kitchen table math, the sequel: 7/27/08 - 8/3/08

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Teacher YOU Training Institute

This is a good development:
Education Week
Published Online: February 5, 2008
Published in Print: February 6, 2008

College and Charter Groups Team Up to Train Teachers

Leaders plan to expand pilot to include educators in noncharter schools.

By Bess Keller

New York

David M. Steiner ricochets from one media device to another in a classroom here, coaxing his two dozen students through a lecture on Plato with jottings in English and ancient Greek, a map of post-Classical Athens, and a stick-figure diagram of the philosopher’s famous cave allegory.

It’s not your usual Saturday-morning fare, especially for these students, who Monday through Friday put in long hours as teachers themselves. They have come to Hunter College’s education school for the day. As the pilot group for a new program being devised by their charter school employers and Hunter, they expect to earn master’s degrees in elementary education down the road.

“Our single largest challenge is … people, the challenges around human capital,” said Norman Atkins, the chief executive officer of Uncommon Schools, one of the three charter-management organizations behind the venture.

To recruit, keep, and improve the best people, he said, the three groups needed to come up with a better way for their busy teachers to earn the provisional certification and later the master’s degree required by New York state. Leaders of Uncommon Schools, KIPP in New York City, and Achievement First are confident that such a program will have broad appeal in this city, and envision admitting some 500 students a year in 2011 to the two-year program. Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein has blessed the plan.

The venture, tentatively called Teacher YOU Training Institute, follows other efforts germinated outside universities to boost the power of teacher preparation. The High Tech High charter-management organization in San Diego has notably started its own teacher-licensing program and will soon grant master’s degrees, for instance.

True Collaboration

What sets the New York institute apart is the close collaboration between the entrepreneurial groups and Hunter College, the City University of New York’s premier teacher-preparation school. And, it might be said, the involvement of Mr. Steiner, the school’s dean and a scholar known for his cutting criticisms of the teacher-training status quo.

Five years ago, as an education professor at Boston University, Mr. Steiner unleashed a minor tempest with a study of the coursework required for aspiring teachers at 16 leading education schools. He concluded that it was mostly “intellectually barren,” often ideologically skewed to the left of center, and just not very useful in the classroom.

The Hunter dean now has a chance to show how it should be done. According to his collaborators, who said they approached just about every university with a teacher-preparation program in the New York metropolitan area, he singularly embraced the new approach.

“It was hard to find a partner,” David Levin, who heads the KIPP charter schools in New York City and helped found the Knowledge Is Power Program....

It’s Hunter’s gain to work with schools “that have among the best performance in the city,” offered the dean, who decided to teach the Foundations of Education course himself—his first go at it in seven years.

That course and the 10 others required by the state are being “redesigned from scratch,” say the institute’s leaders, to fit the needs of teachers in the high-expectations climate of the three charter groups, which together run more than two dozen schools serving children from low-income families in New York and other Northeastern cities.


The teaching course included such in-the-trenches advice as how to distribute and collect papers in the least time possible (along with an analysis of the resources saved, such as 67 hours of teaching time in a year) and how to use disciplinary measures fairly and effectively.


As the afternoon goes on, Mr. Steiner, who studied politics and philosophy at Oxford and Harvard, seems to overflow with ways long-dead Plato can speak to the teachers occasionally fidgeting in their chairs. Would the philosopher, he asks, countenance the image of teaching as pouring stuff into kids’ heads? [ed.: I would like more pouring, please] Not at all, he contends. On the other hand, Plato was certainly a “sage on the stage,” not the “guide on the side” often commended to aspiring teachers in education schools.

“Education is about the exemplar,” Mr. Steiner advises before rushing to his next point.


Besides being tailored to hours available to the teachers, the program is almost free, thanks to an arrangement that the institute has made with AmeriCorps, the federal program for putting young people to work in community service.


Reflecting the results-oriented, data-driven nature of the three organizations’ schools, the institute’s leaders plan to make the final condition of earning a degree proof that the teachers’ students have grown academically. [next project: getting rid of the word "grow" used in lieu of "achieve," "learn," or "progress"]

“We’re developing standards of student-learning gains,” Mr. Atkins of Uncommon Schools said. “We’re looking for meaningful data that students … are learning.”


In addition to teachers from the three founding charter-management organizations, the students would include teachers in other New York City schools, both charter and noncharter, most of them from the New York Teaching Fellows program run by the district to bring in high-quality beginners.

“The people from our network were seeing the training needs of our teachers, but we also felt we were developing a level of expertise we wanted to share with as many teachers as possible,” said KIPP’s Mr. Levin.

Vol. 27, Issue 22, Page 10

k9sasha on holistic teaching
Teacher YOU Training Institute

Friday, August 1, 2008

SuperMemo redux

It just occurred to me I should find out whether the SuperMemo fellow has anything to say about IQ and learning.

He does.

Unfortunately, it's a bit more than I want to read at the moment.

the middle 95%

While we're on the subject of college-for-all.... I found all kinds of interesting books while trawling Amazon today:

“After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn if provided with appropriate prior and current conditions of learning. This generalization does not appear to apply to the 2% or 3% of individuals who have severe emotional and physical difficulties that impair their learning. At the other extreme there are about 1% or 2% of individuals who appear to learn in such unusually capable ways that they may be exceptions to the theory. At this stage of the research it applies most clearly to the middle 95% of a school population.

