kitchen table math, the sequel: Alternative to Common Core

Friday, December 18, 2009

Alternative to Common Core

What are your thoughts on this post from Jay P. Greene's blog?

83 comments:

SteveH said...

I'm no fan of CCSSI. It's goal is to improve (marginally) the lower math track, but it allows schools to ignore the huge problems of K-8 math. Their requirements have no meaning for kids who want to get on the AP math track. Woe be to students and parents who don't figure this out in grammar school.

The big problem is that the CCSSI deadline is the end of high school, with no intermediate checkpoints, like algebra in 8th or 9th grade. Just how many years does it take to get students through algebra I plus a little bit of geometry and algebra II? If it takes until the end of high school, something is seriously wrong. They are just trying to make bad math a little bit better. It does not help those who want a STEM career. The standards are not good enough. The problems start in K-8.

When the study did a college and career readiness (actually, workplace) analysis, it was quite self-serving. They didn't have to do this. It's been done. It's called the college department math requirements. If you want to be a biologist, you don't turn to CCSSO for requirements. You look at the colleges and the department degree requirements. While career doors are being slammed shut in 6th grade, CCSSI continues to lead kids down the wrong path based on a pathetically poor workplace analysis. It screws kids at the top end and low end, and it doesn't fix curriculum problems to let more kids get to the top end.

A better solution is to drive the top end education needs for the AP calculus track back into the lowest grades. Our middle schools finally (!) got rid of CMP for proper pre-algebra and algebra courses in 7th and 8th grades, but we are stuck with Everyday Math. There is no mechanism to force changes into the lower grades. They will not admit that there is a problem. Some kids do well and that's good enough for the school.

I've heard that some schools in the country start separating kids in math starting in 4th or 5th grade. This is the right idea, but the usual implementation is via sink or swim. They recognize that kids need more, but they don't fix the curriculum to allow more kids to get to that point. The biggest problems happen in schools where the people are the most clueless about math.

I might not be so critical of CCSSI if it had an intermediate checkpoint of a proper algebra course in 8th or 9th grade. After that, kids will be properly prepared for the AP calculus track even if they never get to calculus. They will have had a proper educational start in math.

For those who do not want to go to college or who want to go to a vocational school, they won't be forced to suffer through some sort of generic geometry and algebra II material that doesn't lead them where they need to go. It will take them down a dead end and drop them off.

I'm a big proponent of what I call a door closing analysis for math. We already know what colleges require. All we have to do is push those requirements back to the lowest grades. These requirements will define multiple standards or paths. This is the information that kids and parents need. They don't need some sort of generic workplace analysis that comes up with one goal by the end of high school. I find it odd that with the big push for improving STEM teaching that they would think that the CCSSI standards are good enough.


Something has to fix K-8 math. If it doesn't do that, then it's a failure.

Anonymous said...

In the US there's no clear standards that transition from hs to college and to achieve that you need a superior elementary curriculum, one that has standards already prepackaged. We know this because the numbers of college students required to take remedial math classes. The remediation begins with elementary mathematics, not high school. Asian teachers are not required to identify standards from textbooks for students, their textbooks are far beyond standards. US teachers work toward a ceiling that Asians treat as a floor.

Paul B said...

I'm strongly opposed to ANY process that centralizes anything. I know of no societal benefit that has ever been demonstrated as a direct result of centralization. In this case, if I understand it, the intent is to create a centralized standard on top of a centralized standard.

Our strengths come from the things that allow us to flourish and diversify into every possible nook and cranny of life. This is as true for our social organizations as it is for us as beings on the planet. When you centralize you marginalize all of those pour souls who don't fit the standard. You codify the median and banish the margins.

This is nothing short of rent seeking by an establishment that detests in equal parts, success and failure, the very things that make us stronger!

{Haven't had enough coffee yet}

SteveH said...

"US teachers work toward a ceiling that Asians treat as a floor."

One of the comments at the other web site talked about using the CA or MA standards (top ranked US states) for the national standards.

However, this is from an AIR report this year comparing Hong Kong to Massachusetts.


"Hong Kong’s major advantage in its TIMSS results over Massachusetts is that Hong Kong had a
considerably higher percentage of its students achieving at the top levels of TIMSS performance
benchmarks. Among Hong Kong students, 40% scored at the advanced level, compared with
22% of Massachusetts students. Similarly, 81% of Hong Kong students scored at or above the
high level, compared with 63% of Massachusetts students."

They just don't get it. I agree with Paul. I have absolutely no confidence that any national standard will ever produce good results. It will just institutionalize slow progress towards a minimal goal.

Anonymous said...

Asian teachers don't supplement instruction, because there is one textbook, aligned to college bound standards, that gets used by all students. Asian students are not socially promoted, they have to matriculate before they promote. They also matriculate into vocational tracks, if they don't meet college standards. It doesn't change the curriculum. In these countries, resources are too scarce to 'prepare' everyone for college; instead, everyone is expected to choose an occupation and work toward that goal. Also, most countries require two years of civil service. I think its a good idea.

The problem in the US has to do with the confusion that has been created by reform textbooks which promote less rigorous methodologies. The problems are further compounded by tracking students into lower performing classes, commonly known as zoo tracks. US schools are not only failing college-bound students, but the graduation rates of our seniors are some of the lowest especially when you compare them to other industrial nations. This is not the same country that it once was 30 years ago. The crime rate in this country is proportional to the level of education in the US and things have got to get worse before real change will happen.

Paul B said...

Posted for Concerned About Education.....

SteveH's point about replacing CMP, but being stuck with EM really hits home. My district is at the same point, which unnecessarily creates continued difficulties for even the best students as they progress through authentic math coursework. Backtracking with AP Calc content would be one solution which AP has supported with their vertical teams approach, but many college math professors are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the AP exam.

I was hopeful that Common Standards would result in improving weaker standards in state like Missouri where I live. (http://missourimath.org/)

concerned said...

Thank you, Paul, for your help!

What you said about "rent seeking by an establishment that detests in equal parts, success and failure, the very things that make us stronger!" really resonates and brings to mind a recent blog post:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/scalliwag/200912/take-paradigm-and-shove-it

"Narrow intellectual gatekeeping is omnipresent in academia. Want to know why the government wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on math and science programs..."

SteveH said...

"...but many college math professors are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the AP exam."

What comments have you heard?


Actually, my comment was not necessarily an unreserved plug for AP classes or the idea of advanced placement. It has to do with rigor and the process of curriculum continuity. Our schools used to have a big gap when students went from CMP in 8th grade to geometry in 9th. After years of complaints by parents and high school teachers, and after the state required that 7th and 8th grade teachers had to have credentials in the subject they taught, the school finally replaced CMP with proper textbooks for pre-algebra and algebra.

However, there is nothing to drive curriculum continuity back to the lower grades. Our schools still give a 6th grade math placement test that is heavily weighted on skills (properly so) to determine if kids will get on the algebra in 8th grade track. They assume that the Everyday Math spiral did it's job and that kids who didn't make it on the algebra track have only themselves to blame. Just look at the kids who are in the top group. Of course, they never ask the parents of those kids.

I feel like telling the school to give me a group of 15 students (typical class size these days) and I will be their one math teacher from K-6. I will come in at whatever time they want to teach the class as long as I don't have to use Everyday Math.


I'm convinced that the schools know what the problems are. They know that there are big trade-offs between full inclusion and academics. They know that enrichment and differentiated instruction are poor substitutes for acceleration and rigor. Their talk is just for cover. When pushed, they will retreat with the defense that they have to teach all kids. Some will even view parents who send their kids off to "pre-selected" schools as elitist. And they will cling to those kids who somehow do well in the public schools. That's what they say; "Look at how well our students do in high school." What they are actually saying (to even some of their own kids) is that it's their own fault.

Paul B said...

Good luck with that class of 15, Steve.

Also know that in some districts, turnover is huge. In mine we have four kids (only 4) in the eighth grade that have been with us since the first grade.

Your intent is fine for a static, wealthy community but the reality in most places is quite different.

SteveH said...

"fine for a static, wealthy community"

True, but even that won't happen. Even in wealthy communities, things are screwed up. You won't fix the transient student problem if you can't fix the problem in the most favorable conditions. What goes on in affluent communities is not unrelated.

Now, back to my third trip out shovelling our fresh 18". We didn't start out slow this year.

Paul B said...

It's just a ray of global warming :^)

palisadesk said...

Hmmm. It may be different in your area, SteveH, but in mine I don't think the decisionmakers really *do* understand what is going on -- what the problems are, and what the solutions might be. They really believe the data-free foolishness (thanx to incentives everywhere.blogspot.com for that phrase) that they spout. Schooling has not been about academics or rigor for decades, if it ever was. Inclusion, differentiation, social promotion, "all must succeed" and so forth are all part and parcel of the real purpose of public schooling: social control and inculcation of certain values and attitudes. The spokespeople in my district probably would label those who choose private schools, or who lobby for something more rigorous, as elitists -- but they genuinely believe acceleration and rigorous coursework are BAD THINGS. They have a very few "gifted and talented" programs, mainly (as one insider at the top frankly confessed to me) to keep middle-class parents from bailing out of the system entirely -- they don't want to have a district where 98% of the students are minority children of poverty. They throw a few sops to the wealthier and politically active, but these few programs do not affect the system very much -- and even in "gifted" programs, acceleration is not encouraged. They keep making the tests and requirements easier, so that more students will be "successful" but the jig is up when those students want to pursue post-secondary education, and their reading, math and writing skills -- even for honor students -- are not up to scratch.

