kitchen table math, the sequel: 10/5/08 - 10/12/08

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Regarding Education Week Commentary

Readers might be interested in this information on "research":

A Close Examination of Jo Boaler’s Railside Report (pdf file)

Catherine here, parachuting into Concerned's post. Here is Mark Roulo's reaction:

Something that this paper makes clear, although only in passing, is that 40% of the CSU incoming freshmen cannot pass a test of 7th grade math.

CSU's charter is to take students from about the top 1/3 of the state (and effectively, mostly the bottom ½ of that 1/3 because the UC system tends to get the better students).

Pessimistically, one could conclude that only about 25% of California high school graduates can do math above a 7th grade level (NOTE: UC freshmen often need to take remedial math, too ...).

desperately seeking a French-speaking, McCain-voting, hockey mom

This is funny.

Ed occasionally does radio interviews with the French analogue to the BBC, and they've contacted him looking for French-speaking U.S. citizens to interview about the election.

Specifically, the category of person with whom they'd like to speak is a French-speaking American mom, preferably more middle class than the folks they're likely to encounter in Manhattan (hence the "hockey mom"), who is willing to do a radio interview about the presidential election.

I said, "Well, I know at least one person on the blog who speaks fluent Spanish, and I wouldn't be surprised if she speaks French, too."

"That's great. She doesn't have to be fluent in French."

"I'll ask her," I said. Then: "I think she's probably voting for Obama."

"She's an Obama supporter?"

"I think so."

"They need a McCain supporter."

Apparently they have tons of French-speaking U.S. moms who are voting for Obama.

I cracked up. We both did.

Anyway, I'm sure it will be a good show and a good thing to do, so if there's a French-speaking female McCain voter out there who'd like to do an interview with French radio, contact me at cijohn @ & I'll put you in touch with them.

Scarsdale adopts Singapore Math

Scarsdale looks to Singapore for the new math
By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy • The Journal News • October 9, 2008

...[T]he Scarsdale school district adopts Singapore math in kindergarten through fifth grade, replacing Trailblazers, used in the district for a decade.

The textbook series, written by the Ministry of Education of Singapore, is called Primary Mathematics, and Scarsdale is the first public school district to use it in New York as its core curriculum.

Until last year, the district used Trailblazers, textbooks aligned with the so-called reform mathematics - often derided as fuzzy math - based on recommendations originally published in 1989 by the influential National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

That approach called for a de-emphasis on manual arithmetic in favor of students' attention to the process leading to the answer. Math texts following the reform philosophy also have been criticized as covering too many topics in a haphazard sequence.

"The mainstream U.S. math curriculum is often seen as being a mile wide and an inch deep," said Nancy Pavia, the district's math helping teacher.

In 2006, the math council released the Curriculum Focal Points report, which identified important mathematical topics in each grade - from kindergarten through eighth - that students need to understand deeply and thoroughly for future mathematics learning.

This report was, at least in part, the result of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, an international assessment of the mathematics and science knowledge of fourth- and eighth-grade students around the world. The study found that students from many Asian countries outperformed their U.S. counterparts.

Of the 46 countries that participated in the study, U.S. eighth-graders ranked 15th in 2003. That was the nation's best score in the three years the study was conducted (in 1997 it was 28th), but it still was behind most other industrialized countries.

Singapore topped the list every time. Math taught in Singapore is part of a national curriculum designed by the Ministry of Education. It emphasizes the development of a strong number sense, mental-math skills and a deep understanding of place value.

"The curriculum is based on a progression from concrete experience, using manipulatives, to a pictorial stage and finally to the abstract level," Pavia said.

Last year, a 30-member committee of Scarsdale teachers and administrators reviewed the district's curriculum based on the Focal Points report.


The new textbooks will look a lot "cleaner and clearer" compared with Trailblazers, which is heavily language-based.

"There will be fewer words on the pages, and it will be less confusing to students," she said.

Trailblazers used a "spiral approach," touching upon many concepts each year and revisiting the same topics in later grades, all while not learning them to mastery.

Cadalzo explains it thus: "In second grade, for instance, the children use multiplication tables from 2 to 5, but they haven't memorized them; and when they come to third grade, we end up relearning them. But now, they will have learned them in second grade and we can just concentrate on multiplication tables for 6, 7, 8 and 9."

The lack of drills in U.S. schools might help explain the popularity of the Japan-based Kumon tutoring centers, which have sprouted throughout the states as parents look for supplements to cement the basics. The Kumon math program focuses on drilling children on basics.

There are 1,500 Kumon centers in North America, including one in Scarsdale, home to a consistently high-performing school district.

