kitchen table math, the sequel: 4/29/07 - 5/6/07

Saturday, May 5, 2007

how to spot a red flag

from kathyiggy:
I learned last week at our middle school parent orientation that the middle school is getting 4 SMART boards. That was after the principal's talk which began with "the best piece of advice for new middle school parents I have is 'let the teachers do their jobs' and not to ambush them with confrontational phone calls/emails."

Friday, May 4, 2007

Computers and Other Priorities

There's a great article in the Times today that suggests issuing laptops to students has not produced the desired effects:

The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).

I guess hindsight is 20/20, but I can't say I'm surprised. Our school hasn't issued laptops to kids, but every classroom, including the trailers, is ready for both hard-wired and wireless internet. The only teensy-weensy problem we have is there don't happen to be any computers in the classrooms at all.

While I'm sure there are multiple possibilities, I'd be happy with a single computer to look up things from time to time. I sometimes carry my own laptop, but I worry I'd lose it if I carried it regularly.

However, before the DoE invests in a single computer, there are a few other things on my wish list. First, I'd like them to put soap in the trailer bathrooms. Kids tell me they haven't seen it there in almost a year, and I find it unconscionable that the custodial staff views it as a luxury of which my kids are unworthy. Multiple complaints (from me) to custodians and administrators have gone unanswered.

If someone were to actually clean those bathrooms now and then, I wouldn't complain about that either.

Call me madcap, but the huge metal pipe hanging precariously outside my trailer could easily be twisted off and used as a toy or a weapon, neither of which much appeals to me.

It would be nice if they got around to repairing the AC in the trailers. Anyone who tells you tin keeps you cool in the summer probably works for the DoE in an air-conditioned office somewhere.

And pain in the neck that I am, I think they ought to replace or repair the screens in the windows (particularly now, with the AC on the fritz).

For some reason, fresh air seems to appeal to ESL students. I'm thinking American kids might like it too.

Maybe someone ought to come up with a few million and do a study.

budget vote

So the budget vote is coming up, and we are asked to OK the purchase of many new SMART Boards.

How many new SMART Boards, you ask?

I have no idea.

However many it is will be too many for me.

The district needs fields; I need tile on my outer bathroom floor.

I don't mean that I need new tile on my outer bathroom floor.

I need tile, period.

Currently we have plywood on the bathroom floor, and have had since we moved in 8 years ago.

At that time, as I recall, the outer bathroom had the same green wall to wall carpet the bedroom did.

We pulled up the carpet and installed a hardwood floor in the bedroom, but we didn't want a wood floor in a bathroom, even an outer bathroom (sinks only), and we ran out of money before we got around to buying tile.

Never really got ahead of the curve on the money thing thereafter.


I don't want SMART Boards.

I want tile.

Also fields.

Ed went to the Board meeting at which SMART Boards were discussed and was pretty much hooted down by all assembled. Teachers want SMART Boards, parents want SMART Boards, the Board wants SMART Boards -- it's a consensus!

So naturally I fired off a Yahoo op-ed on the subject of SMART Boards, the systematic hiring of novice teachers instead of experienced and/or expert teachers, opportunity costs, bringing the internet into the classroom, and etc.

I don't know what gets into me.

Our schools are going to have (more) SMART Boards, and I am going to pay for them.

The only good news around here is that God is on my side.

On the front page of today's New York Times, complete with large color photo of high school students actively engaged in not learning anything at school:

The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).
Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.

So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse.

Many of these districts had sought to prepare their students for a technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between students who had computers at home and those who did not.

After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands.

Yup, and I'm guessing back when they bought all those laptops there wasn't much discussion of precisely how much and within what timeframe student achievement was expected to increase once the entire student body could surf the internet at school.

"Preparing students for a technology-driven world" and "closing the digital divide" was probably reason enough to sink zillions of tax dollars into educational technology.


...... moving right along .....

Oh, look!

More happy taxpayers!

Here in Liverpool, parents have long criticized the cost of the laptop program: about $300,000 a year from the state, plus individual student leases of $25 a month, or $900 from 10th to 12th grades, for the take-home privilege.

