kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/2/08 - 11/9/08

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Syllable Divided Books

These books have been helpful for my remedial students. I also tested words divided this way on my daughter, they were helpful for her as a beginning student as well (although I only had 1 book then, and it's an actual 1851 First Reader in good condition, so it did not get used with a Kindergarten student.)

They are based on the syllable division rules taught in Webster's Speller in the Syllabary. (Short version of rules: Open syllables--those ending in a vowel--are long. Closed syllables--those ending in a vowel--are short. Any unaccented syllable, but especially open unaccented syllables, can schwa.)

These books allow students to read above their current reading grade level while observing the pattern of syllable division in words. And, they are all informative reading instead of the mindless stories you're prone to get in common readers in use after 1900.

Syllable Divided Books

If these books help your student, I recommend Webster's Speller as a follow on.

"Why English-Speaking Children Can't Read"

Why English-Speaking Children Can’t Read

As the universal-education movement began gathering momentum, educators broke ranks with nineteenth-century traditions. Reading instruction got so far off track that the twentieth century will go down in history as the century of the demise of the English alphabet code. The final reckoning of an unceasing attempt on its life came in the 1990s. For the first time, properly conducted national testing, international reading surveys, cross-cultural studies, and classroom research pointed to the inescapable conclusion hat reading instruction in English-speaking countries is a disaster. The functional illiteracy rate for American 9-year-olds is 43 percent (Mullis, Campbell, and Farstrup 1993; Campbell et al. 1996).

International reading surveys carried out by Statistics Canada brought dismal news (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1995, 1997). In six English-speaking nations, the proportion of functionally illiterate/very poor readers among 16- to 65-year olds ranged from a low of 42 percent in Canada to a high of 52 percent in the United Kingdom. These figures were in stark contrast to those of many European nations. The comparable figure for Sweden was 28 percent. Sweden’s functional illiteracy rate for 16- to 25-year-olds (level 1 of 5 levels) is 3.8 percent. This rate is nearly three times higher in Canada (10.7 percent), and six times higher in the United States (23.5 percent).

In 1993, an astonishing report came in from Austria. Heinz Wimmer set out to study poor readers and initiated a citywide search. He asked 60 second-to fourth-grade teachers in Salzburg to refer their worst readers for special testing. They identified 120 children, about 7-8 percent of the school population. Imagine Wimmer’s surprise when the worst readers in the city scored close to 100 percent correct on a test of reading accuracy and did nearly as well in spelling. Clearly, none of these children had any difficulty with the German alphabet code. It turned out their problem was reading too slowly. But slow is a relative term. How slow is slow?

To find out, Wimmer collaborated with an English researcher (Wimmer and Goswami 1994) to compare normal 7- and 9-year olds from Salzburg and London. The results were startling. The Austrian 7-year olds read comparable material as rapidly and fluently as the English 9-year-olds, while making half as many errors. Yet the Austrian 7-year olds had had 1 year of reading instruction, while the English 9-year olds had been learning to read for 4 or 5 years. Equal speed and half the errors in one-quarter of the learning time is an eightfold increase in efficiency!

Wimmer and his colleagues (Lander, Wimmer, and Frith 1997) got the same extraordinary results when they compared their worst readers (incredibly slow) with English children identified as “dyslexic” (incredibly inaccurate). The children were asked to read text consisting of nonsense words. The so-called Austrian slow readers were no only more accurate than the English “dyslexics,” but they read twice as fast. The average Austrian “slow reader” would be able to read a 500-word passage in about 10 minutes, misreading only 7 percent of the words. The average English “dyslexic” would read only 260 words in this time, and misread 40 percent of the words. It seems the expression “worst reader” is relative as well.

An even more dramatic study was reported from Italyy. Cossu, Rossini, and Marshall (1993) tested Down’s syndrome children with IQs in the 40s (100 is average) on three difficult reading tests. They scored around 90 (100 is average) on three difficult reading tests. They scored around 90 percent correct, breezing through Italian words like shaliare and funebre. However, they could not comprehend what they read, and they failed miserably on tests of phoneme awareness, the skill that is supposed to be essential to decoding.

