such as Chinese, differ from those already implicated in the impaired reading of alphabetic systems, such as English.

Neuroscientist Li Tai Han of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., and his colleagues say their data challenge the view that the reading difficulties considered central to dyslexia spring from a common biological source (SN: 3/31/01, p. 205: Available to subscribers at "Rather than having a universal origin, the biological abnormality of impaired reading is dependent on culture," the investigators conclude in the Sept. 2 Nature.

Prior brain-imaging studies of dyslexia among readers of letter-based languages have highlighted disturbances in a brain network with its hub in tissue toward the back of the left hemisphere (SN: 5/24/03, p. 324: Scientists have tied that neural region to the ability to match written letters to corresponding sounds.

In Chinese readers with dyslexia, however, the locus of trouble lies in a vertical fold of tissue near the front of the brain. This area assists in recognizing sounds and meanings denoted by Chinese characters and other abstract symbols, Han and his coworkers say.

They studied 16 children, ages 10 to 12, who attended a Beijing elementary school. All the youngsters scored well on intelligence tests, but half of them had severe reading problems.

A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner measured blood flow throughout each child's brain during two experiments. In one of them, kids judged whether pairs of Chinese characters presented on a computer screen had the same pronunciations. In the other test, children tried to discern whether each of a series of written characters was a real Chinese character or a fake one with no designated meaning or pronunciation.

Compared with the fMRI scans of good readers, the scans of poor readers indicated substantially lower blood flow, and therefore reduced brain-cell activity, in and around the left-brain tissue fold. Several other left-brain areas associated with reading non-alphabetic script also showed minimal activation in poor readers. In addition, two right-brain areas involved in the visual analysis of written characters displayed weak activity in poor readers.

Similar findings emerged in an unpublished brain-imaging study of 65 more Chinese children, Tan says.

Neuroscientist Guinevere Eden of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., says that the new study shows how different writing systems can direct the development of distinct brain networks for reading. [ed.: NAAR funded her research back when I was on the board. She was great.]

It's too early to say whether different writing systems fundamentally change dyslexia's neural basis, cautions Bennett A. Shaywitz of Yale University Medical School. He notes that Tan's "milestone" fMRI data also reveal that several brain regions for dyslexia are common to children in China and the United States.

Tan argues that his findings of cultural differences in dyslexia's biology are sound. One test, he says, would be to see whether English readers with dyslexia profit from instruction in recognizing whole words, as Chinese readers do. [ed.: haven't we already had this test for the last 100 years?] This might open an otherwise-unused neural pathway to effective reading.
So....I guess Li Tai Han hasn't heard of the reading wars.


teach them Italian

Here's the answer:

Dyslexia gets a break in Italy

Bruce Bower

Although people with the reading and language disorder known as dyslexia exhibit a common disruption of brain activity, their performance on reading tests varies greatly from one country to another, according to a report in the March 16 Science.

There's a simple reason why individuals with dyslexia read better in certain countries, according to neuroscientist Eraldo Paulesu of the University of Milan Bicocca in Italy and his coworkers. Those who read languages such as Italian—in which specific letter combinations almost always stand for the same sounds—have the advantage over those who read languages with less-consistent spelling rules.

In English and French, for example, the same letters often have several associated sounds (as in mint and pint or cent and cat in English) or different letters for the same sounds (as in au temps and autant in French). For dyslexics, such languages are obstacle courses of spelling irregularities.

In another part of their study, Paulesu and his coworkers used positron emission tomography scanners to measure blood-flow changes in the brains of 72 adults as they read real and nonsense words in their native languages. Equal numbers of volunteers came from England, France, and Italy. Half from each country had dyslexia.

All dyslexic readers exhibited the same pattern of reduced left-brain activity, as indicated by drops in blood flow in that part of the brain. Despite this evidence for a common neurological flaw in dyslexia, however, those from Italy scored much higher than their European counterparts on a reading test.

irony abounds

So here's a U-turn: Columbia Teachers College appears to be offering a course on cued speech this spring.

I will quite possibly be attending.

