kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/29/08 - 7/6/08

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Kindness Project

1.2 million federal dollars for a Kindness Project in a 4500 pupil district where the "schools [are] struggling on state-mandated reading and math tests."

The West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school district has won $1.2 million in federal dollars to teach its kids how to get along.

Under the federal grant, part of a national effort to improve schools' climates, the district will hire one counselor for each of its five elementary schools this fall.

The mission of the "Kindness Project"? To create welcoming and safe schools.

"It's incredible for a small district to get this big of a grant," Superintendent Jay Haugen said. "It's great recognition for our schools."

The counselors' responsibilities range from teaching lessons on kindness and providing individual counseling to surveying families about school climate and helping students transition to middle school.

School officials received additional details this week after learning last month they were one of 53 school districts across the country to receive the grant, which will bring in $400,000 each year for three years, if federal authorities give approval after periodical [sic] monitoring of the district's program.


[W]ith the increased diversity and schools struggling on state-mandated reading and math tests under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, some community members believe minority students "have eroded the quality of our schools," officials wrote in the district's grant application.

The Kindness Project will enable the new counselors to work with students, and this "can only help boost achievement," Haugen said.


"(The federal grant) really shows that we have put a lot of thought into this," said Reine Shiffman, school board chair. "They believe we can make a difference."

I'm speechless. What if this money had been spent on tutors? Decent math curriculum? History and science classes?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fourth of July 2008

stagnation at the top, part 2

Here’s a simple principle: at the least, schools should be expected to help all students make a year’s worth of progress over the course of a year—even students that start school in September two or three grade levels above. And we should reserve our greatest praise (and perhaps rewards) for schools that accelerate the progress of all of their students and help each one reach his or her full potential. And that principle should apply to all of our children, regardless of the color of their skin, the size of their parents’ pocketbook, or their zip code. Anything else strikes me as unfair, unkind—and politically unsustainable.

Are public schools for all kids, or just some kids?

and, from the Heartland Institute:

Clowes: Is there any reason why students in schools with high concentrations of poverty should learn any less than students in an affluent district?

Sanders: Interestingly, I've caught the most political heat from some of the schools in affluent areas, where we've exposed what I call "slide and glide." One of the top-dollar districts in the state had always bragged about its test scores, but our measurements showed that their average second-grader was in the 72nd percentile. By the time those children were sixth-graders, they were in the 44th percentile. Under our value-added scheme, the district was profiled in the bottom 10 percent of districts in state. They were not happy. You'd think I had nuked the place.

With our value-added approach, we can demonstrate that our measure of school effectiveness is totally unrelated to traditional socioeconomic indicators. We have more than 1,300 elementary schools in this state; their effectiveness is totally unrelated to the racial composition of the school or the percentage of children in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. That's looking at measures of progress, not at raw test scores.

You shouldn't hold teachers and principals of school districts accountable for things over which they have no control. You should hold them accountable for those things they do have control over. Schools and teachers don't have control over the achievement level when children walk in the door, but they do have control over how much that level is raised during the year.

If that is sustained over time, it becomes like compound interest, and what you see is populations of children constantly rising to higher and higher levels of achievement in later grades, regardless of where they started.

interview with William Sanders

Thursday, July 3, 2008

summer reading chart

Paul B suggested I make a graph for C's summer reading & I just did -- this is perfect. Highly motivating (to me, at least).

Haven't shown it to C yet as he appears to be avoiding me.

Possibly because we got started on Analyse, Organize, Write and Sentence Combining Workbook yesterday.

4th of July

The NY Times asked Ed to write an op ed piece for the Fourth of July!

ON a recent visit to the Statue of Liberty, my first since the sixth grade, I was struck by how many French people were at the site. Why more French than others from abroad? The answer may lie in the statue’s history. After all, it was conceived nearly 150 years ago almost as much for France as for the United States.

The idea for the monument stemmed from a French struggle for freedom that began in 1852, when Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, having overthrown France’s democratic republic, declared himself emperor. In the summer of 1865, after enduring 13 years of Napoleon III’s near-dictatorial rule, Édouard de Laboulaye, a historian, hosted a dinner for a small group of French liberals to celebrate the North’s victory in the American Civil War. To Laboulaye, the restoration of orderly liberty in the United States put his own government to shame.

Over brandy and cigars, he and his guests, who included Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the prominent sculptor, decided to organize a public campaign to commemorate American liberty with a grand gift to the United States. But the gift would double as an implicit critique of Napoleon III.

Bartholdi later envisioned a mammoth statue of the kind of ancient Roman goddess that since 1789 had symbolized liberty and the Republic. The French revolutionary tradition actually produced two goddesses: one sported the “liberty cap” and appeared in ardent motion, her breasts often bared, a fierce expression on her face. Her counterpart stood erect and still, her body modestly draped, her expression calm and serene.