What is going on?

The answer is simple. European countries with high literacy rates have a twofold advantage. First, they have a transparent alphabet code, a nearly perfect one-to-one correspondence between each individual sound (phoneme) in the language and a visual symbol—a letter or letter pair (digraph). For languages with more sounds than letters in the alphabet (English has 40+ sounds), this problem was handled sensibly. When a letter or digraph is reused to represent more than one sound, it is marked by a special symbol (a diacritic) to signal a different pronunciation. In German, an umlaut distinguishes the vowel sound in Baume (boimeh). And while a sound can occasionally be spelled more than one way, there is never more than one way to read a letter or digraph. The English spelling system suffers from both afflictions: multiple spellings for the same phoneme, and multiple ways to decode letters and letter sequences. This is the definition of an “opaque” writing system.

Reading instruction is the second part of the equation. To a great extent, reading instruction is a function of the complexity of the spelling code. Teaching a transparent writing system is far easier than teaching an opaque one, because it is obvious (transparent) how it works. Teaching can be streamlined and proceeds at a rapid pace. In Austria, children are taught the sounds of the German language and which letter(s) represents each sound. Reading and spelling are integrated at every step, which reinforces the code nature of a writing system—that is, the fact that the operations are reversible, involving both encoding and decoding. No clutter or noise clogs the process, such as teaching letter names or lots of sight words. Because basic reading instruction is fast and pretty well guaranteed, it can begin late – at 6 in most countries (age 7 in Scandinavian countries) –and early (after 1 year or less) Parents sleep soundly in their beds, safe in the knowledge that their child will be reading and spelling by the of the first year of school. (This is not to say that inappropriate teaching methods cannot mollify the advantages of a transparent alphabet.)

The cross-cultural comparisons reveal that the source of English-speaking children’s difficulties in learning to read and spell is the English spelling system and the way it is taught. These comparisons provide irrefutable evidence that a biological theory of “dyslexia,” a deficit presumed to be a property of the child, is untenable, ruling out the popular “phonological-deficit theory” of dyslexia. For a biological theory to be accurate, dyslexia would have to occur at the same rate in all populations. Otherwise, some type of genetic abnormality would be specific to people who learn an English alphabet code and be absent in people who live in countries with a transparent alphabet, where poor readers are rare. A disorder entirely tied to a particular alphabetic writing system is patently absurd and has no scientific basis. English-speaking children have trouble learning to read and spell because of our complex spelling code and because of current teaching methods, not because of aberrant genes.

Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us about How to Teach Reading
by Diane McGuinness, pages 1-3
It's always worse than you think.

(I've asked Liz Ditz to weigh in on the question of what biologically-based reading and/or learning disabilities are.)

Le scandale de l'illetrrisme (nouvel obs: the scandal of illiteracy)
dyslexie, vraiment? ) (nouvel obs: true dyslexia? - whole language in France)
Comment en est-on arrivé là? (nouvel obs: How did we get here?)
French spelling

Why English speaking children can't read

Lucy Calkins on teaching children to write
Becky C on starting at the top

instructional casualties in America
curriculum casualties: figures
forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must
Rory: I frickin' hate whole language!

thank you, whole language

apocalypse now

“A tooty-ta, a tooty-ta, a tooty-ta-ta,” she sang while standing in a circle with 25 other kindergarten teachers echoing. “Thumbs up. Elbows back. Feet apart. Knees together. Bottoms up. Tongue out. Eyes shut. Turn around.”

Everyday Math teaches students about sequencing

My Four Year Old Has Discovered The Calculator

... and she thinks it's awesome. The pink magical computing machine is her new best friend.

My aunt bought one for her last year, I tossed it in the toybox and promptly forgot all about it. But A. found it a few days ago and figured it out. She said, "Give me some numbers!!" "Uh, 4 and 5" "Nine! Give me more!!" I eventually told her to go around the house looking for numbers on things, and that kept her busy for awhile.

We're back to using Singapore 1A these days, after a few months of refusing to do anything that looked like it could involve writing. (Singapore Earlybird is fairly writing-heavy, with a lot of focus on learning to write the numbers. We skipped all that for now and I transcribe for her.) She's also really into the Singapore "extras": Challenging Word problems, Intensive Practice, and Extra Practice, which they have even for these low levels.