“I feel like I was ripped off,” said Richard Ferrante, explaining that his son, Peter, used his laptop to become a master at the Super Mario Brothers video game. “And every time I write my check for school taxes, I get mad all over again.”

schools investing heavily!

More than a decade ago, schools began investing heavily in laptops at the urging of school boards and parent groups who saw them as the key to the 21st century classroom. Following Maine’s lead in 2002, states including Michigan, Pennsylvania and South Dakota helped buy laptops for thousands of students through statewide initiatives like “Classrooms for the Future” and “Freedom to Learn.” In New York City, about 6,000 students in 22 middle schools received laptops in 2005 as part of a $45-million, three-year program financed with city, state and federal money.

Many school administrators and teachers say laptops in the classroom have motivated even reluctant students to learn, resulting in higher attendance and lower detention and dropout rates.

But it is less clear whether one-to-one computing has improved academic performance — as measured through standardized test scores and grades — because the programs are still new, and most schools have lacked the money and resources to evaluate them rigorously.

In one of the largest ongoing studies, the Texas Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group, has so far found no overall difference on state test scores between 21 middle schools where students received laptops in 2004, and 21 schools where they did not, though some data suggest that high-achieving students with laptops may perform better in math than their counterparts without.

ed professor says: they don't work, but buy them anyway!

Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of “Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom” (Teachers College Press, 2006), also found no evidence that laptops increased state test scores in a study of 10 schools in California and Maine from 2003 to 2005. Two of the schools, including Rea Elementary, have since eliminated the laptops.

But Mr. Warschauer, who supports laptop programs, said schools like Liverpool might be giving up too soon because it takes time to train teachers to use the new technology and integrate it into their classes. For instance, he pointed to students at a middle school in Yarmouth, Me., who used their laptops to create a Spanish book for poor children in Guatemala and debate Supreme Court cases found online.

Hold it right there, cowboy.

Middle school students using their laptops to create a Spanish book for poor children in Guatemala and debate Supreme Court cases found online is exactly why I don't want laptops or anything else that can be used to surf the internet in my kid's school.

Number one, you don't need a laptop to create a Spanish book for poor children in Guatemala. (Do poor children in Guatemala lack Spanish books? What, are they stuck with hand-me-down English books from the North?)

Number two, middle school students have no competence to debate Supreme Court cases; their teachers have limited to no competence to direct a middle school debate of Supreme Court cases (nor do I); no one has the ability to direct an educationally valuable, off-the-cuff middle school debate of a Supreme Court case that has been "found" on the internet.

If a middle school class is going to study a Supreme Court case, that lesson needs to be carefully structured, sequenced, and orchestrated by the teacher before she gets to class.

Not "found on the internet."

I say Liverpool should forget about laptops and invest in SMART Boards.


Good news!

Cliff Stoll has been proved wrong!

how much does a light bulb for the SMART Board cost?
replacement light bulbs for the SMART Board
budget vote
more and ever more SMART Boards

success, part 2

So last night I taught Christopher how to find the equation of a line given two points.

Today Ms. K taught the kids how to find the equation of a line given two points.

I'm on a roll.

preteaching not reteaching
success, part 2
more preteaching results in the offing
preteaching saves the world
preteaching wonders of the world


Christopher finally got his quiz back, the one he took after I started my brand-new preteaching-not-reteaching regime.

He got an 80!

This is on a quiz he forgot about, didn't tell me about, and didn't study for.

Just walked into the class cold and took it.

Even better, the other kids didn't blow him out of the water. A couple of the class stars got scores in the 80s.

This is the way to go.

I'm also having him do KUMON-like practice every night to build speed. For whatever reason, he's not giving me vast quantities of grief about it. I've said "You need speed" so many times (scroll down), and related the need-for-speed to athletics so many times....maybe it's just sunk in.

Spaced repetition, the Key to life. Water wears away rock.

Also, it's a bit easier getting a middle school kid to do extra math if you say, "Go solve these 10 equations as fast as you can."

Makes the whole thing sound less onerous.

I've been using two workbooks:

This is an amazingly low-stress way to remediate the school.