Bartholdi chose the second, unthreatening icon to have his “Liberty Enlightening the World” depict the stability that French liberals saw in the United States and wanted for their own turbulent land.

By the time construction began in the mid-1870s, Napoleon III had been removed from power and his opponents had created a moderate republican regime. France had escaped the twin perils of revolution and reaction that had characterized its political life for nearly a century. Now, Bartholdi’s statue could stand for both the French and the American republics......

A Gift from France, to France

The editing was amazing: a variant of this British writing assignment. (Here's dr. pion on precis writing.) The editor cut the original piece in half, losing only one detail everyone was sorry to see go.

I learned something. When I read the editor's version, I was disappointed in the lead paragraph, which was flat. I finished reading the piece & was blown away by the editing, especially seeing as how C. and I didn't get too far in our own efforts to edit an already-tightly written passage last July. So I re-read, thinking maybe I was wrong about the lead. But no. It was flat.

Ed raised the issue with the editor, who told him that a lead paragraph, to be interesting, must have details. When you make cuts as deep as they do for the op ed page, she said, you often end up with flat beginnings -- I assume because the details in most writers' first paragraphs are the least essential to the piece and are thus the ones most likely to be cut, although she didn't say so.

She's absolutely right. Ed fixed the problem by inserting the words "my first since the sixth grade" into the first sentence. That's all it took.

Writing is a mystery.

For me, this lead is boring:
ON a recent visit to the Statue of Liberty, I was struck by how many French people were at the site.

This one works:
ON a recent visit to the Statue of Liberty, my first since the sixth grade, I was struck by how many French people were at the site.

Why should that be?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

the knowledge deficit

I'd been wondering what Bill Ayers thinks about knowledge.

Somewhat OT: Global Autism Project

Via Larry Welkowitz's Asperger's Conversations, I discovered an organization new to me, the Global Autism Project

In the United States, a child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes. In developing countries, we have no way of knowing the national situations. Dr. Eben Badoe is one of only thirty pediatricians in Ghana, a country of 19.4 million people. He is the only one diagnosing autism. He recently told us, “right now, I diagnose children and then I lose them in a way.”

The Global Autism Project is working hard to change this.

We bring research-proven methodologies of autism intervention to developing countries. A commitment to a balance of scientifically sound interventions and cultural sensitivity is integral to our work.

I wonder what we can learn from other countries in this regard.

say better

The New Yorker profile of Irene Pepperberg is available online!

Pepperberg told me that Alex also made spontaneous remarks that were oddly appropriate. Once, when she rushed in the lab door, obviously harried, Alex said, “Calm down”—a phrase she had sometimes used with him. “What’s your problem?” he sometimes demanded of a flustered trainer. When training sessions dragged on, Alex would say, “Wanna go back”—to his cage. More creatively, he’d sometimes announce, “I’m gonna go away now,” and either turn his back to the person working with him or sidle as far away as he could get on his perch. “Say better,” he chided the younger parrots that Pepperberg began training along with him.

I know I've mentioned before that I came out of Animals in Translation thinking birds are as smart as we are or smarter.

to do

I need to get hold of the paper on the model/rival technique and autistic kids:

As it happens, the model/rival method may have some utility for another species: humans. Diane Sherman, who works with autistic children in Monterey, California, has had some preliminary success in encouraging speech in her clients using Pepperberg’s protocol. In an article published in The International Journal of Comparative Psychology, Sherman and Pepperberg say that, in two studies of children in Sherman’s private practice, the model/rival method led to “significant gains” in the children’s “communication and social interaction with peers and adults.” (Behavioral changes were measured by reports from parents and teachers, and included criteria like demonstrations of empathy, improved eye contact, saying hello to people, and speaking in sentences.)

I believe this.

Years ago, on our annual family vacation back to Illinois, we rented a van to drive from Springfield to Chicago. On the road, C. and Andrew (who is autistic) got into a HORRIBLE fight. Now, Andrew is very autistic. He couldn't talk at all at the time, and he probably couldn't understand much, either.

But he had no problem understanding a fight with his brother in the car. We'd separated the two boys, putting Jimmy (big brother - also autistic) with C. in the middle seat and Andrew in the way-back, but they got into it anyway. I no longer remember how it started, though it may have begun with Andrew touching his brother. I do remember, vividly, the fight in full bloom. C. would scream, "I hate Andrew!" and, hearing this, Andrew, who in theory did not understand a word of English or any other language, would shriek with rage, lunge forward, and hit his brother -- hard -- on the back of the head. Then C. would scream in pain and fury and let loose with another "I hate Andrew!", and A. would shriek and hit him again, and so it went.

