kitchen table math, the sequel: Everyday Math author defends his program against Katharine Beals

Monday, November 16, 2009

Everyday Math author defends his program against Katharine Beals

In today's Philadelphia Inquirer Letters to the Editor, excerpted here:
Katharine Beals' article on the use of "reform math" with students with autism contains many misperceptions about Everyday Mathematics that, as the program's coauthor, I want to clarify ("The 'reform math' problem," last Monday).

Everyday Mathematics was designed for general education students, but it has been effective in special education, including with students with autism.

Beals' claim that students spend large chunks of time working in unsupervised groups is untrue. A teacher supervises student group work at all times. While some assignments are "open-ended and language-intensive," many are not. A balanced curriculum needs simple exercises to build basic skills, as well as more difficult problems.

Beals writes that students "lose points for failing to cooperate in groups, explain their answers, and comprehend language-intensive problems." While decisions about how to grade students are made at the local level, many people believe it's reasonable to require students to work cooperatively, explain their work, and understand word problems.

Everyday Mathematics is not just a "sequence of themes," but a carefully organized sequence of lessons resulting in mastery of a specific set of goals. Its approach is well supported by research, the authors' experience, and decades of classroom experience.

Naturally, accommodations for teaching children with autism must be made, and that's what professionals always do. As with any tool, Everyday Mathematics must be used with professional judgment.

Andy Isaacs



Amy P said...

"Beals' claim that students spend large chunks of time working in unsupervised groups is untrue. A teacher supervises student group work at all times."

And each group in the class has its very own teacher to supervise every interaction. Right.

"Naturally, accommodations for teaching children with autism must be made, and that's what professionals always do."

And if they don't make accomodations, they're not professionals. (Anybody here familiar with the "no true Scotsman" fallacy?)

Cranberry said...

"Everyday Mathematics is not just a "sequence of themes," but a carefully organized sequence of lessons resulting in mastery of a specific set of goals."

Our district doesn't (never has) devoted as much time to EM as the program requires. The teachers use it as they wish, and the district has backed away from requiring uniformity of application. The state tests determine the timing of classroom instruction, not any EM "sequence of lessons" (is there such a thing?).

It doesn't really matter what the authors intend for the curriculum, if it doesn't survive the classroom implementation.

Crimson Wife said...

Funny thing about the view from the "Ivory Tower"- it's really, really, REALLY difficult to see how things look on the ground. I fully believe that Dr. Isaacs had all the best intentions when he designed EDM. What he lacked, however, was a good sense of a program like his would actually be implemented by the typical school.

Anonymous said...

"Funny thing about the view from the 'Ivory Tower'- it's really, really, REALLY difficult to see how things look on the ground."

This problem is not restricted to academia.

As an example, some companies that produce large amounts of software have people who's role is "software architect." These people are supposed to spend their time thinking about how to keep 1,000,000+ lines of software working correctly over a long period of time.

[For those of you who don't write software, think of this as 80 lines/page for an 8½×11 inch sheet of paper. So ... about 12,500 pages of paper full of computer instructions. At 500 pages/book, this is a collection of 25 books.]

The *trick* here is that the pieces keep getting modified and replaced, so it isn't enough to just get this correct once. You need a scheme/mechanism to keep things correct over time, too.

Now ... the big issue here is that there are *LOTS* of cool approaches that work fine if implemented exactly as designed, but that fail catastrophically when deviated from.

One of the things I have learned over time is that a good software architecture is *ROBUST* against the sorts of screwups that will be made by ordinary software developers. In fact, I'd suggest that one of the key properties (maybe the most key property) of a good software architecture is exactly this property of robustness.

But, unless the software architects spend some of their time in the trenches with the people trying to implement the architecture, this won't be obvious. And many organizations have a pretty strict hierarchy where the architects hand-off and never see the project again. This is often/usually a disaster.

I think that this may be what we are seeing here. The EM guys don't see how their stuff is actually used in real classrooms by real teachers. If it is difficult to follow the EM directions, then there is a problem with EM, *not* with the targetted teachers.

But this won't be obvious until one has seen failure several times in a row of what looks like a nice design/approach.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

Can I just say that I'm shocked he actually used the word "mastery"?

