kitchen table math, the sequel: the natives are restless

## Thursday, October 15, 2009

### the natives are restless

How much of this has to do with that asinine Everyday Math? I'm fighting every week with the teachers to keep a calculator out of my kid's hands until she can do arithmetic on her own, something she's eminently capable of doing someday (she's six, for crying out loud). Yes, including long division (not that it's part of the curriculum -- why think for yourself when you can use the outboard brain?) and maybe some introductory algebra. These teachers, who'd stare like deer in headlights if asked to calculate the future value of anything and come out with a number, give me this endless stream of talking-point baloney from the Everyday Math "how to reassure parents who are scared because it's not like the math they remember" book. They don't understand why I'm so stuck on the idea that my daughter should be able to do her own adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying. AAARGH.

Amy from Iowa

You can vote to "Recommend" your favorite comments on the story. Amy got my vote.

Speaking of Everyday Math, remember this?

SteveH said...

Speaking of NAEP, I'll point to this again.

Nation's Report Card

14, 26, 38, ______ , ______

The numbers in the pattern above are increasing by 12. Which of these numbers is part of the pattern?

A. 52
B. 58
C. 60
D. 62

They give them the pattern even though that's what math curricula emphasize over and over and over.

Our state papers trumpeted today that our scores have gone up. Oh, but they are still lower than the average in the country.

The question above is from 2007 and only 55% got it right. One educational journalist told me that NAEP is the "Gold Standard".

Gold standard of what?

If it isn't Everyday Math, it would be something else. They would even screw up Singapore Math or Saxon Math. This isn't about understanding or critical thinking, it's about not getting the job done. I am constantly seeing how schools dance (and color) all around learning. They don't dive in and get to work. This isn't a philosophical discussion about how kids learn. It's about hard work and high expectations.

Doug Sundseth said...

My son, now in 4th grade, is doing sequences as a (small) part of his daily homework. Of course, that's just review work at the start of the grade, the rule isn't given but must be inferred by the student, and the sequences include negative numbers.

But then he's using Saxon, not EM.

SteveH said...

I reread many of the comments and they make me sick to my stomach. Nobody looks at the sample questions and results. One even commented that not all kids are 'B' students. There are many who talk about teaching to the test or how horrible tests are. Then there are those who blame it all on the kids, parents, or society.

They didn't look at the sample questions and results. We're not talking about disaffected high school kids. You can even ignore 8th graders, but how do you explain away these 4th grade questions and results? This isn't about understanding or how the brain works, and it's not about motivation. It's about caring one ounce about whether kids master anything at all. Just go through the motions and give them a test. If you don't like the results of the test, just find some excuse. Point to the kids who do well without wondering why that happens.

If fifth grade teachers find that some kids have little mastery of the times table, they should scream bloody murder. I do not want to hear about excuses. I don't want them to just do the best they can. They should go to the union. Supposedly they care about kids. Bring parents into the fight. They should not just roll over and whine. We're talking about kids' futures. We're talking about educational malpractice.

I do not want to talk about discovery or understanding or learning styles. I want to talk about accountability and hard work. I want to talk about how parents can force changes or find another path.

RMD said...

here's the thing . . . parents are part of the problem

there's a teaching method called "Direct Instruction" that works every time it is implemented correctly, and has study after study showing its effectiveness. However, when you see it in action, parents are spooked. It doesn't look like "typical" instruction, even though it's proven to work.

So even when you have a method that works, it looks different and thus upsets parent (and teacher) sensibilities and creates resistance.

The same thing happens in medicine. Apparently (I haven't gone through the research, but I heard this), PSA tests really don't help much in the long-term progression of prostate cancer. But if you tell people this, they simply won't believe you. Same thing with lots of treatments in medicine. From what I understand, many of the standard things that doctors do (check your heart with a stethoscope, for example) aren't proven to do much for a patient. Nonetheless, it's almost impossible to convince people otherwise.

I'm open for suggestions, but the problem is deep and difficult to address.

Anonymous said...

RMD,

Parents are at work in several districts desperately trying to have the curriculum changed from constructivist curricula such as EveryDay math and TERC Investigations and being denied by the districts. These are often in wealthy districts, with well-educated and organized parents, and nonetheless they fail.

Districts, teachers and administrators don't even want to hear parents' opinions on curriculum. As far as they're concerned, they're the experts. And they have absolutely no interest in going to a curriculum they feels strips them of their creativity. It's not the parents being spooked that bothers the district. Parents are pretty spooked at the curriculum now, but there's almost no movement from the school systems.

Engelmann's DI is a good system, well-thought and effective. Ken DeRosa, who runs d-edreckoning.blogspot.com, also posts here and recommends it highly. I used Engelmann's 100 Easy Lessons book myself with my own child. It's not parents who are keeping it from being put in place, even if some might react badly to it.

~Sam

Allison said...

Actually, "parents" aren't a monolith, but Sam's right, they basically have no power anyway.

Some parents probably react badly to DI. I know some parents who insist on putting their kids in "peace studies" charter schools, whatever that means. I know others who want classical curricula for their kids; others who want vo-tech.

To lump all parents into any bin is unhelpful, because it gives some schools and districts license to say "what do parents want? How troublesome, since they don't agree! let's not listen to any of them!" or "let's only offer the least common denominator!"

The parents have no power at all. They might get lip service, they might be used to validate district or admin or teacher approval, but their disapproval does not cause any changes that weren't already desired by the parties in power.

RMD said...

my humblest apologies!

I meant to say "some" parents . . .

Redkudu said...