The middle 95% of school students become very similar in terms of their measured achievement, learning ability, rate of learning, and motivation for further learning when provided with favorable learning conditions. One example of such favorable learning conditions is mastery learning where the students are helped to master each learning unit before proceeding to a more advanced learning task. In general, the average student taught under mastery-learning procedures achieves at a level above 85% of students taught under conventional instructional conditions. An even more extreme result has been obtained when tutoring was used as the primary method of instruction. Under tutoring, the average student performs better than 98% of students taught by conventional group instruction, even though both groups of students performed at similar levels in terms of relevant aptitude and achievement before the instruction began.

The central thesis of Human Characteristics and School Learning (Bloom, 1976) is the potential equality of most human beings for school learning. We believe that the same thesis is likely to apply to all learning, whether in schools or outside of schools. At least, it leads us to speculate that there must be an enormous potential pool of talent available in the United States. It is likely that some combinations of the home, the teachers, the schools, and the society may in large part determine what portions of this potential pool of talent become developed. It is also likely that these same forces ma, in part, be responsible for much of the great wastage of human potentiality.

Developing Talent in Young People
by Benjamin Bloom
pp. 4-5

Just to mix things up a bit!

And see: how to build a fast learner.

turning point - ?

In Cheating our Kids, published in 2005, Joe Williams predicted that the teachers' unions would lose power in the Democratic Party once the old leadership of civil rights groups was replaced by the next generation. Younger leaders, Williams said, would break ranks with teachers' unions. (paraphrasing from memory)

In the NY Times today:
Civil rights groups have begun a welcome attack on a House bill that would temporarily exempt the states from the all-important accountability requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law in 2002. The attack, led by powerful groups like the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, was unexpected, given that the nation’s two big teachers’ unions actually hold seats on the conference’s executive committee. Recent events suggest that the civil rights establishment generally is ready to break with the teachers’ unions and take an independent stand on education reform.

(via Flypaper)

Meanwhile, the headline in Education Week reads: New AFT Leader Vows to Bring Down NCLB:
Randi Weingarten, the new president of the American Federation of Teachers, declared war on the No Child Left Behind Act in her first speech to delegates during the union’s biennial convention, saying it has become, for many members, “a four-letter word.”

Ms. Weingarten, who is expected to become a leading voice as the federal law comes up for reauthorization, said “overhauling” it would be the aft’s most urgent priority.

NCLB has outlived whatever usefulness it ever had. Conceived by accountants, drafted by lawyers, and distorted by ideologues, it is too badly broken to be fixed,” she said a day after union delegates voted to do away with the current law and build new legislation based on the previous Elementary and Secondary Education Act.


In her speech, the new president also called for a federal law that promotes community schools to serve needy children that provide all the services and activities they and their families need.

“Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance ... and suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and counseling clinics, or other services the community needs,” Ms. Weingarten said. “For example, they might offer neighborhood residents English language instruction, GED programs, or legal assistance.”

So: she's going to bring down NCLB and expand her empire from its current 10-month school year to 12-hour school days, recreation programs, medical and counseling clinics, ELA and GED programs, and legal assistance.

Who said the way to win a war is to make it bigger?

Goldin, Katz and fans

Goldin and Katz make two largely correct diagnostic points in The Race Between Education and Technology; that the United States got a significant head start on economic development because it expanded access to secondary and post-secondary education sooner than other countries, and we are no longer ahead in that regard. Their prescription, however, is largely incorrect. We can't get ahead of other countries by increasing the number of Americans graduating from college, because nearly all of the students who can do so are already trying.

Joanne Jacobs posted on this in the context of David Brooks' NYTimes column and I left this comment there:

If no European country in 1950 had more than 30 percent of its older teens in school, that was an inefficiency that the United States could exploit to its advantage. But if every young person who can benefit from staying in school long enough to graduate is already doing so, there’s nothing further to exploit.

We can argue about what the ideal high school graduation rate should be, that is, what the criterion for graduation should be, and what needs to be done to ensure every child who is capable of meeting the criterion has resources and opportunity to do so. But it is delusional to believe that we can have both a meaningful criterion for graduation and a 100 percent graduation rate.

I suspect the true graduation rate should be between 80 and 85 percent. Maybe we could push it to 90, subject to the law of diminishing returns, if we poured every possible dollar into the last few marginal students — though, as Heckman has demonstrated, we’d get much higher returns if we invested the money when they were little.

Something similar operates all along the line of returns to increasing education. There are non-economic returns to more education, but they don’t depend on credentials. If everyone who is capable of benefiting economically from higher education is already able to earn a degree, there is no further inefficiency for the U.S. to exploit.

If other countries have larger percentages of their populations who are capable of benefiting from more years of education than the U.S. does, well, what are we supposed to do about that?


Brooks cites economist James Heckman in support of early intervention, but Heckman's point is not that early intervention is a panacea, but that whatever it can accomplish will be most effective if it's done early rather than late.

I haven't read the Heckman paper Brooks is citing, but Heckman has said -- very circumspectly -- that African Americans and Hispanics begin school with similar performance deficits, but that Hispanics are much more likely to make them up.

From a 2005 column I wrote:

. . .
"Our analysis of the Hispanic data illuminates the traditional study of black-white differences and casts doubt on many conventional explanations of these differences since they do not apply to Hispanics who also suffer from many of the same disadvantages."

I know this is contrary to just about everything you've heard or read, so you're asking, "Who are these people?" They're Pedro Carneiro, University College London; James J. Heckman, University of Chicago, American Bar Foundation and University College London (and winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in economics for developing the kind of technical statistical analysis that undergirds this paper) and Dimitriy V. Masterov. The paper was written for the Institute for Labor Market Policy Evaluation, a part of the Swedish Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications, in Uppsala, Sweden.

