kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/9/08 - 11/16/08

Thursday, November 13, 2008

as I was saying

Just last week, at the school board meeting, I pointed out that while our kids are constructing their own meaning-slash-knowledge at school, parents are hiring tutors to provide direct instruction at home.

And here it is!

Weapons of Math Destruction

world's smallest political quiz


I didn't see that one coming.

Also, I'm not telling my coordinates.

Enlightening Parent Night at Local H.S.

My son is in the 8th grade at a rigorous k-9 charter school. (I posted about our high school expansion quest here.) Next year all 9th grade students in the district are shifting from jr. high to the high schools. We want him to stay at the charter school for 9th grade. My son, of course, wants to move to a district school, so we're checking them out.

My husband and I left our neighborhood high school (Rocky Mt.) info night for 8th graders & parents in disbelief. In one hour of presentation by the principal, 4 vice principals and several counselors (not all 7 were in attendance), almost no time was devoted to academics. Here's the gist of that 2 minutes and 27 seconds:
"We have a lot of AP classes."
This is the actual list of concerns of the school represented on a powerpoint slide, my thoughts in parentheses:

  • Safety (how will the parking lot work, traffic, what is an open campus)
  • Student differentiation (There's a club for everyone)
  • Capacity (We aren't a school of choice because we're over capacity and we aren't adding buildings because they are too expensive)
  • School choice (You can't opt in at this school, see above)
  • The Lobo Way (Not too sure on this one, they expect the kids to behave?)

The principal went on to state that the school had 3 specific goals:
1. Meet AYP
2. Prepare children for transitions: from 8th to high school & from high school to post-secondary school
3. He didn't give a third, but mentioned prepping kids for post-secondary education again, then said those were the school's 3 goals.
The bulk of the hour discussed:
  • lunches (6 stations next year)
  • beakfasts offered (They set a record for milk consumption last year!)
  • clubs (If kids aren't involved, they aren't successful students)
  • busses
  • the school's internet powerschool-type program
  • traffic patterns (9th grade gets dropped off with the handicapped kids)
  • how the Spanish teacher had students learning videography by performing and recording a cooking show (in Spanish)
  • assemblies (We're taking students to the local jr. highs and shooting off t-shirts to get them excited for next year!)
  • Lobo 101 (mandatory "how to study & how to use their media center" class)
  • late start one day a week for staff meetings (Bummer - it moves from Monday to Wednesday next year.)
  • did I mention clubs?
I know what you're thinking..."How did they fit all this content into 1 hour?"

SO... we went up to 2 of the vice principals at the end and asked specifically 2 questions: "What differentiates you from the other district high schools?" and "What about the academics?"

Their answer to the first: "Well, we have block scheduling, Collins (Fort Collins HS) has a traditional schedule and Poudre has a mix of schedules."

Their answer to the second after we clarified that we were interested in math and science: "We're the only HS to offer Calculus 3 in the district, so you'd be well served here." (I didn't ask what textbook they were using or what the teacher's qualifications were.) At this point one of the principals fled the auditorium. (This is not an exaggeration.)

In all fairness, half the auditorium had students already in attendance at the school and were probably more interested in traffic, late start and lunches than we were. The night was advertised as "for all parents & students of incoming 9th graders" and the principal did acknowledge that many of us might be new to the school.

On the way home, I thought my husband and I did a great job keeping our bias to ourselves and asked #1 son what he thought of the school.

He liked the block schedule and the late start.

I'm going back today and re-reading all posts on KTMII tagged "high school". I have a lot of research to do before choice applications are due.

Next week my husband will be handling Poudre & Fort Collins H.S.

I'll be at the Core Knowledge conference - stop by & say "hi".

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Rochelle Math Department Chairman Struggles with Basic Calculations

In a school that claims to have achieved massive improvements in math test scores over the past two years, what to make of a school board presentation where the head of the math department is unable to perform even the most basic mathematical calculations?