Just sorry it took me two years to think of it.

preteaching not reteaching
success, part 2

help desk

We have a 3-way race for board.

Two seats are open; voters can vote for two candidates.

How do you maximize the chances of one particular candidate winning?

Do you vote only for that candidate?

OR: say you think your candidate is least likely to win --- and you think you know which candidate has the most support.

What's your strategy?

Say there's one candidate you absolutely don't want on the board (and by the way, that's not the case here -- Ed and I like all 3 candidates & have been debating which two we'd prefer) -- but say you have a candidate you absolutely don't want on the board, then what?

The scenario of having one candidate you absolutely don't want, btw, does hold true for some voters here. I would go so far as to say that, of people who are tuned in, Ed and I are the only people who don't harbor a passionate objection to one candidate in particular.

We're perplexed.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Then and now

Myrtle commented that I should cross-post this here (though I'll give you fair warning--going through my old high school algebra book is really fascinating, looking at it from the other end of the telescope, so to speak, and I'm probably going to be on a roll). Here it is. (Oh. By the way, no, I was not a freshman in high school in 1961. I'm not quite that old. We were, however, using a textbook first published in 1961. I just thought I'd clarify that, since one blogger has already make that particular boo-boo.)

I bought a copy of the freshman algebra book we used in high school (Pearson and Allen, Modern Algebra: A Logical Approach, 1961). Here's a problem example dealing with fractions (and before you complain about the quality of the scan, you try scanning a book bound in 1961–they don't make 'em like that anymore):




and here are some of the problems we did:




Look at 13, which says:

Why is it that you cannot find the cost of one ball and one bat in this case although you could find the cost of one uniform and one hat in Exercise 12?

This is excellent. You're not asked to solve the problem here. Instead, you're asked to explain why you cannot solve this problem, but could solve a similar problem. In other words, you're being asked to think analytically about the problem–about the mathematics behind the problem. If "higher-level thinking" meant anything that had any pedagogical usefulness, this is what it would mean.

Also note that the problems are literate–that is, they're written in educated Standard English:

Were he to reverse the amounts, the yield would be only $330 per year.

That speaks less to the math and more to the place of literacy in education and the way educators treated students (then) seriously, rather than condescending to them with "hip" nonsense and pathetically trying to be "relevant."

Now, contrast with these current examples of 8th grade math:

In a couple of paragraphs, explain how you would estimate the square root of 170.

x2 + 2y = 10

What do you notice about the expression?

In the first, the student is asked to do no math. Instead, he's asked to talk about it. Note that he's not asked to think about it–just write a narrative about how he would approach the problem. Also note that the embedded problem he doesn't have to solve is to estimate, and not find, the square root of 170. The second problem isn't a problem, just as the first isn't a problem, and it's ambiguous. What is the answer supposed to be? That the expression contains an x and a y? That it's a quadratic equation?

And you wonder why we geezers can make change and these kids can't?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

My Teacher Merit Pay Plan

It seems like every other week there is a new teacher pay reform proposal published, so not wanting to be left out, I figured I would offer my own ideas.

I propose a system roughly modeled on the Air Force promotion system.

Levels: There would be several levels of teachers, and within each level there would be steps based on years of service. Each level of teacher would have added responsibility... for example you might have novice teacher, teacher, teacher mentor, teacher supervisor, and master teacher. Within each level, there would be years of service raises.

Promotion: Promotion between levels would be based on a combination of value added scores (75%) and personnel ratings (25%).

Value Added Rating: The key to the value added scores part of the rating system would be to base it on a 3 year average of scores. This would serve to mitigate the effects of a "good" or "bad" group of students, and also take into account consistency over an extended period of time. I also think that weighting more recent years slightly would reward improving teachers, but a balance would have to be struck.

Personnel Ratings: Since a large part of my program would be to encourage high performing and experienced teachers to mentor newer teachers, I would create a rating system that not only took into account teacher mechanics like control of classroom, organization, use of time, etc..., but that also took into account more subjective measures like continuing education, mentoring, teamwork, and leadership. To ensure integrity, I would propose that the rating score would have to have concurrence between three separate people, perhaps a master teacher, a department head, and the principal of the school.