So as we're working more and more with beginning addition, we use our fingers or draw dots on paper and on a particular set I said, "Oh, this one looks like we should use our linking blocks to figure it out." She jumped in, "Or our calculator!"

I'm trying to gently explain why we don't just grab the calculator and cruise through the book so much more quickly and easily. She doesn't understand why we would reject such obviously magical and fantastic technology, but she's going along with it anyway.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Combatting the Disbelief

One of the major problems I see whenever someone is trying to change the curriculum at their local school is that only a tiny percentage of parents really knows how bizarre the curriculum is, how far off the standard map it is from their own upbringing. And if, for example, I try to tell other parents, they simply do not believe it, and I lose all credibility.

Even my own husband doesn't believe it-- "They don't teach stacking??? Come on! That's hogwash." The list of topics I claim not covered is so deep and so wide, I must be exaggerating.

Even when you're talking to parents whose kids are in the same classroom, they seldom believe it. Even when these parents are college educated in the sciences or engineering themselves, they don't seem to coherently examine the whole arc of a school year (or years) to notice what's missing. They seem to assume that things are fine--until middle school is reached, at the earliest.

So, how is this best combatted? Handing someone a textbook and saying "go ahead, try to find stacking" doesn't work, as most won't see that as proof of anything. There's no way to show the overall year in, year out deficiencies by looking at one text, either. So what can work? What can help other parents to see how far from their common expectation the current curriculum is, while still saving one's credibility?

An Education Obamanation

Indentured servitude by any other name for middle and high schoolers, and taxpayers covering a tax free $40 an hour wage to every single college student.

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.

UPDATE: Gosh, this is a LOT better than the original!
The original is cached here:

It said (emphasis mine):

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

And it didn't even mention the $4000...

TIME on Secretary of Education

Thus far I've only skimmed the article far enough to find this:


Current position: Top Obama education adviser

Why she could be tapped: Her day job is professor of education at Stanford, but for the past year, she has been a key voice defining Obama's positions on issues such as school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity.

Why the job will go to someone else: Darling-Hammond is not popular among education reformers, particularly those to the center-right. That's because her views on issues such as merit pay vs. teacher tenure are more conventional than even Obama's. So if the President-elect really wants to shake things up on the education front, Darling-Hammond won't likely be his choice.

Who Will Obama Pick as Secretary of Education?

Back when I've read the whole thing....


Here's good news, assuming it's true:

Why the job will go to someone else: Hunt has not been especially outspoken on how to expand charter schools and other alternatives to traditional public schools, which appears to be a priority for the Obama team.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

GRE scores in 28 fields of study


from Greg Mankiw's blog

What is "Public Administration," exactly?

Secretary of Education

Lots of fun stuff at Flypaper:

Reader Contest
Cheers and Frets

And, a Concerned Parent find at the Chronicle of Higher Education: Obama's Possible Candidates for Secretary of Education.

Colin Powell is on the list!

I'm pretty sure Colin Powell would be fine by me, assuming he didn't round up the usual suspects and hand "execution" of policy over to them.

I don't remember whether I've mentioned this, but on my second visit to Hogwarts, back in the spring, I realized that the place felt like a happy military school, or what I imagine a military school to be. I've never visited a military school & don't know anyone who's attended one. Nevertheless, I had a distinct sense of "military-ness": really, really fun military-ness.

Then this fall, when we attended the all-day Family Orientation, the principal told parents that the Jesuits in general and the school in particular have a military cast. I don't recall his exact words, but that was the jist. He told us about the life of Loyola, who was a soldier, and pointed out that the head of the Jesuit order is the "Father-General."

So: quasi-military schools for America's over character-edded boys!

And possibly for America's over character-edded girls. Why should boys have all the fun?

About Face! A Case for Quasi-Military Public Schools
Mayor Daley letter re: military academies

teach your babies to read

European languages are written in an alphabet, because they cannot be written any other way. This is a fact, and there is nothing we can do about it. The evidence reviewed in this book shows that when you follow the principles by which writing systems are constructed and teach the English writing system appropriately, 4-year-olds can easily learn to read in about 10 to 12 weeks. It makes no sense to continue teaching reading the way we do.

Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us about How to Teach Reading
by Diane McGuinness
p. xv

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann
Reading Instruction for Children Who Are At Risk or Have Disabilities by Mary Damer
The Phonics Page
Don Potter
I Speak of Dreams
National Right to Read Foundation
Children of the Code
Reid Lyon

Wednesday, November 5, 2008



First black president. Amazing.

Of course, I wouldn't have minded having the first woman in the White House, either. I say that as a person without a Party.

I wonder what this means in terms of the country's "identity?" I was asking Ed the other night whether other countries have to stop calling us "racist," and he said yes. (Really?)

I'm not crazy about the idea of "transformational" leaders, but will the fact of the country's having elected Obama affect how Americans see themselves?

And if so, will that be transformational?

I have no idea!

This is amazing -----

update 11:55 am


Monday, November 3, 2008

kitchen table math, election edition

Economist Edward Glaeser on the campaign I wish we'd had:
[I]n this hopeful season of presidential change, even economists need to be for something. Some of my colleagues labor to improve healthcare; others fight for tax reform. My dream is that one, or both, candidates will make human capital the centerpiece of their campaign.

More than 70 percent of Americans routinely tell pollsters that the country is headed in the wrong direction. America will not change course just by electing a new president, no matter how much charisma or character that leader might have. America's future will instead depend on the skills of its citizens. In a remarkable new book, my colleagues Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz make a compelling case that America's 20th-century achievements owed much to our nation's once-robust investment in education, and that since the 1970s the growth in that investment has slowed dramatically.


Education increases the ability to deal with innovation, so that investing in skills today will make Americans better able to weather the storms of future technological changes.


The case for governmental investment in education reflects the fact all of us become more productive when our neighbors know more. The success of cities like Boston reflects the magic that occurs when knowledgeable people work and live around each other. As the share of adults in a metropolitan area with college degrees increases by 10 percent, the wages of a worker with a fixed education level increases by 8 percent. Area level education also seems to increase the production of innovations and speed economic growth.

American education is not just another arrow in a quiver of policy proposals, but it is the primary weapon, the great claymore, to fight a host of public ills. One can make a plausible case that improving American education would do as much to improve health outcomes as either candidate's health plans. People with more years of schooling are less obese, smoke less, and live longer. Better-educated people are also more likely to vote and to build social capital by investing in civic organizations.
Alas, a presidential campaign in which human capital figured prominently was not to be.

Meanwhile, here is Gene Expression discovering that more people should be attending college, not fewer:
The first observation here is that educational degrees, whether they confer skills or credentials, are more important to income than IQ when minimum thresholds are met.....Higher IQ generates the biggest pay-off differences between those with advanced degrees, which is consistent with IQ increasing in importance as jobs become more complex. Third, merely earning a Bachelor's degree is a golden ticket. People with average and below average IQs are getting just as much of a financial return out of their 4-year degree as those above the 85th percentile. This suggests many more people of marginal ability should be seeking a Bachelor's degree, not less. Fourth, the two lines for junior college and trade occupations overlap substantially, as we would expect if most people in trade occupations went to trade school. Fifth, and most directly related to Murray's argument, people with 4-year degrees earn much more than people with 2-year degrees and trade jobs at every level of IQ. Average IQ people will get a much, much larger monetary reward from completing a 4 year school than a 2 year school. So the BA is far from being a "meaningless credential" when it comes to "chances of making a good living".

It's possible people with average IQs who complete college are exceptional in other ways. But there is no other empirical evidence that vocational school is better at generating income for those <85th>Again we find that IQ shows no relationship to income for those with a BA, and, in fact, those with lower IQs might profit the most.
the future

Since I'm amongst those who think it's going to get worse before it gets better, it strikes me that it may be possible to make some predictions.

I believe education -- especially a liberal education -- makes you "smarter." Ed has always said that an education in the liberal arts disciplines teaches you how to think, so I'm going to go with that as a working hypothesis as to what it is a liberal education does for a person, regardless of IQ.

