kitchen table math, the sequel: 9/28/08 - 10/5/08

Saturday, October 4, 2008


final paragraph in today's Times story on Bill Ayers and Barack Obama:

“If Barack Obama says he’s willing to talk to foreign leaders without preconditions,” Mr. Hayden said, “I can imagine he’d be willing to talk to Bill Ayers about schools. But I think that’s about as far as their relationship goes.”

Obama and ’60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths
New York Times, 10-4-2008

I may have to start channeling Brad DeLong re: Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?*

How is it possible that we have the New York Times ending a story on Barack Obama and Bill Ayers with a Tom Hayden quip drawing an analogy between Bill Ayers and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?** Bill Ayers is to U.S. public schools as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to U.S. foreign interests: a guy Senator Obama is willing to talk to!

Does this not pique one's curiosity?

It piques mine.

If we had a better press corps, the Times would understand that for instructivist fans of the liberal arts (a category that ought to include reporters for the Times seeing as how they wouldn't be reporters for the Times without an education in the liberal arts) "Barack Obama is willing to talk to Bill Ayers about schools" is where the story begins, not where it ends. A story about Barack Obama and Bill Ayers, whose entire relationship, as far as I can tell, was about the schools ought to actually say something about the schools.

e.g.: What kinds of educational projects did the Annenberg board fund?

What kinds of projects did it not fund?

I say we get Jim Dwyer to do the whole thing over again. Get me rewrite.

what is social justice teaching, anyway?

Back when she hosted Bill Ayers and Sol Stern on her Education Week blog, eduwonkette asked the question one might have expected a reporter for the New York Times to ask:

[I]t is not clear to me that teaching for social justice involves a particular pedagogical approach. Wouldn’t KIPP teachers claim to be teaching for social justice?

As it turns out, there are simple answers to this question:

1. "Teaching for social justice," aka critical pedagogy, does involve a particular pedagogical approach. Teaching for social justice means teaching via inquiry so as to reject the "banking" view of education, whose best-known proponent is E.D. Hirsch. E.D. Hirsch, following Pierre Bourdieu, argues that knowledge is a form of intellectual capital: The rich have it, the poor do not. Teaching core knowledge, which is knowledge in the liberal arts, to disadvantaged children means sharing the wealth. For Bill Ayers & c., those are fighting words. Hirsch is one of the major intellectual defenders of the triumphant conservative agenda in education, etc.

2. Yes, the KIPP folks would "claim" to be teaching for social justice, but they would not get a sympathetic hearing from professors of critical pedagogy:

So I have this discussion class that is supposed to be us sharing things about our student teaching experiences. So far, this has not happened. Last week, as I said, we discussed the prison-industrial complex. THIS week we started off class with a free word association involving the words liberal, progressive, and radical. (We don't even talk about conservatism in this class. It is definitely off the table. Not that I'm particularly conservative, but I would say there's a kind of intellectual bullying going on here). This exercise took about 45 minutes.

The only amusing part was when a girl associated "radical" with "crazy" and our instructor got pissed. He was like, "now you're just disrespecting someone's belief system." It was ridiculous. He is some kind of Marxist/socialist/radical and really does not try to hide it. Meanwhile, he tells us that we have to be careful not to indoctrinate our kids in any particular ideology when we're teaching social studies. I would say this scores low on the self-awareness scale.

So anyway, throughout this exercise I'm thinking, this is not so relevant to teaching. Usually when something is being taught, I pretend I'm about to get up in front of a class of 30 children, and I ask myself, "is this piece of information or idea going to help me in front of these kids?" If the answer is no, I feel frustrated. I would say I feel frustrated about 95% of the time at school.

I figure that I should probably say something about the angry inside me, so I raise my hand and ask, "why are we doing this exercise? I don't really understand. What does this have to do with teaching?" The instructor responds that he didn't just want to tell us the definitions of these words, because then he would be making the mistake of placing himself as the expert, thus invalidating any ideas that we had. Right.

I explained that what I had meant was, "why are these definitions important right now? How will this make me a better teacher?" Some kids raise their hands to respond. They pretty much say that these conversations are helping them to think about and formulate their political beliefs. First of all, where were they in college? Second, do you care about their political beliefs? Will the kids? I don't, that's for sure.

People seem to think that politics is important in this business. But it's not. Charter schools are supported by all kinds of people: from liberals as pink as the day they were born to conservatives who would wrestle a five dollar bill away from their mothers. If you are committed to a system that works, then you don't need politics because we know what works.


Ok. So then we read a very inflammatory article about the "pedagogy of poverty." I won't go into it, because it was another one of those "our public schools are trying to control the students' minds. We should let them be free!" Really this is not the issue. Also, the guy says that if you want a highly disciplined school, you may or may not be a bigot. He actually used the word bigot.