Baby steps, baby steps....


palisadesk said...

Just as "decoding" to some in the education business means "predicting words based on the first letter or a picture" rather than "using the alphabetic code to sound out the word," "mastery" is another word that has different meanings depending on who says it.

Those who actually favor mastery of component skills and knowledge will usually have ways they can confirm, empirically and quantitatively, that these are indeed mastered. In the case of constructivist math, however, I have never seen any such rigorous rule applied. "Mastery" means something more like "nodding acquaintance with" or "familiarity."

Typically they do not believe in measuring component skills at all, so it would be difficult to demonstrate mastery except by proficiency in a composite task. Some learners however may be proficient at composite tasks despite serious component skill deficits, but these are apt to come back and bite them in the [bleep} at some point.

Anonymous said...

I have been told by math professors in California that the NSF textbooks are not to be used for students there with learning disabilities. The IEPs can and frequently do prevent their use.

Perhaps Mr Isaacs feared the loss of other lucrative textbook markets if more parents, teachers. and administrators became aware of the extensive research available on what type of math instruction works best for children protected under IDEA.

I think this is a precarious time for the EM folks as they hold their breath while school districts and states all over the country promise to adopt the Common Core Standards in their hope of some of the RttT loot.

That adoption would be a bonanza for EM, Investigations, and other process oriented texts.

KathyIggy said...

I "credit" EM for making my ASD daughter fall hopelessly behind in Math and causing years of frustration. The language demands are too much given the disability. Our district does not use "language based" (their description) math program for kids in the instructional math classes. But note my daughter had to fall three years behind to get placed in the instructional class. Now, she is in 8th grade but doing 6th grade math. We may get through Algebra in high school. What EM did was minimize my daughter's strengths (calculation and procedures) and confuse her with all the language and alternative methods of doing things. With most ASD kids, once one method is learned, you can't then switch to another.

SteveH said...

Everyday Math is designed to win the curriculum selection process. Everything is in there. Spiraling allows them to get away with this. It also tells schools what they want to hear; that it all can work and that it can fit with full-inclusion and differentiated instruction.

Everyday Math's inherent failing is that it does not ensure mastery at any particular time. It assumes that spiraling will get the job done. "Trust the spiral." It does not work.

I haven't even begun to talk about content or how the class is taught. They talk about balance, but they really don't care. The onus is on the kids and parents. The schools will have proper pedagogical and research cover. Our schools are doing "better" with Everyday Math because they were using MathLand before. Our schools are doing better because NCLB forces them to at least try for many kids.

"The EM guys don't see how their stuff is actually used in real classrooms by real teachers."

They know the issues. They are giving schools what they want. It's a product. They see any issues as implementation issues, not fundamental flaws.

"...but a carefully organized sequence of lessons resulting in mastery of a specific set of goals."

Mastery does NOT happen. They know this. You cannot trust the spiral. This is not a matter of implementation or a lack of teacher training. Teachers are faced with either ensuring mastery (and remediating) or getting through the material. Then schools are given the ultimate escape clause: "Trust the spiral."

"As with any tool, Everyday Mathematics must be used with professional judgment."

Cop-out. He should be able to provide links to articles that discuss these specific problems.

A selection of EM might come back to bite schools in the rear. When kids continue to do poorly, then the EM people will just blame the schools for a bad implementation. The schools will continue to try and make it work because the alternative is to admit their ideas of education are fundamentally flawed. They will point to the students who do well, but carefully avoid asking why that happens.

I can't talk about autism and EM, but Mr. Isaacs' response is superficial. It seems that his goal is PR damage control.

Anonymous said...

Here's an anecdote about "mastery" in reform math.
I've been homeschooling my kids for about 5 years. Math has always come easily for my middle daughter, although I wouldn't consider her a math whiz. She's bright and a hard worker, but not brilliant. She went through Singapore Math quickly, then we used Chalkdust prealgebra, followed by Foerster's Algebra 1 in 6th grade. She wanted to return to public school for 7th grade this year. This middle school has one section of Geometry (using UCSMP), with about twelve 8th graders and three 7th graders. Obviously, these are the highest achieving math students in the school. We decided to let her take Geometry, although I was quite nervous that she wasn't prepared and wasn't ready for it. She's doing fine, but she hates it. Really hates it.