Parents who don't know the right questions to ask, or even that there ARE questions to ask are at the mercy of what the schools tell them. Parents are spooked by direct instruction because of what they are told about it by teachers who don't know any better - it's rote repetition, it's drill 'n kill. No wonder, with those labels, it doesn't come across well.

I think I told these stories once before, but they're so recent they're worth retelling.

1. Our new math facilitator at the school divulged to me (reading and English teacher) that her 1st grader's teacher told her they "just don't teach phonics, because it's so wrong." Luckily, she's savvy enough to have been teaching her daughter phonics on the sly.

2. Another math teacher told me his two elementary aged sons, in the same grade with different teachers, are learning different things in reading. One is bringing home sight word lists every night, the other brings home nothing. I told him I disagreed with sight words before phonics because it taught kids to see words as images, rather than units of meaning. You should have seen how wide his eyes got - "I never thought of it that way." He gets it, because the same thing is happening with our high school math students.

This has got to stop.

Catherine Johnson said...

I reread many of the comments and they make me sick to my stomach. Nobody looks at the sample questions and results. One even commented that not all kids are 'B' students.

I know!

Quite a few argued that Massachusetts probably has bad tests without having any idea what's been going on there.

Catherine Johnson said...

However, when you see it in action, parents are spooked. It doesn't look like "typical" instruction, even though it's proven to work.

Oh, that's funny!

(Hi, RMD!)

I say 'it's funny' because we've spent years here lamenting the fact that parents are constantly being criticized for not liking constructivist curricula because they don't look like what we think school should be!

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, I think RMD is right: a Direct Instruction class would be shocking or unsettling to many parents.

Anything that looks different is unsettling; that's human nature (or animal nature, I should say).

One thing I've seen time and again is parents assuming they want a progressive-type classroom and education for their kids - which I probably assumed to some degree myself (though I was more resistant from the get-go than friends of mine).

Then when they experience the reality they quickly change their minds.

I'll never forget a very good friend of mine, who works in a math-related field, telling me she'd bought (constructivist) math books to start teaching her 5-year old math --- "They weren't even fun," she said.

Meaning: the books didn't teach him anything AND they weren't fun.

btw, she didn't set out to purchase constructivist books, though she definitely wanted an unstructured progressive-ed approach for her son. (I agree with her, btw; now that I know a little about Montessori, I bet a real Montessori school would have been great for him.)

She bought constructivist books because that's what the bookstore had.

Catherine Johnson said...

The same thing happens in medicine. Apparently (I haven't gone through the research, but I heard this), PSA tests really don't help much in the long-term progression of prostate cancer. But if you tell people this, they simply won't believe you. Same thing with lots of treatments in medicine. From what I understand, many of the standard things that doctors do (check your heart with a stethoscope, for example) aren't proven to do much for a patient. Nonetheless, it's almost impossible to convince people otherwise.

I would put that in a different category because of the 'death by data' problem, which is that statistical means don't necessarily tell you what will or won't work **for you.**

Whenever I hear the term "evidence-based medicine" my suspicions go up. I've had too many experiences of being told that the group average tells us 'x,' only to find out that 'x' doesn't hold for me or someone I know.

Here's a case in point.

When I was a kid, everyone got his tonsils out. That was routine.

Then the medical profession 'turned against' tonsillectomies; the new idea was that research showed tonsillectomies were ineffective.

Meanwhile I had, in college, developed a severe problem with recurrent strep throats. I had one after another; I had so many I didn't even take time off from school after awhile. I just hiked up to the infirmary, got a new bottle of antibiotics, and hiked back down campus to my dorm.

I asked around and discovered that I knew a lot of people who'd had recurrent strep throats.

I also learned that these people had stopped having recurrent strep throats when they got their tonsils out.

So naturally I figured: I need to get my tonsils taken out.

No one would do it!

One doctor after another told me that research showed tonsillectomies don't work, and that was that.

I mullled it over, and I interviewed some more college kids my age, and I decided: I want my tonsils out.

So then I had to shop for a doctor who would do it.

I found one in central IL, had my tonsils out (my parents paid out of pocket - no health insurance), et voila. No more strep throats.

I don't say this to dismiss research or data or statistics -- I say it only to point out that medicine and research are constantly evolving, which is a good thing but also means that today's conclusions may not hold tomorrow --- and may not apply to a particular individual in any event.

Catherine Johnson said...

I see the situation with educational practice as a bit different....though I may be wrong.

Just seems to me that educational practice & the results of educational practice are a bit easier for people to fathom.

I'm guessing it's going to be easier to talk a person into Direct Instruction than to talk him out of examination by stethoscope----

Catherine Johnson said...

These are often in wealthy districts, with well-educated and organized parents, and nonetheless they fail.

You can say that again!

RMD said...

(hi catherine!)

I made my post because of a few
experiences:

1. I was reading responses to a Daniel Willingham post and one of the commenters said they saw "Power Teaching" or some such method, and that it didn't look right to them (or something like that) and that they'd never have their kids in a class where that was done. My reaction was "well, but what if it works?". But if it upsetting to parents, the "it works" argument doesn't fly for many parents, no matter what data you present.

2. I was listening to a great "This American Life" podcast about healthcare, and some smarty researchers estimate that 1/3 of all medical spending is unnecessary (and they have data backing it up). But, apparently, telling patients that they don't need X treatment or Y test doesn't fly most times, so the procedure is done.

3. I looked at starting a charter school at one point, using DI. It's clear that a well-implemented DI program is amazing. But when I brought potential board members to a classroom, they looked horrified. The kiddos didn't seem to mind, and the school is phenomenal. But that didn't matter to them.

As parents, we face a challenge: we all have differing visions about what a better education looks like, so it's hard to unify.