The paper is "Labor market discrimination and racial differences in premarket factors" (pdf file) and it's at on the Web.

Steve Sailer has written about the Brooks column. See also this post at the population genetics blog gnxp.

(For a bonus, the immediately preceding post dissects the media coverage of the math/gender study.)

worse before it gets better

from K9 Sasha:

There isn't going to be positive reform any time soon. Every single one of my classes for a Reading Endorsement has pushed whole language and many of them have also denigrated phonics and teaching skills systematically. The book for my current class is titled, Readers and Writers with a Difference: A Holistic Approach to Teaching Struggling Readers and Writers.

This is what new reading specialists are learning (at least in the state of Oregon) so this is what schools will be doing.

They do what they do.

Speaking of which, I came across this study in my travels yesterday:


The aim of this study was to determine whether explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonemically based decoding skills would be an effective intervention strategy for children with early reading difficulties in a whole language instructional environment. Twenty-four 6- and 7-year-old struggling readers were randomly assigned to an intervention or control group, with the intervention group being divided into four groups of three children each. The intervention program was carried out over a period of 24 weeks and comprised 56 highly sequenced, semiscripted lessons in phonemic awareness and alphabetic coding skills delivered by a teacher aide who received training and ongoing support from a remedial reading specialist. Posttests results showed that the intervention group significantly outperformed the control group on measures of phonemic awareness, pseudoword decoding, context free word recognition, and reading comprehension. Two-year follow-up data indicated that the positive effects of the intervention program were not only maintained but had generalized to word recognition accuracy in connected text.

Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonemically based decoding skills as an intervention strategy for struggling readers in whole language classrooms
Janice F. Ryder, William E. Tunmer, Keith T. Greaney

This study was done in New Zealand -- looks interesting.

I've got to re-boot; will post some passages concerning whole language in New Zealand later.

Holistic Teaching

My current, and last, class to obtain a Reading Specialist endorsement is Teaching Reading to Special Needs Students.

Here is the publisher's description of the book as provided on
When the first edition of Readers and Writers with a Difference appeared in 1988, it shattered the myth that whole language instruction was too unstructured and inexplicit to help remedial and learning disabled students. By providing specific assessment and instructional strategies, it was one of the first texts to show that struggling readers and writers could, indeed, benefit from holistic methods-not just in the resource room, but in the regular classroom as well. [Great, just what we need, more whole language for those students who didn't learn with whole language the first time around.]

Today, as more and more students with learning problems are entering mainstream classroom settings, the models presented by Rhodes and Dudley-Marling are more cogent than ever. But the framework upon which whole language theory rests has greatly evolved since the first edition was published and has also come under increasing attack. This second edition renews the case for whole language theory, taking into account the various developments in language arts over the past eight years. Included are new and expanded sections on literacy theory, instruction and assessment, and literacy as social practice; and a reconsideration of how teachers, administrators, and parents might work and learn collaboratively.

I cannot emphasize enough how frustrating I have found my reading endorsement classes. I can't wait to finish this last one and be done (hopefully) choking down the unsupported garbage that passes for reading pedagogy. There is real research showing real results using Direct Instruction and its ilk, that is not only ignored, but denigrated, by progressivists. I'm tired of "learning" all this useless tripe, and I'm totally fed up with it. I still want to earn a Master's degree in some area of education, but I'm not going to continue with my current university. The Educational Research class I took was the last straw (some day I'll post about it). If anyone knows a good, research based Master's program online, please let me know about it.

Teacher YOU Training Institute
k9sasha on holistic teaching

Redshirting Kindergartners

Here's a story from today's Slate magazine about redshirting kindergartners.

"In addition, the trend toward older kindergarten among well-off families may be fueling the trend toward state laws that delay kindergarten for everyone. As Elizabeth Weil noted in a great piece on redshirting in the New York Times Magazine last year, almost half the states have pushed back their birthday cutoffs since 1975, several of them fairly recently."

"It's easy to see what the states are up to: They're worried about test scores, and they figure that older kids plus academic kindergarten will produce better ones."

"The increasing availability of public pre-K becomes, then, not the additional year of school that early childhood educators and advocates wanted for families that can't afford private preschool. Instead, pre-K, when it's offered, just replaces what the first year of kindergarten used to be."

""There is no evidence of a lasting benefit to education or earnings from being older than one's classmates," they (Deming and Dynarski) write. Another recent study, by Sandra Black of UCLA, crunched data from Norway and actually found a small boost in IQ for starting school early, but little effect on educational attainment—how well kids do in school in the long run. The place where redshirting is a proven advantage is the sports field. For example, 60 percent more Major League Baseball players are born in August than in July, and the birthday cutoff for youth baseball is July 31. But athletics, Dynarski points out, isn't academics."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Race, and a model composition for writing instruction

The Race Between Education and Technology is getting attention, which is a relief. I was worried the book was going to drop like a stone to the bottom of the pond, because, politically speaking, it is betwixt and between. Goldin and Katz reject the liberal view that the policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were and are (primarily) responsible for rising inequality, while embracing the liberal view that education lowers inequality and that nearly everyone can go to college.

This is why I think of the book as revolutionary. I'm not sure it's right to call the book paradigm-shifting, but it's close. I was blown away by the opening chapters. (I stalled midway through the book, when I veered off to read the Book of Genesis, the first 12 chapters of The Odyssey, and Guns, Germs, and Steel. Now that that's over with, I'll be going back to The Race.)



Tyler Cowan says The Race is "the most important book on modern U.S. inequality to date," so I am vindicated. I will stick with my view that The Race is....the most important book on modern U.S. inequality to date.

