kitchen table math, the sequel: 4/8/07 - 4/15/07

Saturday, April 14, 2007

today's form letter from the school!

April 13, 2007

To the Parent/Guardian of: C.B.

We at Irvington Middle School routinely monitor attendance to insure our reports are accurate and to prevent any patterns of absenteeism from developing. A review of our records indicates that your child has been absent a total of 17 days to date. Please confirm that you are aware of, and are in agreement with, this figure by signing and returning this letter to the main office within five days of receiving it.

If you believe an error has been made or there are extenuating circumstances that need to be brought to our attention, please contact our attendance office so this information can be documented. Likewise, if your child suffers from a medical condition that will cause him to miss school on a regular basis, kindly submit a signed statement from his physician on official letterhead verifying that fact.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely, etc.


Thank you for your support?

What happened to thank you for your ongoing cooperation and support?

As it happens, I do think C. "suffers from a medical condition that will cause him to miss school on a regular basis" (and thank you for asking!)

I have discussed it with the school nurse on several occasions, last year as well as this.

C. is acutely vulnerable to viral infections. What is a 3-day absence for other children is routinely a 2-week absence for him, punctuated by days when we send him back to school and the nurse calls us an hour later to come pick him up again.

This fact is in the records.

They could look it up.

update, from Ben Calvin
Schools are much more vigilant to attendance now that much funding is tied to the number of pupils in school each day.

My neighbor's public elementary schools stopped sending home kids with head lice, claiming that "new research" proved that it was not really very contagious.

Surprisingly they had to reinstate the rule after four or five epidemics of head lice swept the school.

thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation
thank you for your cooperation and support in this endeavor
today's form letter from the school

let's differentiate, part 2!

D) Instructional strategies

- compacting
- deciding what student knows and needs to know - pre-assessment
- concentrate on what needs to know
- independent projects
- interest centres or groups
- tiered assignments
- level depends on previous learning, interest, and abilities
- flexible groupings
- learning centres
- varying questions
- level depends on previous learning, interest, and abilities
- mentorships/apprenticeships
- contracts

Differentiated Instruction Graphic

Independent projects, learning centres, contracts... looks like a surefire plan for involving parents in schoolwork to me!


Especially given the fact that the professor teaching this stuff has a webpage bearing the legend, Teaching is an ancient, mysterious, and revered profession.

Can a profession be ancient and mysterious?

Answer: no.

let's differentiate!

Differentiated Instruction Graphic

Differentiated instruction flow charts and clip arts are my favorite edu-visuals on the web.

There are lots of them posted at the old ktm.

This is a good one.

Becky C on starting at the top

...teachers assign a ten-year-old to write a summary paragraph on The Lousiana Purchase. The ten-year-old is to pull the right amount of important details about that happy event from a two-page single spaced essay given out in class.

To a ten-year-old, every sentence of that essay seems as compelling and important as every other sentence BECAUSE TEN-YEAR-OLDS HAVE NO LIFE EXPERIENCE LET ALONE KNOWLEDGE OF WORLD HISTORY TO JUDGE what they can leave out of their summary and WHAT MUST NOT BE LEFT OUT.

It's this weird inversion of developmental expectations.

It's like they envision my child comfortably attired in a wool cardigan, sitting at home in a shabby leather wingback chair, thick black reading glasses perched low on his nose and hair thinning slightly on top of his head, and he puffs away thoughtfully on his pipe while he writes down the right amount of important details from the essay on a yellow legal pad with his leaking fountain pen.

Teachers think that if you CALL a child a writer, if adults SEE him as a writer, if we CELEBRATE and PUBLISH his writing, that good writing will follow like cargo planes landing on a South Pacific island.


Steve H & Becky C on "independent study"

from May 18, 2006, reacting to a sample tiered instruction assignment:

Where is the "instruction"? There is none, because Tiered Instruction is in their Independent Study section. I looked through everything they had there and all I ever found (in any section) was a reference to "mini-lessons" given by the teacher. They really have to stop using the word teacher or instructor because that is not what they are doing. Differentiated Instruction with no instruction. How about Differentiated Learning. Or, "You're on Your Own Learning".

This write-up looks more like a grading rubric. Perhaps they grade based on what they expect from a child. I've seen this before in job reviews. If you always exceed expectations, then you can't get much of a raise because you are just doing what you normally do. Are they going to give a "meeting expectations" to an "Above Grade Level" child and an "exceeding expectations" to a "Below Grade Level" child, even though the former student did more and better work? Of course, if you read the information at the site, the assessment is fuzzy and all individual. Once a Below Grade Level child; always a Below Grade Level child.

Even if one really thought that tiered (differentiated expectations) is a good thing to do, the explanation and examples on this web site are just so incredibly horrible.

Just look at this assignment. In eighth grade - "create a flag for Nunavut" is an Above Grade Level task. "Write an essay about what you would do if you were Prime Minister." Do about what? Citizenship? What in particular? "Trace your family heritage and present it." Just in Canada? How far back? Why? I've had assignments like this - poorly thought out and whipped together by lazy teachers.