A few days ago, I had the misfortune to attend a local school board meeting held at the Isaac E. Young Middle School in New Rochelle, NY.  I was there to speak on an entirely different matter but found myself in utter shock as speaker after speaker presented charts and tables and graphs where the information in their presentations directly contradicted what they were telling school board members.  The board asked just one question over two hours.

The low point was a sorry presentation by the head of the math department who was supposedly comparing the percentage of students scoring at or above expectations on a state math exam between 2006 and 2008.  According to this math genius, the growth from 2006 to 2008 showed a three year growth rate.  Apparently, eight minus six equals three in New Rochelle.  Even more pathetic was his inability to calculate that growth rate.  For example, for black and African-American students, 46% scored "at or above" in 2006; in 2008 that figure was 71%.  In New Rochelle you apparently calculate growth rate by subtracting 46 from 71 to get 25% growth instead of the old-fashioned way where growth is calculated by measuring growth from a base amount  or (71-46)/46 = 54% growth.

Based on his calculation of 25% growth over three years or about 8% a year, he told the board that while the growth rate was not as high as he would have liked, the good news is that the data showed "steady and sustainable growth".  Except that the data actually showed an annualized growth rate three times higher, a rate that is, by definition, unsustainable.

There is a lot more to say about New Rochelle but first I would like to thank Catherine Johnson for the opportunity to post here about the many problems parents are facing in New Rochelle, NY.  We certainly have the deck stacked against us in our effort to foster greater transparency within our school district so every little bit helped.

How bad are the problems?

Last year a white supervisor at the same middle schools hung a stuffed animal - a monkey - on a noose in the building.  One of the janitors, who is black, removed it and complained.  The result?  The supervisor hung up TWO MORE nooses to retaliate for taking down the first noose.  The initial response of the District was to reprimand the supervisor.  When the NAACP got involved the supervisor was suspended for three weeks.  How many places in the United States do you know where a supervisor could hang a stuffed monkey from a noose and keep their job?  The NAACP is now suing the District.

As an experienced blogger, I have often been approached by people in New Rochelle to help them start a community blog to shine a light in a city of close to 100,000 people with no local newspaper and therefore almost zero accountability by the press for local government and the local school board.  Over the summer I finally broke down and helped them create New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound (the city is located on Long Island Sound).  I am now helping them file Freedom of Information Law requests, source tips from inside the school district and otherwise shine a bright light on the people who run the local school system.  The first time I went to follow up on a tip - again at this same middle school - the District responded by sending two police detectives to my house based on the false claim they did not know me.

Sadly, many are being duped by the highly questionable data in New Rochelle.  The State has named the school "improving", MetLife gave them an award and now, based primarily on this sort of data BusinessWeek ranked New Rochelle one of the best places to raise kids in the United States.  Now, I live her, have four kids and my wife works for the District.  I really WANT this to be true.  It isn't.

Monday, November 10, 2008

21st century or the real world: pick one

The mean literacy scores of all jobs projected to exist in the year 2005 were only 2 to 3 points above those prevailing in 1992. Unless the demand for professional, managerial, and technical workers increases at a rate faster than that projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or unless literacy requirements for existing jobs are substantially upgraded, there does not appear to be any serious literacy mismatch between the projected occupational job structure and the available work force in the early years of the 21st century.

Literacy in the Labor Force
National Adult Literacy Survey
September 1999
p. 266
I say we forget the 21st century skills and teach the liberal arts disciplines.

Of course, I suppose these projections could have changed since 1999. If so, that's all the more reason to forget about 21st century skills and teach the liberal arts disciplines.

pop quiz, part 2

Literacy Quiz

I scored 4 out of 7.

I would have scored 5, but I misread one of the questions. (Yes, that's ironic.)

Off the top of your head, what would you say the answer to this one is:

Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is quoted as saying that what percentage of "the kids who go to college in the United States would not be admitted to college anywhere else in the world."?

pop quiz

an acronym I can live with



National Right to Read Foundation

Designing a High School

A parent group at the charter school my children attend in Colorado is investigating adding 10-12th grades. I volunteered to work on the curriculum committee even though I doubt my middle school sons will attend. In order to be approved by the district to extend the charter, the school must provide an education not available at other local schools so they are looking at a math & science focus.