Last week, the teacher gave her class a fraction assessment. They had 30 minutes to complete a 32 question assessment over the 4 basic operations. My daughter finished the test in 7 minutes. When she sat down the kid behind her asked her what planet she was from. None of the other kids finished the quiz in the allotted 30 minutes. She hasn't seen their scores, but they all thought it was very difficult. Some examples from the quiz: 3/5 + 2/5=?

These are the best math students in the school, and they are unable to do basic fraction computation! It's appalling.

She can't believe what these kids don't know. She often helps her friends with their T-math and algebra, and when she shows them how she does a problem, the usual response is "well that makes sense, why didn't they just tell us that!"

Emily said...

Thanks for writing that op-ed. I've got an endless list of complaints about Everyday Math from a parenting perspective, but my complaints about its effects on my autistic son are far more serious. I've blogged your op-ed and our experiences with this idiotic math "program."

Allison said...

Anon at 6:51 AM:
why do you say your daughter is bright but not brilliant?

What would make you say she was brilliant?

I am wondering what people are using for yardsticks, not trying to critique your answers.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a definition of brilliant, just a gut feeling about it. I work with a lot of very smart people in a medical field, but most of them I wouldn't consider brilliant. I reserve that for truly exceptional individuals, but I don't claim to know what makes them exceptional. Creative thinking combined with extreme intelligence maybe?

She catches on to new concepts quickly and can do related problems without difficulty. OTOH, the math whizzes I've known think up new ways to do a math problem and figure out new concepts without being taught. She's not like that.

She's been tested and falls into the moderately gifted range. I could be wrong. Maybe she is brilliant. Who knows. I just think the other kids in her class, who can't add and subtract fractions, are just as smart as she is, and the difference is they haven't been taught how to do it.

Doug Sundseth said...

AmyP: "Anybody here familiar with the 'no true Scotsman' fallacy?"

Some of us have a bit of experience with logical fallacies. 8-)

(Maybe I should repost that here.)

farmwifetwo said...

Which is why we redid the Gr 3 curriculum with the elder using Classical Math - Saxon work books. And at Gr 5 he's doing well - NLD dx.

And are redoing Gr 2 curriculum - Saxon materials with the younger. Autistic disorder dx. And it's helping in Gr 3 teach math concepts and words, appropriately. We are using a calculator for the math. For some reason he doesn't understand he can memorize math facts like he can words - reads age appropriate at Gr 3 - but IMO, that's what technology is for.

Ont may call it something else... but it's still the same crappy curriculum and NOT appropriate for children with autism.

RMD said...

Notice something about Dr. Isaacs response . . . he cites no evidence for effectiveness. No trials. No field testing.

I'm coming to the conclusion that, as parents, we should insist on proof that a curriculum works, even for HS favorites like Singapore and Saxon Math. This should come as trials or comparisons among similar classes. Until we do this, we'll continue to succumb to "you just don't understand the curriculum" arguments.

farmwifetwo said...

RMD - as a parent I researched a variety of schooling methods. The one that interested me the most and seemed to fit my children's learning style was "Classical Method". Then I found an online store that sold these books and I called, talked to them, and opted to try the Gr 3 one's since I hadn't found what I wanted elsewhere.

It took time, and IMO, worth the time even though maybe we could have started sooner.... that coulda, woulda, shoulda list :)... but an important step in the process.

My child may learn this way... another may not... All I can do is offer up what worked for us. Classical Math, Saxon books, are VERY straight forward with an emphasis on learning basic addition/sub/mult/div facts. They repeat and repeat and repeat the skills needed to be taught. They build slowly on the previous skill taught making certain the child has learned the first step before the next step is taught. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Cranberry said...

RMD: assessment is the huge problem with "insisting on proof that the curriculum works." Many schools have chosen Everyday Math, and the like, because they believe they align well with state tests. How well will a "traditional" student do on a "fuzzy," language-heavy test? How well will a "fuzzy" student do on a traditional test? I don't think anyone has studied that. I think it's just an assumption that you need a fuzzy curriculum to handle a fuzzy test.