"As an Asian mother, I am very happy with the new curriculum," said Indian-born and -raised Shobha Bhatnagar, mother of an Edgewood second-grader.


Jeffrey Thomas, president of, the Oregon-based U.S. distributor of Primary Mathematics since 1998, estimated that 1,000 schools nationally are using the books as a supplement, with 200 using them as their core curriculum.

"Initially, most of the demand came from parents of homeschooled children and the gifted and talented programs, but now it's the mainstream schools," he said. "We are very proud to add Scarsdale to the list. They are a class act."


"Scarsdale is not a district to rest on its laurels. We are always looking to do even better," she said. "We want to give our students every opportunity to learn math to their full capacity because, ultimately, they will be competing in the global economy."

In the past, Cadalzo's students came to their own understanding of math through guided exploration, which he conceded they were more "likely to forget." But this year he planned to teach the basics until his students can "feel it in their bones."

Sofia Lacagnina sat at her desk flipping through the pages of the slim Primary Mathematics, and said, "Trailblazers was fatter and heavier. This book is thin. I love this book."

Reach Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy at or 914-694-5004.


Scarsdale gets Singapore Math.

Irvington gets Project Lead the Way.

That should prop up housing values in a crashing world economy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Ed bought a vertical desk* this summer that's great. In theory I'm getting one, too, but that project seems to be languishing on the to-do list.

Just saw this at 43 Folders: TreadDesk.

Not sure about treadmill desks, which didn't end up working out for Seth Roberts. Reminds me of the Hawaii Chair, a little.

My mom had an idea: put one of those mini-bikes under your desk and pedal while you're working.

At least, I think it's a great idea. I tried it a couple of years ago, but it didn't pan out. Not sure why.

* I think that's the one.

Where Has All the Knowledge Gone?

Or, "We Have Co-opted Another Word".

Jo Boaler shows the best that they can do. If you're like me, the "anti-knowledge" term will get you thinking in the wrong direction. After a while, you will stop and say "What?????"

The underlying theme is that parents are stupid. Not really. They're just stupid when they listen to any group other than the schools.

At best, you can say that there is a difference of opinion over what constitutes proper research. You can also say that there is a difference of opinion over what constitutes a proper math education. But the point is that parents should not be allowed to decide.

Actually, Jo Boaler's use of "anti-knowledge" is misleading. She is claiming that groups are trying to hide the "knowledge" that curricula (I guess like Everyday Math.) are effective because the studies don't meet certain criteria. Then she co-opts Sen. Obama's use of knowledge to mean what she is talking about. Pretty soon we're going to lose control over the words "content" and "mastery".

Is this the best level of debate we can expect?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Planners & Searchers

Well, the rest of my day is shot, so I figured I'd get these links up quickly:

Here's Dorner on the universe:
In complex systems with many interlocking elements...the effectiveness of a measure almost always depends on the context within which the measure is pursued. A measure that produces good effects in one situation may do damage in another, and contextual dependencies mean that there are few general rules (rules that remain valid regardless of conditions surrounding them) that we can use to guide our actions. Every situation has to be considered afresh.
p. 95

At this point I'm so flabbergasted by the "financial meltdown"* that I can't even tell whether "there are few general rules" is or is not a general rule.

In any event, re: the public schools, if you want to feel like a native, pick up Easterly's book.

Then ask yourself if the natives are restless.

* quotation marks because who knows what the term for this moment will be tomorrow?

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Race - TIMES review at last

The Race Between Education and Technology being one of the most important books on education I've read, it's been disheartening watching it sink from view.

So it was good news, today, to discover that the TIMES had finally published a review in the daily paper. I assume a Sunday review will be forthcoming.

I hope so.
DURING the first 70 years of the 20th century, inequality declined and Americans prospered together. Over the last 30 years, by contrast, the United States developed the most unequal distribution of income and wages of any high-income country.


Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, two Harvard economists, think [something can be done]. Their book, “The Race Between Education and Technology” (Harvard, $39.95), contains many tables, a few equations and a powerfully told story about how and why the United States became the world’s richest nation — namely, thanks to its schools.

The authors skillfully demonstrate that for more than a century, and at a steady rate, technological breakthroughs — the mass production system, electricity, computers — have been increasing the demand for ever more educated workers. And, they show, America’s school system met this demand, not with a national policy, but in grassroots fashion, as communities taxed themselves and built schools and colleges.

Beginning in the 1970s, however, the education system failed to keep pace, resulting, Ms. Goldin and Mr. Katz contend, in a sharply unequal nation.