RMD said...

your point about tonsillectomies and the evolving nature of medicine is spot on

the ideal would not be a ban against a particular procedure, but rather criteria that dictate whether it's worthwhile . . . a checklist, if you will

I was speaking to a cardiologist and they do use these . . . .but of course there are always issues with them

and I have a proposal for education: ban the expression "research-based" (what the heck does it mean?) and instead only allow "research-validated" or something similar, showing that they've actually tested the curriculum as a whole and shown it to be effective

RMD said...

okay .. . one more point

on the PSA tests, not only did they say that it didn't improve life expectancy (or whatever measure they were using), but that it made doctors do unnecessary procedures that had huge effects on the patient's lives.

again, I haven't seen the studies or looked into it, but I can't imagine it's isolated

Catherine Johnson said...

I looked at starting a charter school at one point, using DI. It's clear that a well-implemented DI program is amazing. But when I brought potential board members to a classroom, they looked horrified. The kiddos didn't seem to mind, and the school is phenomenal. But that didn't matter to them.

As parents, we face a challenge: we all have differing visions about what a better education looks like, so it's hard to unify.

That is ABSOLUTELY true ---- and I've seen administrators & school board members use this fact to their advantage time and again. I call it 'triangulating parents.' An administrator can always find parents who support what he/she is doing, and that's good enough.

An administrator once said to Ed, "You parents, you all want different things," the unspoken conclusion being, 'so we do what we want to do.'

This is why I constantly emphasize choice. It's not right for one set of parents - the set who happen to agree with administrators - to impose their views on all other parents.

btw, I follow this rule myself. At one point we were virtually the only parents we knew who liked and got on with a particular administrator. I **never** suggested to other parents that they ought to be quiet and accept that administrator's decisions.

In fact, I used to basically apologize for the fact that we weren't having the same problems.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've taken to using the term 'field-tested,' which I think is an Engelmann preference.

I'm pretty sure I once read an Engelmann essay in which he argued that we should prefer field testing to other kinds of research.

(pls correct me if I'm wrong)

Where medicine is concerned, I pretty strongly want the focus & the decision making to be between doctor & patient -----

The doctors I've known have always kept up with their fields but they also use their own well-developed clinical judgment.

SteveH said...

I would like to say that any discussion of parents takes the focus away from my main point. Look at the questions and ask what teachers and kids do in school all day.

This is not about DI or parents or discovery or understanding or how the brain works. Everyone agrees that kids should be able to know their adds and subtracts to 20 and the times table automatically (and many other things). It's not getting done. Schools have plenty of time even using non-optimal approaches with no homework. How bad do things have to be to have kids fail the NAEP test at the low "Basic" cutoff?

What does an argument of teaching to the test mean for basic addition or multiplication? If a child can't multiply two digit numbers together, do they really understand anything? How on earth are parents stopping schools from doing the absolute basics as shown on the NAEP test?

At best, one could argue that language skills (some call it parsing) play an important part of the NAEP test, but that's a big stretch and a bigger indictment of the school.

Go ahead and use DI or discovery or hand puppets, but if kids can't do the very simplest basics, then something is fundamentally wrong. Don't even try to bring parents into the discussion.

Anonymous said...

I had similar experiences prior to my T & A and have never had them in the almost 5 decades since.

A note regarding psa testing: the earlier prostate cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome. The five-year survival rate in Britain (which does not do routine psa screening) is about 50%; in this country (with routing screening), the five-year survival rate is 99%. Many men live much longer. For my father, husband, brother etc, I like the latter results. Of course, such screening is being discouraged (look at the VA) because diagnosis and treatment cost money.

Allison said...

There's a math problem buried in here. Sample size is not the same. Density of deadly cancers in the sample size is not the same. The probability of dying from cancer that is found by screening goes down the more non-lethal cancers you find, even if you don't delay death by a day for anyone. So survival rate alone doesn't tell you enough to know if they've prolonged life at all.

This is like the math tests. If you keep changing the sample by dumbing down the tests, then more kids can "pass", but it doesn't mean anyone's learned any more information.

Everyone agrees that kids should be able to know their adds and subtracts to 20 and the times table automatically (and many other things). It's not getting done.

I wish that were true -- that everyone agrees the things you mention should be mastered, but it is not true.

There is no expectation that kids will know the number facts by heart at *any* grade level in my district, and teachers can be disciplined for spending much time on these "low level skills" or emphasizing them in assessment. The math experts who come around consistently chide teachers for being too concerned with "rote learning" and not "concepts" and "higher level thinking."

Of course you know, and I know, that "higher level thinking" cannot occur in the absence of some basic knowledge and skills, and that real cognitive understanding is very demanding and unlikely to progress rapidly when middle school children are still counting on their fingers to do simple addition and subtraction.

But those great high-IQ brains who scored 419 on the GRE and are running the school systems and developing curricula are not in agreement with us. They think kids no longer need to know math facts, because we have calculators and computers. If they need manipulatives in seventh grade, then let them use manipulatives. They can draw little sticks and arrays to solve multiplication problems. I was told by a top math person in my district (author of a few textbooks) that children don't need to know fractions any more.

In this climate, even teachers who understand the importance of mastery and attempt to instill it are hampered by curriculum demands that are at odds with this goal. In my district we are not permitted to spend more than three weeks per term on "number sense and numeration" which includes all algorithms and arithmetic processes. You can't develop mastery for most kids under these circumstances.

Whenever parents ask me if Kumon is a good investment I encourage them to go for it, because I know the child will not get adequate practice in school; more important, the child will not be allowed to get adequate practice in school.

Parents, teachers and even college faculty have lobbied and made efforts to get this mindset changed but, as the KTM motto goes, "they do what they do."