I hope I get an ID that says "Columbia Teachers College" on it.

one more thing I (still) don't know how to do

So....I wonder when I'm going to find time to learn how to diagram sentences?

(book reviews - $)

When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better And/Or Worse by Ben Yagoda

The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left by David Crystal

how to make a point

From now on, in all discussions of balanced literacy versus SBRR (scientifically based reading research) curricula the fact that deaf children don't learn to read at grade level should come up.

It should come up because the concepts of phonemic awareness and phonics are counterintuitive. [update: true for me, but not for all? -- see caveat below]

The research on reading is one of those cases in which the findings of science utterly contradict felt experience. Reading feels visual, not auditory.

The dire facts of literacy in deaf children -- "Ninety-five per cent of profoundly deaf school-leavers only reach a reading-age of nine" -- are the jolt to the brain that gets the point across.

Children can't learn to read visually.

Children can only learn to read auditorily, through awareness of the sounds of language and their corresponding written symbols.

End of story.

The 60% of children who do manage to learn to read via balanced literacy and whole language are not learning visually.

They are managing to put sounds together with symbols incidentally, on the fly, in the course of their day.

That's not teaching.


Is the above an overstatement?

Do other people experience themselves as using phonemes and phonics when they read?

I experience the reading process as purely visual -- even though I do hear a voice inside my head if I pay attention!

Nevertheless, I experience reading as taking place the way whole language teachers describe it, not as reading scientists describe it.

Ken on Madison's reading scores
cued speech and literacy
forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must
how to make a point

forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must

So it's official.

Whole language was explicitly based in the ineffective visual method Gallaudet developed for teaching deaf children to read.

Whole language doesn't work for deaf children any better than it does for hearing children, but until the invention of cued speech it was all they had.

Ninety-five per cent of profoundly deaf school-leavers only reach a reading-age of nine. This functional illiteracy means that even the nuances of stories from basic tabloid newspapers are beyond the reach of many deaf adults. Recent surveys show that even since Conrad's (1979) seminal work, The Deaf School Child, not much has changed, even though much deaf education in the UK has metamorphosed from an oral to a signing basis. It would appear that whether a school's language policy is sign or speech based is irrelevant to helping deaf children become competent readers.
Literacy Today

Reid Lyon is right.

Using balanced literacy is a case of educational malpractice.

Ken on Madison's reading scores
cued speech and literacy
forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must
how to make a point
the long war

quick math quiz

Quick Math Quiz in the NYT.

Clearly, I'm not ready for the Fields medal. I needed a pencil and paper to do half of them. And, I'm not eight.


Here's the article.

cued speech and literacy -- must see

This is incredible.

Under the category of "it's always worse than you think," Myrtle has clued me into a raging edu-war I'd never even heard of: "cued speech" versus American sign language. Myrtle says the conflict is essentially the conflict between phonemic awareness & phonics (cued speech) and whole language (ASL).

Here's a passage drawn from Cued Speech and Literacy: History, Research, and Background Information (pdf file):

With regard to children and adults who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, literacy is typically measured in terms of grade-level achievement. Studies have shown that the average American adult reads and writes at an eighth-grade level, and the average deaf adult at a fourth-grade level. The most recent data are from 1996, when the Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI) collected raw data from 17- and 18-year-old deaf students who were in school and took the Stanford Achievement Test, 9th edition. The section from the test used for measurement was the reading comprehension multiple-choice subtest of the SAT. The median score corresponded to the 4.0 grade level, which means that only 50 percent of 17 to 18 year old test-takers scored above the typical hearing student at the beginning of 4th grade, and 50 percent scored below that grade.2


The Cued Speech system visually represents the phonemes that occur in any traditionally spoken word or syllable. We usually think of phonemes as individual sounds or, more meaningfully, as consonants and vowels. Handshapes represent consonant phonemes, and hand placements represent vowel phonemes. Phonemes that look similar on the lips are assigned different handshapes or placements. By combining a handshape with a placement and a corresponding mouth shape, a visually clear, unambiguous representation of the phoneme occurs. It is possible to cue while speaking, though it takes time and practice to increase speed and proficiency in cueing skills. Many say it is akin to learning how to touch type. It is important to note that the production of speech is not required to be part of the cued message. Cued languages are clear through vision alone.