State and district standards in math and science are pretty basic, trig concepts, bio, chem and physics. The high school would be added to a k-8 school with a core knowledge curriculum that also teaches Singapore Math and Latin. An overwhelming majority of the students are in Algebra by 8th grade. My 7th grader is in Algebra and there is at least one 8th grader taking differential equations at the community college. (FYI- This school uses New Elementary Math as a pre-algebra course)

The committee is set on requiring math through Calculus and the basics in science. We're wondering about what to add as required: engineering courses, advanced biological science courses or physical science courses?

Suppose you were given the opportunity to devise a math & science high school. What type of coursework would you require?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

While we're busy developing 21st century skills...

U.S. colleges scour China for top students

BEIJING, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Harvard, Stanford and other top U.S. colleges say they're actively recruiting China's best high school students and offering them full scholarships.

Recruiting the best Chinese students will help elite U.S.colleges maintain international dominance, especially in math and science, said William Fitzsimmons, Harvard's admissions dean.

"There are no quotas, no limits on the number of Chinese students we might take," Fitzsimmons told more than 300 students during a recent visit to a high school in Beijing.

Somehow I doubt those Chinese students are busy putting together PowerPoint presentations or posters in anticipation of the 21st century. They're too busy working on math and science skills the world needs right now.

Source: United Press International

an era of secondary orality

In today's Wall Street Journal:

In 1937, twenty-nine per cent of American adults told the pollster George Gallup that they were reading a book. In 1955, only seventeen per cent said they were. Pollsters began asking the question with more latitude. In 1978, a survey found that fifty-five per cent of respondents had read a book in the previous six months. The question was even looser in 1998 and 2002, when the General Social Survey found that roughly seventy per cent of Americans had read a novel, a short story, a poem, or a play in the preceding twelve months. And, this August, seventy-three per cent of respondents to another poll said that they had read a book of some kind, not excluding those read for work or school, in the past year. If you didn’t read the fine print, you might think that reading was on the rise.

You wouldn’t think so, however, if you consulted the Census Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts, who, since 1982, have asked thousands of Americans questions about reading that are not only detailed but consistent. The results, first reported by the N.E.A. in 2004, are dispiriting. In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.


Book sales, meanwhile, have stagnated. The Book Industry Study Group estimates that sales fell from 8.27 books per person in 2001 to 7.93 in 2006. According to the Department of Labor, American households spent an average of a hundred and sixty-three dollars on reading in 1995 and a hundred and twenty-six dollars in 2005. In “To Read or Not to Read,” the N.E.A. reports that American households’ spending on books, adjusted for inflation, is “near its twenty-year low,” even as the average price of a new book has increased.

More alarming are indications that Americans are losing not just the will to read but even the ability. According to the Department of Education, between 1992 and 2003 the average adult’s skill in reading prose slipped one point on a five-hundred-point scale, and the proportion who were proficient—capable of such tasks as “comparing viewpoints in two editorials”—declined from fifteen per cent to thirteen. The Department of Education found that reading skills have improved moderately among fourth and eighth graders in the past decade and a half, with the largest jump occurring just before the No Child Left Behind Act took effect, but twelfth graders seem to be taking after their elders. Their reading scores fell an average of six points between 1992 and 2005, and the share of proficient twelfth-grade readers dropped from forty per cent to thirty-five per cent. The steepest declines were in “reading for literary experience”—the kind that involves “exploring themes, events, characters, settings, and the language of literary works,” in the words of the department’s test-makers. In 1992, fifty-four per cent of twelfth graders told the Department of Education that they talked about their reading with friends at least once a week. By 2005, only thirty-seven per cent said they did.