Redkudu said...

The assumptions of those who know, who have already learned and internalized, who have quick recall of things they've memorized without realizing it, are the bane of teaching. What they consider "common sense" or "obvious conclusions" or even simply using a calculator and understanding the information retrieved from it, is something they've learned at some point.

And something that someone else hasn't learned yet.

Whatever seems easiest to the people "in the know" is what's usually most complex for students who aren't in the know.

Teachers must learn to separate what they know from what students do not - to go back to when they didn't know what they do now.

If numbers look like alien characters on a page, they will look the same on a calculator. If words look like images, and only have meaning when they are taught alongside images, then the word is forever an image, and never means anything.

SteveH said...

"Parents, teachers and even college faculty have lobbied and made efforts to get this mindset changed but, as the KTM motto goes, 'they do what they do.'"

So that's it? I don't say this in a mean way.

Did they send letters to the editor describing how the schools will not allow kids to get adequate practice in schools? If all of this was clearly publicized, I can't imagine tht parents and the school board didn't start making a big scene.

We're talking about adds and subtracts to twenty and the times table. All schools that I know of talk about balance. They would never admit to not allowing kids a chance to practice these things in school.

I don't believe that this is just like punching a paper bag from the inside. I don't accept the idea that there is little to be done. There must be some minimal set of skills that all parents expect should be achieved without any thought of rote, teaching to the test, or taking time away from other understanding.

In other words, where do we go from here. I don't want KTM to end up being a mutual moaning society. I like to push parental choice, but that is only one long-term approach. (It may be the only one.) It's not a direct approach to clearly defining and showcasing the attitude described by palisadesk.

I've tried to use 4th grade NAEP test questions and results to show that this is not about direct instruction, discovery or how the brain works, but about basic philosophy. However, discussions often bring in other factors that confuse the issue.

I don't want to confuse the issue. I want parents to look at the actual questions and results of the NAEP test and ask what the hell is going on. Schools talk about balance in a general way just to get parents to go away. We can't go away or get distracted by other arguments. It's no good to talk about understanding if schools fail to ensure that kids know their adds and subtracts to 20 by the end of second grade.

Katharine Beals said...

"Did they send letters to the editor describing how the schools will not allow kids to get adequate practice in schools? If all of this was clearly publicized, I can't imagine tht parents and the school board didn't start making a big scene."

SteveH, our school, a public school in a big city, but also a university "partnership" school that purportedly welcomes community input, is a great example of how widespread parental discontent leads nowhere.

In round one of the math wars, about 7 years ago, large numbers of parents upset with the newly chosen Investigations curriculum, tried to persuade the principal to listen to them. She refused, and they ended up organizing meetings outside the school, which also lead nowhere, and in the end many of these parents pulled their kids out of this school and sent their kids to private schools--many of which have since then adopted Investigations or Everyday Math!

(More in my next comment)

Katharine Beals said...

In round two, last year, two parents (myself and another), organized a Continental Math League for 2nd and 3rd graders, and in the process, established that large numbers of parents (and their math-starved kids) are upset with the math curriculum. (1/3 of all 2nd and 3rd graders applied to be on the math team; presumably if there hadn't been scheduling conflicts, an even higher percentage of children would have applied). At some of our meetings for CML parents, we brainstormed what we could do to make things better.

Once again, nothing went anywhere. The principal's line is, talk to your child's teacher (divide and conquer). The teachers then refuse to discuss anything that doesn't concern your specific child, and tell you that they and the curriculum provide "differentiated instruction, " and they're always hearing that children are telling their parents that math is too easy, but that they don't see this in their classrooms. (Presumably, many of the bored kids are not writing out sufficiently elaborate "explanations" for their answers, and so are perceived by these Reform-indoctrinated teachers as not deeply understanding what they are doing).

(More to follow)

Katharine Beals said...

As for the Home and School Association, the president is in the principal's pocket (one effect of being a neighborhood school is that certain parents--from among those who are most content with the school-- become very cozy with the principal and the teachers), and she insists that the role of the HSA isn't, and never has been, to address matters of curriculum. The principal, moreover, exerts veto power over every HSA meeting: who speaks, what they talk about, whether there's a q & a. The one time the partnering-university-affiliated "math consultant" (the one responsible for indoctrinating all our teachers in Investigations at a series of after-school workshops that occurred for several years after the school was founded [10 years ago]) presented a talk for parents on how great the curriculum is, she asked us to write down our questions on index cards, with our names and our children's names on the back, and then left no time for questions anyway (because she spent so much time having us discover multiple ways of solving math problems). But she did collect the index cards.

There are many university affiliated parents, among them math and science people, but no one at the school cares about our input. The principal's line is, again, talk to your child's teacher about a particular issue; leave general issues to the experts. She adds: what business do we non-k12 teachers have telling her teachers how to do their jobs; also, our test scores keep rising (a reflection of how the changing demographics of our neighborhood interact with a notoriously low-level state test) so clearly our math program is successful.

(One more--I think)

Katharine Beals said...

Some of us are connected to the university ed school, and have tried this route. The ed professor who hand-picked Investigations (another Penn-affiliated person) is no longer involved; her son goes to a private school; she no longer thinks so highly of the curriculum, but she's washed her hands of the situation. The dean of the school, a quantitative guy rumored to have some issues with Investigations, doesn't want to sully his hands with this because he's a new dean.

We've really tried everything, and we should have more leverage than many other parents at other schools.