Recent research studies have produced some interesting findings. One study showed that deaf cuers make similar spelling mistakes as hearing children; for example, they might write “blue” as “bloo” or “done” as “dun,” which are phonemic representations of those words. However, deaf signers’ spelling mistakes tend to be related to sequencing, such as “bule” instead of “blue” (LaSasso et al., 2003).6

Also, deaf signers with weak literacy skills typically struggle with the idea of rhyming and do not understand how words such as bird and word are rhymes, but bear and hear are not. So much of their understanding of English is based on their memorization of sight words, not an internalized phonemic awareness of the language. However, deaf cuers typically have the same understanding of rhyming as their hearing peers and can identify rhyme pairs as well as produce spontaneous rhymes (LaSasso & Crain, 2003).7

Results of research studies have consistently shown that native deaf cuers with no coexisting learning or information processing disabilities have achieved literacy levels comparable to their hearing peers. Though no formal studies have been done recently to assess deaf adult cuers’ literacy rates, the studies that focus on deaf cueing children (aged 7-16) have shown them to outperform deaf signing and oral peers on several standardized reading and writing tests. Recent fMRI data show that deaf adult cuers decode phonemic information much as hearing adults do. Results are in the publication process.

Native Deaf Cueing Adults

Many cuers have gone on to college and graduate school and are succeeding in the workforce. A sampling of the colleges and universities deaf cuers have attended include Stanford, Brown, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Georgetown, Columbia (NY), Bryn Mawr, Louisiana State, Rochester Institute of Technology, Gallaudet, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Dallas, Boston University, California State University at Northridge, New York University, Penn State, Wellesley, and many, many more.

With cueing still very much in its infancy, we are looking forward to seeing where our current cueing adults will go. The Board of the National Cued Speech Association now comprises native deaf cuers who are taking over the reins of passing down cueing to the next generations of deaf children. Deaf cuers are part of the cohort of trained and certified instructors of the Cued Speech system, as well as teaching at the university level. The cueing community has come a long way in the last 40 years and looks forward to the next 40.


Cued Speech is a key to unlocking the code of English (or 60 other spoken languages and dialects) for children to develop language and literacy skills that are needed to participate fully in the world of work and family. The gift of complex language, communication with family members, and the foundation of skills for school and work is a precious one made available by the development of Cued Speech.

For me, what's especially shocking about this is that apparently cued speech is easy for a hearing person to learn.

American Sign Language, on the other hand, is not.

This means that many parents of children who are deaf from birth do not speak the same language their children do. I remember reading an upsetting article in WELLESLEY MAGAZINE, I think, about a mom having dinner with her grown daughter & the daughter's deaf friends.

The mom couldn't understand them because even after many years of study she wasn't fluent in ASL.

A "sign-cueing" war means parents are being urged to accept having their children taught a foreign language that will limit both their ability to communicate with their children and their children's ability to read at grade level.

Here's the website for the National Cued Speech Association.

YouTube: "Breaking the Code"

The man who invented cued speech created it in order to add just enough visual information to speech to make each sound look different.

Cued speech is visual phonics.

from the PTA

Cued Speech is a visual-manual communication system that uses eight handshapes in four different placements near the face in combination with the mouth movements of speech to make the sounds of spoken language look different from each other.

The cueing of a traditionally spoken language is the visual counterpart of speaking it. Cueing makes available to the eye(s) the same linguistic building blocks that speaking avails the ear(s). Until the advent of cueing, the term spoken language accurately described what had been the only way of distinctly conveying these building blocks: speaking. In fact, until that time, the sounds of speech and the building blocks were thought of as one and the same.
Nevertheless, speaking is simply a process of manipulating tongue placement, breath stream, and voice to produce a sound code that represents these building blocks. The blocks are assembled by way of the stream of sounds produced by these manipulations. Cueing is a process of manipulating handshapes, hand placements, and non-manual signals to produce a visible code representing the same building blocks. The blocks are assembled by way of the stream of cues produced by these manipulations. Because cueing is the visible counterpart of speaking, cued language is the visible counterpart of spoken language. (Fleetwood & Metzger, 1995)

grist for the mill

As more research on cued speech is published, it's going to become harder for schools to persist in using balanced literacy.