Not only is it a wrong approach to education, it is done very badly.

here is Becky C:

Not a single one of these activities will be graded for quality. Did the Slow kid write well about his most memorable trip in Canada? Did the Medium kid do a good job representing the life of a PM? Did the Fast kid find the right amount of important details about the creation of Nunavat?

This is about teachers sending their teaching work home for parents to do.

As you might guess, we have had quite a few writing assignments sent home to our family this year from the public school. I have been working really hard to teach my boys to write. I have been feeling bitter about this.

Differentiated Instruction does not happen in real life. It is about as scarce as Direct Instruction.


...if even one gullible parent of a 4th grader directly instructs her child how to write a summary paragraph by holding the child accountable for the quality of their paragraph, which is to say that the paragraph contains the right amount of important details... why, that's one more child who magically shows up in 6th grade already knowing how to write, and one less child that will need direct instruction in writing in 6th grade. Magical!

I've just HAD IT with writing assignments that are ASSIGNED to the student but are not GRADED constructively by the teacher as a means of instruction.


A mom in town here, who is actively concerned about the writing instruction, told me this week she would like to see her child get back just one paper without the sole feedback being the word "Terrific!" written on top.

Apparently she's decided to throw caution to the winds and skip the part about being careful what you wish for ...

no common sense-y

comment left by Paula V:

This is the first year my third grader has had an attitude about a teacher. However, I keep hearing how third grade is a transition year. Perhaps this attitude is part of the territory.

My third grader was cautious up until this year. His classroom is full of boys and only a handful of girls. It seems the boys are ruling the roost, and it is driving the teacher nuts.

His teacher is young and sweet, but I fear she isn't very effective in illicting compliance among her boy students. Taking away recess points in a room full of boys isn't working.

My sister, a former middle school teacher, said that was not a good strategy. Single out the misbehaving kids and take away their points. I told her that would never might embarrass someone. She said that was absolutely ridiculous.


No, my son's teacher does not single the misbehaving students out. Yes, she keeps the whole group inside.

When I questioned her on the taking away of recess points, she said children must understand how to work within a group. They need to know how to make wise decisions as a group.

Fuzzy thinking, fuzzy ethics, and a violation of the Geneva Convention to boot!

magic white people

Over at ktm - 1 we got to talking about magic white people at some point (scroll down), magic white people being middle and upper-middle class white parents who somehow manage to imbue their children with advanced K-5 knowledge and skills over the dinner table.

Judging by Monday's op-ed, white folks are getting more magical by the minute:

Schools serving mostly wealthy and white students have a distinct advantage when it comes to testing. Their students are far more likely to be raised in an environment that gives them the necessary tools to succeed on tests. They grow up with the intellectual abundance their wealth provides: books, educational videos and Baby Einstein games, to name a few. Having these resources may not make children smarter, but it does educate them in many of the skills -- such as letter sounds and addition facts -- that are covered on standardized tests. Knowing their students are likely to succeed on tests gives these schools freedom to teach higher-level thinking skills.

Who knew a child could learn phonics and phonemic awareness from Baby Einstein games?

If parents would just do their job and expose their kids to books, educational videos, and Baby Einstein games, dyslexia would go away tomorrow!

Of course, if we got rid of the tests we wouldn't have to worry about letter sounds at all.

We could go straight to higher-level thinking.

policy analysts bite back




Responding to Classroom Caste System

Missing from all of these analyses, as usual, is the hapless parent.

You know, the parent, the person actually teaching the basic skills all these white kids supposedly possess in spades before they set foot inside a public school. (gosh. I wonder why we have all those "reading specialists" floating around our K-3 school? Aren't parents supposed to be handling phonics? How could an upper middle class white kid possibly have trouble learning to read?)

The idea that there could possibly be a critical thinking gap when white kids are spending their earliest years in school not learning "basic skills," but checking out "the role of quilts on the Underground Railroad," is plain wrong.

Of course, if NCLB has created a situation in which disadvantaged black and Hispanic children are being taught basic skills and advantaged white children are being taught quilts and dances "based on retellings of Cinderella," we should be seeing the last of the achievement gap pretty soon here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

connect the dots

  • baby boom teachers retiring
  • teaching staffs consisting almost entirely of young, childless females who know one thing and that one thing is constructivism
  • in some communities, parents who are appreciably more affluent and/or better educated than parents in previous generations - i.e., parents who have some hope of remediating the deficiencies of the school either through their own reteaching of content or by availing themselves of the tutoring that can be provided by district teachers for a handsome fee

The result, perceptible only to parents who have children currently enrolled in the public schools, it seems, is a role reversal Tex calls "the new normal."

  • newsletters sent home in the backpack telling parents they are responsible for teaching the math facts, and assigning them a deadline by which this feat is to be accomplished
  • first-grade spelling lists drawn up for parents along with instructions that the words are to be mastered by the end of the school year
  • pages and pages of text and PowerPoint slides posted at the DOE telling parents how to "help with homework"

I feel as if I'm living in a parallel universe.

Our pundits, wonks, and columnists reside in a land where wealthy white schools are good to excellent; poor black and Hispanic schools are wretched.

Apparently, in the world of policy analysis, people get what they pay for.