As for letters to the editor, SteveH, you have to keep in mind that you can't just write a letter--or an op-ed-- on a topic that should be of great general concern and get it published. The topic has to be in the news, and the paper has to agree that it's a topic of general interest. I have several connections to the city's main newspaper and am repeatedly told that my arguments against math ed are too subtle and analytical for most readers. A better-connected friend tried to pitch a "Math Rebellion at partnership school" article to her education-reporter friend, and even that went nowhere.

That said, this past weekend there was a front page article on Everyday Math (used by nearly every other school in the city except ours, which "got to" pick Investigations). This article, of course, presented the usual rote-learning vs. exciting and conceptual dichotomy. (Btw, the fourth estate's apparent complicity, with articles like these, further adds to the sense of a hopelessly totalitarian system). I wrote a short letter in response (which, b/c of the word limit, could hardly come close to addressing any the issues), and I've made it past the first hurdle (the paper emailed to verify that I'm the author). Stay tuned to hear whether my letter actually gets published.

Katharine Beals

Allison said...

Steve,

My husband and I are in high tech fields, and interact with other STEM type adults. When those adults see the 6th grade arts and crafts projects (like the one I put up a bit ago) they are appalled and do want to do something, but don't know what.

But I am still not sure who ELSE is bothered by it. Often, I meet non-STEM parents who say that they "Can't help their child with their math homework anymore"--and they assume it's because it's TOO ADVANCED. They are wrong, but how can they find that out in a timely fashion?

so what can be done?

Having taken PalisadesK's comments to heart, I'm going in a different direction. I think the fix has to come at the teacher level. The teachers have to learn that what they are doing isn't math, isn't helping, and that there are good good reasons to teach skills to mastery.

My goal is to get a cohort of private schools to adopt Wu's professional development for its middle school math teachers, and then push out from there. If the teachers in those schools are able to connect the dots and see what's needed, then perhaps they can become determined to make changes. And then they can bring parents on board, asking for parental support, to pressure the schools.

But I see this as happening in private schools only, because those schools might have decent incentives to fix what's wrong.

The public schools get to use us everytime we shout "crisis!" They use it to argue for more funds to do exactly what they are doing already. I can't see anyway to fix a govt school from the inside.

Allison said...

The fourth estate is entirely complicit in the educational lies for the same reason that they are complicit in the rest of the left's lies these days:

they want equality of outcome.

And they will destroy your child to get it.

It's a race to end income inequality, and that starts by hobbling the top, and even more, hobbling those who aren't the top BUT ASPIRE. Enough of you middlebrow folks! You will stay down, where you're easier to control.

Anonymous said...

The curriculum is not the only way to hobble the top.

Effective, knowledgeable math teachers are unfortunately more the exception in the US than the norm. There were requirements in the Stimulus Act for all that education money for the states and there have recently been hearings in the House to reauthorize ESEA. The feds want the states and school districts to be reassigning the most effective teachers to the poor and minority children who are deemed to need them the most. (See March 11, 2009 and October 2, 2009 issues of Education Week).

Will our desire to be equitable and help everyone learn arithmetic ultimately mean that hardly anyone in the US will soon have anyone trained and available to teach Calculus?

Do the schools and districts really understand why they were paid to set up data systems to produce "value-added" info on each school?

Doug Sundseth said...

There seems to be a general agreement on the tactics that school administrators will use to respond to parent revolts. Given that, it seems to me that any tactics should assume these tactics and preempt them.

Perhaps parents who care could run for the school board using a platform something like this: "For years, we have been assured by educators that all they needed to give our children better education was smaller classes and more-competitive salaries. We have provided these things, and education now costs twice as much in constant dollars but the outcomes are no better. Either the education establishment lied, or they are incompetent, or both. It is time to try a different tack."

Or this: "Forty years ago, our parents understood our homework, and we learned the material. Today, we do not understand the material and neither do our children. Contrary to what educators tell us, the material is the same, they are simply do a poor job teaching. This must end."

If it's going to be war anyway, gain and maintain the initiative. Make them respond to you rather than the reverse. Anticipate and counter their arguments (which we already know intimately) before they can be made. What is the real disadvantage of scorched earth? Will our children not be taught? How would that actually be any different?

SteveH said...

"...of these parents pulled their kids out of this school and sent their kids to private schools--many of which have since then adopted Investigations or Everyday Math!"

We took our son out of our public schools after first grade because they were using MathLand (plus other related reasons). We and other parents weren't so organized, but the private school many of us went to used Everyday Math - "supplemented". I wrote in the past how in that private school I met with the headmaster and the head of curriculum (and lent her my Singapore Math books), but they did not change. "Everyday Math is better for our mix of kids." We brought our son back to our public schools in 6th grade because he was past Everyday Math (which our public schools use now) and we decided that we could fix the difference.

No critical mass can be achieved when parents go off somewhere else and wash their hands of the problems. I will say that when we brought our son back to the public school and we met with the principal, she was very concerned about losing kids to private and (not much of a choice) charter schools. However, the schools are fundamentally committed to the idea of full inclusion. They won't separate kids by ability so they cling to some desparate hope that some sort of magic differentiated instruction pixie dust will make things OK. That's part of the reason I was asked to form a MathCounts team. That would make it easier for them to answer some parents' concerns.

It's not as if our schools have really stupid or wrong ideas (like not helping kids master their adds and subtracts to 20), it's that they don't enforce it. They don't enforce mastery of much of anything. It's a developmentally appropriate idea. They think that kids will learn when they are ready. Of course, that model changes in 7th grade when they really stick it to the students and blame them when they can't handle it.