Here we have deaf children, who can't hear any phonemes at all, lagging 4 years behind hearing children in reading.

If it were possible to learn to read well using vision alone, there wouldn't be a gap.

Andrew & Jimmy could use cued speech

So now obviously I'm wondering whether Andrew and Jimmy would do better with cued speech. Autistic people, often, have a kind of "central deafness" -- that's what it used to be called sometimes -- they hear sound, but they're not hearing the sound segments.

What's confusing about autistic children is that some of them are also hyperlexic: they learn to read on their own, and they learn to read early. Which, of course, makes them seem the opposite of dyslexic.

Autistic children seem like the one group of kids who really do learn to read via "whole language."

Still, how many learn to read on grade level?

Andrew clearly has some kind of savant, hyperlexic skills for memorizing sight words, but he's nowhere near reading at grade level. He only started to be able to "hear" spoken language a couple of years ago, and his speech sounds like the speech of a deaf child. He can't form sounds and letters at all.

Of course, Jimmy doesn't "see" well, either (though Andrew does). Jimmy's problems with vision are the same as Andrew's problems with hearing.

It's not that Jimmy can't "see." He can. His acuity is fine.

But somehow images aren't getting processed. When he was little he seemed not to see anything unless it was in motion. Even an elephant at the zoo was invisible to him unless it happened to do something fun and motion-filled like poop. (Autistic boys, for all their problems, are as one with non-autistic boys on the hilarity of poop and pee.)

I always say Jimmy had to learn to see. As he grew older he got so he could make things out. He was obviously teaching himself to recognize things in the environment.

For Jimmy cued speech might be just a blur.

I think Andrew could do it.

I need to look into this.

Ken on Madison's reading scores
cued speech and literacy
forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must
how to make a point

America Competes Act

I've been invited to participate in a conference call with Lamar Alexander about the America Competes Act, and I know next to nothing about it (though the list of sponsors doesn't inspire confidence). I'm doing some research on it, but is there anything anyone thinks I should inquire about?

update (from Catherine)

I'm dropping the link for all of Dan Willingham's articles into rightwingprof's post.

My frustration with businessmen's interventions into public education is that they invariably end up supporting all of the most ancient progressive-ed memes. (The "New Basic Skills" anyone?)

Or Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg mandating Everyday Math and time-on-carpet?

I've found that the best ammunition against this is cognitive science, especially Willingham's article on inflexible knowledge.


I'm thinking something by Hirsch would be good, too.

Probably one or both of these:

Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge--of Words and the World

You Can Always 'Look It Up,' or Can You?

update from Barry

Barry's advice is much better than mine:

Great that you've been invited to participate. The bill is very large and comprehensive, and has a lot of things to enhance innovation in industry, increase R&D, etc. But aside from that there is an education component to it. It puts into action what President Bush stated in last year's State of the Union address, which was to increase the number of students in AP course. The bill calls for an increase of 70,000 students, blah blah blah. I'm being cynical just a tad, because putting money into HS teacher training so they are better equipped to teach AP courses is like giving a car without an engine a new coat of paint. Let's look at the K-8 a bit more closely; if the students don't have a proper foundation, then "enhancing" AP isn't going to do much.

But there is a provision in Title II of the bill called "Math Now" which states:

"The purpose of this section is to enable all students to reach or exceed grade-level academic achievement standards and to prepare the students to enroll in and pass algebra courses by—

(1) improving instruction in mathematics for students in kindergarten through grade 9 through the implementation of mathematics programs and
the support of comprehensive mathematics initiatives that are based on the best available evidence of effectiveness (emphasis added);


(2) providing targeted help to low-income students who are struggling with mathematics and whose achievement is significantly below grade level.

"Best available evidence" is a lot better than "best available research" but not by much. Push for definition of "best available evidence" that shows effectiveness of programs based on independent testing using nationally normed tests. Maybe add some language such as "including but not limited to results from schools that have used and are using math programs from Singapore in grades K-6".