There is a big disconnect between elementary and secondary (we don't have any screening in sixth grade for algebra, etc.), and again between high school and college. College teachers tell me they expect to fail a majority of their freshman students, but not until about the third quarter -- so that they don't have to refund tuition. There is something very wrong with this whole picture.

I think you are correct that what happens in wealthier communities has a spillover effect. The fact that the majority of kids in wealthier communities are at least minimally successful (often due to parental afterschooling, tutoring or other efforts) permits the bureaucracy to maintain the fiction that what they are doing works. Then they try to offload the same expectations, methods, etc. onto low-income schools and their plan fails utterly. For one thing, children who are academically delayed need to be taught MORE intensively and in a MORE accelerated manner, to get the results middle class kids get, even with ho-hum teaching. The last thing they need is "discovery learning" and similar hooey. Outsourcing to parents doesn't work in such a community, either -- the parents lack the skills, financial resources, or both, to provide much academic backup. At least the staff in such schools are usually aware of this and take a firmly pro-instruction stance. But the problem won't be fixed as long as the pooh-bahs can fool themselves, and the public, about how effective the system actually is.

Anonymous said...

I watched the CCCSI Dec 2 presentation by the NGA's Dane Linn and CCCSO's Gene Wilhoit that's a 90 minute video on the Common Core site.

There were numerous references to working with NCTM and they were curt with Jerome Dancis' excellent comments on math. They were much more open to long winded comments on the need for "meaningful engaging learning experiences" for the student and "culturally compatible pedagogy".

They made numerous references to the need for more and better research of what works in education and that this would need to come out of the universities and the federal government. Sounded more like they rejected the research they have.

Dane Linn actually states that the CCCSI document "is an equity agenda as much as anything else" and "once and for all we have to level what goes on in these classrooms".

Put those comments together with the stated emphasis to get the standards in place so they can move on to changing the curricula materials and the nature of the assessments to something more "authentic". Gene Wilhoit even states that existing curricula design policies and current assessments "would negate what we are trying to do here".

They describe an exciting educational world where learning networks and professional development can "now look across borders". Sort of like one big national MSP network I suppose.

Nationalizing bad ideas using the RttT carrot and later ESEA money will make it harder for individual states and local districts to survive as bulwarks against bad curricula.

SteveH said...

"They have a very few 'gifted and talented' programs, mainly (as one insider at the top frankly confessed to me) to keep middle-class parents from bailing out of the system entirely ..."

I don't understand. If they had more G/T programs, more parents would bail? Or, they have the fewest number they can get away with just to keep kids there? I know that in our schools, they don't want to see the good students go to other schools, but they don't do much about it. Many more parents would leave if they had the money. Because of that, we will never reach a critical mass for change. Academics in K-6 will never trump social goals.


Overall, are you telling me that things are so bad with public schools that I shouldn't even consider any possible solution? Actually, I don't see much of a solution in our town beyond what they have already done. Obviously, it's worse in other areas like yours.

Generally, I think that the only solution is more choice. We can't fix them, so we have to make them irrelevant. However, many of the other choices still suffer from EMitis. So, when I talk about schools in general, I'm not just talking about public schools.

Some comments seem to indicate that things are so bad that it's not worth the effort to find solutions.

SteveH said...

"Dane Linn actually states that the CCCSI document 'is an equity agenda as much as anything else' and 'once and for all we have to level what goes on in these classrooms'."

Well, maybe I will decide that it's hopeless too. I don't think that CCSSI offers any path for fixing the problem.

Anonymous said...

CCCSI is a vehicle for nationalizing the worst in curricula and moving to "authentic" assessments. That's why it's so important in the video to keep reminding everyone listening that CCCSI is voluntary and state led.

Because in reality it is neither.

Watch the video and listen to them introduce the rep from AFT and NEA and talk of their working with NCTM.

RttT and CCCSI are like a lot of other measures coming out of DC these days. Rhetoric of reform is merely a cover to make things worse to serve certain special interest groups.

Paying attention and describing what is really happening is the first step to move beyond merely being the financing for this nonreform agenda.

Linda Seebach said...

Anonymous above said, "The crime rate in this country is proportional to the level of education in the US and things have got to get worse before real change will happen."

That's not true. In the narrow sense, because "proportional to" has a specific mathematical meaning that certainly does not pertain -- and if it did, I would hope that more education would lead to a lower crime rate, not a higher one.

And more broadly, levels of education have been rising overall even while the effectiveness of the education children get has declined. And generally speaking, crime rates have been declining without much obvious relation to levels of education, however you define it.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:
>>[Paul B]"...but many college math professors are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the AP exam."
>{SteveH]What comments have you heard?

Steve, I’ve seen comments (sorry, can’t remember the source) lamenting that current AP calculus classes teach kids to get the right answer to the problems likely to show up on the AP test without teaching a real understanding of calculus. E.g., I’ve heard that there has been a watering down of “epsilon-delta” analysis.

It’s easy to see how that could happen, if AP test scores are the defined metric to measure success.

It’s also not good: even as a physicist turned engineer, it is rare that I have had to do an integral that is not essentially trivial. What I have needed is an intuitive understanding of what is really happening with calculus, what sorts of things can go wrong, etc.

An AP course focused just on getting the highest possible score on the AP test is not a good thing.

I’m of course sympathetic to your broader points. However, as long as our society as a whole is focused on just getting by rather than on achieving excellence and true understanding for its own sake, I doubt we will see much change.

Dave Miller in Sacramento

concerned said...

There's a Fordham report about AP and IB at:

http://www.edexcellence.net/detail/news.cfm?news_id=378&id=

and an article about the changed reviews here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/26/AR2007112601933.html

I've heard university professors comment on the numbers of students who received great scores on the AP but are weak in basic algebra. It may be possible for a student to do well on the exam without algebra skills because some of the reform calc books I've seen seem to avoid algebra altogether. I use a classic, algebra-rich text in my classes because it's my responsibility to make sure that students are prepared for college after making the grade on the exam.

Anonymous said...

The definition of "college ready" being used by CCCSI certainly will not generate academic excellence.

A student is deemed "college ready" if they can enroll in a credit bearing (i.e.- not remedial) course in a community or 4 year college and earn at least a "C" in the course.

What an abysmally low national common goal.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Concerned, now I am curious. What is the "classic, algebra-rich text" you use (for high school calculus, if I have followed the context correctly). Please tell.

Anonymous said...

The video makes it quite clear that adoption of CCCSI doesn't just mean alignment or adopting some of the language.

The relevant state body must enact the document verbatim by next August 2. The 15 % leeway some commentators have mentioned gives some discretion to states to adopt a little more content or require a few more skills.

A 15 % cap puts the emphasis on little and few additions. The 100% adoption requirement means no deletions.

Although RttT is a bit like Lord Voldemort, the name that must not be mentioned, the 1st round of RttT applications are due January 21, 2010.

States and participating local districts are agreeing in writing to enact these standards without ever showing them to the citizens who fund the education system.

The parents and taxpayers, the stakeholders with the greatest interest in quality and the actual consequences of CCCSI, are not allowed a voice in this stealth national curricula revolution at all.

The RttT application and enactment dates are expressly designed to prevent future elected state or district officials from reneging.

Does that sound like changes we will all be pleased with?

concerned said...

I don't know if I used the correct words to describe it, but you can check it out and decide for yourself. I use the Larson 8e text.

It is a difficult text to teach with but sometimes reveals algebra deficiencies, generating great discussions and opportunities for reteaching.

Keep in mind that our district uses EM and CMP. Like yours, we just recently re-adopted authentic pre-algebra.

SteveH said...

"...the numbers of students who received great scores on the AP but are weak in basic algebra."

It seems like there is something else going on here besides a lack of focus on understanding. Perhaps it's my experience with K-8 math, but I wouldn't trust schools with the job of fixing AP calculus. I would love to get to the point where the issues of AP calculus could be addressed, but I'm still stuck trying to fix K-6 math. If kids can get through AP calculus and still be weak in algebra, then I really don't think that will be fixed with a course that focuses on understanding. I assume that there are many things going on here.

SteveH said...

"CCCSI is a vehicle for nationalizing the worst in curricula and moving to 'authentic' assessments. "

Educators have complained about the idea of Math Wars and want both sides to work together to find solutions. It doesn't happen.

The NMAP panel report and discussion about a proper school algebra in 8th grade?

Ignored.

The willingness of many to be part of the CCSSI initiative?

They become part of the justification. Those in charge can ignore them, but claim that they have had their say.

They argue with generalities, but they control the details. This is about philosophy, pedagogy, turf, money, and control. The solution cannot be a compromise. The solution has to be parental choice.

Over the years, I've found myself trying to figure out ways to fix our schools. Again and again, I see reasons why it can't be fixed. I keep hoping that something could get my son's schools to do something different, even though realistically, I know that isn't going to happen.