In many ways, this is something that can't be fixed without a complete change in philosophy. Probably my best approach is to form the team and use that as a foil for making my case. If there is one thing that parents are sensitive to it's what the other kids are doing. When kids go to other schools, it's as if they have fallen off the planet. However, I've noticed (now that my son is back in public school) that many parents pay a whole lot of attention to what other kids are doing. I think parents are a vulnerable key to the puzzle. Many might love the fuzzy idea of full inclusion, but if they can see a direct negative affect to their own kids, then everything changes.

While the migration of kids to other schools might have an indirect impact on public schools, the question is what specific strategies can be used for your own school? Rather than characterize all schools in the same way, we should discuss specific cases and what techniques that have or have not worked. (mostly not, I guess)

My feeling is that parents are more open to change that could directly affect their own kids. However, I'm very interested in Katharine's full frontal assault approach. I would like to know what happens. How are the other parents reacting. Are they defensive, or are they waiting and watching? I think parents are a key component for change.

Allison said...

---I think parents are a vulnerable key to the puzzle. Many might love the fuzzy idea of full inclusion, but if they can see a direct negative affect to their own kids, then everything changes.

Andrew Breitbart just succeeded in showing the criminal enterprise that is ACORN to the world, even though dozens of prior reporters, columnists, news stories, etc. failed to do so. The list of mortgage fraud, voter fraud, thuggery, and the like was extensive. But it took *showing* people in a completely dramatic way, ala Giles and O'Keefe, to get people to pay attention.

Of course, it was easy to show that the individuals in the criminal enterprise were criminals.

Someone needs to come up with an equally compelling way to show parents what's wrong in schools. But I personally can't think of what that is, how you'd do it. How do you distill it down for a few minutes? What could you show that's mind boggling bad, but can be shown countless times?

How could you show that full inclusion is a lose for everyone in a small segment of video, or in a small project way? What would be compelling?

How could you show parents just how poor their kids' math assignments are?

I know that when I talk to parents here and they report the same things we talk about on KTM, they are surprised to hear that this is a national problem. It *never* occurs to them that it's a national problem.

Allison said...

One problem I see in parents, generally speaking, is a bit ironic. As parents now feel they have to be involved in schooling substantially more than previous generations did, they have more invested in NOT admitting the negative aspects of their child's education.

It seems to be that now that they feel responsible, they simply don't want to feel guilty. They don't want to believe they made a bad choice, or that they aren't doing the "best" thing for their child. So once they've moved into a "good school district", they have an incentive to believe that it's just as good as was told--otherwise, they'd feel that they needed to move to a more expensive area, or spend more on privates, etc. Feeling bad about one's parenting choices is yucky; better to listen to the school and pat oneself on the back.

They become invested in confirmation bias. And since full inclusion sounds *nice*, they don't want to be not nice.

So to really crack open the problem, you need not just to tell parents what's wrong, but give them a way to feel like good parents for changing it, rather than bad parents for having not done something sooner.

SteveH said...

"I think the fix has to come at the teacher level. The teachers have to learn that what they are doing isn't math, isn't helping, and that there are good good reasons to teach skills to mastery."

It's interesting that I'm coming to the opposite conclusion; that parents hold the key. This is complicated by the fact that many of the most supportive parents go off to other schools. But now that we're back in the public schools, I see the tension between parents and the school regarding full inclusion. Parents support full inclusion, but really don't like what their own child has to do.

Niceness is also a limiting factor. People want to be supportive of public schools and of full inclusion, but when their own child is affected, they are not so supportive. So I'm struggling with how to help change without the full frontal assault. Can it be done within full inclusion? Can parents see that some kids do well not just because they are smart, but because they are given the opportunity? What can those opportunities be under full inclusion? Are there any differentiated instruction techniques that have a chance of working?

Many parents don't want to leave the public schools for private schools. How can we get them to stay and how can we put more pressure on the higher expectation end of the differentiated instruction spectrum?

Actually, I don't think it's an either/or issue of whether one approach or another (parent/teacher) will work. I would just like our discussion to move forward with more details. Perhaps the teachers on the blog can offer insight on internal discussions of full inclusion and what might or might not be possible. I think they would love any solution that would reduce the levels of differentiation they have to deal with.

I've mentioned before that there is a charter school not too far away that has a full inclusion environment, but the key academic classes are homogeneous. Everyone follows the same path (not different tracks), but they go at their own speed. The two big questions are how do they determine speed and what is the curriculum. Going faster through EM is not a great thought. Also, many kids will live up to (or down to) your expectations. If you leave it up to the kids to show you their abilities, then you won't see much in many cases.

I think that parents love to compare. They know that some kids are smart, but if they see regular ol' Billy doing better than their own child, then they will sit up and pay attention. I think we have to find ways or programs that create more Billys. It won't help much if I start a MathCounts team that caters to the top end math brains. This will just take the pressure off of the school.

SteveH said...

"How could you show that full inclusion is a lose for everyone in a small segment of video, or in a small project way?"

I like this thread. Is this possible, or is it possible to show a model that really works? Allison talked about this sort of thing before; use their ideas, but make it work well. (We can dream.) Or, can we show that full inclusion will not work by failing to show that it can work properly.

I like the idea of a full inclusion environment, but the underlying issue is low versus high expectations and curriculum. If you take away full inclusion in the core courses and there is no tracking because it's the exact same course material, you are ignoring the positive effects of teachers who set high expectations.

Anonymous said...

"They don't enforce mastery of much of anything."

This is it in a nutshell, and it is across the board. They aren't against spelling, grammar, or math fluency, they just aren't going to enforce it, even if they teach it.

This is extremely problematic for parents. First, they have to catch what's going on. That can take a couple of years, then they have to find a remedy of some sort.

Even if they figure out the problem in one subject, they have to realize that this ideology is reflected in many of the other subjects as well. Then, they have to figure out how serious a problem it is. Is it one teacher or an entire philosophy? And finally, parents have to decide on a remedy.