If you want to talk about this, ask Catherine for my phone number and give me a call. I'm right in DC. Glad to help out any way I can.

Monday, March 12, 2007

falling into 7ths

at the instructivist

This is so brilliant I have to post the whole thing:

One morning as I was walking my kids up to school, the sidewalk ended and we fell into the Sevenths dimension and I actually believed the following:

All my child will ever need to know about sevenths is that they are a little bit bigger than eighths, and a little bit smaller than sixths.

It is not my job to teach my child.

It is my job to support my child's learning.

My child should never be bored in class.

My child isn't just wandering around his classroom chatting with classmates, he's a kinesthetic learner with high verbal intelligence.

Children don't mindlessly copy from each other in small groups; they richly create meaning in conversation with their peers.

My child will discover efficient mathematical algorithms on his own in a way that makes sense to him.

Learning by rote is bad.

If my child hasn't memorized his basic addition facts in first grade, he'll have another chance in second grade.

If my child hasn't memorized his basic addition facts in second grade, he'll have another chance in third grade.

I should drill my child on his basic addition facts at home in order to support the conceptual learning that takes place at school.

If my child hasn't memorized his multiplication facts in third grade, he'll have another chance in fourth grade.

If my child hasn't memorized his multiplication facts in fourth grade, he'll have another chance in fifth grade.

I should drill my child on his multiplication facts at home in order to support the conceptual learning that takes place at school.

I should be more active in the PTA.

I should buy more gift wrap.

I should go to a school board meeting and see real decisions being made.

I should feel guilty questioning the curriculum even if I have a college degree in the field of interest.

A 25 year-old teacher is a licensed professional who is fully qualified to teach my child.

Children should write about math a lot.

Teachers will lovingly read everything my child writes because, as teachers, they look forward to creating an authentic portfolio that assesses my child's true mathematical learnings across thematic units.

My child's teacher will be so proud of him when he graduates from high school that we should planning on buying her a ticket for the commencement ceremony so she can sit with us.

I finally woke up in a cold sweat from this nightmare and asked myself, does anyone actually believe those things? The answer is a resounding yes. Every parent of every kindergartener I have ever met, myself included.

Ken on Madison's reading scores

Ken's series of posts on the Times article are going to be invaluable to parents attempting to persuade their districts to use SBRR reading programs (scientifically based reading research).

His latest is short and sweet, which makes it especially useful.

The Times article on Madison's success with balanced literacy has the story wrong.

in a nutshell:
  • The TIMES article concerns a group of Madison schools eligible for two million dollars in Reading First funding on condition that they chose an SBRR reading curriculum (SBRR curricula systematically teach phonemic awareness and phonics).*
  • The Madison schools under discussion chose to forego the two million dollars in federal funding for which they were eligible because they wished to carry on using a balanced literacy program. (Best source on balanced literacy versus SBRR programs is Louisa Moats' Whole-Language High Jinx.)
  • According to figures provided by Madison to the TIMES, balanced literacy has been successful in raising reading scores.
  • That turns out to be false. Yes, scores are up on Wisconsin's test. Scores on NAEP, however, are flat. Now it appears that the schools in question are in fact underperforming Madison's other schools.
  • My understanding of Moats' paper is that all children are equally at risk for reading difficulty: "[Reading scientists] have established that most students will learn to read adequately (though not necessarily well) regardless of the instructional methods they’re subjected to in school. But they’ve also found that fully 40 percent of children are less fortunate. For them, explicit instruction (including phonics) is necessary if they are to ever become capable readers. These findings are true across race, socioeconomic status, and family background."
The reading wars are still with us, and the stakes are high.

where did whole language come from?

This is another entry under the always worse than you think heading:

In 1837, Horace Mann, a lawyer and Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, proposed to the Boston School Masters the adoption of a "new method" of reading that began with the memorization of whole words rather than just learning the letter sounds and blending them into words. His "new method" was based on the work of Thomas A. Gallaudet, who had developed a way to teach deaf children to read. Since deaf children had no ability to "sound out" letters, syllables, or words, the constant repetition of "sight" words from a controlled vocabulary seemed to be the most efficient way to teach them to read.