I don't want school choice. I want my son to go to the school that's less than a mile away. I want the school to focus more on academics and not as much on socialization and other educationally fuzzy ideas.

It will never happen. Compromise will never work. What you get is differentiated instruction. I see no way around differentiated schools.

Anonymous said...

Steve-

If you look on page 130 (out of 775) of the final RttT comments and regulations out out by the US DOE, you will see they decided to expressly ignore NMAP in deciding what is effective reform. Deferring to state autonomy is the excuse.

In the video, an English teacher pleads for real content in the English standards so "students at risk will have access to the very finest in our literary tradition".

Wilhoit's response is that excellence will be expected for all and it comes in various forms and genres. It is therefore best to leave specific works up to the states.

Federalism only seems to come into play as an excuse to block effective reform. Apparently we need new research because the results of NMAP, the National Reading Panel, Project Follow Through, Marilyn Jager Adams report. and Jeanne Chall's documentation are not want educators wanted to hear.

Maybe they can contact some of Michael Mann's staff at Penn to look for the desired evidence to back up CCCSI and the changes being envisioned.

SteveH said...

Is there a link which cuts through all of the blather of CCSSI and states specifically what will be required of states and a timeline? One slide I saw said that the standards would be voluntary. What power will the states have over local districts? How does it affect the current math tracking used by many districts?

I spent some time at www.corestandards.org and got nowhere. I also went to www.commoncore.org and gave up.

Anonymous said...

It's intentional obfuscation until it's too late and your state is bound.

Districts must commit in writing prior to a state's application to the USDOE. With the initial round deadline of Jan 21, many states are telling districts they need to agree by Friday, January 8.

If a district is not participating it has no chance for the 50% of the RttT grant that goes just to participating districts and a state can refuse to share ANY of the grant with districts that didn't agree to implement CCCSI and whatever else the state committed to do.

Does that sound voluntary in a time of acute state and local operating deficits? The agreement to adopt CCCSI is worth 40 points on your app.

The video described is on the Common Core site.

The RttT regs are at http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html . Click on Nature of Final Priorities .

You will hear no mention of RttT on the video since that would be evidence this is not, in fact, voluntary. In fact when one presenter talks of the unprecedented national movement CCCSI represents, the other insists later that everyone must remember not to describe CCCSI as "national". He then reiterates CCCSI is "state led", "not a matter of the federal government", and "entirely voluntary".

It comes across as boilerplate legal language. Ignore the reality and use the proper magic words.

The discussion of Developing Common Standards is part B of the RttT regs on page 261.

If you want to tell me what state I'll tell you how much the RttT grant might be (there are tiers) and whether your state qualified for a Gates grant to underwrite the costs of the app.

Category 1 is Calif, Texas, NY, and Florida with the potential for a $350 - $700 million grant.

Category 2 is Illinois, Georgia, PA, Ohio, Michigan, NC, and New Jersey. Eligible for $200-400 million.

That's a lot of incentive for many states. The problem is that CCCSI is not rigorous or even excellent and the regs ignore requiring effective reform.

As bad as things are now, a nationalized bad system implemented with borrowed money is even worse.

SteveH said...

I searched the full Rttf document for the word "algebra" and there was only one entry in 775 pages. It was on page 130, along with how they were leaving training and licensing for math up to each state.

palisadesk said...

Overall, are you telling me that things are so bad with public schools that I shouldn't even consider any possible solution?

SteveH, I think fixing the "system" on a macro level (state-wide or nationwide) is a fool's errand -- it ain't gonna happen. Many people have wasted years -- their lives, even -- trying to make this happen. But that doesn't mean that all efforts to improve schooling, whether in one area, like K-6 math, or early literacy -- are wasted. It's precisely in a confined arena, like a small district (such as yours) or a single school, like a charter school or a local school with some autonomy, that such changes can be effectively implemented.

My own district is dysfunctional and a lost cause for overall "reform"-- too many vested interests, too few people committed to looking at empirical data, too much complacency in the population all prevent meaningful change. We have hundreds of schools and tens of thousands of teachers and other personnel. A quantum shift is not on the horizon.

Your situation could well be different. Smaller districts are more easily steered in a new direction, whether that push comes from administration, elected representatives, or the public. Ken De Rosa flagged up the Gering, Nebraska school district as an example: here and follow the links for more information.

Some parents and staff on other groups I subscribe to have reported promising changes (or the hope of such) in their districts,at least in the area of reading instruction. Catherine may be having some effect in Irvington! So smaller districts are the place to work for curricular or other changes. All the instances I know of where such have been implemented successfully are either single schools or small school districts. The big urban districts appear to be impervious to influence. CEO's come and go and not much really changes except the window dressing.

A caveat, however: even when a huge improvement in student learning takes place, a new administrator, CEO or principal (as the case may be) can undermine and dismantle in an instant an instructional culture that has been years in the making. See Rockford Reading Disaster for an example.

As to your other question (about G&T classes) -- yes, they keep the number of classes as low as they can get away with. Ditto for magnet programs. They also allow parent fundraising in the high-SES schools to purchase all kinds of extras (making it a two-tier or three-tier system in fact) like libraries, classroom art supplies, musical instruments, high-tech equipment, extracurrirulars like camera club and video club, new textbooks every year, new furniture, even staff. They do this to keep the high-SES parents in the system. We have only a few schools like that, but the mean family income in those schools is over 400K annually; in my school it is 15K.

Big difference.

SteveH said...

This is all so money driven. Give me a standard, any standard, so that I can get on the RttT money bandwagon. Even those who advocate for quickly digging up some other standard (CA/MA), seem to be willing to play the game.

Schools will still give their math tracking tests. Kids will still be unprepared unless they get help at home or with a tutor. Schools will still go through the motions and wonder why more kids are not prepared for STEM careers. But at least the money will keep flowing.

I'm just amazed that more people don't see how vacuous much of the discussion is. Generalities and no details.

SteveH said...

"... think fixing the "system" on a macro level (state-wide or nationwide) is a fool's errand ..."

Many of my comments refer to fixing problems in my town or towns like mine. Perhaps I should state that more clearly. Our schools are not dysfunctional, but I don't think that there is much pedagogical room left for improvement.

As I expressed in my first comment on this thread, I don't believe in any sort of state or national solution. Some had hopes for NMAP, but I didn't. Some still try to figure out how to leverage the CCSSI into some sort of improvement. I don't see how it will happen.

At best, I have seen Duncan come to our state and tell them that they need to loosen up the limits on magnet and charter schools. Our state will do the least it can get away with.

I'm a firm believer in bottom-up solutions because I don't see any way that a top-down solution can work. It's not that I think choice or local action is some magic solution, but I don't see any other way.

Allison said...

--As bad as things are now, a nationalized bad system implemented with borrowed money is even worse.


Anonymous, I can't credit you for this sentence, since I don't know who you are, but I'm just going to make it my only response to anyone for the next decade. There isn't a single thing happening now that it doesn't apply to. Thanks for such a nice compact sentence.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Allison. You are right. That sentence does apply to more than education although I wrote it out of frustration from having actually read the RttT regs and studying what is going on with with CCCSI.

I'm a retired attorney so understanding the actual significance of language is what I am trained to do although I speak here as a parent who weeps for the families without the time or money to "afterschool" or escape the system. It appears to my readings that CCCSI and RttT may be designed to federalize weak standards that will be more accessible to our weakest students but will be insufficient to nourish the most capable. That result is deemed more equitable and just in some educator's minds.

The written agreements to adopt seem to be being made quickly under tremendous financial pressure and the consequences will likely be long term. Accurate information is important and as big as these potential RttT grants are, the amounts pale in comparison to the ongoing costs of operating these school systems.

The question for local and state elected officials may become: "Why did you permanently hobble K-12 in order to get this one time gain?"

SteveH said...

"The question for local and state elected officials may become: 'Why did you permanently hobble K-12 in order to get this one time gain?'"


I don't believe they are making even this value judgment. They think that this is good for all kids. They did a workplace analysis. I can't see how more time will create a better solution. They want what they want. They are using the time constraint to ram through what they want.

Then there are those who seem to flow with the money. Deep down, I don't think they care one way or another. They would be all for Singapore Math if that's what NSF wanted. The arguments and justification flow with the money. Just tell people what they want to hear. Unfortunately, there are too many people who know little about math and end up as easy prey.

I end up alternating between thinking that there is some way that I can chip away at the edifice and realizing that the only solution is to help others find an alternate path.

KTM helps individuals with personal alternate paths, but it's not clear that much can be done on a larger scale. The problem seems to be quite resistant to change.

It would be nice to think that some schools can provide a shining beacon of what can be done, and that everyone else will follow. I'm not so sure even that can happen. This implies that the goal is to convince other educators. I don't think this will work. You want to convince other parents and provide them with the ability to go somewhere else. We are not going to change the system. We have to make it irrelevant. Hopefully, our only option isn't our own kitchen table.

Allison said...

--The question for local and state elected officials may become: "Why did you permanently hobble K-12 in order to get this one time gain?"