George Bernard Shaw

My father-in-law, a classics professor, and I share a little joke that all educators are socialists, which isn't true, it's a little joke, but a study of socialism has given me a great deal of insight into the hopes and dreams of the nice people who believe in whole language and other constructivist teaching practices. They really mean well. They really mean for us all to enjoy heaven on earth.

My husband has a set of Encyclopedia Britannica volumes published in 1946. It dares call itself "A New Survey of Universal Knowledge." In Volume 20, Sarsparilla to Sorcery, I have looked up Socialism and Socrates and Sophistry, for instance. After Socialism, but before Socrates and Sophistry, there is an entry entitled "Socialism: Principles and Outlook."

Now, the Socialism article itself appears complete at first reading. It gives the origins and history of Socialism; Owenism, Marxism, national movements and the Russian Revolution are each treated in turn. The entry is written by a gentleman named G. D. H. Cole.

But "Socialism: Principles and Outlook" is written by George Bernard Shaw. In the spirit of inquiry, independent research, and consulting original sources, I thought you guys might like the following observation Shaw makes with regards to schooling:
Democracy, or votes for everybody, does not produce constructive solutions of social problems; nor does compulsory schooling help much. Unbounded hopes were based on each successive extension of the electoral franchise, culminating in the enfranchisement of women. These hopes have been disappointed, because the voters, male and female, being politically untrained and uneducated,have (a) no grasp of constructive measures, (b) loathe taxation as such, (c) dislike being governed at all, and (d) dread and resent any extension of official interference as an encroachment on their personal liberty. Compulsory schooling, far from enlightening them, inculcates the sacredness of private property, and stigmatizes a distributive state as criminal and disastrous, thereby continually renewing the old prejudices against Socialism,and making impossible a national education dogmatically inculcating as first principles the iniquity of private property, the paramount social importance of equality of income, and the criminality of idleness.
He continues,
Capitalism has never produced the necessary enlightenment among the masses nor admitted to a controlling share in public affairs the order of intellect and character outside which Socialism, or indeed politics, as distinguished from mere party electioneering, is incomprehensible. Not until the two main tenets of Socialism -- abolition of private property (which must not be confused with personal property), and equality of income -- have taken hold of the people as religious dogmas, as to which no controversy is regarded as sane, will a stable Socialist state be possible....

The private individual, with the odds overwhelmingly against him as a social climber, dreams even in the deepest poverty of some bequest or freak of fortune by which he may become a capitalist, and dreads that the little he has may be snatched from him by that terrible and unintelligible thing, State policy. Thus the private person's vote is the vote of Ananias and Sapphira; and democracy becomes a more effective bar to Socialism than the pliant and bewildered conservatism of the plutocracy.

Hmm. I'd better go find out who Ananias and Sapphira are.

I think Scarsdale is a "pliant and bewildered conservatism of the plutocracy."

So, I'm siding with Vlorbik today. Rather than schools being used as tools for training capitalists or socialists, let's agree to abolish the schools.

comments needed

I've just left a loooong response on The Gadfly.

If anyone else cares to chime in, that would be great.

Vlorbik's find: abolish high school?

This is a terrific article, I think:

"Let's Abolish High School"
The first compulsory education law in the United States wasn’t enacted until 1852. This Massachusetts law required that all young people between the ages of 8 and 14 attend school three months a year—unless, that is, they could demonstrate that they already knew the material; in other words, this law was competency-based. It took 15 years before any other states followed Massachusetts’ lead and 66 years before all states did. Along the way, some powerful segments of society staunchly opposed the mandatory education trend. In 1892, for example, the Democratic Party stated as part of its national platform, “We are opposed to state interference with parental rights and rights of conscience in the education of children.”

Restrictions on work by young people also took hold very gradually. In fact, the earliest “child labor” laws in the United States actually required young people to work. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that laws restricting the work opportunities of young people began to take hold. Those laws, too, were fiercely opposed, and in fact the first federal laws restricting youth labor—enacted in 1916, 1918, and 1933—were all swiftly struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. After all, young people had worked side by side with adults throughout history, and they still helped support their families and their communities in countries around the world; the idea that there should be limits on youth labor, or that young people shouldn’t be allowed to do any work, seemed outrageous to many people.

Eventually, multiple forces—the desire to “Americanize” the tens of millions of immigrants streaming into the United States to get jobs in the land of opportunity, the effort to rescue millions of young laborers from horrendous working conditions in the factories and mines, the extreme determination of America’s growing labor unions to protect adult jobs, and, most especially, the extremely high unemployment rate (27 percent or so) during the Great Depression—created the systems we have today: laws severely restricting or prohibiting youth labor, and school systems modeled after the new factories, established to teach “industrial discipline” to young people and to homogenize their knowledge and thinking.

Unfortunately, the dramatic changes set in motion by the turmoil of America’s industrial revolution also obliterated from modern consciousness the true abilities of young people, leaving adults with the faulty belief that teenagers were inherently irresponsible and incompetent. What’s more, the rate at which restrictions were placed on young people began to accelerate after the 1930s, and increased dramatically after the social turmoil of the 1960s. Surveys I’ve conducted suggest that teenagers today are subject to 10 times as many restrictions as are mainstream adults, to twice as many restrictions as are active-duty U.S. Marines, and even to twice as many restrictions as are incarcerated felons.