Adapting the work of Gallaudet, Horace Mann and his wife Mary developed a reading program that applied the same principles to students who had no hearing impairment. His method was tried for about six years in the Boston schools, and then soundly rejected by the Boston School Masters in 1844. Samuel Stillwell Greene, then principal of the Phillips Grammar School in Boston, expressed the views of the Boston School Masters, and the following excerpt from his essay is as relevant today as it was in 1844:

"Education is a great concern; it has often been tampered with by vain theorists; it has suffered much from the stupid folly and the delusive wisdom of its treacherous friends; and we hardly know which have injured it most. Our conviction is, that it has much more to hope from the collected wisdom and common prudence of the community, than from the suggestions of the individual. Locke injured it by his theories, and so did Rousseau, and so did Milton. All their plans were too splendid to be true. It is to be advanced by conceptions, neither soaring above the clouds, nor groveling on the earth, -- but by those plain, gradual, productive, common-sense improvements, which use may encourage and experience suggest. We are in favor of advancement, provided it be towards usefulness. . . . We love the secretary, but we hate his theories. They stand in the way of substantial education. It is impossible for a sound mind not to hate them."

The establishment of the normal school to train teachers at the same time Horace Mann was promoting the "new method" was not coincidental because these institutions became the vehicle by which to continue promoting the "new method." With the help of John Dewey at the University of Chicago, Arthur Gates at Columbia Teachers College, and the growing network of normal schools springing up around the country, direct, intensive, systematic phonics was debunked in favor of the whole word "look and say" way of teaching reading, with no research to support it.

So there you have it.

Whole language has its origins in reading instruction for the deaf.

Of course!

The deaf!

Let's teach hearing children the same way we teach deaf children.

Why not?

is Susan J around?

Susan has done a great deal of volunteer work with education of the blind, and I'm thinking she'll know the answer to this question.

I have a memory that deafness is an enormous obstacle to education....I'm thinking that deaf children suffer deficits in reading comprehension and understanding of abstract material--but I don't know this, and I don't want to be saying it on a blog if I'm wrong. (I'm going to strike this post, as a matter of fact as soon as I find out I am wrong.)

Susan, if you're around, do you know something about this?

Does anyone?

Obviously I'm thinking that it is the height of folly to adopt a method of reading instruction for typical children that teachers of the deaf have had to use by necessity.

I would think that in any case, but if it's true that reading comprehension suffers as a result of deafness, that makes the history even worse.

Another question for Susan: I also think I've read that blindness is not a terrible handicap for reading comprehension.

Is that correct?

Or have I got that wrong?

from Susan J

Many deaf children fail to acquire language at a young age. (Let's restrict this to deaf children who don't have any vision problems.) This is because even the tiniest babies need to experience language and -- if they are deaf -- sign language is the only option. Unfortunately, deaf children with hearing parents may not be sufficiently exposed to sign language either because the parents don't learn it or they mistakenly believe that if they don't use sign language, the child will learn to lip read better.

American Sign Language (ASL) is its own language; it isn't English. So my guess is that learning to read English is for a child who knows ASL rather like learning a foreign language.

However if the child has missed the window for his or her brain to acquire any language, they may have lifelong deficits.

As for blind children who don't have any other disabilities, they don't seem to have any unusual reading comprehension problems. Obviously the mechanics of reading braille with your fingers is different from visual reading and it helps if the student's braille teacher is well-trained.

I'm thinking that Oliver Sacks' book (Seeing Voices) may discuss this.

fyi, one of the most riveting books I've ever read about language and disability is Susan Schaller's A Man without Words.

As to Horace Mann, I think it's safe to say that, at a minimum, a form of reading instruction based in the techniques of teachers working with deaf children is stupid folly and delusive wisdom, both.

Ken on Madison's reading scores
cued speech and literacy
forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must
how to make a point


* I believe that wealthy schools aren't eligible for Reading First funding, but take that with a grain of salt.