The authors’ argument is really two books in one. One offers an incisive history of American education, especially the spread of the public high school and the state university system. It proves to be an uplifting tale of public commitment and open access. The authors remind us that the United States long remained “the best poor man’s country.” A place where talent could rise.

The other story rigorously measures the impact of education on income. The authors’ compilation of hard data on educational attainment according to when people were born is an awesome achievement, though not always a gripping read. [ed.: true]

They show that by the 1850s, America’s school enrollment rate already “exceeded that of any other nation.” And this lead held for a long time. By 1960, some 70 percent of Americans graduated from high school — far above the rate in any other country. College graduation rates also rose appreciably.

In the marketplace, such educational attainment was extremely valuable, but it didn’t produce wide economic disparity so long as more people were coming to the job market with education. The wage premium — or differential paid to people with a high school or a college education — fell between 1915 and 1950.

But more recently, high school graduation rates flatlined at around 70 percent. American college attendance rose, though college graduation rates languished. The upshot is that while the average college graduate in 1970 earned 45 percent more than high school graduates, the differential three decades later exceeds 80 percent.

“In the first half of the century,” the authors summarize, “education raced ahead of technology, but later in the century technology raced ahead of educational gains.”

Minding the Inequality Gap
Published: October 4, 2008

Unfortunately, Kotkin concludes his review with a breezy dismissal of the entire book, start to finish, without quite seeming to have noticed that's what he's done:

Averages can be deceptive. Most of the gains of the recent flush decades have not gone to the college-educated as a whole. The top 10 or 20 percent by income have education levels roughly equivalent to those in the top 1 percent, but the latter account for much of the boom in inequality. This appears to be related to the way taxes have been cut, and to the ballooning of the financial industry’s share of corporate profits.

It remains to be seen how a reconfigured financial industry and possible new tax policies might affect the 30-year trend toward greater inequality.

Right. Thank you. Harvard economists don't think about stuff like averages being deceptive; that's what we've got New York Times book reviewers for. Plus -- reconfiguring the financial industry and possible new tax policies -- what a great idea! I feel certain that possible new tax policies and reconfiguring the financial industry will solve that pesky within group inequality Goldin and Katz spend so much time banging on about.

The Race is a book about intellectual capital. Goldin and Katz call it "human capital," but it amounts to the same thing as far as I can tell. The rich have intellectual capital, the poor do not.

This happens to be true. Try Googling the words "intellectual capital" and see what you get. Yup. Rich people. Or try "human capital." Same deal. Rich people have it, poor people don't. The way rich people get it is by going to reasonably good schools for many years and acquiring advanced knowledge as a result. Or, if you're not rich, you acquire intellectual capital by having your mother wake you up at 4 a.m. every morning to teach you the things your school isn't teaching you.

So I'm guessing that increasing taxes on the rich will not solve the problem of the rich having staggeringly higher levels of educational attainment than the poor no matter how much money we throw at Head Start.

The problem with The Race, possibly, is that the argument is both too familiar and too radical at the same time.

Everyone thinks education is the key to earning a good living. Well, everyone except Charles Murray.

But no one actually believes it.

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


This information is from the Leading Minds' K-12 Math Education Forum in Baltimore April 28, 2008.

What's Missing from Math Standards? Focus, Rigor, and Coherence
by William H. Schmidt

The following videos can be viewed at:

"Why US Students Are Falling Behind"
Dr. William H. Schmidt of Michigan State University

"It's a New World Out There"
Dr. R. James Milgram, Professor of Math at Stanford University

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Linda Darling-Hammond on teaching as a profession

OK, so I was trying to get the story on Linda Darling-Hammond, who is, with Jeanne Century, the Obama advisor I'm most leary of, and I found this answer to the question of whether teaching is or is not a profession:
In this country, teaching is not yet a profession. A profession really has at least three features. First of all, everyone who is admitted to entry into the profession commits themselves to practice with the welfare of clients first and foremost as their major goal. It's like the Hippocratic oath in medicine. Second, everyone who's admitted to practice in a profession has demonstrated that they've mastered a common knowledge base and that they know then how to use that knowledge on behalf of the clients that they're there to serve. And third, a profession takes responsibility for defining, transmitting, and enforcing some standards of practice to protect the people who they're there to serve. Teaching has not acquired those three traits yet.