Anthropologists have identified more than 100 contemporary societies in which teenage turmoil is completely absent; most of these societies don’t even have terms for adolescence. Even more compelling, long-term anthropological studies initiated at Harvard in the 1980s show that teenage turmoil begins to appear in societies within a few years after those societies adopt Western schooling practices and are exposed to Western media. Finally, a wealth of data shows that when young people are given meaningful responsibility and meaningful contact with adults, they quickly rise to the challenge, and their “inner adult” emerges.

A careful look at these issues yields startling conclusions: The social-emotional turmoil experienced by many young people in the United States is entirely a creation of modern culture. We produce such turmoil by infantilizing our young and isolating them from adults. Modern schooling and restrictions on youth labor are remnants of the Industrial Revolution that are no longer appropriate for today’s world; the exploitative factories are long gone, and we have the ability now to provide mass education on an individual basis.
If this is what differentiated instruction meant, I'd be for it.

abolish college, too?

And here's Walter Russell Mead:
Paying for college education is one of the biggest financial worries facing middle class and working families. Fancy liberal arts schools that let your kids live in essentially unsupervised coed dorms while majoring in such helpful subjects as deconstructionist literary theory and Why America Sucks now cost north of $40,000 per year, and even less-prestigious schools that teach more useful subjects can cost as much per year as a round-the-world cruise. Some kids come out burdened with insane levels of debt; others are frozen out of the market.

The liberal answer is that the government should pick up the ever-escalating cost of supporting Ward Churchill and his fellow astronauts of theory in the lifestyle to which they aspire. But maybe there's an alternative.

There is no reason the government should try to prevent American families who value the traditional college experience from paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, but perhaps it could offer an alternative: a federally recognized national baccalaureate (or 'national bac') degree that students could earn by demonstrating competence and knowledge.

With input from employers [ed.: and, one hopes, from actual disciplinary specialists], the Department of Education could develop standards in fields like English, the sciences, information technology, mathematics, and so on. Students would get certificates when they passed an exam in a given subject. These certificates could be used, like the Advanced Placement tests of the College Board, to reduce the number of courses students would need to graduate from a traditional college. And colleges that accepted federal funds could be required to award credits for them.

But the certificates would be good for something else as well. With enough certificates in the right subjects, students could get a national bac without going to college. Government agencies would accept the bac as the equivalent of a conventional bachelor's degree; graduate schools and any organization receiving federal funds would also be required to accept it.

Subject exams calibrated to a national standard would give employers something they do not now have: assurance that a student has achieved a certain level of knowledge and skill. It is the easiest thing in the world today to find English majors with BA degrees from accredited colleges who cannot write a standard business letter. If national bac holders could in fact perform this and other specific tasks that employers want their new hires to perform, it is likely that increasing numbers of employers would demand the bac in addition to a college degree. Students who attended traditional colleges would increasingly need to pass these exams to obtain the full benefits of their degree.

For students from modest or low-income homes, as well as for part-time students trying to earn degrees while they work full time jobs or raise families, the standards would offer a cheaper, more efficient way to focus their education. Students could take prep courses that focused on the skills they actually needed to do the jobs they sought. Parents could teach their kids at home. Schools and institutes could offer focused programs. Public records could show how well students performed on the exams, offering students and parents far more accountability and information than they now get.

Such programs would be both cheaper and more flexible than conventional college degree programs. The contemporary American college is solidly grounded in the tradition of the medieval guilds. These guilds deliberately limited competition to keep fees high. In the best of cases, guild regulation also protected consumers by imposing quality and fairness standards on guild members. Few observers of American education today would argue with straight faces that the quality of undergraduate education is a major concern of contemporary guilds like the American Association of University Professors. Colleges today provide no real accounting to students, parents, or anybody else about the quality of the education they provide. No other market forces consumers to make choices on so little information.

One consequence of this poorly functioning market is to grossly exaggerate the value of "prestige" degrees. Especially these days, a lot of kids work very hard in Ivy League colleges, but others still major in booze and other diversions. Meanwhile, there are plenty of kids studying at, say, Regular State University, where they work very hard at demanding courses under tough professors. A national bac exam would allow these kids to compete on a level playing field against the Harvard and Yale grads; employers could look at the scores and see for themselves which kids knew more.

Less unearned privilege for Harvard, more opportunity for Regular State....
As a Yalie myself and a part-time college professor to boot, I find these ideas a bit unsettling. But to voters worried about paying for education, resenting the advantages that prestige diplomas confer on a handful of mostly privileged young people from well-to-do families, and conflicted about the lack of practical focus, educational coherence, and moral guidance found at so many colleges today, an alternative route to a college degree might seem like a helpful idea.

And, by the way, to hardworking immigrants slogging through night school, to working single mothers trying to improve their lives and their kids' prospects, and to many other Americans who don't have the time or money for frills but urgently need a serious college degree, these reforms would open the door to a better life.

By setting open standards for the national bac, and by allowing anybody to offer the service of preparing students to take the exams, Congress could break the guilds' monopoly on education. A century ago higher education was still a luxury, and it scarcely mattered that it was offered only by arcane guilds in a system that took shape in the Middle Ages. But today many people of very modest means need a BA-equivalent degree to succeed in the workplace.