That works.

Thus far I've seen two solid "con" reactions, one from Arnold Kling and the other from George Leef (have yet to read Leef's closely), but for the moment, I want to post a link to a fantastically good article on The Race: Supply Side Education by David Glenn. Glenn's piece is so good it could be taught in journalism courses. Precisely because The Race is so expectation-defying, it is not an easy book to write about, and he nailed it:

In a 1996 television interview that was partly shot in an elementary-school computer lab, Laura D'Andrea Tyson, who was then chair of Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, tried to explain rising inequality in America.

"In the early 1970s," Tyson said, "a college graduate earned something like 45 percent more than a high-school graduate. Today a college graduate earns 84 percent more than a high-school graduate. What's happened is the technology has increased the demands for higher skills."

Computers did it. Among both Democrats and Republicans, that is one of the most frequently cited explanations for the post-1975 spike in American wage inequality. As the story goes, information technology has transformed almost every job, increasing employers' thirst for workers with advanced skills and college credentials. In the lingo of economists, this is "skills-biased technological change."

But that story is at best a half-truth, according to a new book by two professors of economics at Harvard University. The authors, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, don't deny that American employers' demand for skills has been rising. But they say that that demand has been rising at a roughly constant rate for the last century. Contrary to popular belief, they argue, the personal computer and the Internet have not caused a sharp leap in employers' demand for skill.

So if demand doesn't explain the recent rise in inequality, what does? Look to the supply side of the equation, Goldin and Katz say: America simply isn't educating its citizens the way it used to.

In The Race Between Education and Technology (Belknap/Harvard University Press), Goldin and Katz emphasize that plenty of skills-biased technological change occurred long before anyone had heard of Bill Gates. The mass introduction of electric power in the 1910s, for example, increased the complexity of many jobs and increased employers' demand for skill. [for me, their analysis of the returns to education for blue collar workers early in the century is one of the most fascinating parts of the book -- will get passages posted soon]

But that rising demand, in Goldin and Katz's account, was outpaced during most of the 20th century by a soaring supply of educated workers. Between 1915 and 1950, the national high-school-graduation rate rose from roughly 15 percent to roughly 60 percent, and college attendance also spiked. As their numbers ballooned, educated workers could no longer command so much more in wages. Between 1915 and 1950, the college wage premium (the amount by which college graduates outearn people who hold only a high-school diploma) and the high-school wage premium (the amount by which high-school graduates out-earn high-school dropouts) both fell sharply. The postwar period famously saw a broad prosperity, with wages growing for people of all educational levels.

Then, around 1970, something changed. High-school graduation rates flattened near 70 percent, where they remain. College attendance continued to grow, but the college-completion rate — that is, the percentage of a population cohort that earns a bachelor's degree — stagnated for more than a decade.


Demonstrating that the demand for skill has been roughly constant for a century is a tall order, and it's the element of Goldin and Katz's book that is most likely to draw skepticism from their colleagues. [so far, I haven't seen this] Their argument draws partly on data from the Iowa state census, which was one of the few during the first half of the century to collect detailed statistics about educational attainment.... [Barry Garelick used data from Iowa in his analysis of traditional math education, too]

Goldin and Katz concede that institutional features — trade policies, labor laws, and so on — have also helped to shape American inequality over the last century. But as a rough cut, they say, the simple supply and demand of skilled labor — the race between education and technology — tells most of the story.

"Education has not kept pace," says Katz. "In the early 20th century, we created almost universal access to high school. We have not done the same with college, which essentially we would need to have done to have kept this sort of widespread prosperity present."

One of the book's central questions is this: Given that the wage premiums for education have grown so strongly during the last 35 years, why haven't more young people responded by earning degrees?

One answer, Goldin and Katz say, is that the short-term barriers to college are steeper than they once were. "Among the college-ready," Katz says, "we need to make sure that they have the financial support to get into college. [emphasis added] We do an OK job with that, but we could do better. More than half of undergraduates work more than 20 hours a week. The loan burdens are tremendous. Tuition has been rising. It's clear that those things are taking a toll."

A more difficult answer, Katz says, has to do with the weaknesses of American public-school education. "There are a myriad of possible reasons for that," he says. "Some people say it's all about resources. Some people say we need to improve incentives for parents and teachers. Clearly, over the long run, early-childhood intervention programs may be very important. [clearly?] We need a continuum of investments. But per dollar, we're not doing so well in the K-12 system in the U.S. these days."

In a working paper released earlier this year, three Yale University economists — Joseph G. Altonji, Prashant Bharadwaj, and Fabian Lange — suggested that the slowdown in American educational attainment and skill development might be even worse than it appears.


Goldin and Katz, meanwhile, are continuing to develop their model and are scrutinizing the recent growth of wage inequality within the group of people who hold college degrees. "There has been much more growth of inequality among college graduates than among noncollege workers," Katz says. Only some people, he says, are coming out of college with the high-level abstract-reasoning skills that fully complement the new information technologies and command high salaries. Workers with "midlevel" skills, by contrast, are more likely to see their tasks simply replaced by computers.

Does that mean, then, that too many people are going to college, and that the rewards of a B.A. are overrated, as some commentators have recently suggested?

"That's absolutely wrong," Katz says. "The reason we know that is the following: It's true that there's growing inequality among college graduates. But there's shrinking inequality among noncollege workers. The market is very bad for people with only a high-school diploma — they're not doing much better than people who dropped out in the eighth grade. So the return [on investment] to college is still very high. Even if you wind up in the bottom half of the college group, you're still much better off than in the top half of the high-school group."