Certification and Education: I would include certain advantages to teachers who completed teacher education plans, perhaps awarding them slightly higher pay than teachers who started teaching with just a bachelors degrees, but teachers who started without a degree and proved themselves as competent teachers would catch up to the "certified" teachers within one year. Since most education certification programs only take one year, the only advantage to attending them would be if the program provided the new teachers with applicable skills that improved value added scores. Additional graduate education could also be factored into the personnel rating, but once again, because of the weighting of the value added scores, only programs that "added value" would make the program make sense. Hopefully, this program would cause education schools to reform themselves to emphasize real world skills, instead of concentrating on education fluff.

Tenure: Finally, I would include a high year of tenure program for the basic level of teachers. If after say three or four years, a teacher wasn't able to meet a certain level of performance, they would be let go. Since most studies I have read have stated that most improvement happens in the first two years of teaching, this should be enough time to determine who the good teacher are. Additionally, once promoted to a certain level, teachers would continually have to meet cutoff scores for that level. This would ensure that teachers would have to continually strive to for success.

Goal: The goal of my proposal is to reward good teachers, while at the same time encouraging education schools to reform. Since their would be years of service raises, teachers who peaked out or simply didn't want to take on the extra responsibilities of promotion would still be rewarded for dedication and loyalty to the profession. Because value added scores carry most of the promotion points, education schools would only be able to survive if they could demonstrate that they gave their students a competitive edge, besides for a piece of paper. Reform is on the horizon, I think that my rough outline of a program is a good starting point to design a pay system that rewards high performers and hopefully provides incentives for teachers to excel and to improve.

"Investigations" in Prince William County, VA

Prince William County, in Virginia, recently adopted Investigations for grades K-3. The school district has an online TV station that gives updates on what's going on. If you go here you can watch a video of the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent of PWC school district talk about Investigations, including interviews with teachers about the program. It is on the first 5 or so minutes of the program. The rest of the program is devoted to other issues.

All the standard verbiage is there: "hands on", "inquiry-based", "build a foundation", "the way we learned was by memorization" . This last one, while employing the usual canard (i.e., the previous method didn't involve any understanding whatsoever, it was just pure memorization) is given a caveat: the Superintendent condescends to recognize that memorization "works for some students". Just not all.

So far there are only about two parents in PWC who are upset. One has protested and has done a good job doing so, to the extent that the school board wrote a written response to address his concerns. But Investigations is there to stay. Old story.

college acceptance and yield

Princeton 1998

Princeton 2007

Stanford 2006

escalation in the reading wars

I've mentioned a few times that Ed's been talking to a parent here who has spent quite a bit of time in Washington.

He says that in politics, when you start pushing things, people threaten to do two things:

  • sue you
  • investigate you

This will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I hope it stays with you, too.

So here's Representative George Miller threatening to put the Direct Instruction folks in jail:

Christopher Doherty, the former director of Reading First, defended his operation of the program. But Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the education committee, said Reading First ''officials and contractors created an uneven playing field that favored certain products,'' particularly those that emphasized phonics.

Turning to the inspector general, Mr. Miller said, ''I think when we put the evidence together we may end up joining you in those criminal referrals.''

You have to love it, people playing hardball over phonics.

And by the way, should anyone want to stage a protest march in Washington with Representative George Miller's face plastered on every plackard, I'm available.


Go read Ken.

shoot the moon

EM's spiral feels very flat as you watch the progression from grade to grade. On the other hand, and quite by random, things seem to drop from the moon, with no foundation knowledge taught.

This is called enrichment.

Lynn G

a school board in an excellent district

This is amazing.

I stumbled across this passage in Herbert Kliebard's Changing Course: American Curricular Reform in the 20th Century by Herber Kliebard. We're on the even of our school board election; went to the candidates' forum last night.

The candidates' statements are here (you should be able to open the emails containing candidate statements, but not download documents) --- if you're interested in "micro" politics, i.e. school politics, these are pretty amazing, I think. I was thrilled to see them.