I think it would be interesting to give modern students an old-fashioned math exam, from the old days. Are today's students on a par with the students of 1955? I know that many students don't know standard mathematical vocabulary, because their curricula bend over backwards to use different words--"number sentence" and such.

RMD said...

a couple of notes . . .

assessment is a big problem only when they're trying to "game" the system . . . which they're trying to do all the time! ;-)

state standards are typically too nonspecific and watered down to be of use. I would suggest some type of 3rd party test (e.g., ITBS). obviously, curriculum developers don't want to use these tests and will give various reasons why they are inappropriate

here's the issue that we, as parents, need to grapple with. the "this works best for my child" approach doesn't match the evidence. for example, Follow Through showed that Direct Instruction worked best for *all* children, regardless of background, race, or other factors. And Follow Through wasn't your typical small study. it was massive and comprehensive . . . and decisive

as parents, if we use the "this works best for my child" approach, we are left with nothing because the educational establishment doesn't have to respond with real support for their programs

we should think of education on a societal basis like medical interventions . . . either the intervention works better than (insert here . . . placebo, program X, nothing) or it doesn't. there will still be arguments, but there will be surprising results (e.g., the recent study that showed that niacin worked better than prescription heart medicine) and probably some useful results

farmwifetwo said...

But isn't that the same as claiming all people think the same. All people learn the same. Only ABA therapy works for autistic children, which is blatantly false?? A smart parent learns how her child thinks, and uses that to teach a child. EVERY person out there has a learning disability. WHY?? B/c not one of us thinks or learns the same. Therefore we all have a LD wrt the person sitting next to us. Learning what it is, how we learn, how to use how we learn to maximize our learning ability... is the most important skill you can ever teach anyone.

There is no such thing, as a perfect program.

In my Google feed this morning - just an FYI.

Anonymous said...

With respect to the comments on the effectiveness of the instructional materials like EM, it is very telling that the federal Dept of Education refused last week repeatedly to tighten up the definition of "evidence based" instructional practices in the final SFSF regs and the RttT regs.

It expressly refused to make the standard "field tested" or "research based". That's frightening in an educational world that now asserts that something is "evidence based" if peers are on record discussing its use.

The comment discussion also said STEM was a priority to get an RttT grant but then went on that it would not require a state's proposed STEM program even meet the low "evidence based" standard.

Anyone hoping that RttT is really about education reform and not nationalizing fuzzy math might want to look at around page 130 (out of the 775).

See and click on Notice of Final Priorities pdf at the bottom.

Cranberry said...

I suppose "evidence based" can mean whatever you want it to mean. I foresee a wave of mandated popsicle bridges and egg-dropping devices sweeping across the land. I find it madness to declare some programs important for STEM careers, at the same time the engineer parents are loudly dissatisfied with fuzzy math programs at the same schools! Most parents don't want to be at loggerheads with their children's teachers and schools. That so many parents with engineering and mathematical backgrounds object to fuzzy math should be a small clue that STEM fields require strong math skills.

Only parents whose children have IEPs have the right to demand "what works best for my child." No other parent has that right, so the "it works best for my child" argument won't lead to widespread improvement. My children don't have IEPs, and I wish we had the right to say, "traditional instruction works best for our children," and opt out of fuzzy math.

The medical analogy is interesting, because in that field, technology is moving towards personalized medicine, and away from the massive studies of everyone. Some very powerful medicines work well for a few people but not at all for others. Some work well for many people, but cause terrible side effects for a few people.

By the way, I think both traditional and fuzzy math curricula can be effective, in the hands of teachers who really understand mathematics, and who have the freedom to adapt the curriculum as needed. I've seen it done. Unfortunately, teachers in large public systems often don't have the freedom to shape their lessons to fit their students. Their school systems also may not schedule enough time for effective math instruction. If they encourage students to complete homework in class, that may make certain that homework is completed, but it also cuts into instructional time.

Crimson Wife said...

Cranberry: What, pray tell, is a "number sentence"? An equation?

Cranberry said...

Yes. Or, at any rate, an equation is defined as "a number sentence that contains an equal sign." A number sentence is "a sequence of at least two numbers or expressions separated by a relation symbol (=,>,<, (can't type greater than or equal to)). Most number sentences also contain at least one operation symbol (+,-,X,*, .,/). Number sentences may also have grouping symbols, such as parentheses."