If you're at all interested in this subject, it's worth reading the whole article -- and anyone who's teaching high school or college-level composition might want to consider having students read and analyze Green's work, too. (I would pay particular attention to Green's ability to assess and speak to the reader's assumptions.)

I have to get to the city, so will knock off for now.

Will be back with thoughts on Kling, Leef, and David Brooks' column on the book later.

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences
Jimmy graduates

The anemic response of skill investment to skill premium growth
The declining American high school graduation rate: Evidence, sources, and consequences
Pushy parents raise more successful kids

The Race Between Education and Technology book review
The Race Between Ed & Tech: excerpt & TOC & SAT scores & public loss of confidence in the schools
The Race Between Ed & Tech: the Great Compression
the Great Compression, part 2
ED in '08: America's schools
comments on Knowledge Schools
the future
the stick kids from mud island
educated workers and technology diffusion
declining value of college degree
Goldin, Katz and fans
best article thus far: Chronicle of Higher Education on The Race
Tyler Cowan on The Race (NY Times)
happiness inequality down...
an example of lagging technology diffusion in the U.S.

the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
Bloomington High School & "path dependency"
the election debate that should have been

the deep

This is off-topic, but I'm posting anyway.

One of Ed's colleagues has lost his young son in a white-water rafting accident. As I understand it, the kayak capsized and the little boy, who was wearing a life jacket, was caught underneath something in the water and couldn't surface. No one could see him beneath the white foam.

I had no idea -- none -- that white water rafting could be so dangerous. Our tennis teacher told me yesterday that his college roommate lost a friend in a white water rafting accident when she fell into the water and had a heart attack, apparently due to the shock of going from the 100-degree temperature in the kayak to 68-degree water. This was a college student in her late teens or early twenties.

I bring this up only because if I had young kids I'd want to re-jigger my sense of the danger that may be involved. I think the family was on a packaged trip; they didn't go out and do this on their own.

you know you need a vacation when...

I've been pulling articles for the book proposal I'm working on, which has to do with impulsive/compulsive behaviors, and was in the midst of cutting and pasting a long interview with Jerald Block on the subject of videogames & Columbia, when I came across a page from Eric Harris's yearbook.

My first thought was, "Why can't the schools teach decent handwriting?"

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Phonics Movies!

I've been busy lately making new movies.

My sight word movie, must watching for anyone who has children learning sight words at school, is finally finished and is online at YouTube. (It was hard to find a YouTube name--almost everything I tried was taken, probably by those millions of people uploading cat videos. Isobella was my Spanish name in Spanish Class in High School.)

And, I've updated a few more of my phonics lessons. When they're all done updating, they'll have good enough audio and video quality to start mass producing DVDs and CDs for churches or other groups that want to teach with them. If you want a good overview of the difference between short and long vowel sounds and when words will have each sound, lesson 14 is a good resource. The lightbulb goes on for many of my students after watching this lesson. I've updated 15 of 32 lessons so far.

The math people are evidently more geeky, there is a lot of good stuff out there on YouTube. There are not as many phonics people that are technically oriented, it seems.

My movies are actually pretty low tech and boring, but they get the point across. If people want flashy and songs, they can pay hundreds of dollars. They can get boring for free.

However, I may need to throw in some cats to up my YouTube views and get some stars.

college readiness Class of 2007

Percent of [ACT-Tested] Students Meeting College Benchmarks

Number of students tested: 1,300,599

English 69%

Mathematics 43%

Reading 53%

Science 28%

Meeting All Four 23%

Half are ready to do college-level reading ----

by Race/Ethnicity: Number Tested, % of Test-taking Population, Average Score

African American/Black - 152,412 / 12% / 17.0
American Indian/Alaska Native - 14,044 / 1% / 18.9
Caucasian American/White - 779,147 / 60% / 22.1
Hispanic - 93,137 / 7% / 18.7
Asian American/Pacific Islander - 42,257 / 3% / 22.6
Other/No Response 219,602 / 17% / 21.6

(pdf file)
HS Graduating Class of 2007
National Report National
Total Students in Report: 1,300,599

I love those 219,602 ACT test takers who are Other or No Response --- !

Jonathan Alter on education

The United States now ranks 25th among 30 industrialized countries in math. "If I told you your basketball team finished in 25th place, you'd be outraged," says former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. When the landmark "A Nation at Risk" report was issued 25 years ago, the education system was ailing, but the United States was still No. 1 in college-graduation rates. Now we are No. 21. "We simply have not progressed," says former Colorado governor Roy Romer, who heads a commission that recently updated the report. "The rest of the world has." For example, the average European nation has 13 more school days than we do.

The irony is, we know what works to close the achievement gap. At the 60 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, more than 80 percent of 16,000 randomly selected low-income students go to college, four times the national average for poor kids. While KIPP isn't fully replicable (not enough effective teachers to go around), every low-income school should be measured by how close it gets to that model, where kids go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and part of the summer, and teachers are held strictly accountable for showing student improvement.

Railing against the tyranny of tests is fashionable, but it isn't going to save our children and our economy in the 21st century. Nor will more money for important programs like art and music. The more basic problem is that we have no way of determining which teachers can actually teach. That's right: teaching is arguably the only profession in the country with ironclad job security and a well-honed hostility to measuring results. Because of union resistance, NCLB measures only schools, not individual teachers. The result is that school districts fire on average only one teacher a year for poor performance. Before recent reforms (which have boosted test scores), New York City dismissed only 10 of 55,000 teachers annually. What business could survive that way?

