kitchen table math, the sequel: the golden age 1956-1970

Sunday, April 5, 2009

the golden age 1956-1970

A woman here in town gave me permission to post this account of her experience teaching in Manhattan public schools between the years 1956-1970:
As a retired teacher, my experience was in Manhattan elementary schools in the NYC school system. This was a challenging teaching environment since the children ranged from the economically advantaged to the very economically disadvantaged. I taught in East Harlem and later in P.S. 9 on West End Avenue/84th St., two extremes.

We teachers were not indoctrinated in, and certainly didn't teach, the "whole method" system of reading. Most of us went to the City Colleges--City College, Hunter College, Brooklyn, Queens-- and learned teaching methods, materials, and philosophy. Most of my peers had a Masters degree in Education.

We could not qualify to teach in the NYC school system merely by sending for a certificate to show that we went to college. We had to be licensed by NYC, thoroughly tested in knowledge in every area of teaching before going into the classroom. This included a speech test. Any student teacher with an accent, speech impediment or related problem, especially with s, t, d, r, or l, was to be helped by a speech pathologist. FREE! I remember going to Professor Davidson, a leading speech therapist and being drilled with the poem "Jenny Kissed Me" on many 8AM mornings.

The NYC Board of Education issued curriculum bulletins for every grade and in every subject area. These bulletins were uniform for all the boroughs and indicated what was to be taught. I never experienced any teacher who thought they or the students were being stifled. On the contrary, we teachers were as creative as was necessary to do our jobs. I, being a budding artist then, always found creative ways to engage the students in learning.

We were required to make lesson plans for approval. Our lesson plan book was collected every week by our assistant principal. Each lesson had to have a stated goal, a provision for review and reinforcement, procedures or methods, and a conclusion. It wasn't fun making lesson plans, but it made us more efficient, focused, and better teachers.

Why should anyone need "Field Tested" curricula if teachers are properly trained and supervised?

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

A quick explanation of that last observation: the writer of this account was responding to my assertion that Irvington should adopt only field-tested curricula.

I read her narrative & marvel. She is talking about the public schools of Goldin & Katz's America:
At the dawn of the twentieth century the United States became the richest nation in the world. Its people had a higher average standard of living than those in Britain, the previous leader. America was poised to ascend further. The gap between it and other front-runners would widen and the standard of living of its residents would cotinue to grow, even when its doors were open to the world's poor. American economic supremacy would be maintained to the end of the century, and beyond. In economic terms, the twentieth century fully merits the title "The American Century."

The twentieth century could also be titled the "Human Capital Century." By the end of the twentieth century all nations, even the poorest, provided elementary schooling and beyond to most of their citizens. At the start of the century and even by its midpoint many nations, including relatively rich ones, educated only those who could personally afford to attend school. The United States was different. Its educational system had always been less elite than those of European countries. By 900, if not before, it had begun to educate its masses at the secondary level not just in primary schools, at which it had remarkable success in the nineteenth century.

That the twentieth century was both the American Century and the Human Capital Century is no historical accident. Economic growth in the more modern period requires educated workers, managers, entrepreneurs, and citizens. Modern technologies must be invented, innovated, put in place, and maintained. They must have capable workers at the helm. Rapid technological advance, measured in various ways, has characterized the twentieth century. Because the American people were the most educated in the world, they were in the best position to invent, be entrepreneurial, and produce goods and services using advanced techologies.

The Race Between Education and Technology
by Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz
p. 1-2
That was then.
Two Tales of the Twentieth Century: A Summary

The history of inequality during the twentieth century is a tale in two parts. The first was punctuated by episodes of declining inequality, some quite sudden and rapid. Stable or slowly rising inequality marked other parts of the period. On the whole, the first three-quarters of the century were years of greatly diminished inequality and lowered returns to education. Americans grew together as economic growth was shared throughout the income distribution during much of the period.

Everything came to a halt in the 1970s.

by Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz
p. 87

Are teachers today required to include "provisions for reinforcement and review" in their lesson plans? (Come to think of it, what is the status of lesson plans nowadays, anyway?)

My own school district appears to be almost exclusively concerned with understanding. Not just understanding: Enduring Understanding. Enduring Understanding and Essential Questions. It's in the Plan.*

Actual learning, in the sense of content making it into a child's long-term memory, is assumed.

When, lo and behold, a child fails to recall on tests the material he has "understood" in class, that is a problem for parents to fix.

That's not the way it was when American schools were great.

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences
Jimmy graduates

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

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

the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
Bloomington High School & "path dependency"
the election debate that should have been
the golden age: a NYC teacher remembers
the White House cites Goldin & Katz

* the newly approved 21-page Strategic Plan, the one that includes 21st century skills but does not include college preparation


Catherine Johnson said...

I've tagged this "Greatest Hits"; you can also refind this post by searching for either "Manhattan teacher" or Manhattanteacher.

concernedCTparent said...

I absolutely must read Goldin & Katz next.

This post was fantastic, btw. Loved it!

rgetzel86 said...

Perhaps that is how history will view the United States, a veritable flash in the pan. The 20th century was our century, to be sure, but can anyone say with a straight face that the 21st century will be the same?

We pioneered public education, other countries followed suit, and then we stagnated. We failed to take notice of what other countries did to overcome us, but we did raise a lot of ire about our education system without doing much about it.

Ultimately, we have and will do very little to reform it. Sure, we have a piece of legislation (NCLB) essentially requiring states to improve academic performance by documenting performance on standardized tests. What has happened? A number of states have lowered standards to fudge their results. But even if states did do their darndest to improve scores, we haven't fixed the root problem. We can't address crappy performance by mandating not crappy performance.