The power of the guilds in the goods-producing industries had to be broken before the factory system could provide the cheaper goods of the industrial revolution. The service and information revolutions require the breakup of the knowledge guilds: The professoriat is a good place to start.

experimenting with students' lives

The proposed changes to Scarsdale High's curricula (pdf file) are, admittedly, an experiment:

Second, for at least the first five years after SATP is initiated, the school will solicit feedback from college and university admissions officers during and following each admissions cycle, with the aim of determining how the program has affected student access to the colleges and/or Scarsdale students’ attractiveness as candidates.

Third, the school will conduct cohort studies of students for at least the first five years after the SATP is initiated, in order to understand the program’s impact on their success in college and on their college experience more generally.

I served on the board of the National Alliance for Autism Research for seven years. The IRB process is stringent, intricate, and time-consuming. I don't know whether it's correct to say that this is as true of research involving animal subjects as it is for human subjects, but I do know that animal research is also closely scrutinized by IRB boards. As I recall, we rejected at least one project due to animal welfare issues. (I could be remembering this incorrectly; it's possible we sent it back for revision. My memory, however, is that we decided not to fund.)

How much time and energy has the administration of Scarsdale devoted to meeting IRB requirements?


Schools are not required to obtain permission from parents or undergo IRB review in order to conduct research using their students as human subjects.

A ktm commenter left this link a couple of weeks ago:

Committee on the Use of Human Research Subjects: Exemptions
Research that is
  • conducted in established or commonly accepted educational settings, and
  • involves normal educational practices.
Generally applies to the study of teaching methods, strategies, and curricula in the process of education. If individuals may be identified directly or indirectly, file for Expedited Review.

FERPA and PPRA also regulate research in school settings and limit information that may be gathered from schools and minors without subject or parental consent.


Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment

These 19 curricular projects have essentially been experiments.

animal moms and kids

These photos are wonderful.

(from Drudge)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

3 strikes against pure discovery

pdf file posted here


I mentioned this book a few weeks back, and am finally getting a link posted:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

It's terrific.

the website

Made to Stick in TIME Magazine

Made to Stick in U.S. News

U.S. News

It seems to happen every day. A meeting is called to outline a new strategy or sales plan. Down go the lights and up goes the PowerPoint. Strange phrases appear—"unlocking shareholder value," "technology-focused innovation," "maximizing utility." (What does that mean?) Lists of numbers come and go. Bullet point by bullet point, the company's goals float across the screen.

I think we can all agree that concepts like "technology-focused innovation" are not made to stick.

Of course, I would have said the same thing about activating prior knowledge and constructing your own knowledge.

So don't listen to me.

thinking, not teaching, in Scarsdale

Tex reminded me of this line from the Trailblazers implementation story:

Teachers are continuing to shift their emphasis from teaching material to focusing on children's thinking and learning.

constructivist coup in Scarsdale

Proposal for Advanced Topics Implementation

Ed is reading it now: "This is an unbelievably radical document."

It's also, for my money, one of the most fatuous.

Here's Jay Mathews.

The middle school model comes to Scarsdale High.

more later

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Doug on rebuttable presumptions and other things

Second, anyone who would use the phrase, "we have been inserviced on", in a discussion of the teaching of language must be considered presumptively untrustworthy. There is a more-widely understood synonym of "inserviced on" that one might expect a teacher to know and use: "taught".

Willfully and egregiously bureaucratic phrasing of this sort raises a rebuttable presumption of a willfully and egregiously bureaucratic mind. I contend that presumption has not been rebutted in this case.

Damn straight.

school boards behaving badly

A picture is worth a thousand words.

It's all here.

The silencing of parents and taxpayers.

The righteous rejection of accountability (a school superintendent who cannot be criticized "in public").

The standing rule that parents can speak for themselves only,* followed by the dismissal of parent concerns as merely "personal."

And, finally, the core belief that school personnel possess a natural right to do what they want to do.

No matter what.

that said .....

That said, I'll add that I've seen nothing as bad as this in Irvington. Not even close.

Of course, I also haven't seen anyone with the ba*** to ask whether the Board is planning on rehiring the superintendent right in the middle of a board meeting.


I wonder what the school board will make of this parent?

If they're smart, they'll realize she is trouble-with-a-capital T.

She's not the only one.

Back to Irvingtonland, I gather there are quite a few parents in town who want to see the district move to something more akin to a business model.

Good idea! (I think.) In the business model -- not that I know anything about the business model -- I believe folks have the expression, "Make it go away."

That's what this school board needs to do with this superintendent -- and with this parent.

[ ummmm..... I'm not saying the parent should "go away." I'm saying the problem this parent represents should go away. ]

The superintendent needs to move on to another district; the board needs to move on to other business. They need to dump TERC, Connected Math, and whatever constructivist text they're using in the high school (I assume this parent was exercised about something to do with TERC, though I don't know) and be done with it.

Make it go away.

School boards and administrators need to develop street smarts.

Yes, on paper it says that boards and administrators wield absolute power.

But in reality no one wields absolute power, not even the most brutal totalitarian dictators (something we'd all know if our schools taught history instead of social studies).

Administrators and school boards need to start horse trading like the rest of the world.