Teachers unions bristle at the business comparison. But they should listen to Andy Stern, head of the nation's fastest growing union, the SEIU: "Education is like any business. You need a return on investment. Outcomes do matter. Paying people according to outcomes does matter. I don't care if a teacher has a high-school degree, college or a Ph.D. if he or she can produce results." Stern is worried that if his brethren in the teachers unions don't embrace accountability now, "parents will vote with their choices" [ed.: check] and the unions will begin dying, as they already are in reform-minded cities like Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.


Obama's right that the NCLB-inspired testing mania is out of control, but wrong to give teachers "ownership over the design of better assessment tools." That's a recipe for no assessment, because the teachers unions, for all their lip service, don't believe their members should be judged on performance. They still believe that protecting incompetents is more important than educating children.

Obama claims that he's bold on this topic. But he hasn't been direct enough about reforming NCLB so that it revolves around clear measurements of classroom-teacher effectiveness. Research shows that this is the only variable (not class size or school size) that can close the achievement gap. Give poor kids from broken homes the best teachers, and most learn. Period.


He should offer federal money for salary increases, but make them conditional on differential pay (paying teachers based on performance and willingness to work in underserved schools, which surveys show many teachers favor) and on support for the elimination of tenure. And the next time he addresses them, he should tell the unions they must change their focus from job security and the protection of ineffective teachers to higher pay and true accountability for performance—or face extinction.

Obama’s No-Brainer on Education
Published Jul 12, 2008


Karen Chenoweth on the Loveless report

The really bad news is in eighth-grade reading, where the top performers stayed absolutely steady and the bottom performers dropped a net of three points.

This is where we need to be sounding the alarm, because this is further evidence that we really haven’t figured out:

1) middle school [I'll say]

2) how to help those kids who have mastered the mechanics of reading to understand material that is more sophisticated than the relatively simple fourth-grade reading selections. If there is an argument that schools don’t have a broad enough or rich enough curriculum, the evidence lies in the eighth-grade reading results. Once basic decoding skills are mastered, reading comprehension is heavily dependent on vocabulary and background knowledge, which are taught in science, social studies, and the arts. It is a longstanding problem that too many middle schools don’t bother teaching much of any of those subjects, and one that we as a nation need to tackle.

Good News (and some Bad): A Report Card on U.S. Education

Was it the NY Times that called middle school the black hole of public education?

I don't remember.

one more reason why Google isn't research

In a research study, when 48 students were shown this web site, 90 percent of them missed the joke and thought it provided reliable information.

Further Reading on Reading
Literacy Debate Online, R U Really Reading?
Published: July 27, 2008

pretty is as pretty does

Ugly Criminals (pdf file)

Using data from three waves of Add Health we find that, consistent with theoretical expectations, being very attractive reduces a young adult’s (ages 18-26) propensity for criminal activity and being unattractive increases it. A variety of tests demonstrate that this result is not because beauty is acting as a proxy for socio-economic status. Being very attractive is also positively associated with wages, and with adult vocabulary test scores, which suggests the possibility that beauty may have an impact on human capital formation. We demonstrate that, especially for females, holding constant current beauty, high school beauty (pre-labor market beauty) has a separate impact on crime, and that high school beauty is correlated with variables that gauge various aspects of high school experience, such as GPA, suspension or having being expelled from school, and problems with teachers.

These results suggest two handicaps faced by unattractive individuals. First, a labor market penalty provides a direct incentive for unattractive individuals toward criminal activity. Second, the level of beauty in high school has an effect on criminal propensity 7-8 years later, which seems to be due to the impact of the level of beauty in high school on human capital formation, although this second avenue seems to be effective for females only. These findings are robust to numerous specification and robustness checks.

Somebody should tell the Broader, Bolder people about this.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Math harder for Girls, NY Times

Math Is Harder for Girls
. . . and also, it seems, for the New York Times.

The New York Times is determined to show that women are discriminated against in the sciences; too bad the facts say otherwise. A new study has “found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests,” claims a July 25 article by Tamar Lewin—thus, the underrepresentation of women on science faculties must result from bias. Actually, the study, summarized in the July 25 issue of Science, shows something quite different: while boys’ and girls’ average scores are similar, boys outnumber girls among students in both the highest and the lowest score ranges. Either the Times is deliberately concealing the results of the study or its reporter cannot understand the most basic science reporting.

That pretty much sums up the article, but you can read the whole thing if you wish, there are a few funny lines, including one about the other end of the curve, with more boys as "math dunces."

executive function is genetic

well, well, well

who would have predicted this:

Recent psychological and neuropsychological research suggests that executive functions—the cognitive control processes that regulate thought and action—are multifaceted and that different types of executive functions are correlated but separable. The present multivariate twin study of 3 executive functions (inhibiting dominant responses, updating working memory representations, and shifting between task sets), measured as latent variables, examined why people vary in these executive control abilities and why these abilities are correlated but separable from a behavioral genetic perspective. Results indicated that executive functions are correlated because they are influenced by a highly heritable (99%) common factor that goes beyond general intelligence or perceptual speed, and they are separable because of additional genetic influences unique to particular executive functions. This combination of general and specific genetic influences places executive functions among the most heritable psychological traits. These results highlight the potential of genetic approaches for uncovering the biological underpinnings of executive functions and suggest a need for examining multiple types of executive functions to distinguish different levels of genetic influences.

Individual Differences in Executive Functions Are Almost Entirely Genetic in Origin
Naomi P. Friedman, Akira Miyake, Susan E. Young, John C. DeFries, Robin P. Corley, and John K. Hewitt
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
2008, Vol. 137, No. 2, 201–225

Haven't read the article yet; when I have, and can (possibly) translate it into plain English, I'll post more.