But the answer is simple: they are incentivized for immediate gains, especially of their own power, and darn the consequences.


this is what they are doing in healthcare. this is what they are doing in the financial sector. this is what they are doing with cap-n-trade. this is what they are doing with the automotive sector. it is what they are doing with telecom. it is what they are doing with the FDA new guidelines. it is what they are doing with the CPSIA. it is what they did with the public pension system everywhere in the country.

this is what they are doing everywhere they can, because they are incentivized to gain power. if the results permanently hobble everything, it does not matter, because they have achieved their immediate goal: gain power now. grease the skids for themselves. feather their own beds, whether that means support the graft and corruption that lines their own pockets or just the "legal" version of such graft as pork.

SteveH said...

The question is how many really believe in what they promote? How many make some sort of vague, high level value decision, and never go back to reevaluate? I think that many people can't handle details. They decide on some basic concept like equality and go with it. I remember meeting a person who would always listen to both sides on an argument and assume that the answer is somewhere in the middle.

Allison's viewpoint seems a little cynical to me, although I wonder sometimes how naive I am. Most educators seem to really believe in what they are doing. I should be able to convince them that there is a better way to teach math. Perhaps not. How can I convince them that much of what they learned in ed school is wrong?

However, when I want to discuss details, many just shut down and withdraw back to some basic driving force, like equality or balance. How many times have you gotten into a discussion about education and overwhelmed someone with details? It doesn't work. They don't stop and say "Gee, I need to learn more about that."

In the education world, I think that many make basic value judgments and never look back. Then it simply becomes an issue of money. Improvement means more money. If that requires changes in curriculum or standards, then it's best to be proactive. Unfortunately, everything is now driven by the low end. I just find it quite annoying that they claim that it's better than some vague sort of traditional math.

palisadesk said...

It would be nice to think that some schools can provide a shining beacon of what can be done, and that everyone else will follow. I'm not so sure even that can happen.

The first part of your statement is true, and has happened many times: some schools *have* provided a shining beacon of what can be done (and some still do). The second part, however, is not true: everyone else will *not* follow, and may in fact shoot the messenger, do all they can to suppress the evidence, or ignore the evidence entirely and proceed to embrace the most INeffective models they can find.

Project Follow Through is one example (the most large-scale but by no means an isolated instance). The Great Falls Project was another -- a school did so well that they had to shut down the project because too many students were coming out of elementary school looking like "gifted" kids and very few were "LD" or intellectually disabled. Whoops, threats to the budget -- can't allow that!

Some charter schools that I've posted links to before (Charter Day School in NC, Arthur Academies in Oregon) are exemplars as well -- but they have no line-up of public schools wanting to learn from their example. In fact most such schools encounter tremendous opposition from the usual suspects in district administration and local politics. The Rockford example I posted above shows how a low-performing school that excels will be punished and abruptly slapped down as a threat. I've seen this same sort of thing in my own area.

It filters down to the individual teacher level, too. There's an unwritten rule about doing too much better than anyone else; I learned this early on, when I taught a middle-grade LD class. Thanks to effective curricula, which I just stumbled upon but implemented with fidelity, my students leaped forward 3-5 YEARS in both reading and math skills (it wasn't my great expertise, I was a fairly new teacher and not that knowledgeable). Naively, I was proud of my students and their success -- and unprepared for the enraged tantrum thrown by a senior district bureaucrat when he visited the school and reviewed their tests and portfolios. He ranted, raved and pounded on the table, and I'll never forget his exact words: We can't have students learning this much! It makes it look like there was nothing wrong with them in the first place! we didn't put them in this program to get ahead -- and what if everyone started to expect results?

Exactly. What if everyone did? The whole way we do things would have to be rejigged. The law of inertia guarantees that the system as a whole will maintain its equilibrium and change only superficial things.

I learned a different lesson. Students can make amazing gains and learn extremely fast, with the right curricula. But I will be discreet about reporting on those outliers. The less attention I attract, the more I can do for students.

SteveH said...

"I'm not so sure even that can happen."

I should have been more direct. It hasn't happened in many cases. It's not a process for change.

When I talked about teaching a math class and showing my son's school what can be done, they probably won't allow that to happen. Even if they did, they would find some reason to ignore it. I keep trying to find a path for change in our non-dysfunctional schools. In one thread, there was a comment that maybe if I ran the MathCounts program at school, I could show what is possible. I rather think that they would use me to satisfy a few complaining parents and make it easier for them to continue to do what they do.

PalisadesK, you paint a very dark and depressing picture; one that makes it hard to imagine any solution. Guerilla teaching might be the best a teacher can do in that situation, but there has to be more than that.

palisadesk said...

SteveH, I don't think there is a "solution" in my area. Surveys of parents find most are satisfied with the schools. The few voices calling for more rigor and better teaching of math and literacy are regarded as disgruntled fanatics. When an organization is as large as this one, it's like a massive ocean liner -- it doesn't change course readily or rapidly. It would take something extremely compelling to cause a significant course correction, and that "something" is nowhere in sight.

Many children will have fewer opportunities in life because they have not been given the chance to acquire a productive skillset -- but parents often don't realize this until the child is out of school, and even then, it is often the child who is blamed, not the school system. Helping such kids succeed in spite of the odds is the guerrilla war that I find worthwhile. Those kids have nowhere else to go but public school; homeschooling, charters or private schools are not available to them.

I'm less optimistic than you largely because I've been at this game a lot longer, and have seen several generations of parents go through predictable phases (kind of like the stages of grief). First, they become aware something is wrong. Then, they draw attention to it, get research and possible solutions, organize with other like-minded parents, meet with administration, work within the system to effect change, lobby politicians, school board members, or whoever. They write letters to the editor, form citizen action groups, publish newsletters, try to educate other parents -- meanwhile, trying to help their own kids, either through tutoring, afterschooling, change of schools or whatever it takes.

Eventually, I have seen pretty well all their efforts (and I have been part of some of these action groups and done my share of lobbying, making presentations rich with data to the school board, working to elect people who seemed friendly to the needed reforms, and so on) come to naught. I'd say in the curriculum, rigor, student learning and assessment arenas we (locally) are worse off than we were 15 years ago. Worse, the opposition has consolidated its power and imposed homogeneity upon the system. Schools are no longer free to choose less-popular curricula (like Singapore Math) if they wish. We now have Literacy Police and Numeracy Police ensuring that everyone is dancing to the same constructivist tune.

But just because my experience is one of gathering darkness (and this is not an unusual experience in numerous large urban districts) does not mean there is no hope for you or others in small districts or schools which still have some local autonomy. Indeed, small districts are precisely where the opportunities are. Gering, NE was one example; I can think of a couple of others that have promising initiatives (parent generated) that may lead to significant differences in student achievement. Opportunities for charters or alternative schools also provide a chance to make inroads in a positive way.

There is no escaping however from the fact that those of us at KTM are not a groundswell majority and we are scattered and not able to exert political influence in one district or another. The reason public education is as mediocre as it is can be ascribed, unfortunately, to the fact that a large number of citizens are satisfied with it, more or less. We aren't -- but we are outliers..

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

Deleted double post -- dial-up hiccups from time to time.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:

>PalisadesK, you paint a very dark and depressing picture; one that makes it hard to imagine any solution.

Steve, without trying to be unsympathetic, it seems to me that calling it “dark and depressing” is a bit like saying that it is “dark and depressing” that magic does not work.

Sure, magic would be cool, but it’s just not part of the real world.

In the real world, large organizations always undergo “goal displacement” unless there is some very, very strong external constraint. Indeed, in my observation, even strong external constraints (such as the profit-and-loss system) only work when they actually eliminate those organiztions that have become ossified.

Similarly, I have never been able to see how the traditional “classroom” model of education – one teacher systematically controlling twenty or more students – can ever work very well. It ignores the reality of wide variations in student ability (even if the students are ‘tracked”) and the centrality of student motivation and self-discipline. And, of course, a student/teacher ration above 6:1 or so means the teacher cannot follow each student that closely.

A similar point holds for having a “curriculum”: none of us who wanted to learn some non-academic subject – cooking, gardening, etc. – would set up a “curriculum” for ourselves. We would simply seek out a wide variety of resources – books from the library, knowledgeable friends, etc. – and learn about the subject as fast as we could.

I’ve never seen how the “schooling” model can possibly work very well as a means of education. I don’t find that “dark and depressing,” but just recognizing some pretty obvious facts.

Now… the fact that so many of our fellow citizens will not or cannot recognize those facts, I suppose that is ‘dark and depressing”! But, the truth is, few of them care about their kids being educated.

I suspect that the best any of us can do is, person-to-person, try to encourage people we know to think realistically about the shortcomings of schooling as a means of learning, and, perhaps, by example encourage people we know to actually value learning.

Dave

SteveH said...

"does not mean there is no hope for you or others in small districts or schools which still have some local autonomy"

I guess that's my problem. You seem to indicate otherwise with long descriptions of dysfunctional schools right after my descriptions of attempts to deal with our non-dysfunctional school system. My perspective relates to the difficulties in those communities where one might expect the possibility of change. Whether success is possible depends on how you define it.


"The reason public education is as mediocre as it is can be ascribed, unfortunately, to the fact that a large number of citizens are satisfied with it..."

I disagree. I attribute it to not having any other model to compare it with; not having any other real choice. Satisfied is not an appropriate word where I live.

SteveH said...

"Similarly, I have never been able to see how the traditional 'classroom' model of education – one teacher systematically controlling twenty or more students – can ever work very well."