Interview with Linda Darling Hammond

That is the simplest and most concise definition of what it is to be a professional I've seen. Ever.

the last word

Just caught this comment on a Flypaper post re: Flypaper's proposals for engineering a renewable NCLB:

Terrible policy. Why bother to reauthorize something so gutted? For parents, NCLB and IDEA are the only way to get a foot in the door or beyond the schoolhouse gates. Ensure states can no longer game the system and parents might get a seat at the table. Meaningful education advocacy starts in the home. Take a look at the increase of parents turning to homeschooling when they realize the house never loses.
The house never loses -- perfect!

That's it, exactly. Individual parents are the only advocates individual students have, and we can't get past the schoolhouse door. 

I will carry on supporting NCLB out of sheer cussedness* but my belief is that until children have advocates and schools have a clientele (that would be us: parents and taxpayers) it's mostly going to be a matter of rearranging the deck chairs on buying brand-new SMARTChairs for the Titanic.

Seriously, what more is there to say?

The house never loses.

Last word.

well, not just sheer cussedness

Here we go again

Stuff like this really honks me off, and this is even worse (Darren, you owe me blood pressure medication).
Teachers at Soquel High School have agreed not to wear "Educators for Obama" buttons in the classroom after a parent complained that educators were attempting to politically influence his daughter and other students.
These teachers must not have much to do in the classroom, if they have all this time to waste on topics that have nothing to do with the curriculum. But I promised myself I wouldn't rant, so I won't. Instead, I'll offer an alternative for those who just can't keep from bringing the election into the classroom -- an alternative that does not push a candidate or a party, and actually has something to do with learning the class material -- and critical thinking, in the literal, and not the "think like a slobbering leftist" education school definition. Wow, how about that!

Student interest is a great motivator, particularly when you teach something many students find boring, or even intimidating, like I did. One thing we did that was very successful was build several applications with the tools we were going to cover that grabbed student interest when we said, "At the end of the semester, you'll be able to do this, too."

One of these was a simulation model that based on the scores for all of the games that season predicted the winner of the Superbowl (we had one for the NBA finals and another for the World Series, depending on which semester we were in).

So if you absolutely must address the election in class, here is one way you can do it where the students will actually learn something, and contains not a hint of advocacy or indoctrination.

Have students build an application that predicts the results of the election. Remind them that the more variables they incorporate, the more accurate it will likely be, and encourage them to make it as complex as they like.

You'd want to break them into teams to do this, and give them time to talk about what variables they would want to incorporate, and how. You should probably give them a list of sources for data, like,, and In fact, give them a whole class period to do nothing but plan their model, figure out where they'd get the data, and assign people in the team to do various tasks.

I'd give them a week to turn in the models. After going through them, you can pull several up with different results and as a class, pick apart the applications and discuss why they got different results (this is what is known as a learning experience). You can then, again as a class, discuss which of the models is/are most likely to accurately predict the results, and why. You can even give bonus points to the team whose model most accurately predicts the election.

See? You addressed the election, and you didn't have them sing creepy Hitler Youth songs.

If you think about it, these models incorporate a lot of mathematical knowledge in many different areas, and all through the model. Take collecting the data, say, polls. How are they going to deal with the different levels of statistical error in different polls? How will they deal with different party weights in different polls? What, other than polls, will they use as input variables, and how will they incorporate them into the model? For example, if they're going to look at the number of voters who went for Hillary in the primaries and turn that into support for McCain, how, exactly, are they going to do it? What algorithm will they use, and what will they base it on? And would they also want to use another variable, say, Democrat respondents who only lean Democrat in the election, or are undecided to calculate their Hillary conversion variable?

And what about actual election day statistics, will they use those? If so, which variables? How will they incorporate them?

You can turn just about anything into a real, learning experience in the classroom if you just think about it. Unfortunately, "thinking" seems to be an alien concept to many teachers these days.

The learning isn't only in creating the models. The learning -- and critical thinking -- is also in analyzing the models and comparing them once they've been done. What makes a good model? What makes this model more accurate than that one? Would this be a more accurate model if we tweaked the algorithms, and if so, how would we tweak them? You get the idea.

When my students are working in teams, I usually migrate from team to team, playing devil's advocate, and gently nudging them when they're completely off track (I call this guided constructivism). With a project like this, I would probably limit my input to making sure they understood, and correcting fundamental errors, like only taking into consideration the popular vote. Oh. And I would only do something like this after the students had all of the necessary knowledge and skills to actually build a working application. Sorry, but if you think turning students loose on their own to do complex projects like this is a good way to introduce them to new skills, you have no business within a hundred miles of a classroom.

(We talked about doing this with one of the sports championships, don't remember which now, but decided against it because making the data usable would require complex Excel text functions we had not covered in class.)

Cross-posted at Right Wing Nation