There’s no reason to think that reading and writing are about to become extinct, but some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special “reading class,” much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the nineteenth century. They warn that it probably won’t regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become “an increasingly arcane hobby.” [albeit a hobby associated with continually growing inequality]


The scholar Walter J. Ong once speculated that television and similar media are taking us into an era of “secondary orality,” akin to the primary orality that existed before the emergence of text.

Twilight of the Books
by Caleb Crain

This thought has crossed my mind.

In the schools these days, "technology" is sexy and books are not. This phenomenon has now advanced to the point where the words "school library" mean what "computer lab" used to, and visual options are available in all courses at all levels. Honors English courses give students the option of making posters instead of writing papers, middle school students slap together PowerPoints instead of writing book reports, and lord only knows what's happening with the little ones these days.

Keyboarding, I guess.

Did it ever cross anyone's mind that we might one day look back on invented spelling as a Golden Era when reading and writing mattered?

21st century skills in action

In case anyone was wondering what 21st century skills look like.

Basically, the way this shakes out is:

21st century skills, yay or nay

Parents: nay

Unions, ed schools, edu-policy types, and advocacy organizations: yay

Which is pretty much all you need to know about where U.S. students are going to stack up internationally after unions, ed schools, edu-policy types, and advocacy organizations finish infusing 21st century skills into our public schools.

Sauve qui peut.*

* save yourself if you can

if Abe Lincoln had 21st century skills

from Laura:

the Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation

Why McGuinness is Mistaken: Some Reading Problems ARE Biologically Based

In the post called "Why English-Speaking Children Can't Read", CJ quotes Dianne McGuinness, who baldly asserts that there is no biological basis to reading difficulties--it's all bad teaching.

While I respect and admire Professor McGuinness's contribution to education and her approach to the teaching of reading, her assertion is not supported by findings from cognitive neuroscience, particularly findings from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies comparing cognitive patterns of good readers and poor readers.

Further, reading and writing are complex, subtle biological activities -- crudely put, the eye must see, the brain must make sense of the visual stimuli; the brain must order the hand to perform a precise series of actions. A sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the neurocognitive nature of the processes, when they perform well, will bring us to understand where the breakdowns occur and how to remediate them.

I believe that Professor McGuinness's assertion is made without a full understanding of what fMRI studies have revealed abou the structure of the reading brain.

The researcher who has done the most to make the cognitive neuroscience accessible to lay readers is Marianne Wolf. I will quote from several sources to illustrate her findings:

From a Tufts University interview with Wolf:
According to Wolf, the brain never evolved to read. Rather, reading reveals how the brain "rearranges older structures devoted to linguistic, perceptual and cognitive regions to make something new." Children with dyslexia have a range of difficulties that prevent this.
Children of the Code interview with Maryanne Wolf --

Dr. Maryanne Wolf: The history of reading disabilities, (I'll use the word dyslexia - some people use it, some people don't), is such a fascinating one because it's like a case study in science patterns, the desire for parsimony among scientists and the refusal of the human brain to be typed in one way. What you see in this history is one researcher after another seizing on what is in front of them and saying, "Ah, that's what dyslexia is. That's what causes it." And it's really the most over-worked and even platitudinous analogy in the world. But the blind men and the elephant describe the history of dyslexia research.

David Boulton: And the Sufi key Story.

Dr. Maryanne Wolf: Exactly. If you look and put together even only the names of dyslexia, you'll see one hypothesis is visual, one is memory, one is verbal, one is auditory. You just go down the list. Well, if you put them all together, or if, as I'm doing this in a book now [Proust and the Squid], I just put those names on the brain and you see a crude cartography of reading. In other words, if it can go wrong it does. And at one point in the history of dyslexia each has been called the major explanation for dyslexia. Now, the modern history has been punctuated by really different, very technologically sophisticated approaches including neurosciences and also including a lot of wonderful work done in an area called psycholinguistics.