We got onto the topic of cultural advantages that middle class kids have, such as listening to their parents discuss different issues, going to museums, having more books, etc. Everyone was decrying the fact that poor kids don't have the same things, and that they come into pre-K already behind. When they continue falling behind, middle school and high school teachers complain that "there just isn't enough time" to teach them, particularly with the mandated curriculum dictated by state exams.

I pointed out that, if what people were saying was correct, then that would mean that urban kids should have more time in the classroom, longer school days, and longer school years. This would allow them to catch up and give their teachers the chance to cover everything they wanted. I provided the KIPP schools as an example of a school system that does this, and gets amazing results. It works. More time in school and good instruction works.

My instructor was not pleased with this, though. He thought the idea was too "militaristic." He said, "I mean, what's the end goal?" I was flabbergasted, once again. Doesn't anyone get it? The goal is to give kids the skills and knowledge they need to choose the kind of lives they want to live. Period, end of story, I no longer want to talk to you, stupid idiot. But he has this whole notion of making people "good citizens" or getting them to "think critically" about the world. Ask yourself, what would you want for your child? Would you want her to get a great academic education and be able to do whatever she wanted, or would you want someone to teach her "how to be a good citizen" or "how to think critically"? I know, me too. And if the chips were down, my instructor would admit the same thing. The fact is that schools like KIPP are vaulting kids OUT OF POVERTY. They're giving them a fighting chance. And the concept of the schools is not that complex. Their motto is: Work hard. Be nice. And everything boils down to that in the end. There's no magic curriculum bullet. It's just hard work. This guy, this instructor, he so decries poverty and "keeping poor kids poor" and "the pedagogy of poverty" but it is HIS reluctance to accept WHAT WORKS FOR KIDS that keeps them where they are.

I really don't understand. And I'm so angry about it.

oh, snap

That account was written by a young woman studying for a Masters degree in education at Columbia Teacher's College, one of the institutions that trained Bill Ayers. When she finished her degree, she took a job at KIPP.

Proponents of critical pedagogy are philosophically and practically opposed to those who see knowledge as intellectual capital. These are enemy camps. Like it or not.

There are those who believe that education is the Civil Rights issue of the 21st century. For the next president, who will have to deal with NCLB, two roads diverge in a yellow wood: the path of inquiry and the path of knowledge.

The path of Palo Freire in Guinea-Bissau and the path of KIPP: Knowledge Is Power Program.

Is it true that Senator Obama, if elected president, will talk to Bill Ayers about schools?

extra credit

Girl in shorts, a Mom, recovering attorney, post-modern neo-feminist, enthusiastic regenerated dyke, unlikely punk, nice Catholic girl, passionate freedom-loving libertarian, thinking conservative, sappy romantic, spiritual redneck, softball enthusiast, shopaholic and unrepentant flirt, also wants to know who's going to be running the Department of Education.

Apparently, she went to ed school.

Paperback: 800 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (November 26, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805859284
ISBN-13: 978-0805859287

* have not actually read DeLong's post re: Why oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corp?
** helpful hint: a colleague of Ed's says the only way she can remember Ahmadinejad is to think: "A man's dinner jacket"

Friday, October 3, 2008


I'm starting to think this educational telepresence thing might work.

lefty book recommendation

Independent George on the pundits and their ways

re: March of the pundits, part 3
That thread really is astonishing. On the one hand, you have a professional backing EM in vague generalities, while the "civilians" independently demolish her every argument with specifics about the most minute detail. It's pretty much the model of an engaged, informed citizenry participating in the public sphere - and the reaction was pretty much the model of an entrenched, indifferent bureaucracy.

October 3, 2008 10:35 AM


The worst part is Ms. Cullen's constant refrain for the parents to 'give EM a chance', when it was painfully obvious that they were intimately familiar with EM, and and were clearly documenting all of its deficiencies based on first-hand experience. On the flip side, it was equally apparent that she had only passing familiarity with Singapore Math, and was completely unable to address the numerous substantive issues being brought up. And somehow, she manages to dismiss the entire debate as just another battle in the Math Wars without ever directly addressing the substantive issues mentioned. It's mind-boggling.