I'm pretty sure I was in there somewhere, too, shouting "Stop saying that!" at C.

We finally had to pull off the road and take the boys out of the car to separate them. We bought them junk food, put them back in the car, and drove off. They were beaming at their chips and candy, and at each other.

After that I used to say that every single part of an autistic child's brain has been messed up in some fashion except for the part that says "Hit my brother in the car."

So: model/rival. I can see it working with autistic kids.

Especially the rival part.

to track down:

Pepperberg, I.M. and Sherman, D. V. (2000). Proposed use of two-part interactive modeling as a means to increase functional skills in children with a variety of disabilities. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 12(4), 213-20.

Pepperberg, I.M. and Sherman, D.V. (2002) Use of two-part interactive modeling as a potential means to engender social behavior in children with various disabilities. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 15, 138-5.

Pepperberg, I.M. and Sherman, D.V. (2004) Use of two-part interactive modeling as a potential means to engender empathy in children within the autistic spectrum. IMFAR conference, Sacramento, CA.

the $100 distraction device

New research by economists Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches provides an answer: For many kids, computers are indeed more of a distraction than a learning opportunity. The two researchers surveyed households that applied to Euro 200, a voucher distribution program in Romania designed to help poor households defray the cost of buying a computer for their children. It turns out that kids in households lucky enough to get computer vouchers spent a lot less time watching TV—but that's where the good news ends. "Vouchered" kids also spent less time doing homework, got lower grades, and reported lower educational aspirations than the "unvouchered" kids.

Why giving poor kids computers doesn't improve scholastic achievement

Every school district in Westchester County now pays an administrator to purchase and "integrate" technology into our kids' schools.

Then, once your district has loaded up on technology, you have to pay someone to "coordinate" the technology. So that's two administrative positions. One person to buy and integrate, one person to coordinate.

Next year the computer science teacher at the high school will no longer teach. He will coordinate.

I wonder how much we're spending on repair and maintenance. Last year I read a Financial Times estimate saying that the price of purchase is 10% of the total cost of IT.

When Ed and I made our whirlwind tour of elite private schools last winter, we found very little technology, although we did see 3 schools where all the kids had laptops and all assignments and course materials were posted online.

The Dalton School, one of the most elite private schools in the country, doesn't have SMART Boards. Their money has gone into photography studios, darkrooms, carpentry shops, dance studios -- amazing.

See also: The Computer Delusion and High-Tech Heretic.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Liz Ditz on how to organize summer reading assignments

1. Take the total # of pages required to be read by the start of school.

2. Take the total # of days left in summer vacation.

3. Multiply the total # of days by [0.75 for a compliant kid] or [0.50 for a less compliant kid]

4. Divide #1 by #2

5. Make a chart showing desired progress vs. actual progress

6. Require kid to note actual progress

7. Declare "reading catch-up days" when desired vs. actual lags some unit behind.

8. Reward above-average progress

9. In the case of children who are expected to read more than 2 books, reward completion of each book

10. It is very helpful if one or both parents read the books at the same time as the kid, and invest in discussing plot points, character development, response to the books, etc.

11. Novels with difficult textural features (dialect instead of standard spelling, complex narrative structures) may require extra parental input, such as listening to the book in recorded format, story-board mapping, etc.

Great advice.

I was already doing 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10 -- but I completely forgot the importance of 5 & 6.

Charting your own progress is a long-established principle in behaviorism. Years ago, after I'd gained weight from taking a particular medication I read everything I could find on dieting & discovered that the sole approach to dieting that actually worked was: recording everything you ate. I don't think these studies included charting your progress, but there's no question self-charting is important.

C. is ahead of the game thus far. He has 2,525 to read with 10 weeks to accomplish this feat, and he's read 617 pages with 8 weeks left to go. That's good, because he's reading the easy stuff now. Guns, Germs & Steel, The Odyssey, and the Book of Genesis are going to be a lot more difficult.

A friend of Ed's gave us a great idea. She drove to Ithaca from Washington D.C. and listened to Ian McKellan's reading of The Odyssey along the way. We got the CDs & Chris & I will listen to McKellan while reading along in the book. (He couldn't follow McKellan without the text in front of him.)

We also have to finish Megawords 5 (can't believe we got through an entire school year without finishing the book), and get going on Analyze, Organize, Write by Whimbey and Linden -- a fantastic book. (Amazon has used copies on sale for as low as five bucks at the moment.)

I've also told him he has to spend some time doing ALEKS this summer...

That chart thingie is starting to get complicated.