Irvington is in a bit of a revolutionary moment.... which is pretentious language, but not exactly wrong. I think you can see it in these statements. All three candidates talk about loss of confidence, lack of trust, lack of communication, and so on. I can't imagine that these statements are typical of candidate statements in most board contests.

Anyway, it was pure serendipity to find this study of a high-end school and its school board on the eve of the election:

from the introduction to the chapter:

...La Salle High School (a fictional name but not a fictional school) was chosen for study because the graduates of that high school well exceeded expectations as to academic success in their freshman year of college. Considering the relatively high socioeconomic status of La Salle’s population, its graduates were predicted to do well in college, but they did even better than graduates of other schools similarly situated....

...advocates of educational reform agree that a rigorous curriculum accompanied by high standards should be part of what we mean by an excellent school..... Simply asserting [high standards] or even requiring them by imposing dire penalties does not in itself ensure success. La Salle High School did not simply stipulate academic excellence as a standard; it instituted procedures and structures that were aimed at providing the support that such high expectations required. No school is a perfect school, but the way in which La Salle High School was organized provides one way to approach the problem of providing academic excellence for all.

Changing Course: American Curriculum Reform in the 20th Century
by Herbert M. Kliebard
(Teachers College: 2002)
Chapter 8: One Kind of Excellence: Ensuring Academic Achievement at La Salle High School
Co-authored with Calvin R. Stone
p. 113-116


Public Accountability versus Professional Autonomy

As already indicated, the geographic communities served by La Salle High School are inhabited by middle-and upper-middle class families. Educators in the La Salle district who were interviewed, without exception, perceived the community as a whole and the parents of La Salle students in particular as having extremely high expectations of the school. These community expectations are perceived to be focused directly on the academic program of the high school and on the development of students’ potential for success in future university work. This perception of a “push” by the community for academic excellence was made all the more stark when seen against the educators’ perceptions that the community has only a passing interest in the success of the school’s athletic program or social activities.

This community press for academic excellence is felt by educators through direct contact with parents, who are perceived to be extremely involved and quite demanding. It also is reflected in the actions of the school board, which is perceived by the school staff as being dominated by individuals who are highly intelligent, businesslike, self-confident, aggressive in their desire to involve themselves with educational issues, and firm and decisive in setting a course for the school. The activities of the school board are not limited to concern for the development of the successful student at La Salle. Indeed, in the year prior to this study, the school board requested that administrators produce documentation for each student who had dropped out, including a description of the problems that the student encountered and the actions taken by the school to resolve them. Needless to say, this request in itself caused school personnel to reconsider problems faced by marginal students and ways that the school might respond.

Although some complaints are voiced, the staff of the school actually appears to take some pride in the fact that the school board is as powerful and decisive as it is, because this enhances La Salle’s reputation for excellence. There are, however, reservations expressed about the role that the school board plays. One teacher remarked that she wished that the board would leave more educational decisions in the hands of professional educators. A second teacher, who represents a more critical extreme, stated, “The [school] board is made up of captains of industry, and they seem to think they can treat us [teachers] like the clerks in their stores or the laborers on their assembly lines.” This critical perception by teachers of the school board’s power is voiced by other educators as well, but most often is focused on one particular issue that stands as a source of friction between the school board and the teachers: that teachers in the district may be laid off using criteria other than seniority. In a period of declining enrollments, several teachers each year, regardless of their time in service to the district, were being laid off. The district’s legal authority to use criteria other than seniority, such as teaching competence, places the district in a commanding position to demand excellence from its teaching staff, but that obviously has its costs.