October 3, 2008 1:08 PM
You can say that again.

march of the pundits, part 1
speaking of pundits
march of the pundits, part 2

how to change the system
parents need a union

Independent George on the pundits and their ways
one is a nutjob, twenty five are powerful
first person

Benchmarks per the Nat'l Math Advisory Panel

In response to a question in one of the comments regarding the spirited discussion at Eduwonk's site regarding Everyday Math, here is the link to what students should know by what grade. Table 2 (page 20) of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel's final report, contains the panel's recommended benchmarks for the critical foundations of math skills/concepts that students should master in order to be prepared for algebra in the 8th grade

Fluency With Whole Numbers
1) By the end of Grade 3, students should be proficient with the addition and subtraction of whole numbers.
2) By the end of Grade 5, students should be proficient with multiplication and division of whole numbers.
Fluency With Fractions
1) By the end of Grade 4, students should be able to identify and represent fractions and decimals, and compare them on a number line or with other common representations of fractions and decimals.
2) By the end of Grade 5, students should be proficient with comparing fractions and decimals and common percent, and with the addition and subtraction of fractions and decimals.
3) By the end of Grade 6, students should be proficient with multiplication and division of fractions and decimals.
4) By the end of Grade 6, students should be proficient with all operations involving positive and negative integers.
5) By the end of Grade 7, students should be proficient with all operations involving positive and negative fractions.
6) By the end of Grade 7, students should be able to solve problems involving percent, ratio, and rate and extend this work to proportionality.
Geometry and Measurement
1) By the end of Grade 5, students should be able to solve problems involving perimeter and area of triangles and all quadrilaterals having at least one pair of parallel sides (i.e., trapezoids).
2) By the end of Grade 6, students should be able to analyze the properties of two-dimensional shapes and solve problems involving perimeter and area, and analyze the properties of three dimensional shapes and solve problems involving surface area and volume.
3) By the end of Grade 7, students should be familiar with the relationship between similar triangles and the concept of the slope of a line.

UPDATE: On page xvi of the NMP's report is the following:

"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"

Thursday, October 2, 2008

March of the pundits, part 3

at eduwonk

I haven't read the entire thread, currently standing at 66 comments, so perhaps matters took a turn for the better after I left. At that point the question I was asking myself was: When a parent says that a curriculum has failed to teach his child, should a Fordham Fellow listen?

How about several parents?

(How about several parents backed by a posse of mathematicians?)

What is the relationship of education think tanks to parents?


more later

I'm off to Hogwarts to hear a mom speak about losing her son to a drug overdose. After that, I plan to be up half the night thinking about this mom who lost her son to a drug overdose.

But first, Christian turns 30 this weekend! Time for cake.

march of the pundits, part 1
speaking of pundits
march of the pundits, part 2

how to change the system
parents need a union

Independent George on the pundits and their ways
one is a nutjob, twenty five are powerful
first person

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

good-bye... the New York Sun.

Here's hoping Andrew Wolf will write a blog.

new blog - Why Public Education Is Failing

an email from Laurie Rogers:
Good afternoon.

I want to tell you that I developed a blog for people in Spokane who want to discuss public education.

It's located at Betrayed - Why Public Education Is Failing.

As all blogs do, it gives people (especially parents, teachers and older students) a chance to speak anonymously. Here in Spokane, those groups otherwise have little voice, and the situation is dire.

This blog is new, so I'm still building the link list. If you know of other education links you would like me to add, please let me know. The more information Spokane parents have, the better off they'll be.

The article I posted most recently on the blog (about Terry Bergeson's manipulation of the data) was turned down flat by the local newspaper, as well as by several other papers in the state. If they refused it because of my writing style, the length or perhaps the opening paragraphs, I also haven't seen much interest in following up on the information within the article. There might be self-interests at play, or perhaps an unwillingness or inability to check out my data, to confront the thing head on, to stand up to OSPI and its lawyers, or to take what I'm saying seriously ...

Blogs often begin out of extreme frustration, and that's what happened here. The people are - for all intents and purposes - being lied to consistently and deliberately by people who hold their children's futures in their hands. And yet, education coverage in Spokane is weak. The public is not informed. So I took matters into my own hands. This is frustration all math advocates know well, having been gallantly battling for decades.

Your feedback is very welcome. If you feel I have something in error, please don't be shy about telling me. I'm trying to get this right, and I'm trying to get it out there in whichever way I can. It isn't easy, as you know. If you think the articles are of value, please pass the link on to anyone else who might be interested. The election is just over a month away, and time is short ...

Thank you for listening,
Laurie Rogers
Children's Advocate
Safer Child, Inc.

I've added the emphasis.

oops --- must run

duty calls

back tomorrow

...... Have I mentioned I spent 5 hours in the local emergency room today?

Well, I did.

Apparently, there is such a thing as infectious colitis, which my oldest probably has, but who knows.

The main problem with having more than one or two kids is way too many bodies requiring way too much diagnosing.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Good Samaritan

I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned the fact that C’s new school, Hogwarts, is in the city.