Well, now you're off on another topic. We can't go from a discussion of really dysfunctional and bad schools to some idealized learning process.

This thread started with a discussion of the CCSSI initiative and a proposal to come up with a stronger, alternative standard based on those in MA or CA. I stated my position that national standards will only ever focus on the low end and that even the MA and CA standards are not good enough.

I'm not trying to deal with the problems of dysfunctional schools and I'm not striving for perfection. I want to get rid of curricula like Everyday Math. I want to figure out how to get K-6 schools to value and ensure mastery in the lower grades.

Even choice and private schools are no solution. We are fighting somthing that can't just be explained away as dysfunction. It is ignorance of what math is all about. It is the willingness to redefine math in ways that close career doors starting in the earliest grades.

The problem resists teacher education attempts. My attempts locally in both private and public schools (simple as they might be) have fallen on deaf ears. There are no direct consequences for poor math curricula in K-6. The only criteria are low state cut-off standards, which they pass easily

I keep looking for a chink in the armor; some angle that might work. I am not encouraged. Parents in our area might create some sort of critical mass, but many have already gone off to other schools, and the remaining parents don't make waves. In no way should that be viewed as satisfaction.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
> Well, now you're off on another topic. We can't go from a discussion of really dysfunctional and bad schools to some idealized learning process.

Well… it seems obvious that schools are indeed necessarily “really dysfunctional”: from an engineering viewpoint, I don’t see how they can be otherwise.

If we tried delivering food or health care in the way we try to deliver education, I think we would have very similar problems. (Come to think of it, it may not be too long before we do try to deliver health care in the same way – should be an interesting experience.)

What you refer to as an “idealized learning process” is how most adults actually do learn almost anything they choose to learn – whether it is the latest software, cooking, gardening, or whatever: hardly “idealized,” just the normal human process of learning.

What is “idealized” and historically aberrant is the idea that young humans can learn well by putting them in a room with one adult and a couple dozen of their peers, with all the kids learning the same material at the same pace. I went through the public schools in the ‘60s, my parents in the ‘40s, and my grandparents in the ‘teens and ‘20s. The classroom model has never worked very well, for obvious engineering reasons.

You also wrote:
>Even choice and private schools are no solution.

Indeed.

There is a tendency to assume that at some time in the past school-based education must really have worked, but I have read a fair amount on the history of education, and the “golden age” when the classroom approach to schooling actually worked seems to be a myth.

It’s like Gorbachev trying to get an efficient, humane socialism to actually work in the old Soviet Union: he just could not face up to the fact that it is not possible.

Good classroom-based schools have never existed on a large scale, and seem really not to be possible.

I know many people here have dreams of helping to create good schools.

They will assuredly fail.

Dave

palisadesk said...

It is ignorance of what math is all about. It is the willingness to redefine math in ways that close career doors starting in the earliest grades.

That ignorance extends to much more than math. Science and literacy instruction in K-6 are every bit as flawed as math, and closes career doors and life opportunities just as effectively.

Physicist Dave has some good points. Back in the 60's, Richard Feynman found the science textbooks he was asked to review to be completely inadequate and misleading; his own education in mathematics and science was driven very much by processes such as P.Dave describes.

John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of American Education is quite an eye-opener. I thought it was over the top when I first read it; then I checked out some of his sources. I found that he understated his case, if anything.

SteveH said...

What I'm trying to do is to define some sort of basis for discussion about anything. Most of us understand the problem, even though we might be constantly amazed at its depth. I don't want to blog just to let off steam.


There are perhaps two angles. The first is to provide a forum where parents can develop their own ideas of what education should be for their kids, and to provide resources to help that happen. The second is to explore different ways to chip away at the problem or to find ways around the problem. Things can work.

Schools like those in my town are not dysfunctional and not failures. Things could change for the better. I'm getting some distinctly negative vibes about whether anything positive can be done on any level. I'm not that pessimistic.

And I know all about Dick Feynman, thanks, but I don't think his complete fascination with learning can apply to most kids and subjects. It would just prop up those who support hands-on discovery learning. But I'm all for allowing those schools to exist.

palisadesk said...

Schools like those in my town are not dysfunctional and not failures. Things could change for the better. I'm getting some distinctly negative vibes about whether anything positive can be done on any level. I'm not that pessimistic.


I've provided several links to specific schools and districts where people have made change happen for the better, so you are quite correct -- improvement is possible, *especially* in a small district or localized area. I've even detailed how parents with a common cause in my district have banded together to effect changes they thought were important, or to start alternative programs, or both, and suggested how some of their strategies might be appropriate to your situation..

Changing direction in a significant way in a large and/or dysfunctional system is *not* on, but those concerns do not apply to your quest. However, those of us here on KTM who are not in a situation similar to yours -- where the schools are pretty good and the parents still looking for improvement and possibly motivated to work together for change -- can't really make specific suggestions for you. What might work for you won't work for me, and vice versa. Catherine's mobilizing of her community might be a more appropriate prototype for you.

Re "things can work" -- indeed, they can, but only at the local level. All the highly effective schools I know of are firmly rooted in their local community and responsive to its needs and values. Top-down reform is not effective and does not work.

Paul B said...

Read letters written by the founding fathers, many of whom didn't have more than one room school house style education. You'll find outstanding use of language that is lost to us today.

Their model was a gradeless room with kids achieving at their own pace, often with younger students being helped by older ones. That model worked quite well.


It was also 'funded' by the local community with no bureaurats involved. No central standard existed. No consultants were consulted. No principals, counselors, police, coaches, or special ed either.

Simple is beautiful.

concerned said...

Yesterday's Op-Ed

Common Core standards undermine California's gains
Ze'ev Wurman

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/12/21/ED951B7LLP.DTL

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
>Schools like those in my town are not dysfunctional and not failures.

Well. Steve, based on what you have posted here for quite a while, I simply disagree with you.

No doubt some kids come out of your local schools able to do arithmetic and even a bit of algebra, knowing the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks, etc.

But based on what you yourself have said, it does not sound to me as if they come out anywhere near educated.

I know there is a tendency to apply a relative standard of “not as bad as…” But, if someone says, for example, “I have not committed adultery as often as Tiger Woods,” well… in my book, that still leaves him an adulterer!

If kids do not come out of high school with broad, deep knowledge of science, math, and history – much broader and deeper than almost any American children who go through traditional schools – true fluency in a foreign language, etc., I consider them to be not educated.

From what you have said in this forum, I suspect there are no kids coming out of your local schools who are educated by my standards.

Steve also wrote:
>Things could change for the better. I'm getting some distinctly negative vibes about whether anything positive can be done on any level. I'm not that pessimistic.

Well… actually, I could quote a huge number of things from your own posts here on ktm making an awfully good case that things cannot change for the better in the traditional schools! For example, just from this thread:

>[SteveH] Actually, I don't see much of a solution in our town beyond what they have already done.
[snip]
>[SteveH] We can't fix them, so we have to make them irrelevant. However, many of the other choices still suffer from EMitis. So, when I talk about schools in general, I'm not just talking about public schools.

I’m agreeing with that sort of comment from you, Steve!

Perhaps, our disagreement is that I do not see facing up to reality as, in your words, “pessimistic.”

I think the most positive progress that can be made is for more and more parents to see why public schools in particular, and classroom-based schools in general, never have provided and never can provide an adequate education.

More and more parents are coming to see this, more and more children are being given a chance at an actual education, and so I am actually quite optimistic.

You cannot cure cancer until you realize that you have cancer. But once the cancer is diagnosed, it can, sometimes, be excised and the prognosis can, sometimes, be very good.

Same thing with the schools: as long as everyone pretends that there is some way to “save” the public schools, or classroom-based schooling in general, the situation is indeed profoundly hopeless.

But, as people come to take a cold, hard, realistic look at classroom-based schools from a simple engineering viewpoint and see that they can never work well as a way of delivering education, then there is room for real optimism.

I’m not a starry-eyed idealist: I’m just taking a basic engineering approach and asking if anyone would really, starting from scratch, think that classroom-based schooling is a good way to educate kids.

If anyone thinks it is, ask yourself why we do not apply a similar approach to delivering health care, food, etc.

Dave

Allison said...

re: how we "deliver" education: the health care comparison is getting interesting, isn't it?

Education is in classrooms because education--where children are removed from the parents and are the charges of someone else for several hours a day and then expected to do something productive with that time-- is now a middle class entitlement.

The middle class is no longer prepared to figure out how to watch, let alone teach, their own children on their own dime.

It is difficult to arrange these days. But because "Education" is free at the point of entry, so to speak, the classroom holds, because there is no other model of watching the children. It is cost rationing at the most basic: individual teaching groups of student/teacher are expensive.

But there is an expectation that something must be done, and that the state will do it. So then the state must do all of these things--common core! testing! curricula definitions! standards! school choice! vouchers!--all of which exist because of the untouchable ideal that education is a middle class entitlement in the first place.

Food isn't a middle class entitlement; housing isn't (yet). A job isn't. Clothing isn't. But education is.

When health care becomes a middle class entitlement, you can bet that the cost rationing will create a whole lot of things that look a lot like classrooms. And then they'll have a whole lot of testing! standards! curricula! vouchers! to "solve" the problems they created by creating the entitlement in the first place.