Actually, there are probably plenty of savvy administrators who know how to horse trade, and who do horse trade.

Or, perhaps more likely, there are probably plenty of savvy administrators with the political good sense to pick and choose their battles.

Probably school boards, too.

That's not what we see in this video.


* hit refresh a couple of times if page doesn't appear

Ken De Rosa in debate on whole language at Edspresso

Ken De Rosa who is familiar to readers of KTM II and his own D-Ed Reckoning can be read in action now here as he takes on Nancy Creech, a whole language teacher from Oxford Michigan. For those looking for a fight on the order of Rocky Balboa vs Apollo Creed, this would not be the place in my opinion. Ken's arguments and command of facts makes it look more like Bill Clinton vs Lyndon Larouche. I'll let you figure out who's who.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Common Algebra II Test

Nine States announced that they will give a common test for algebra II starting next year. is helping design the test.

Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island will share standards and the tests, and are expected to release scores on the test to colleges.

Apparently, this is being driven by the recent research that showed students that pass algebra II are more likely to succeed in college. U.S. News carried this article today.

This seems like a great idea. Now I need to lobby my State Dept of Ed to join in. If the colleges find it useful, I hope it puts pressure on many more states to join the group.

new math blog!

Math Concepts Explained

This is serendipity. Christopher began a unit on functions today!


For some reason I'm having a terrible time posting sidebar links to other Blogger blogs.

I'll keep trying...

If anyone has any suggestions, let me know.

down the rabbit hole

from The College Puzzle

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the grade 12 results recently. The results in Reading demonstrate a decline between 1992 and 2005. The results do not bode well for aspirations of higher academic readiness, college preparedness and college success.


The results found that the reading skills of 12th graders tested in 2005 were significantly worse than those of students in 1992, the first time a comparable test was given, and essentially flat since students took the exam in 2002. The share of students lacking even basic high school reading skills -- meaning they could not, for example, extract data about train fares at different times of the day from a brochure -- rose to 27 from 20 percent in 1992. The share of those proficient in reading dropped to 35 from 40 percent in 1992.

Yet, high school graduates in 2005 had studied more than their counterparts in 1990, averaging 360 more hours of classroom instruction during their high school years, the transcript study showed. Their grade point average was a third of a letter grade higher than in 1990, and more students were taking foreign language and other courses aimed at preparing them for college.


The bottom line is that high school students are taking harder courses and earning better grades yet reading at significantly lower levels than their peers did 13 years ago.

This decline comes on top of the twenty-year decline in SAT scores that took place between 1963 and 1980.

in a nutshell

  • Average SAT verbal scores fell from a high of 478 on the verbal portion in 1963-1964 to a low of 424 in 1980, where they have essentially remained for 27 years.
  • Percent of students lacking basic high school reading skills rose from 20 percent in 1992 to 27 percent today.
  • A high school student who lacks basic high school reading skill cannot "extract data about train fares at different times of the day from a brochure."
  • The share of those proficient in reading dropped to 35 from 40 percent in 1992.
  • smoking more and enjoying it less: "high school graduates in 2005 had studied more than their counterparts in 1990, averaging 360 more hours of classroom instruction during their high school years."
  • grade inflation: GPA for 2005 12th graders "was a third of a letter grade higher than in 1990, and more students were taking foreign language and other courses aimed at preparing them for college."
  • smoking more and enjoying it less, part 2: "number of students who took 4 years of English is up from 40% in 1990 to 68%"

This is alarming because many states, including California, have been making significant gains at elementary grades, and it doesn't show up here in 12th grade.

My sister-in-law, who is a superb elementary school teacher, told me on this trip that in her district the K-5 teachers "have it together."

She sees a problem with teachers and teaching in the upper grades, which, given her description of her high school child's experience, sounds right to me.

The bottom line is that high school students are taking harder courses and earning better grades yet reading at significantly lower levels than their peers did 13 years ago.

I'm thinking....SAT & ACT scores haven't declined significantly during these 13 years, have they?

ACT research page

ACT Research


Googling the phrase "homework gap" this morning, I came across this piece of advice to teachers about how to assign homework:

Be careful about parent involvement. Consider the time and skill resources of parents when requiring their involvement. [emphasis added]

Apparently, we have now reached the point at which teachers can require that parents teach their kids, but parents cannot require that teachers teach their kids.

Monday, April 9, 2007

predatory reading

from Bowdoin:

Reading scholarly material requires a new set of skills. You simply cannot read scholarly material as if it were pleasure reading and expect to comprehend it satisfactorily. Yet neither do you have the time to read every sentence over and over again. Instead, you must become what one author calls a "predatory" reader. That is, you must learn to quickly determine the important parts of the scholarly material you read. The most important thing to understand about a piece of scholarly writing is its argument. Arguments have three components: the problem, the solution, and the evidence. Understanding the structure of an essay is key to understanding these things. Here are some hints on how to determine structure when reading scholarly material...

how to ask good questions

This page seems pretty good:

1. Good questions require thought and research. It is easy to pose a question like "should the atomic bomb have been dropped on Japan?" Such a question is simply an opinion question: it requires no research or special understanding into the problem. One way to begin framing better questions is to steadily add facts into the stew. These complicate your argument, basing it on solid historical premises (which of course you would need to prove in an essay). Think in terms of "givens." For example:
  • Given that the Japanese military establishment had vowed to fight to the bitter end, should the United States have dropped the bomb on Japan?
  • Given that the United States' government was becoming increasingly concerned with post-war struggles with the Soviet Union, should the United States have dropped the bomb on Japan?
  • Given that many in the United States expressed what may be called racist views of the Japanese, and in fact interned Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the war, should the United States have dropped the bomb on Japan?
  • Given that the United States had already embarked on an extensive and deadly campaign of carpet-bombing Japanese cities (like Tokyo), should the United States have dropped the bomb on Japan?
2. Explore premises and make them explicit. The questions above are not quite explicit enough. For example, so what if many in the United States were racist towards the Japanese? What does that have to do with the legitimacy of dropping the atomic bombing?


3. Keep going. Even these questions can be further broken down:

  • Did racism lead the U.S. to drop the bomb on Japan when it would not have done so on Germany? How exactly did American views of the Japanese and Germans differ? How could such popular cultural views have influenced a foreign and military policy thought to be rational?

  • [snip]

    As you can begin to see, once you start thinking about it, one simple question can lead to a huge chain of questions. Remember, it is always better to keep asking questions you think you cannot answer than to stop asking questions because you think you cannot answer them. But this can only happen when you know enough about your subject to know how to push your questioning, and this depends on reading and understanding the assigned material.

    helpful pedagogy or hellish event?

    I've been cruising writing across the curriculum websites. (scroll down)

    a history professor explains how he grades papers

    fact, argument, etc.

    writing in the disciplines at Cornell

    The WAC Journal (all articles online)

    WAC bibliographies

    writing across the curriculum at George Mason

    sample college English papers

    Bowdoin: writing history papers (terrific)

    "vacation" over

    Ed spent 2 hours helping with homework last night.

    Easter Sunday. Two hours.

    He had to spend two hours helping with homework because once again C's ELA assignment was over his head.

    He was to do a "quote analysis," but he doesn't have the necessary skills to do a quote analysis on his own.

    For one thing, he has no idea how to select an appropriate quotation to analyze. This is a highly sophisticated skill [see below].

    Nor does he understand what his reader does and does not know; he doesn't know what he should explain and what he can assume. He doesn't know that he should be thinking about these things, either.

    He simply has no idea how to write expository prose -- and, of course, he's spent practically no time reading expository prose. He spent 5 years in K-5 writing personal narratives (an approach to writing instruction that now appears to be installed as permanent practice K-5 here in Irvingtonland). And that's about it.

    So his idea of analyzing a quotation from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime was to inform the reader that the boy in the story reminds him of Andrew.

    Then, after that, he wanted to talk about the (autistic) character's feelings.

    Of course, that will probably turn out to be what he was supposed to do, and Ed will have racked up another B- in middle school. He's probably got it coming. Christopher opened his analysis with a sentence that went something like, "The quotation tells about the character," and Ed made him get rid of it. C protested, saying he's supposed to start his paragraph with an introductory sentence; Ed said C.'s introductory sentence wasn't a very good introductory sentence.

    I can see where that's headed.

    Ed is sooooo annoyed.

    This is a person who has spent his entire career teaching and refining his teaching. In particular he has spent years of his life figuring out what a good assignment is and is not.

    A good assignment, according to Ed, is first and foremost an assignment a student can actually do.

    Of course, you don't have to be a college professor to figure that one out.

    A good assignment, he says -- and you do need to be on top of your game to figure this one out -- does not simply send a student off into the night to "write a paper." Or, in C's case, to perform a "quote analysis."

    Undergraduate students, even very bright, accomplished students, aren't academically ready to choose their own topics; nor are they adept at shaping a topic once they've chosen it.

    Just to put in my own two cents: finding and shaping a book topic is HELL. I've been a professional writer for years, and it still takes me months to home in on a topic. Finding and shaping a topic is never going to be easy for me.

    So why would you send 12 year olds off to find their own quotes to analyze?

    Ed says the teacher needs to have all the kids read the same book -- or choose one from a small selection of books. Then she needs to select the quotes herself. Here, too, she could offer choice; she could choose a handful of telling lines from the handful of novels she's provided. If the object is to give kids choice so as to allow them to activate prior knowledge and whatnot, she can do this by providing limited choice.

    Ed always gives his students suggested topics. He is a professor European history at NYU; his students are smart and reasonably-to-very-well prepared to do college work. Also, none of them is 12.

    Nevertheless, Ed does not expect them to choose their own topics.

    Last year, after listening to me talking about formative assessment, he decided to give his students explicit instruction in writing history papers.

    He told his students how long their papers should be and how many subtopics would be too many. He wrote model introductory paragraphs; he looked over the students' introductory paragraphs if they wanted him to and told them how to revise.

    In one semester his students went from grades of C and B- to grades of B+ to A.

    None of this professional expertise is of the slightest interest to our district. Ed is a parent, and the views of parents are foolish, old-fashioned, and plain wrong by definition. I believe I mentioned that one of our administrators recently said to him, after Ed pointed out that he had been a "disciplinary specialist" for 25 years, "Did you ever think that might be your problem?"

    logic alert: Well, suppose that is his problem. So what? Everyone else around here has the same problem. Everyone wants his kids to go to college; Ed is a college professor. What Ed has to say about what college professors are looking for in a college paper ought to, at a minimum, arouse some curiosity.