It’s in a part of the city folks around here don’t frequent, a neighborhood familiar to me almost entirely from movies starring people like Robert De Niro or Al Pacino or Johnny Depp playing policemen and/or members of the Mafia and/or policemen impersonating members of the Mafia and what have you.

So C. commutes to school. Because the city has no direct train lines from here to there, his commute involves changing trains in another part of the city that is also familiar to me entirely from movies featuring policemen, crime, drugs, “the projects,” and extended sequences of running, chasing, punching, shooting, bleeding (copious bleeding), and dying. Such is my image of the place.

Strangely enough, this particular change of venue seemed, and seems, like an excellent idea. I’m not sure why. Christian and his mom agreed: the two of them were adamant C. needed to exit his school district here in the “leafy suburbs”* and decamp to a part of the city white people invariably describe as “gritty.” I'm sure they are right, but I'm not sure why.

The one thing that did make an impression on me, when we spoke to the Director of Admissions last winter, was his observation that: “The kind of parent who will send his kid to school in this part of the city is a particular sort of person.” He meant that in a good way, and I thought, instantly: I bet I would like those parents.

So the whole thing seems to suit us but,  on the other hand, we’ve been nervous. The lady who washes my hair at the hairdresser’s told me, “Great school, but drive him to the door. The local boys know kids are coming in from the suburbs, so they wait in groups to mug them, and the school won’t tell you that it happens.” That sounded like an urban legend to me, but, at the same time, it also did not sound crazy, not to a person who’s watched as many police movies as I have.

So I began the new school year driving C to school. Drive him to the door because the local boys might or might not be lying in wait: that was the plan. But, finding the commute by car to be both harrowing (thank you, Robert Moses) and long, I only made it through 3 days before I found myself thinking that, really, the surrounding neighborhood seemed fine to me. (Along with: Wow. Fantastic prices on back-to-school clothes at the local back-to-school clothes emporium.)

Thus before the end of his first week in school, C. had joined the small army of businessmen and women headed into the city on Metro North each day, broadening his horizons and ours.

e.g.: In Week 2, C came home and reported that he had seen his first "crackhead" at the train station. He knew she was a crackhead, he said, because she was extremely thin and she was asking people for money.

Then, a couple of days ago, C. was between trains when two policemen came into the station with a dog and began to patrol the waiting room. The dog pulled up short at the entrance to the men’s restroom and began to bark ferociously at the door. The policemen knocked loudly, calling for whoever was inside to come out. But the door did not open.

Now C. is a cautious boy who looks young. All the new boys look young, of course. The principal told us: They’re still children when they come here, and when they leave, they’re men.

And this: “In the next four years there will be some long days and long nights, but the years will fly by in a blink.”

We are still in the beginning of the years that will fly by in a blink, and C. still looks young, and I can imagine the expression on his face, watching the dog and the policemen. In my mind’s eye, he is trying not to look scared.

At some point, as the scene unfolded, the lady sitting beside him, a middle-aged black woman from Connecticut, struck up a conversation. Where was he from? she wanted to know. And where was he headed? Hogwarts! Oh yes, a nice school.

About the dog barking ferociously at the bathroom door, she said mildly, “Oh, that’s not good.” But she made no move to get up from her seat. She would be standing her ground.

What came next, I gather, was that the dog carried on barking, and the policemen carried on knocking and calling on the man inside the restroom to come out, and the man inside the restroom carried on doing whatever he was doing behind the closed door: a stand-off. Finally, after some minutes of this, the woman said to C.: “If things get hairy, go upstairs and wait.”

On the day these events took place, C. told us the story of the lady from Connecticut and the policemen with their dog at least 3 times. He has told it again several times since. And always, the ending of the story is: “She told me, if things get hairy, go upstairs and wait.”

I didn’t think until yesterday to ask what became of the man inside the restroom. When finally I did ask, and C. told me, I realized I had already known the answer. The man came out of the restroom, C. said, and the policemen talked to him, "and then they let him go."

The reason I knew the answer was that in his telling of the story, C. had stopped at the end; he had stopped at the part where you know everything is going to turn out OK.

The lady from Connecticut, the policemen and their dog, the man inside the restroom, and C.: each will emerge from this episode unharmed. The adults will do their jobs, and the objects of their concern — the man inside the restroom and the boy inside the station waiting for his train — will be talked to and sent on their way.

A happy ending, and gritty in its way.

* channelling Mike Petrilli

what is area?

Ed just talked to a young man who, while he was going to college, tutored in a New York City middle school. One day he overheard a math teacher in the school ask another math teacher how to calculate the area of a triangle. The teacher needed to know because, "I have to teach area of a triangle today."