Four thoughts for now:

Number one: so I guess tracking kids by executive function instead of ability to learn, as our middle school does, could be considered just the teensiest bit unfair.

Number two: if your kids are going to be attending a public school that tracks by executive function instead of ability to learn, redshirting your sons is a very good idea. Redshirting your daughters may be a good idea, too. Or just bagging the whole thing and teaching them at home: an excellent idea!

Number three: yet another piece of evidence that all those broader, bolder plans, many of which amount to nothing more than the intention to teach executive function (aka non-cognitive skills) to the children of the poor, are doomed to failure.*

Number four: constructivism must die.

The only folks on the planet who want to construct their own knowledge, and who can construct their own knowledge, are people with executive function to spare.

Ditto for projects.

wrong again

To tell the truth, I wouldn't have predicted this finding. No way would I have said EF would be 99% heritable. I think the highest heritability estimate for IQ I've seen is 80%, and I believe the "official" estimate is still 70%.

So....I would have put executive function at 70 to 80%.

My guess is this finding won't hold up. Last I heard (this was a while back, so the consensus could have changed), there were almost no aspects of life with 99% heritability. As I understand it, genes are always expressed inside an environment, whether that environment is social or biological ("biological" includes the presence or absence of other genes), and environments vary.

If readers who've studied genetics happen to stop by, I'd appreciate hearing whether this notion is evolving in some way I've missed.

Differential Development of Executive Functions in Adolescence - poster comparing boys & girls (pdf file)

* pls take this with a grain of salt: the bigger, bolder plan is doomed to failure, but not (necessarily) because executive function can't be taught

Sunday, July 27, 2008

exo on Power Teaching

Knowing a bit about exo, I consider this a very strong recommendation:

Hey, I used it.))) I modified it and called a "Power Learning". (Also found it online).

I introduced as an experiment into all four of my 8th grade advanced classes, which I taught the Living Environment Regents to in the 2nd Marking Period. I used couple of things: The initial call "Oh, sweet mama, how exited I am to learn... (whatever the aim says)", "WoW" for correct answer, and "It's cool" for incorrect; "class"-"yes" call was used to get the attention during the lesson. I also used the points system (+ point for timely and uniformed call, and - for lost attention). 5 pluses added to 1 percent up in everyone's marking period grade, 5 minuses brought everyone's grade down.

We also set up a chart, where we compared the unit quizzes results (using power learning system - experimental group, prior to this - control; all four classes also were compared to each other based on the plus points collected and avarage test results. In addition to averege, we check for number of students in each class whose results were above 90. I used the same tests for all classes and taught the same material at almost the same pace.)

Now, discipline improved drastically. It was much easier to get and maintain their attention. I dropped "Wow" and "It's cooL" responses pretty soon, since it seemed to direct their attention from the actial answer to just joy of saying "Wow."

Most of the students greatly enjoyed this experiment and even tried to make other teachers to use this method. Some (the most advanced kids, who can keep their attention on the subject without "dog training" complained in the beginning, but we agreed that at least it was beneficial since this method allowed other students to be attentive and the whole class could move along faster. (The hypothesis for our experiment was that "Power Learning" allows students to pay attention better, and thus increases retention of the material as demonstrated by increasing number of students who can achieve 90 and above and increase of avereage grade on tests).

I kept the system even after the experiment was completed (we collected data for 2 marking periods) because the students insisted. And results did clearly demonstrated that more students in each class were getting 90 and above, and almost everybody's results improved as compared to when I did not use this method. Of course, the results were better for classes who collected more pluses, than where students still manage to loose attention.

Which simply shows, that discipline is important for learning, and this system is just a tool. There are other tools, too. But in many cases they are not achievable in our public schools, where administration does not support teachers, and students have no consequences for their actions.

I believe it. Engelmann uses choral responses (I've forgotten his term for it); KIPP uses call-and-response, Protestant churches have always used responsive readings. These things work.

Exo -- if you're still around -- what do you think, specifically, about the gestures & the peer teaching?

Are those elements important?

Or would the approach work just as well without?

This is exciting.

Power Teaching
exo on Power Teaching

Steven Levitt shows how to write a summary

Now this is a summary:
[The Race Between Education and Technology] tells the story of how the United States got a head start on education relative to other countries, how that head start helped us to achieve economic dominance, and how we’ve now lost that educational advantage.

Goldin and Katz on Education, Technology, and Growth
by Steven D. Leavitt
June 30, 2008

That's it. That's the book. In one sentence.

Here's the whole thing:

It tells the story of how the United States got a head start on education relative to other countries, how that head start helped us to achieve economic dominance, and how we’ve now lost that educational advantage. It also details the fascinating interplay between technology and education — how the forces of supply and demand have swung back and forth on those dimensions, and how much of the major changes we have seen in the economy can be explained by just a few key factors.

Of course, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that a famous economist can pull off a two-sentence summary of an entire book, not to mention a groundbreaking book. After all, this is a skill that develops naturally by age 10.

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences

Jimmy graduates

Pushy parents raise more successful kids
The anemic response of skill investment to skill premium growth
The declining American high school graduation rate: Evidence, sources, and consequences

The Race Between Education and Technology book review
The Race Between Ed & Tech: excerpt & TOC & SAT scores & public loss of confidence in the schools
The Race Between Ed & Tech: the Great Compression
the Great Compression, part 2
ED in '08: America's schools
comments on Knowledge Schools
the future
the stick kids from mud island
educated workers and technology diffusion
declining value of college degree
Goldin, Katz and fans
best article thus far: Chronicle of Higher Education on The Race
Tyler Cowan on The Race (NY Times)
The Race Between Education and Technology book review
happiness inequality down...
an example of lagging technology diffusion in the U.S.
the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
Bloomington High School & "path dependency"
the election debate that should have been

the competition

Rising HS Junior's Chances at Stanford

and see:
Asians & whites

Power Teaching

Redkudu just sent this link:

Any thoughts?