Leaving aside the implications of the relationship between the school board and the teachers, we at least can conclude that there is a strong consensus among La Salle educators that the community places an extremely high value on education and that parents support the school by demanding excellence, not only of their sons and daughters, but also of educators. In addition, these values and expectations are reflected in the community’s electing school board officials who are vocal and aggressive in their demand for academic excellence. As already indicated, however, academic excellence is a frequently expressed goal of American high schools. As already indicated, however, academic excellence is a frequently expressed goal of American high schools. As such, it has become a kind of slogan that is in such general use that it has little power to explain a school’s success unless it is defined further by attention to the concrete school practices that are derived from the meaning that “academic excellence” has for educators. One of the obvious costs of this kind of excellence, which may b particular to this case, is the strong tilt at La Salle High School away from professional autonomy and toward public accountability. Teacher morale, for example, became a particular factor when nine teachers and one guidance counselor were laid off (a couple were later rehired) during the year of this study. In the absence of firm job security, it was natural for teachers to ask themselves who would be cast adrift the following year. In an attempt to mitigate the problem of laid-off teachers, Dr., Hallquist secured the school board’s permission to hire, at a cost to the board of $500 per teacher, an occupational counseling firm to assist the laid-off teachers in making career changes. Overall, however, La Salle High School generally was regarded by its professional staff as a good place to be, even though many teachers and counselors remained understandably anxious about job security.

Notwithstanding the real concern that teachers express about job security, it is still safe to say that the ethos of La Salle High School is one of strict professionalism, including a strong sense of duty and accountability both to the students and to the community. While every teachers’ lounge has its share of banter and idle chatter, it is distinctly less pronounced at La Salle than at other high schools that were observed. By and large, teachers prepare for classes, correct papers, and attend to record keeping. In one instance, a foreign language teacher was asked what work she was engaged in so busily in the teachers’ lounge. It turned out that she had received a higher than expected estimate from a travel agency for a forthcoming trip to Europe with her students. She was using her free period to write directly to hostels and bus companies in Europe to see whether she could reduce the cost of the trip by making the travel arrangements herself. This represents a degree of dedication and commitment that is expected of and not uncommon among La Salle teachers.

Given the fact that most La Salle teachers are evaluated between two and five times a year, and that La Salle teachers’ continued employment depends at least to some extent on meeting the standards that are defined by the evaluation process, it is clear that La Salle’s teachers are subject to tremendous “pressure from the top” to excel in the roles defined by and for them. In this regard, it is important to note that the teachers at La Salle are, in a sense, held accountable for the actions of their students. Teachers who were interviewed, for example, were conscious of the fact that their success in the evaluation process depended on the extent to which students appeared to be motivated, asked questions, and assumed responsibility in the classroom setting.

It is inconceivable that a teacher observed at a nearby high school, who failed over 48% of his students could define his role in the same way were he teaching at La Salle. First, he would not be meeting many of the standards and expectations upon which La Salle te4achers are judged. Second, at La Salle High School, there is such a self-conscious regard for community expectations that, in such a case, this teacher’s particular practices and perhaps his overall competence would become immediately suspect. Whether or not it is actually the case, there is a perceived expectation on the part of school personnel that La Salle parents would become aggressively involved in demanding changes in the event of such an occurrence, and there is little doubt as well that their efforts would be reasonably successful. And finally, at La Salle not only are individual teachers rigorously evaluated, but so is the curriculum. If, at La Salle, a course taught by several teachers was discovered to have a high failure rate, the course itself would come under scrutiny as well as the practices of the individual teachers.

While interviews of educators at La Salle indicate that an actual case of this nature (a teacher failing an extremely high proportion of students) has not occurred, one revealing incident may serve to illustrate the institutional ethos at La Salle. Some of the details of the incident probably have been changed or recast in the telling, but, in general, the story is as follows: A La Salle teacher gave a student a B for a semester grade. The student and parents of the student objected, arguing that the student should have received an A. The teacher refused to change the grade, and so, under pressure from the parents, several administrators conducted a hearing. The student’s grade hinged on the fact that the teacher had given the student a B on an important composition, and the student and his parents argued that the student deserved an A for the composition. To resolve the stalemate that ensued, school officials suggested that the composition be sent to a national testing service for evaluation and that both teacher and student agree to abide by the judgment. The composition received an A, and the student’s grade was subsequently changed. Although this incident is an isolated one, it was repeated by several informants and has become part of the folklore of La Salle High School. Teachers and administrators feel themselves to be under the watchful eye of aggressive, articulate parents, and this strongly influences their professional behavior.