Allison said...

Paul,

I know you love the one room schoolhouse, but I have to ask:

The Founding Fathers weren't dunces. They had IQs all well over average; top 2 quintiles at the very very least.

Have you seriously considered that you've got the causality backwards? That it wasn't the one room schoolhouse that led to their brilliance, but their brilliance that made the one room schoolhouse work (for them)?

How well would the one room schoolhouse work for the bottom two quintiles? How many have the capacity and skillset to be self motivated by their own success?

RMD said...

"Paul,

I know you love the one room schoolhouse, but I have to ask:

The Founding Fathers weren't dunces. They had IQs all well over average; top 2 quintiles at the very very least."

A couple of points . . .

1. Who knows what went on in the one room schoolhouse, or if it was particularly good? We have some materials from that era that were more phonetically-based, so my guess is that they did a better job at reading instruction. And it seems like they were better at "drill and kill" (AKA "practice"). But who knows? I don't know of any evidence either way.

2. Simpler is not always better. Sometimes it is just simpler. For example, Direct Instruction is extremely sophisticated, but it is also extremely powerful. Effective curriculum is effective curriculum, whether it's simple or more complex.

3. Who knows what made the founding fathers successful? Ben Franklin, for example, wrote and rewrote text to learn how to write. But we really don't know what early contingencies could have driven him in his youth. For example, Stephen King's mother was a strong influence on his very early development as a writer. What if there was someone who was in Franklin's life that he failed to mention when he wrote his autobiography in his later years?

In the beginning of the original edition (i.e., not the PDF on zigsite) of "Give Your Child a Superior Mind", Zig shows in detail how some of the smartest minds in the last few hundred years were driven by parents who took a strong interest in their children. This isn't uncommon. For example, Mozart's dad was the preeminent music educator of his day.

Individual examples of success aren't reason to adopt curriculum, and it's hard to draw from historical examples because we just don't have data to support conclusions.

PhysicistDave said...

RMD wrote:
> In the beginning of the original edition (i.e., not the PDF on zigsite) of "Give Your Child a Superior Mind", Zig shows in detail how some of the smartest minds in the last few hundred years were driven by parents who took a strong interest in their children. This isn't uncommon. For example, Mozart's dad was the preeminent music educator of his day.

Yeah, and I suspect many of us were also influenced by a teacher who took a personal interest in us. I had Richard Feynman as a professor for a couple years when I was an undergrad; while it is hard to quantify his impact on me, I do remember his influence positively.

Humans are complicated: personal interaction, personal motivation, etc. matter a great deal.

But, prima facie, any system that treats children as interchangeable parts when it comes to education does not seem a good way to enable them to learn as much as possible.

Incidentally, I hope it is clear that I am not trying to pick on SteveH personally or attack anyone here who is doing what they can to improve existing schools. I’m simply trying to make the point that, based on past experience and simple logic, those attempts are likely to have very limited success: even the “success” stories we hear about are very minor improvements that the educational establishment can easily erase after a few years. I think that real, long-term improvements are likely to come only when large numbers of people start thinking "outside the box" and rejecting the whole present framework for education.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote:
> When health care becomes a middle class entitlement, you can bet that the cost rationing will create a whole lot of things that look a lot like classrooms. And then they'll have a whole lot of testing! standards! curricula! vouchers! to "solve" the problems they created by creating the entitlement in the first place.

My own impression is that there is less than meets the eye to the current health-care bill: i.e., I suspect it will do less long-term good or harm than either its supporters or detractors imagine.

However, I agree with your long-term prognosis.

Let’s face it: there are a fair number of people in this country (and many in positions of power) who think that all of life should be lived as if we were still in a first-grade classroom, or, to alter the metaphor, they want all of society to function like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Dave

Paul B said...

Even accepting the notion that our founders were in the top 2% of their population (not sure how you got their IQ test results) I would argue that they turned out better than the top 2% turn out today. My top students, from a capability perspective, are some of my worst students if the measure is about meeting potential.

Any system that has the flexibility to individualize instruction will out perform the 'factories' we have today and I would argue that this is independent of curriculum. Even a crappy curriculum, delivered in the student's ZPD is better than the best delivered in a factory. Isn't this exactly why home schoolers blow away the competition? Home schoolers cobble together a variety of source materials with little to no 'expert' advice and they make it all work fabulously because they know their kids.

Of course we all want a perfect curriculum but it is the purist manifestation of human vanity and hubris to presume that we can figure out what that is in Washington. Perfect is whatever it is that works for your particular child.

A perfect curriculum delivered in a factory is simply painting the old jalopy out in the back yard.

SteveH said...

"Perhaps, our disagreement is that I do not see facing up to reality as, in your words, 'pessimistic.'"


What does this mean? That I should give up? That I change my approach or strategy?

There are many angles and points for discussion about education. Some are pessimistic and some are optimistic. I can be pessimistic on a national level, but not so much on a local level. You have to look at what I'm talking about at the time.

In this thread, I'm pessimistic on a top-down national level, but I expressed some optimism about changing my local schools in a bottom-up fashion. What that change means is limited, but important. Do I expect that all kids will come out properly educated? Well, you first have to define what that means. I hope I don't have to preface all of my comments with long, involved conditions.

This has happened before. One can always take someones else's comments and spin them any which way. When I talk about potential small relative changes to my local school district, I really don't want some patronizing discussion about dysfunctional urban districts or how this isn't real improvement. Our schools are NOT dysfunctional. They just make choices that I disagree with. They choose social goals over academic goals. That would be fine if I had the choice to find the schooling I'm looking for.

I don't want to get involved with a discussion of some perfect, socratic-type of education. We've been there. That's doing just what they are doing, except that we want to be in control. I don't presume to define what education is all about, but I do presume that parents should be inolved with that choice, whether or not their choice is good or bad. I don't prescribe to the philosophy that other, smart people, have to decide what's best for dumb parents.

Since I don't have any choice, I try to find ways to change things on my local level. By definition, the goals have to be low. If I can get our schools or other parents to begin to question Everyday Math, that is a success. Don't tell me that I now have to be face up to some sort of national pessimistic reality or some sort of proper education. Those are different problems.

Local and global come together because of initiatives like CCSSI. I had some hope for it (like so many others), because I thought there was a chance to force schools to deal with issues in K-6 math; to see algebra in 8th or 9th grade as a proper goal. Unfortunately, the goal is for the end of high school and the definition of workplace and career goals still keeps too many doors closed. My pessimism doesn't mean that I am going to give up on some sort of national solution. I hope it's still OK for me to discuss those issues.

My goal is to find ways to drive proper math down to the K-6 level. I am open to both local and national solutions. I've witnessed our school's change from CMP to proper courses in pre-algebra and algebra, but because of Everyday Math in K-6, many kids will never be properly prepared to get there.

This is a tough, pedagogical and philosophical problem. Allison is trying for teacher training for those who are predisposed to that help. I'm trying to find ways to help that change in our schools, but many of the teachers are not so predisposed.

Allison said...

Paul,

Those were straw men responses.

I am an anti-statist, and don't think there should be federal funding for education period. I don't think federal funding of science research has been good for science, even.

I am not looking for perfection on earth, not in curricula, or people, or governments or cars or anything.

I didn't say that a one room schoolhouse wasn't better than what lots of kids have now.

What I said was: holding up the example of the Founding Fathers as an example that one room schoolhouses will meet the needs of the bottom two quintiles is something you need to question your assumptions about. Saying "but the current system doesn't meet their needs" is nonresponsive to my question.

So I ask you to question your assumptions about individualized instruction in one room schoolhouses in the ghetto. Isn't is possible that the reasons homeschoolers can outperform the garbage out there now is a) so much is garbage and b) because of self selection of the parents who homeschool? How many families in the bottom two quintiles do you know who homeschooled their children to success?

Again, address my actual arguments. Don't argue with me about government schools.

Allison said...

oh, and my point was about the top two QUINTILES. I.e. the top 40% not top 2%. I'm willing to wage a lot of money that that's true, though I'm sure (I've read) either Paul Johnson or another historian who has shown their IQs are well above putting them merely in the top two quintiles.

Cranberry said...

Paul B, do you have any studies on the average effectiveness of home schooling? I can't find studies with good population samples. I can't even find a reliable estimate of the number of home schoolers. I know that some home schoolers have scored well on national tests, but that doesn't mean that the model, as a whole, is more effective than the public schools.

On a rational basis, receiving the entire attention of an educated adult should be more productive than sharing that attention with 26 others, many of whom are legally entitled to more of the teacher's attention. At the high school level, this number can top 100 per subject.

Anonymous said...

Here is one source of information about academics and homeschooling. See the web page of Rob Kunzman in the School of Ed at Indiana University. Here is a relevant quote from his answers to FAQ:

Q: How does homeschoolers’ academic performance compare with other students?

...evidence regarding this question is frequently mischaracterized by homeschooling advocates. The bottom line is, we can't draw any conclusions about the academic performance of the "average homeschoooler," because none of the studies drew from a random sample representing homeschoolers nationwide.

He has links to various studies about homeschooling. Etc and so on.

My observation as a homeschooling parent is that homeschoolers often like to claim that homeschoolers must do better than kids in public schools because, well, for various reasons. But there seems not to be any research to make the case either way.