Number story. A story with a problem that can be solved using arithmetic.

(from the Student Reference Book for Everyday Mathematics.) (I left out a few symbols because I couldn't figure out how to type them on this keyboard.)

My eldest child had no idea what a series was, in 6th grade. EM works with series, so she had encountered the phenomenon, but she had never heard the term, "series." Makes it hard to answer test questions which ask, "which of these increasing series satisfies the conditions..."

RMD said...

Cranberry said:

"I suppose "evidence based" can mean whatever you want it to mean."

I used the medical analogy because the medical field is further along in this area.

"Evidence-based Medicine" or EBM, has lots of thought about what it means to be evidence-based. It's not "whatever you want it to mean". There are components to evidence: double-blind, placebo-controlled, etc. Size matters also, as do many aspects of sample.

"The medical analogy is interesting, because in that field, technology is moving towards personalized medicine"

yes, but EBM is still useful. For example, large studies tell us whether drugs are effective. Obviously, they don't work the same for everyone. But when we talk about evidence, we're not looking for it to work the same for *everyone*, but rather just say that we expect it to work when we use it because it's effective . . . not because we expect it to be effective (the placebo effect) or some other mechanism.

It's really an application of the scientific principle that asks "does it work in the real world?", but tries to put some numbers and thought into it so we can determine whether the effect is noise or signal.

SteveH said...

The usual process is that the school selects a curriculum based on whatever requirements they want, but then demands research proof from others to get them to change.

However, it may not matter if a school uses TERC or Singapore Math if they don't believe in or quantify grade-level performance expectations. It's not the curriculum. It the fundamental assumptions. Evidence only means something when you first agree upon the destination.

In math, it should be easy to work backwards from high school AP calculus to Kindergarten arithmetic. In our schools, they've done this only back to 7th grade pre-algebra. They give a test in 6th grade that is filled with basic skills problems and those who want to get on the algebra in 8th grade track have to get a minimum grade. There it is in black and white, a performance specification for the top end. Unfortunately, many parents don't see its importance until it's too late.

Before 7th grade, our schools have few requirements or expectations in math. They can (and do) use whatever math curriculum that meets whatever criteria they want. In our case, it's full inclusion. Everyday Math provides them with pedagogical cover and their only performance criteria are the very low state test cut-off points.

These low cut-offs do not open doors. They close them. Given that these schools like full inclusion and don't appreciate the importance of mastery, many kids are lost. They happily pump them along and never worry about what happens when they hit the big 6th grade performance test filter. That's because they see algebra in 8th grade and the AP calculus track as some sort of special case.

The problem is not that schools don't have some sort of performance definition in K-6. NCLB forces some level of accountability, but it's just too low.

The answer is staring them in the face but they don't like what they see; the 6th grade performance test for the 8th grade algebra track. All kids may not be destined for the top math track, but schools seem to ignore the fact that the results also reflect on their K-6 curriculum.

I attribute it all to low expectations. They just don't believe that more kids are capable of algebra in 8th grade. Fuzzy concepts of education just make it worse. Discovery and understanding are ways for them to pretend that less is more.

Allison said...

--These low cut-offs do not open doors. They close them. Given that these schools like full inclusion and don't appreciate the importance of mastery, many kids are lost.

I would not phrase it this way.

The schools have a goal. The goal is not mastery. The goal is to celebrate diversity: a classroom where everyone's differences are achievements in their own right. The diversity in skills is not to be overcome; it is to be catered to. It is WHO THEY ARE. It would be wrong to change who they are; and all must be celebrated. That means make everyone feel good, no matter what level they perform at.

These are not low expectations; they are extremely high expectations for the teacher: you will find ways to change your instruction and your questions and homework so that everyone can produce valid answers. These are high expectations along the lines of diversity. And they aren't even "low expectations" in a math sense, because mastery of math is not the goal in the first place.

Anonymous said...

And in the diverse classroom you substitute posters in high school for research papers to accommodate the divergent skill levels.

Then no one learns to write but the lucky attentive few with tutors or parents willing to show them.