Now we have new education reform in the works, with merit pay as the centerpiece. I simply laugh at the prospect of merit pay fixing our system.

How about education schools which actually prepare teachers to teach certain courses, leaving no stone unturned? I'm in ed school right now, and I gotta tell you, I'm a little tired of hearing about differentiated instruction. I could benefit a lot more from classes that help me to better teach middle school mathematics, which is what I do. I am currently in the New York City Teaching Fellows Program. I have a transitional certificate, which allows me to teach while enrolled in a Masters of Secondary Mathematics Education program. I realize that some do not approve of this arrangement, but the program does put a premium on bringing in high-achieving individuals. I am a Cornell graduate, and I passed the mathematics CST examination, which tests students on everything up to calculus.

Now, Not only are we far behind our industrialized peers in educational achievement, we are also near last in teacher pay. It's simple economics. Make teaching pay, and you'll induce more quality teachers to serve your students. Right now, the average SAT score of teachers is under 1000, lending credence to the notion that those who can't do, teach.

And content-rich standards. National standards. ALL the European countries have this, and Japan too. God forbid we mandate that students learn something substantive. By the 12th grade, we're gonna have a graduating class of "critical thinkers" who can't think about anything because they've learned nothing.

Barry Garelick said...

Thanks for the post.I will be sure to read this since I will be revising my article on "traditional math"
which looks at things such as the steady rise in Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) scores in Iowa which rose steadily from the 40's through the mid 60's in all subjects, and then took a dive--a dive mirrored by the decline in SAT scores across the country starting at the same time. It is for American Educator.

Tracy W said...

We pioneered public education

Are you sure about this? The British were experimenting about the same time during the 19th century.

Now, Not only are we far behind our industrialized peers in educational achievement, we are also near last in teacher pay.

Do you have any evidence to support this statement?

rgetzel86 said...

US Flunks in Teacher Pay Compared to Other Countries

Similar article, with graphic about starting teaching pay as percentage of per capita GDP. A sample of ten places the United States last, well behind South Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Hong Kong, England, Australia, Finland, Singapore, and Belgium. One can only assume that other Western nations are ahead of us, since they are in just about every indicator of prosperity, including poverty, inequality, cost of health care, infant mortality, etc.

I was quite sure this fact was well documented.

Horace Mann began the push for public education in the 1850s. England simultaneously began this push, but history largely attributes the advent of mass public education to the United States.

rgetzel86 said...

When I say ahead of us in those indicators, I mean that they mark better than us. Hence, they would have less inequality, poverty, a lower cost of health care, lower infant mortality rates. Which is all true. The OEcD has very public statistics about this.

Tracy W said...

firstly, I am actually a NZ citizen, not an American one. I have lived in the USA and I had a wonderful time there and I like many things about the country, but I am not a US citizen and nor am I trying to be. I do notice that there is a long stream of people who either think that America is uniquely good or uniquely bad in many cases where America is relatively ordinary.

Of the two links you supplied, one only look at 9 other OECD countries, not all of them.
I can't find the graph you mentioned - the link points to one about transport and I have not been able to find a graph about education on the site. This may however be a reflection on my search skills, not on the site.

Tracy W said...

As for history attributing the success of public education to the USA, I suspect that this is mostly US history that does such attribution. I never got this account from the mostly British-written history books we had in NZ.

lgm said...

rgetzel86, I'd like to point out that teacher compensation in NY is not substandard. The average teacher makes 65K in salary in my district, with the 25 yr vets at 85K, despite having no change in job responsibilities since Day 1. (Anything extra is compensated for seperately, per the union contract). A Tier 1 retiree will be pulling down about 65K plus full medical benefits and continue to recieve automatic COLA. Considering the job responsibility doesn't change at all over the career, and 25% of students can't pass the Grade 7 ELA test despite having veteran teachers, I don't see how any more money chucked to teachers is going to help. This is already such a highly desireable career that we have teachers getting their grandchildren into the field.

Here's an interesting website for you:

rgetzel86 said...

Plug a 65K salary in New York into a salary converter, and you'll find that it's worth less EVERYWHERE in the United States. Because even though teachers in New York have a higher number than most, the cost of living is among the highest in the world.

My father is a teacher and now he makes the maximum, $100,000. Take a four member family with only one breadwinner, and you have a family struggling to get by in New York.

Take any graduating four-year student. Let's make him/her brilliant and hard-working, but racked with student loans and in need to make money in a hurry. Because other professional vocations (nursing, Wall St, engineering) pay more, the choice is clear for anyone who was not born a teacher. The choice is clear for anyone going into college thinking about a major. It's conventional wisdom that teaching doesn't pay enough. I hear it and you hear it all the time.

Uh, um, I could have gone into the labor market after gruaduation and started earning 10,000 to 15,000 more than my meager 45,000 starting salary. True enough, now I look like a genius for going into education with all my best friends experiencing layoffs, although it would be a stretch to say that I am not immune at this point.

Up until the current budget crisis, New York had been experiencing teacher shortages. It doesn't take an economist to point out that current levels of compensationo were not enough to induce enough quality teachers into the field. It's simple labor economics, my major in college.

rgetzel86 said...

This is the website with the graphic posted about teacher compensation across countries.

I will try to find more comprehensiva data.

rgetzel86 said...

rgetzel86 said...

I am so sorry. For the strangest reason, the link is changing when I post my comment.

Finish the thread with...


RMD said...

try next time!