For an example of bogus pseudo-research sponsored and publicized by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, a homeschool advocacy group, see the link here:

http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/ray2009/default.asp

I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out the flaws in this study.

One reason I have doubts about the average efficacy of homeschooling is that so many homeschoolers I know are "unschoolers". They do band in homeschool organizations, they ice-skate, they enter contests, their kids seem bright and well-spoken, but are they learning academics? It seems to me that they do not spend enough time at home studying to be learning. They would say otherwise, but what happens when they take the SAT? I would like to know but probably never will. Another thing that seems to happen a lot is families will search for a curriculum for a given topic, find it, start using it, and then when I hear about it next, they have dropped it. It didn't work out. So that's it for [fill in the blank with what ever subject is pertinent] for this year. If families are constantly starting and stopping curricula, when do their kids learn the given subject? The other common sign that homeschooling might not be as good as people assume is that I very frequently hear moms say they are not good at math and cannot understand or teach it after a certain grade, usually 6th, so they wait till the dad comes home to cover that, or do something online, or skimp. Again, what I hear seems to be that math is the biggest difficulty for homeschoolers. How about that, for all you KTM regulars who think homeschooling is the answer? For YOU, it might be. I sure think it is for ME and my kids. But in general, I fear that many homeschooled kids are not adequately prepared for college or whatever they want to do later.

By the way, my local school district uses Everyday Math; hence, there is no way I will be putting my kids in public schools before high school. We might then. But in the meantime we focus heavily on math (Singapore plus extra work in calculation drill and word problems) and other liberal arts. Which means that I am very confident that my kids are getting a better education than they could get in the public schools. And the 3-1 student-teacher ratio is very favorable. But that ratio doesn't guarantee anything, although it allows for much

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
>[Dave] "Perhaps, our disagreement is that I do not see facing up to reality as, in your words, 'pessimistic.'"
>[Steve] What does this mean? That I should give up? That I change my approach or strategy?

Steve, obviously, I cannot tell you what to do personally, nor do I really wish to.

I’m just expressing my opinion as to what the results are likely to be of various courses of action.

If you ask my advice (which you literally did!), yes, I would indeed advise you to just “give up” on improving classroom-based education. I think it would be more fruitful to exert your efforts to get more and more parents to see why classroom-based education can never work well and why they should therefore take direct ownership of their kids’ education themselves.

But, you know, you are under no obligation to follow my advice!

I’m just one guy expressing my opinions.

I wish you well in your efforts. However, as I showed in my earlier post, quoting your own words (and I could find many similar quotes from you from earlier threads), your own words indicate that you are unlikely to have much success.

For example, in the post I am responding to, you wrote, “Since I don't have any choice, I try to find ways to change things on my local level. By definition, the goals have to be low.”

Indeed. Except, as a homeschooling parent, *my* goals do not have to be “low.” My goals can be as high as I think my kids are capable of achieving. In fact, my goals include having my kids move at roughly twice the speed of kids in classroom-based schools (and, so far, standardized tests show they are moving a bit faster than that).

That’s my point – necessarily “low” goals versus high but truly achievable goals.

Again, really, I wish you all the best of luck. As everyone here agrees, some small improvements around the edges that last for a little while can sometimes be made in existing schools. Maybe you will have one of those small success stories.

I myself think that the effort that goes into achieving those temporary successes is so taxing as not to be worth it, and that such efforts divert attention from the main task of getting Americans to recognize that the real problem is classroom-based schooling per se.

But, again, you do not have to agree with me! Good luck in your efforts, and I, like everyone here, will be curious to see what success you have, how much effort it takes, how long-lasting it is, etc.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Anonymous wrote:
>One reason I have doubts about the average efficacy of homeschooling is that so many homeschoolers I know are "unschoolers". They do band in homeschool organizations, they ice-skate, they enter contests, their kids seem bright and well-spoken, but are they learning academics? It seems to me that they do not spend enough time at home studying to be learning. They would say otherwise, but what happens when they take the SAT?

Yeah, all true.

The problem is that “homeschoolers” are, logically speaking, a “residual category,” like “invertebrates” or “non-Hare-Krishnas.” There is no positive trait homeschoolers all share in common, just the negative trait of having rejected traditional schooling.

My views on education are surely closer to SteveH’s, which I’ve been debating in this thread, than to some homeschoolers.

“Homeschooling” is a misnomer anyway, since much “homeschooling” education occurs not at home but in the library, at the piano teacher’s home, on the soccer field, etc.

That is why I prefer to describe myself not as a homeschooler, but as an “academically high-content, developmentally-inappropriate, non-classroom-approach educator” (of course, that is such a mouthful, that I will obviously be labeled a “homeschooler”!).

If a detailed study were done on all of us an “academically high-content, developmentally-inappropriate, non-classroom-approach educators,” I’m confident that our kids would indeed do much better than kids in classroom-based schooling.

But, even if a study of all homeschoolers were possible (which it isn’t), lumping all “homeschoolers” together is like lumping arthropods with echinoderms – an artificial category. You might as well study how all children of near-sighted blond guys over six feet tall do (a category my kids would also fit in).

That’s why I have been pointing out why classroom-based education can never work very well, rather than arguing that “homeschooling” will inevitably work well – there is no single entity denoted by “homeschooling.”

Dave

Allison said...

Paul,

To beat up on you some more, I read up on a few of the signers of the Declaration.

Five of them went to Boston Latin, the oldest public school in the US (Sam Adams, John Hancock, Ben Franklin, Robert Paine, William Hooper.)

Boston Latin was founded a year before Harvard. It was modelled after a British school, and used a classical education model, requiring latin and greek, as well as other languages. It may have been technically a one room schoolhouse during the mid 1700s, but there is nothing about it to suggest it was EVER run as a set of independent studies, with each child working at their own pace.

Jefferson was tutored at another Latin school in VA. Washington was tutored by his father and then his brother, who had been educated in Britain. Again, nothing suggests this was ZPD teaching. It may seem that this type of tutoring could have been that way, but there's no evidence that the tutors weren't pushing their own standards for progress.

So which Founding Fathers do you think were taught in a one room schoolhouse, with other children at other ages and levels?

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

Allison,

As I recall (I may be misremembering), Franklin spent a rather short period in school and was largely self-educated. Indeed, I remember reading that he had worked out a stunningly detailed and demanding program for his own education – typical of the guy (I’m by no means an unqualified admirer of Franklin’s, but he was in many ways a remarkable fellow).

One crucial question about the Founders is how we got that level of intellectual talent all at one time in a population of three million or so in a bunch of relatively isolated colonies. Again, these guys were by no means saints: I wish John Adams had never become President, and I’m glad Hamilton never became President. Yet, even those two, among my least favorite, were surely remarkable intellectually.

I suppose the key to the answer is that they were smart because they really, really wanted to know things, which connects to my own main theme that humans can be a lot smarter and can learn enormously more enormously faster than most people realize.

That is why I tend to harp on issues such as classroom education that tend to hold students to one uniform pace of learning: rather than making education simply adequate, I think the goal should be to enable and encourage students (a large fraction, not just a tiny elite) to move at twice the speed that most Americans find “normal.”

And, since the clock has passed midnight even out here on the West Coast, let me sincerely wish you and everyone else here, a very Merry Christmas!

All the best,

Dave

Anonymous said...

"One crucial question about the Founders is how we got that level of intellectual talent all at one time in a population of three million or so in a bunch of relatively isolated colonies."

If you ever find out, please don't be shy about sharing the answer. Same question about classical Greece. The population of Athens (and even Greece as a whole) was not very large ...

I'm sure one could find a few other examples (Scottish Renaissance?). Why them/there/then?


-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

"That’s my point – necessarily 'low' goals versus high but truly achievable goals."

Achievable by whom?

I will say again that the context of the discussion is important. Not all kids can or should be homeschooled. My comments usually are never based on my son, who is probably viewed as a poster child for full inclusion. Of course, they never ask what I do at home.

In terms of low goals, that's what I see for the CCSSI initiative, but I don't just dwell on how well homeschooling could work. I'm looking for a solution or a process for fixing K-6 math education. Sometimes I'm optimistic and sometimes I'm not.

Allison said...

I think Paul Johnson and others have studied the why them/there/then, and the general outline is known: you create an order to society that promotes innovation, risk taking, ownership of capital, and gets out of the way enough to see what happens. The individual events inside those outlines are given to luck or Divine Providence, but putting together enough bright people oriented toward the same goals and giving them an opportunity to create, is what creates!

And there are plenty of examples of such wonders, if not many as grand or large as our country's wondrous founding. Florence's art; the British empire's successful colonialism; the beginnings of the scientific revolution in continental Europe; the growth of the high tech industry during and after the invention of the semiconductor; the Jews, just about anywhere anytime.

To bring this conversation back to education, education of society plays a role in laying that ground work: how do you create a society well oriented towards innovation, success, ownership, risk taking, community building, etc.? An ignorant populace can't. A populace where more people pay in (in moeny, energy, time, etc.) than suck out is a successful enterprise.