With time and such a curriculum and practices there will be less breadth in intellectual skills in our public school population.

What a high price our nation will pay for making closing the achievement gap its primary focus in education.

palisadesk said...

The schools have a goal. The goal is not mastery. The goal is to celebrate diversity: a classroom where everyone's differences are achievements in their own right. The diversity in skills is not to be overcome; it is to be catered to.

Allison has hit on a very powerful truth here. I'm not sure it will help SteveH in understanding the educrat mind, given that his district seems to be a different demographic, but she has absolutely nailed it where mine is concerned. School is about valuing every individual in a diverse population, celebrating uniqueness, applauding every achievement, regardless of level. This is often termed "respect," but it is a nuance of the word respect that I am not familiar with from everyday life, where respect must be earned. Our students are specifically told that they have a right to respect, and they do not have to earn it. I find this a troubling message.

Sometimes it helps to flip the coin, so to speak, and consider this whole problem from a different perspective. What if the schools are not failing? What if they are,in fact,a tremendous success? Consider for a moment what schools do well.
-- foster assimilation of a variety of ethnic groups, including newcomers from many disparate cultures
-- promote a culture of conformity. It's OK to "be yourself," but not to be too distinct from the group. Token compliance is also a big part of school culture. You can flout rules (run in the halls, use the wrong doors, wear non-uniform shirts)as long as you don't get caught, and if you are selective about which rules to flout (this is probably good training for the world of high finance).
-- encourage minimalism. Do your work, but don't exert yourself. Doing more or better than others will get you nowhere. You can only be a star in a team situation (think sports, or the school debate team, or something similar).
-- promote civility: getting along with others. This may just mean ignoring them; at its best, it means being actively helpful and considerate.
-- inculcate a mindset of acceptance of authority, even stupid authority. Promote "critical thinking" only within a narrow sphere -- novel studies, drama, etc. Discourage "critical thinking" that challenges current orthodoxies.

There's more. They are all social or behavioral. Schools do other things well, too - provide reasonably good child care, offer sports and recreation opportunities, etc. but those are not our concern. The social agenda -- "celebrating diversity" -- while a good thing (I certainly support the idea) has been allowed to usurp the academic purpose of public education. I don't see why one should exclude the other (couldn't we have diversity with excellence?), but in fact this appears to be the norm.

I was ranting to a family member who is an entrepreneurial business whiz, complaining that any business that regularly produced a 40% failure rate (I forget the context -- reading I think) would be out of business before long. I don't recall his exact response, but I do remember this much. He may have been quoting a business guru, but he observed, An organization is what it does. Never mind the PR or mission statement, what an organization actually does, year after year, *is* what it intends to do. Otherwise, it would change. If the organization regularly produces a 40% failure rate, that is no accident. It may not be the main purpose, but it is an acceptable concomitant event.

I have tried not to think about this too much (John Taylor Gatto pops into my head), but I think my relative -- and Allison -- are both very close to some uncomfortable truths.


SteveH said...

"I'm not sure it will help SteveH in understanding the educrat mind."

This same thing is going on in our town, but what bothers me is that they don't admit it. They try to claim that they can have it both ways. How do they justify it all? I know that teachers see that differentiated instruction doesn't work for many. Teachers comment to me that private schools can do more because the kids are "pre-selected". Obviously, they know. I just wish they would be honest about it.

farmwifetwo said...

Children since 1980 have been taught they are owed. They are owed a passing mark, they are owed respect, they are owed a living. Some of these are the school's fault, some are society's. This recession still isn't deep enough to deal with the "owed a living" one without any skills. One of the biggest hit segments of the population is the factory worker with no skills.

I am horrified by the drop-out rate of young men that we know - small town living - good young men, not drunks, druggies or bullies. And their attitude of "I'm owed" when they aren't. Ironically most of these young men come from families of factory workers or other self-employed so they have had work when they wanted it. They've never had to work for anything. Now, they live at home, work part-time if they want to... and wait for that high paying no skill factory job that no longer exists.. to come their way.