In the 1970’s there was a great set of researchers at Haskins Lab at Yale and they were really beginning a whole new approach to understanding dyslexia by looking at the linguistic foundations of reading breakdown. That began one of the single best hypotheses we've ever had which is that the phonological system in language, that is, our ability to hear, to discriminate the smallest sounds called phonemes in words is a fundamental necessity in learning to read and a fundamental source of why some children can't learn to read. That began what is called the phonological deficit hypothesis, which has really been the most successful of explanations to date.

Rapid Naming, Phonemic Awareness and Speed of Processing:

Dr. Maryanne Wolf: My research began while that hypothesis was in its zenith. At the same time I was equally influenced by neurosciences, which was then called neurological or neuropsychological studies. We were beginning to see that there was this one very odd phenomenon that children who were going to become dyslexic were always exhibiting, whether they were five or six or seven, and that was a failure to be able to name, it’s so simple, to name things they saw at the same speed that other children could.

Well, naming seems very simple but it's actually a very difficult set of underlying processes
. So, my mentor, Martha Denckla and her mentor, a neurologist, Norman Geschwind, were responsible for really getting the field to think differently, if you will. In the beginning, people said, "Well, naming speed is just another kind of phonology. You need to be able to retrieve a phonological label." And, for a while that satisfied me. Then, I began to see kids who had no phoneme issues in other areas and yet they had this....

David Boulton: You mean in terms of their ability to articulate themselves on the fly they would demonstrate that they had good phoneme processing but they couldn't name, which has an association component?

Dr. Maryanne Wolf: Well, that's really close. I'll just give you a slightly more technical explanation by saying that when we did all our tests we had explicit measures of these phoneme awareness skills that everybody says were the most important ones and we were seeing that some kids didn't have that but they had naming speed issues. Well, if they're both the same, they should have both. And they weren't exhibiting that and that began us thinking that there are so many issues beyond the phoneme, which includes the visual system and the retrieval system. It includes the speed with which the brain puts its systems together.

That was what we got fixated on. That's not the same as phoneme awareness. So, we then began to really get in-depth understandings of naming speed and the speed with which not only that you name but the speed with which you read and how that fluency in reading is really important not for speed as speed, but for the brain's ability to do those easy processes fast enough to allocate time to comprehension.

David Boulton: Right. So, those lower levels are operating efficiently and there's sufficient bandwidth to be reflective and comprehensive.

Dr. Maryanne Wolf: Perfect. That's what we were beginning to understand. So, this tiny little innocuous naming speed test opened up a world of understanding about how important all of these individual processes are that go beyond the phoneme and how important reading fluency is for comprehension. So, that puts you into, literally, a different ball park from the implication of the phonological deficit, which is that you work on words and phonemes and you get the kids to be able to recognize words and read, decode them and everything else is going to happen naturally. Well, it isn't that simple.

Double-Deficit Hypothesis and Interventions:

Dr. Maryanne Wolf: My colleague, Pat Bowers, and I, and others, (we weren't the only two), advanced our hypothesis in the early nineties. Back then we were kind of John the Baptist-types. It was a little hard going there for a while. Then people started thinking, we know they're right. We still believe it's phonology but there is no doubt that there are these kids. Here is where what we call the double-deficit hypothesis comes in: there are these kids who have single deficits in phoneme awareness, single deficits in naming speed without phoneme, and then double-deficit kids who have both. The kids who have both reading fluency and comprehension issues have different reasons for reading failure than the kids who have only phoneme awareness issues.

David Boulton: And therefore, need different interventions to differentiate their way through what’s obstructing their processing.

Do go read the rest of the interview.

Excerpt from Proust and the Squid

Brain Science Podcast: Interview with Maryanne Wolf

California Literary Review: Proust and the Squid

Podcast: Moira Gunn Interviews Maryanne Wolf: Evolution of the Reading Brain

Guardian Review of Proust and the Squid

Link to description of the RAVE-O reading comprehension program and to description of one RAVE-O training program.

thank you, Jay Mathews

Have I mentioned the fact that my district has produced a 20-page Strategic Plan that does mention 21st century skills and does not mention college preparation?

Well, it has.