    You'd think.

    Twiki fiasco

    Some of you probably remember that I wrote up a detailed post about all this last year; then Twiki lost it. So I'm going to interview Ed soon and rewrite it.

    I have to get to this, because it's obvious the middle school is fixing to implement a writing workshop model next year. I'm going to campaign for a "prep school model" or maybe a "writing in the disciplines" model, in lieu of or in addition to the writing workshop model so dear to our administrators' hearts.

    (Naturally we'll be expected to cough up more money to fund the model; there's a second teaching-learning facilitator on the budget. We hired our first last year; the super said an evaluation would be performed of the first one, but that seems not to have happened. Instead we are receiving glowing backpack letters about our fourth and fifth-graders workshopping their writing under the watchful eye of teaching-learning facilitator number one.)

    Memoirs, ahoy!

    do poor people need better character?

    Quantity Over Quality
    by Darius Lackdawalla

    So....74% of parents who failed to graduate high school themselves report helping their kids with homework.

    Compared to 96% of parents who attended graduate or professional school.
    Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2002-2003 (pdf file)

    I'm going to recommend again that New York Times columnists and New York Times Magazine feature writers stop obsessing over poor people's character and start obsessing over why parents are serving as their kids' reteachers, especially given the fact that we've experienced a very large drop in average class size over the past 40 years.

    update: it's official

    A couple of years ago I looked up "homework" on the DOE website and found a short article describing the qualities of a good homework assignment.

    The qualities of a good homework assignment, as I recall, pretty much boiled down to statements like this one:

    The purpose of homework is to provide additional practice on previously introduced skills or to enrich classroom experiences.

    That was then.

    What do I get today if I search for "homework"?

    Hundreds of links on how parents can help with homework & What Teachers Can Tell Parents about Homework.

    help with homework

    Edie Pistolesi on Van Gogh

    Three points:

    1. Contemporary pedagogy in art education begins with the idea that art
    comes from the art that came before us and from culture. It has been
    long acknowledged that we all learn by copying. We, meaning all of
    us-kids, grown-ups, Van Gogh, Picasso, other artists-everybody. Art
    teachers are supposed to teach by teaching specific skills & concepts to
    empower kids to express the ideas of art. Using the work of artists to
    show how artists used color, texture, line, etc. to express ideas IS the
    way to teach art. Anybody who still thinks that "art comes from within"
    is suffering from what might be called the "20th century hang-over." You
    have the right idea and stay true to it! Fear of contaminating kids by
    teaching them something is so 1950s.

    2. When Commodore Perry opened the door of Japan to the world in 1858,
    artists went wild! The book "Japonisme: The japanese Influence on
    Western Art Since 1858" (S. Wichmann,2001) shows how many, many artists,
    including Van Gogh, copied japanese images. And they didn't just copy
    in a loose or general way. Van Gogh created carefully constructed grids
    in his efforts to understand the structure and composition of the
    Japanese art.

    3. Some quick thoughts: Get past VG's personal problems with the ear
    story right away. Talk about him as a serious artist who learned how to
    draw from copying from books and other art, just like the other artists
    of his time. If you are going to show the painting of the sunflowers, I
    would also include a bouquet of real sunflowers for kids to see and
    examine closely. Looking at the real ones and VG's painting, examine
    VG's yellows. Those yellows are not straight from the bottle, but have
    lots of color blended into them. And look at the textures caused by
    VG's brush strokes. The kids can learn a lot by copying these things,
    "in the manner of VanGogh."

    Also, VanGogh said that art was like algebra: there are certain
    foundational skills that are necessary to know, and must be learned.

    Best of luck,
    Edie Pistolesi
    Professor of Art
    Department of Art; Art Education area
    CSU Northridge

    help with homework

    I've just found an amazing statistic:

    In kindergarten through grade 12, 95 percent of children had parents who reported they assisted with homework (table 4).

    Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2002-03 (pdf file)

    Table 4 reveals that only 16% of students in grades 11 and 12 have parents who report giving no help with homework at all.

    Even more incredible, parents who did not themselves graduate from high school report spending more time helping with homework than parents who have attended graduate or professional school. (Don't know whether the difference is significant.)

    parents helping w/homework 1-5 days a week, by education level

    Less than high school: 74%
    High school grad or equivalent: 73%
    Vocational/technical education
    after high school or some college: 71%
    College graduate: 68%
    Graduate or professional school: 67%

    Ed went to school in Levittown, PA. He had no help with homework, and yet somehow managed to acquire an education good enough to prepare him for Princeton.

    Steve H has said many times that he received an education good enough to major in science and math in college (first physics, as I recall, then computer science?)

    No help with homework in Steve's case, either.

    The bad gets normal.

    reality show

    Ed says he'd love to see a student body swap.

    Send all the Yonkers kids to Scarsdale; send all the Scarsdale kids to Yonkers.

    Keep the teachers, principals, and superintendents in place.

    What happens to the scores?

    meet the parents