My kids - and mine have autism - are learning at home they aren't owed. But my eldest is being pushed through and there's nothing a teacher hates more is to be made accountable about it. Luckily, we've done enough extra homeschooling/tutoring that he doesn't fight us on it, and he enjoys working with his tutor - are retired school teacher that hates the current system more than I do. I'm also lucky she does it b/c it's necessary so parents only get charged $2.50/30min... I think she charges people to make certain they show up not for the $$.

Our school had a 65% (+/-) pass rate for eading and math in Gr 3's EQAO (Ontario), 65% rate for reading in Gr 6 and 35% pass rate for math in Gr 6. I do have the numbers upstairs but that's an approx. None were over 65% pass. The school made it sound like this was wonderful... IMO it's frightening.

My girlfriend teaches at Univ and she says there is now 2 curves and she needs to fail the bottom 25% (the 2nd curve is under 50%), they will only let her fail 5% of them. These people will be our leaders, our politicians, our scientists.... scary.

palisadesk said...

The entitlement mentality is a disturbing phenomenon. I agree it has societal roots and is not merely school -engendered.

However, back to SteveH's question about what are they thinking -- I am not inside the heads of my colleagues, so my perceptions are speculative. But I am reasonably sure that they do NOT think what you believe they must. That is, they do not see a contradiction in what they are doing , or a problem with differentiation vs. acceleration. Many I talk to would like to see the days of "special ed" classes come back, because providing all this instruction at multiple levels is exhausting, expensive (teachers have to buy all their own stuff in low income schools) and not that rewarding in terms of results. But, few have seen effective interventions or know how good results could be even for the challenged kids, if pull-out intervention were done effectively , with DI or other curricula, and appropriately grouped students. Gifted students (or just bright high achievers) could also be well served by pull-out instruction this way. But having no awareness of these options (it has to be seen), teachers generally give them no consideration.

The education world-view is like a parallel universe. You have to twist your consciousness around to get it. It is definitely NOT about academic achievement, or measurable learning -- these are viewed as by-products, or perhaps as means to the end, which is all about social change. I found myself in this alternate universe earlier this past week, in a support team meeting discussing two students who (for various reasons) had extremely low language skills (speaking and listening), were not SPED, but were in need of some intervention pronto (they will be SPED eventually if nothing is done). *ALL* of the discussion focused on feel-good things, how to make the student feel valued or welcome or whatever (and no evidence was presented that these kids were sad or in need of lots of emotional support), and NO attention at all was paid to their academic needs, which are pressing.Our failure to address them is, to me, a *real* equity issue. But I seem to be the only one who sees things that way.

It just so happens that I know exactly how to fix the problem -- or at least, how to go a long way towards fixing it. Bit I couldn't get a word in edgewise. Nobody was thinking along instructional lines. It drives me nuts, and I WORK there!

Most teachers I know agree that differentiation only works up to a point, but they rarely see the high achievers as losers in this situation. They tend to consider advancement or acceleration of bright kids as elitist, and contrary to that diversity utopia we are all embracing. They think private schools do a better job because of fewer behavior problems, better parent investment, smaller classes and so on -- external factors. In point of fact, research shows that private schools often do no better than their public counterparts, given matched demographics. However, parent and student satisfaction in private schools is much higher, because the school generally reflects values and goals that are important to both. Private schools that do have a commitment to academic excellence are in a position to ensure that it occurs, because everyone is on board. That never happens in public ed, except in places like magnet schools.

Cassandra said...

If you had the opportunity to ask one question of an EM program creator, what would you ask?

Cassandra said...

I meant to clarify: in a public forum.

Anonymous said...

"*ALL* of the discussion focused on feel-good things, how to make the student feel valued or welcome or whatever (and no evidence was presented that these kids were sad or in need of lots of emotional support), and NO attention at all was paid to their academic needs, which are pressing.Our failure to address them is, to me, a *real* equity issue. But I seem to be the only one who sees things that way."

As the parent of a special ed kid this is very true, and seems to be at its worst in the junior high years. It's a lot of wasted time.

I'll quote the Dog Whisperer even though we're not talking about dogs when he says, "You can't help someone when you feel sorry for them." A lot of people, including teachers, feel sorry for special ed kids and have a hard time wrapping their brains around where they really are. Heck, it's taken me years upon years and I'm the parent.