For me, I've talked to every parent that will listen. I've given away countless Singapore and Saxon texts, as well as most of my grade school/middle school writing curriculums to any parent that is seriously interested. I may not be able to fight that battle any more, but I can share what I've learned, so they don't have to find out the hard way.

SusanS

SteveH said...

"As parents now feel they have to be involved in schooling substantially more than previous generations did, they have more invested in NOT admitting the negative aspects of their child's education."

What I see (we have two of them on our school committee) is that some parents feel that it's their public school duty to support the education of their child - whatever that takes. If they have to practice basic math facts at home with their kids, then that is a confirmation that they are being a good parent; that the are supporting the school. It doesn't seem to dawn on them (as liberal as they are) that many of the low income families that they presume to champion cannot or will not do the same thing. And I though I was a liberal. It's the oddest thing. It's a shift of the responsibilities of a good education onto the parent. If you are a good parent, you will do these things. Bad grades have a negative reflection on the parents, not just the child.

What parents should do is never quite defined. Parents are supposed to limit TV and computer use, provide a proper place to do homework, and model and interest in reading and learning. Nobody seems to catch on that there has been a shift over the years to have this mean so much more. I got to calculus in high school with zero help from my parents. I can't imagine where I would be in today's environment.

So, the failings of the school are transferred to parents' psyches. It's their fault. Just look at the kids of our caring and involved school committee parents. This works in the opposite way. When parents do more teaching at home with their kids, they get to bask in the glories of their kids' grades.

Hainish said...

SteveH, so true. Liberal policies can lead to illiberal results, esp. when the influencers are middle-class parents with means and the influenced are, well, everybody else (minus those wealthy enough to not even consider public education).

I can understand why parents would want to after-school their child when their teacher is having them do navel-gazing in math (I'd likely do the same myself, in their place.) But this leads to two things: One, as you said, a shift in the definition of what a "good" parent does to help their child (a shift that makes it difficult for those not in the middle class to be "good" parents).

The second is that it creates a "dishonest" signal in terms of classroom practice and outcome. Teachers see that (some) children do just fine with Investigations or EM and assume that the curriculum must be working. They don't see what happens at home to counteract the bad curriculum, and they assume that if some children don't learn with it, it must be because of out-of-school factors that they can't possibly be expected to control.

Hainish said...

BTW, I don't think it's parents vs. teachers, necessarily. I think it's those who know which end is up vs. those who don't.

(Aside: I made to calculus in high school with not only zero help from my parents, but little support from teachers and counselors either. I wasn't "tracked" to take calc for reasons I don't understand, but I managed to take it anyway. It was one of the 3 or 4 classes worth taking, IMO...the rest was just fluff.)

SteveH said...

"I don't think it's parents vs. teachers, necessarily."

The only parent versus teacher (or school) topic that I talked about was one that tried to figure out which approach would have a more positive effect. A better question might be how those who know which end is up on the inside and outside can help each other.

SteveH said...

"They don't see what happens at home to counteract the bad curriculum, and they assume that if some children don't learn with it, it must be because of out-of-school factors that they can't possibly be expected to control."

We've talked about this before, but what can be done to highlight this fact. All we parents get are questionnaires that ask us whether we have enough information to support our children's learning. They assume and expect that we will do their job! This sounds like a lot more than just turning off the TV and providing a nice place to do homework.

Anonymous said...

The Scary Beauty of Chaos

There is nothing more inspirational to me than the magnificent creations of life on our planet. Yet if you believe, as I do, that this beauty is born of the machinations of evolution and life's selfish struggle for supremacy, there is a paradox.

The paradox is that this beauty is driven by chaos. Successful designs thrive and the rest ultimately perish. Humans have a hard time wrapping their heads around the vastness of time and space that make this happen so in our own endeavors we have a tendency to push for order. In our compassionate attempts to ensure no losers we build systems that have no winners. Time and time again, in industry, government, the arts, and evolution one can find examples where this drive towards sameness and away from terrifying, chaotic systems leads to the opposite of the intended effect.

Kids, and schools, and teachers, and parents are all different, and instead of capitalizing on these differences in synchronicity with the diversity that is all around us, our every inclination is to force all these things into a single box. In our misguided attempts to forestall the failure of a few, we guarantee a mediocrity of the many. Instead of striving for kids to be the best they can be, we strive to make them all the same.

Unlike a lot of people, I don't assign the evils of the system to its inhabitants. Government schools are not evil and they aren't filled with people who want to see children fail. Quite the contrary! I would argue that the evil is in not wanting any failure at all, and this over abundance of compassion leads to a sort of fuzzy homogeneity where nobody 'looks' like they're failing but everybody is!

As long as parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians wage war on differences in a never ending search for the silver bullet that will fix the system once and for all, they will never find it. Until everybody involved screws up the courage to accept the fact that there are differences that will lead to fantastic success alongside spectacular failures, we'll all just creep along the muddled middle.

Imagine a world with one car model (in black only please), one food (arugula), one insurance company (Uncle Sam's Underwriting), one artist (the elephant that paints), one author, one poet, one primary school, one university, etc. Not pretty, eh? But this is the world we're crashing towards, with 'organizers' in charge who want to make everybody feel good.

In the end, I'm more comfortable with the scary beauty that can only arise from chaotic conflict. Every butterfly has an extinct cousin. Every dinosaur is a victim of similitude.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I work in a data obsessed district. Last year I was the bad guy. My kid's scores sucked big time. This year I'll be the good guy. I have a group of kids to marvel at.