I have one thought, which is that the gestures are probably a good idea.

Scratch that, I have two thoughts.

Thought number one: "engagement" is good. Loud & crazed engagement maybe even better! (I'm kidding. I think.) I assume that's why KIPP uses call and response teaching.

Thought number two: gestures are good.

Gestures add valuable information to teachers' math lessons
Gesturing Helps Grade School Children Solve Math Problems

Power Teaching
exo on Power Teaching

Everyday Math: Coming to a School Near You!

It appears that the marketing people for Everyday Math are earning their salaries. There's a new promo on the web for EM (I've reproduced it below) The main site is located here. There are also YouTube videos containing testimonials, etc. Of interest is the one here. It features people from Woodbridge NJ (other districts are there also). It's all sound bites. "Allows higher level dialogue in solving problems" etc.

In the EM promo (which I've included below) it looks like they've picked up on the criticisms of EM and are now using it in their advertising. To wit: "There's nothing fuzzy about it".

Excuse me? Nothing fuzzy aboout it? Well, maybe not as fuzzy as TERC, but still... Yes, a casual reading might reveal what look like good problems, but you wouldn't know from looking at the workbook that they don't teach the standard algorithms, that a particular page of problems may represent the last time such types of problems are seen that year, that there are far less computational problems in EM than in the highly disdained "traditional" textbooks, and the computational problems that are there do not cover a lot of 2-digit or 3-digit multiplication. Not to mention that calculators are allowed fairly often.

The sentence that really got to me was "Everyday Mathematics is better than traditional, textbook-centered programs that produced generations of students who hated math." While some of the traditional text books of the 50's and 60's had their bad points, I think this statement is over-generalized and extremely misleading. The textbook-centered programs of yore also produced generations of students who liked math, were good at it, and understood the underlying concepts. And ironically, many if not all of the students who hated math as a result of those "traditional textbook-centered programs" are probably more proficient in the basic skills than those who have received the EM treatment without benefit of Kumon, or outside help.

Of course, EM's solutioon to the "textbook-centered" approach is to do away with a textbook. Students only have workbooks. (Oh, and a reference manual. Which does have a good section on how to use a calculator). The EM promoters' disdain for such "scripted" approaches is pure hypocrisy, since EM does have a particular script. Students and parents can't see it, but it's contained in the teacher's manual and provides the outline of daily lessons. Not very good, mind you, but still, there is a plan there which parents and students do not get the benefit of seeing--except in the "family letters" (some in very poor Spanish as has been discussed here) that students bring home with them and which explain what they will be learning in a particular unit. Every unit is a hodge podge of topics, nested inside some main topic. There is no concentrated focus on any one topic that allows any kind of mastery learning. But the EM promoters have an answer for that one as well: I

"Content is taught in a repeated fashion, beginning with concrete experiences to which students can relate. Research shows that students learn best when new topics are presented at a brisk pace, with multiple exposures over time, and with frequent opportunities for review and practice. The sequence of instruction in the Everyday Mathematics curriculum has been carefully mapped out to optimize these conditions for learning and retaining knowledge."

They didn't bother to talk about what research it was that showed this, but there is another module on their "research base". Much of their research was conducted by William Carroll, who has been on the EM/U of Chicago payroll for some time. Seems to me the National Math Panel's final report seemed to address EM's approach head on when they said:

“A focused, coherent progression of mathematics learning, with an emphasis on proficiency with key topics, should become the norm in elementary and middle school mathematics curricula. Any approach that continually revisits topics year after year without closure is to be avoided.”

Anyway, here's the promo. Read and weep.

How Everyday Mathematics Offers a Better Approach to Mathematics Mastery

There’s nothing fuzzy about it. Everyday Mathematics brings more clarity and rigor to math instruction, so students understand and appreciate the role of mathematics in daily life. Everyday Mathematics, a comprehensive Pre-K-6 mathematics curriculum, not only embraces traditional goals of math education, but also sets out to accomplish two ambitious goals for the 21st century:

• To substantially raise expectations regarding the amount and range of math that students

• To support teachers and students with the materials necessary to enable students to meet
these higher expectations.

To provide more rigorous, balanced instruction, Everyday Mathematics:

• Emphasizes conceptual understanding while building mastery of basic skills.

• Explores a broad mathematics spectrum, not just basic arithmetic.

• Is based on how students learn and what they’re interested in while preparing them for their
future mathematical needs.

Changing the Way We Teach Math

The accelerating demand for competence and problem-solving agility in mathematics requires
improved methods for teaching math in the classroom. Teachers are no longer preparing students for a lifetime of pencil-and-paper calculations, but for future careers that demand a true understanding of how mathematics works at much higher levels.

Everyday Mathematics is better than traditional, textbook-centered programs that produced generations of students who hated math. It is consistent with the ways students actually learn math – building understanding over time – first through informal exposure, then through more formal and directed instruction.

Content is taught in a repeated fashion, beginning with concrete experiences to which students can relate. Research shows that students learn best when new topics are presented at a brisk ace, with multiple exposures over time, and with frequent opportunities for review and practice. The sequence of instruction in the Everyday Mathematics curriculum has been carefully mapped out to optimize these conditions for learning and retaining knowledge.