The incident also serves to illustrate several important aspects of La Salle’s approach to accountability. First, teachers have relatively limited autonomy and are certainly not “autocrats of the classroom,” a term that was applied to teachers at another high school. At La Salle, teachers are respected for their teaching ability and for their mastery of subject matter, but they must exercise caution in their dealings with students lest they be called to account. Second, the incident illustrates the aggressive role that parents of La Salle students take or at least are believed to take. Their own high level of educational attainment and perhaps their social standing confer on them a certain freedom to challenge teachers’ decisions. In addition, the solution to the problem (using an independent evaluator to grade the student’s composition) indicates how far school authorities will go to accommodate parental concern for high academic standing. Finally, this and similar incidents reflect and illustrate the contours of the relationship that exists between individual educators and the communities La Salle serves

a school board in an excellent school
"La Salle High School" - tracking, placement, accountability

Princeton stats

Ed's been doing interviews for Princeton and just got their stats for this year.

18,000 applicants
1750 accepted

10,000 of the applicants had SAT scores of 2100 or better.

Don't know what the scores of the 1750 were specifically.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Research for The Spiral?

I'm trying to find the original research that spawned spiraling curriculum.

I can't find it. Admittedly, I haven't looked all that hard.

I've pulled out my copy of Everyday Math's Teacher Reference Manual. Surprisingly, spiral, spiraling, and spiral curriculum are not in the index or the table of contents. In fact, I can't find the word spiral anywhere in the book. It must be there, but I'm not going to read it cover to cover just to locate it.

Anyway, the introduction makes several vague statements that seem as close to promoting a spiral as I can find. For example, here's a representative quote:
Students using Everyday Mathematics are expected to master a variety of mathematical skills and concepts, but not the first time they are encountered. Mathematical content is taught in a repeated fashion, beginning with concrete experiences. It is a mistake to proceed too quicly from the concrete to the abstract or to isolate concepts and skills from one another or from problem contexts. Students also need to "double back," revisiting topics, concepts, and skills, and then relating them to each other in new and different ways. (p. 3)
Why is it a "mistake" to proceed quickly to the abstract? This is a reference manual for 4th through 6th grade teachers. This is not kindergarten where I can see abstraction might be counterproductive. But why not get to the abstract pretty quick once the foundation is set?

The problem as I see it, both on the concrete-abstract concept, and the whole spiral thing (repeated encounters?) is that EM isn't telling me how they reach these conclusions.

They toss these statements out there, with no reference, no support, no research. Where is it? They can't have imposed this spiraling drive-by exposure thing on our teachers and students with no research, could they?

The manual continues:
. [R]epeated exposures to key ideas presented in slightly different contexts are built into the EM program. (p. 5)
What makes them think that a key idea should be presented through repeated exposures?

I don't see this as intuitive and I'm more than a little annoyed that I can't find even a real kernel of research that might support the whole spiral thing.

In our experience over the past five years with EM, it is the spiral that is the most pernicious and destructive aspect of EM.

For example, the manual states that the square root symbol is introduced for the first time in 4th grade. Students need this exposure because of the symbol's "unfamiliarity and peculiar look."

By the time my daughter got to 5th grade, she had forgotten that she had ever known what the symbol meant. This is just one illustration of how the exposures are inefficient. There seems to be nothing to gain by introducing a square root symbol in the 4th grade when they won't be using it until the 5th grade. There was no time saving at the 5th grade level. A year is a long time to keep in the memory a concept you were exposed to, but never used or mastered.

So I'm left with my initial inquiry, is there some research somewhere that says kids learn better when they have repeated exposures to a concept before they are expected to master it?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

my life and welcome to it

Drive is canceled?



What is with these people?

Don't they know I'm Colin Powell?

I give up.


Also to be filed under MLAWTI:

C. informs us that, in his remaining weeks of 7th grade, he is to "construct an artifact."

Specifically, a Civil War sword.

Or a musket.

I've composed an email.

help desk

I re-did the ratio - dimensional analysis - function sheet -- I have now lived the truth of Wayne Wickelgren's explanation for why math is hard. (hit refresh a couple of times if the post doesn't come up)

If anyone's got time to check this version, I'd appreciate it.