U.S. public schools
in my neck of the woods are doing everything in their power to abandon the liberal arts in favor of the 21st century skills. I assume our national "progress" in this direction will accelerate under the next president regardless of which candidate wins office.

What does that mean in terms of real children and what becomes of them?

I think the answer can be found in the population of children being pulled out of the public schools for homeschooling or for enrollment in private, parochial, or charter schools.

For instance, Ed and I were trying to figure out, the other day, whether future presidents will be more likely to have attended private schools, as Obama and McCain both did, than they were in the recent past.

Another possibility: Ed suspects there may be, now, an increase in the percentage of private school students being accepted by highly selective colleges as compared to twenty years ago.

Or take Catholics and evangelical Christians, groups with fairly large numbers of children attending parochial schools or being homeschooled, comparatively speaking. Will we see these children moving ahead of their public school peers in terms of educational attainment and income? (Do we see it now?)

Another group: professors' kids. Professors are one unhappy group where public schools are concerned. Thinking back, we've known very few professors who've sent their kids to public school. We were the last holdouts in our circle, and now we're gone, too.

Last but not least: glancing through a couple of parents' lists, it struck me that political conservatives may be leaving the public schools in larger numbers than centrists or liberals. It's just an impression, but it would make sense. Centrists and liberals can put up with a certain amount of global awareness and environmental stewardship in lieu of college preparation on the district Strategic Plan.* But political conservatives, it seems to me, are going to get their fill of this stuff sooner rather than later.

Many -- perhaps most -- students being pulled out of 21st century public schools for private, parochial, charter, or home schools are going to be better prepared for college, which means they'll be accepted by more competitive colleges, which means they'll be in line for acceptance by more competitive graduate programs. And that's where the action is. **

Point is: it's a safe bet within-group inequality will continue to rise. The question is: who's in the groups within the groups?

Which students will leave the public schools in the coming years, and which will stay?

* Tomorrow, Election Day, my school board will vote to adopt a 20-page Strategic Plan that sets goals for environmental stewardship, global awareness, media literacy, 21st century skills, and wellness, but does not mention college preparation.

** "Demand for those who graduated from more selective institutions as well as those with post-B.A. degrees is still soaring and they are doing spectacularly well." p. 302 The Race Between Technology and Education

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

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Internet Required for Homework?

There's an organization in Readington, NJ called, (here's the page on constructivist math -- sound familiar?).

Anyway, one of the parents involved, John Painter has a blog associated with the organization, Editor's Blog. He recently posted an essay on the various pitfalls of assigning homework that requires the internet. Here's the opening paragraph:
One recent survey of K-12 teachers indicated that 77% of them assign homework which requires the internet. My experience with my own kids certainly backs that up. Unfortunately, these assignments not only require an internet connection, but also direct parental supervision. Most (if not all) of these assignments are based on a simplistic or erroneous understanding of internet technology, or they put an undue burden on parents to provide expensive infrastructure and safety monitoring.

Since I'm not involved with the daily homework grind anymore (except for myself) I found his comments eye-opening.

What Goes into A Thrilling Performance: Dalton Sherman, Age 10, Motivational Speaker

At 10, Dalton Sherman is a speech-making pro. Since winning a big oratory competition in Dallas last January, he’s performed at numerous churches and events all over Dallas. He even opened an event for famed poet Maya Angelou.

Here's a kid who has found his passion: public speaking. A video of the presentation Sherman made to 17,000 teachers of the Dallas Unified School district is making the rounds.

Take note of what Sherman did to prepare:
  • His school (Charles Rice Learning Center) has an oratory program, in which Sherman participated
  • Dallas has an oratory competition that Sherman won earlier in the year.
  • After Sherman won the Gardere MLK competition, Dallas Independent School District contacted the Sherman family to ask if Sherman would address the teachers
  • His presentation was written by the district
  • His mother and his oratory coach worked with him all summer to prepare for the convocation speech in August.
  • Sherman gave the whole speech to live audiences throughout the summer.
In short: preparation, drill, more preparation, and more drill.

Think about that, constructivists.