It's really got nothing to do with me, just an anomalous bubble moving through the belly of the snake. But, in data world, it's my bubble this time and I'm stickin' with it.

We do everything we can to measure in the quality but in the end, it is what it is. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a subway station. Every so often, I reach out and snatch a kid from the train only to throw her back into another car down the track. In my heart I know she's still going to the same place but I won't be there and nobody measures my effect on her while I had her on the platform anyway.

concernedCTparent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
concernedCTparent said...

"I can't imagine where I would be in today's environment."

Me either, Steve. I have wonderful parents. They provided the best environment they possibly could for me and my siblings, but they both worked long hours just to make ends meet. Had I needed the amount of parental intervention that I've had to provide my children, I just don't know where I'd be today.

I'm lucky. I have the luxury of staying home so that I can afterschool or homeschool or do whatever it takes to support the success of my children. But Hainish is right. Too many (maybe the majority) of parents don't have that choice. They either assume that the schools are doing their job and even if they catch on early enough, they don't quite know how to go about filling the gaps.

Then there's the parents who just don't have the means, the ability, or whatnot to support their child the way every school assumes a parent should. The gap widens while the ceiling remains stagnant or even falls.

I'm not fooling myself by thinking that pulling my children out of the school system to homeschool them is going to effect any kind of meaningful long-term change for anyone else but my own children. So I do what Susan does. Spread the word about Singapore Math, direct instruction, and phonics. I share resources and what I've learned with whomever will listen. I raise questions and poke holes in the district's arguments.

It's not enough though and I'd definitely sign on to Allison's idea of shifting the paradigm and taking control of the narrative.

concernedCTparent said...

The natives are restless. Just yesterday I was at a Halloween carnival. I briefly chatted with one of the BOE candidates. He was telling parents, "Our test scores are high because of the parents." YES. It was the first time since I can remember that I felt like we might be getting somewhere. The narrative may finally be changing and that's a first step.

Crimson Wife said...

I wouldn't want my oldest in a DI school. Not because I think DI is a bad method (I don't) but because it would be too much repetition for *HER*. Many kids need to drill, drill, drill but others grasp concepts quickly and retain them without needing constant refreshers. My oldest falls into the latter category. That's why I don't use Saxon or Kumon materials in our homeschool.

I don't believe "one size fits all" when it comes to education and parents should be free to choose from among a variety of approaches.

Hainish said...

Scroll one third of the way down this article for something I thought was a crucial insight:

http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2009/1014_curriculum_whitehurst.aspx

RMD said...

"I wouldn't want my oldest in a DI school. Not because I think DI is a bad method (I don't) but because it would be too much repetition for *HER*. "

this isn't how DI works in a properly-implemented progrAm. All DI programs have very specific placement tests and methods for acceleration. In fact, teaching children in small ability-based groups is a key component of the method. I've seen classes where 2nd graders are taught at a 5th grade level in reading since they were ready.

Linda Seebach said...

OK, I give up; I can't stand it any more. Fifty-two comments on this thread, as I write, and nobody has thought to point out that none of the provided answers to the NAEP question that began the thread is correct?

Linda said...

Oops. And after all this time I misread the question. I was lookinh for 50.

Allison said...

Linda,

d. 62 is a correct answer.

The question is which of the choices is in the sequence. 50 and 62 are both in the sequence. 50 is not listed, but 62 is.

Allison said...

CW,

I agree with RMD about your mis-impression of DI. A proper DI program wouldn't be too repetitive. DI is not about kill and drill. It's about perfecting the necessary examples to learn the trait. Once learned, you move on.

Also, Kumon is the antithesis of DI. Kumon is the perfect example of "guide on the side"--except there's the guide's not even on the side!

Kumon provides NO explicit instruction whatsoever.

You are supposed to infer how to do the work by doing the work; the worksheets are (supposedly) carefully crafted to build you small ahas and skills so you can master harder problems through your own discovery.

Kumon has a lot of drill, yes. Amazing amounts of drill. but it provides no direct instruction, big-di or little-di.

Crimson Wife said...

RMD- Maybe DI isn't *SUPPOSED* to be done using heterogeneous classes and "drill-and-kill" but that's how the schools in my area that use a DI approach work. Maybe because they're charter schools enrolling primarily disadvantaged students?

Anonymous said...

Crimson Wife,

I'm not sure how Saxon would work with gifted kids, either. I used it to afterschool my LD child with it and it was absolutely the best thing I could have done.

The chapters are short with a quick practice and then a distributive practice. I supposed you could move it along faster and skip the distributive practice, but the couple of times I used it with my math kid, he was bored and I couldn't adapt it as easily. Probably a more mathy parent could figure it out, but I couldn't.

The problem with talking about DI is that some of us might be talking about two different things. There's Englemann's DI, and then there what we call
"little di." I imagine few, if any schools are doing Englemann's DI.

I think there's more flexiblity with Englemann's because there's a script that he has developed, but that part of the lesson over with fairly quickly, so the teacher does get to control certain aspects of the lesson. Veteran teachers apparently don't need the script so much.

Schools doing a "little di" approach could be doing anything. They could be interpreting it in all kinds of ways if they aren't following Englemann. Englemann does allow for advancement, I believe, so children aren't locked into going the exact same speed. And again, teachers aren't using the script for the entire lesson.

SusanS

RMD said...

"but that's how the schools in my area that use a DI approach work.

I'm not sure what a DI approach is. When I speak of DI, I'm specifically speaking of Engelmann's curriculum. It takes a LOT of dedication to make work because of the extensive training and scheduling required. The best examples I know of are Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy in CO, Franklin Academy in NC and the Baltimore Curriculum Project. There are others if you're interested. (look at NIFDI)

Hainish said...