This is why we have Jay Mathews:

Why I Don't Like 21st-Century Reports

Another well-intentioned report on the future of American schools reached my cubicle recently: "21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness: A Resource and Policy Guide." ... It is full of facts and colorful illustrations, with foresight and relevance worthy of the fine organizations that funded it -- the National Education Association, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Ford Motor Company Fund and the Tucson-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a leading education advocacy organization that also produced the report and sent it to me and many other people.

So why, after reading it, did I feel like tossing it into the waste basket?

I know the answer to that one.

Because it's horsepucky on stilts.

"Our ability to compete as a nation -- and for states, regions and communities to attract growth industries and create jobs -- demands a fresh approach to public education. We need to recognize that a 21st century education is the bedrock of competitiveness -- the engine, not simply an input, of the economy.

"And we need to act accordingly: Every aspect of our education system -- preK--12, postsecondary and adult education, after-school and youth development, workforce development and training, and teacher preparation programs -- must be aligned to prepare citizens with the 21st century skills they need to compete."

Okay. Sounds good. I kept reading. There was much detail, accompanied by pie charts and graphs and photos of smiling children, about the growth of information service jobs.... It listed the "21st century skills" that our children need for the rapidly evolving labor market. These included thinking critically and making judgments, solving complex, multidisciplinary, open-ended problems, developing creative and entrepreneurial thinking, communicating and collaborating, making innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities and taking charge of financial, health and civic responsibilities.

Good stuff. I liked all of those suggestions. I had only one question: How in the name of every teacher who has ever contemplated suicide during the unit on fractions are we supposed to make those things happen?

I know the answer to that one, too.

In low-performing schools, instruction in fractions will be replaced by instruction in PowerPoint (communicating and collaborating), new assessments measuring 21st century skills will be implemented, and scores will go up.

In high-performing schools, instruction in fractions will also be replaced by instruction in PowerPoint, new assessments measuring 21st century skills will be implemented, and scores will go up.

There will be one difference.

In low-performing schools, students won't learn fractions.

In high-performing schools, (some) students will learn fractions because their parents will teach them.

Question: what do parents think of this?

Or teachers?

Answer: it doesn't matter. The establishment has reached a consensus, and we-the-people will have no say in the mass abandonment by our schools of the liberal arts disciplines in favor of 21st century skills:

I know a lot of people are tired of testing, and some are tired of hearing about 21st century skills. But both are here to stay and both matter tremendously for education reform. Improving assessment is the very first bullet in Obama’s list of how to reform NCLB, and he intends to do it by creating new models for assessment that measure “higher order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas.”

Easier said than done? On Monday Education Sector is going to release a paper I wrote about measuring 21st century skills (yes, 2 for 1! testing plus 21st century skills). At the same time we’re opening up a week-long discussion on our website to delve further into this topic--what should we measure? what can we measure? We hope you’ll join in with some good comments and hard questions.

Testing in the 21st Century

Ed Sector has spoken, and it will be so.

educationally correct

"KPM" just left a comment, which I've followed to a terrific site I don't think I've come across before:

Educationally Correct

Powell on Education

I've been intrigued by the idea of Colin Powell as Secretary of Education. I like the idea that he isn't cut from the education establishment cloth and has no allegiances to the Teacher's Unions or Schools of Education. I like the idea of discipline and hard work that he represents.

Mostly, I was encouraged when I turned up this quote today:

"If we truly believe they are all our children, then all of us must be willing to spend more to repair our schools and spend more to pay our teachers better. But we must also be open to new ideas.

Let’s not be afraid of standardized testing for students. Let’s not be afraid of testing teachers’ qualifications. Let’s not be afraid of charter schools. Let’s not be afraid of using private scholarship money to give poor parents a choice that wealthy parents have. Let’s not be afraid of home schooling. Let’s experiment prudently with school voucher programs to see if they help. What are we afraid of? Let’s use innovation and competition, good old American innovation, good old American competition to help give our children the best education possible."

Colin Powell, Speech at the GOP Convention, 7-30-2000

Colin Powell on Education