To be specific back to the Founders, though, the whole project of the New World, given to those who were hugely risk takers, either ambitious enough or industrious enough to want to create something for themselves, the religious zealot willing to order a new society towards their own freedom of thought/worship/expression, is the project of those who are predisposed to be a) well enough, b) ambitious enough to succeed, c) self motivated enough to be self educated, amongst other factors. The Founders weren't operating in a vacuum. And those factors affect what education could work.

I agree with Dave that we can teach our children more than we do now. I believe we DID. (I'm willing to posit that we did by 8th grade what we now don't do by 12th.) And that's a statement about culture. Look at the Jewish diaspora. (In fact, we should spend more time discussing Jewish schools--what IS their model? It sure works--but it's tightly bound to their cultural expectations as well as their genes.)

Back to the one room schoolhouse: what individual tutoring of the aristocracy has to do with a one room schoolhouse is beyond me. To believe that the type of tutoring that the aristocracy gave their children was "zpd" based is without evidence. Sure, some of the Founders weren't aristocrats. But the Puritans weren't into zpd either. And while I believe we can teach more than we are, suggesting that the Ben Franklins of the world are in any way an example of how to teach to the rest of the population is about as silly as suggesting that if we just spent two years studying math the way Isaac Newton did, we'd all be Isaac Newton.

Allison said...

One more comment on innovation and the limits of education:

The 10th mountain division in WWII is one of the most astonishing stories of innovation ever. There is a fantastic documentary on it, Fire on the Mountain.

The 10th grew out of the National Ski Patrol, founded in 1937. The group were incredibly athletic young men, outrageously active, risk takers, impressive outdoorsmen. They were trained to be an elite skiing fighting force, carrying their 100 pound packs while skiing and fighting. They were created to fight in the Italian Alps, though they didn't arrive before 1944, iirc.

The army trained and trained and trained this group for years, and they were cemented together with competition and ferocity. They were astonishing.

Their postwar experience was even more impressive than their limited war experience. One of them was the first exec of the Sierra club, one the head of America's first Outward Bound; two more founded Nike; most started ski resorts, including Vail and Aspen. Many more were entrepreneurs, becoming racers, coaches, starting magazines, creating ski equipment, etc.

Their military experience was formative, but obviously what the military had winnowed was even more important. It wasn't their practical military training that was so important as the intangibles.

one of the reasons schools can matter is that they create communities. This is the reason people still want to send their children to Princeton, Harvard, MIT. Who you know matters in how it reinforces who you are and who you wish to become. The communities created can last forever, and can reinforce the emotional aspects of success, like hard work and ambition, and can reinforce the intellectual ones, too, like the ideas and beliefs you hold, the notions you incubate, etc.

"homeschooling" may or may not create that community. Schools aren't the only way to create it either--churches, Scouts, Rotary. Civic life in America can do it in a variety of ways, but people have often believed schooling is the best way to do it.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
>I will say again that the context of the discussion is important. Not all kids can or should be homeschooled.

I don’t think I ever said they can or should be!

That is why I have tried to be very explicit in saying that I was talking not about the advantages of homeschooling but rather about how bizarre classroom schooling is, from a simple engineering viewpoint.

Let me try an analogy: Suppose I notice a neighbor trying to run his car on Windex household ammonia cleaner. I do not think that would work too well. Now, suppose I point this out to him, and he responds, “Oh, so you are saying vinegar will work better, huh?”

Uh, no. Merely that Windex will not work.

It is very often useful to find out what doesn’t work before one tries to figure out what will work.

There are, after all, a huge number of alternatives to classroom schooling besides homeschooling. Ever heard of the “Sudbury” approach? A few years ago, I knew the woman who ran our local Sudbury school: it’s very laissez-faire, very driven by the interests and motivation of each individual student.

I do not think it would work well for many, probably for most, students. On the other hand, it might have worked much better for me than classroom schooling: I was very highly motivated to learn. I mainly wanted adults to get out of my way, which, alas, they refused to do during school (or homework) hours, so I had to do my best to afterschool myself (thank God, my dad bought a copy of Britannica when I was thirteen!).

(cont.)

PhysicistDave said...

(cont.)

I don’t have any magic one-size-fits-all educational solution. I suspect that what people refer to by the misnomer of “homeschooling” (as I said above, a lot of it is not at home) is probably best for a large fraction, perhaps a majority of kids, but of course that would require major cultural changes (parents not being eager to get rid of their kids, parents agreeing that they really could afford to have one parent stay home, as used to be the norm when the US was much less affluent, etc.).

But, yeah, Sudbury might be the best solution for some kids, a “school” based on a tutoring model might work best for some (this was how U. of Cambridge worked when my wife was there in the ‘70s for a year), online learning is surely interesting, etc.

I’m not into one-size-fits-all approaches, not even homeschooling.

I have been quite clear and quite sincere about the point I am making in this thread: I am not trying to make a surreptitious case for homeschooling.

I am simply pointing out that, as far as I can see, the classroom-based approach to schooling makes almost no sense at all. As I pointed out, if adults want to learn about cooking or gardening or whatever, we usually do not take a class, choose and stick to a specific “curriculum,” rely on a single “textbook,” or follow a pace of learning set by some group of “fellow students.”

Rather, as adults, we try to learn as much as we can and as fast as we can about a subject that interests us, from a variety of books, from personal conversations, from the Web, etc.

I just cannot see why a radically different approach to children up to the age of eighteen (or twenty-two) makes sense.

Or, more accurately, I do see why it “makes sense” to so many adults: they just do not care that most children waste a major fraction of their childhood sitting in a classroom, with one adult trying (almost always unsuccessfully) to move a number of unique and different human beings through a subject in lockstep.

It does not work very well. It seems never to have worked very well.

There are numerous alternatives, surely many that I did not even mention above.

But those alternatives are unlikely to be considered until adults face up to the fact that classroom education wastes much of the learning potential (and much of the childhood) of most kids.

I hope that clarifies my position: i.e., not that homeschooling is best for every child, but rather that classroom schooling, on the face of it, is bad for almost every child.

Hope you had a Merry Christmas.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote:
>I think Paul Johnson and others have studied the why them/there/then, and the general outline is known: you create an order to society that promotes innovation, risk taking, ownership of capital, and gets out of the way enough to see what happens.

In the realm of economics, that, of course, is now a settled issue among all intelligent people (I’m old enough to remember when what you wrote would have been an eccentric viewpoint – funny how once eccentric viewpoints become obvious common sense!).

However, I’m not sure that this is the whole story in the areas of science, the arts, etc. Would you claim that a prosperous, dynamic, free, capitalist society is always progressive and innovative in science and art? (That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way: maybe the answer is “yes”; I’m just not so sure myself.)

You also wrote:
>Look at the Jewish diaspora. (In fact, we should spend more time discussing Jewish schools--what IS their model? It sure works--but it's tightly bound to their cultural expectations as well as their genes.)

Yeah, and I think that this issue of “cultural expectations” is critically important. Some Jewish neighbors and I got to talking about this subject earlier this year: the basic conclusion was that what seemed “normal” to them seems “geeky” to most Americans. (I share their view of “normal,” but then I am unquestionably “geeky” by the standards of the average American.)

When Michael Jackson and Tiger Woods (or Frank Sinatra and Babe Ruth, to choose “historic” figures) are held up in almost all public forums and discussions as more successful human beings that Richard Feynman or Jonas Salk (I doubt that most teenagers even know who Feynman and Salk were, but I think that almost everyone recognizes Jackson, Woods, Sinatra, and Ruth), then it is not surprising that kids want to emulate Jackson/Sinatra/Woods/Ruth.

They are in fact just trying to live up to the expectations conveyed by adults.

I do not have any magic solution here either. I guess there are a few obvious points: Limit exposure to the mass media (most obviously, television). And, since your kids will be influenced by their peers, try to see that their peers are not a random selection of the population: there are a variety of ways of doing this (homeschooling is just one example).

“Culture” when you get down to it, is largely what kids learn from adults. And when the majority of the messages kids get from the adult world (e.g., the adult-controlled media) discourage kids from developing their intellectual potential, it is not surprising that kids follow those messages.

Dave

SteveH said...

"I am not trying to make a surreptitious case for homeschooling."

I think that most KTM regulars are very pro-homeschooling.


"...rather about how bizarre classroom schooling is,"

I don't think I follow why you think it's bizarre. In our schools, it's bizarre that they think they can get away with saying that full inclusion and differentiated instruction will lead to better academics. It's bizarre that the system doesn't allow parents any choice other than to accept their assumptions or to pay to send their kids elsewhere.

However, I don't think that kids sitting in rows with a teacher providing direct instruction is bizarre. Some kids might do better in some subjects by being left alone, (and I don't have any problem with that), but as the primary model of education, I would disagree.


"...they just do not care that most children waste a major fraction of their childhood sitting in a classroom, with one adult trying (almost always unsuccessfully) to move a number of unique and different human beings through a subject in lockstep."

"lockstep"

This is an ed school term. I can understand why you say this, but this idea is invoked by very many educators as justification for all sorts of silliness. In K-6, my son's classes were all about this concept - no lockstep. That is the motivating force in Everyday Math. This might be fine, but the other "gotcha" is that they don't allow acceleration, only enrichment. ... and they used a lousy curriculum.

Lockstep will work fine if the kids are all prepared for the material. Kids can't have individual teachers or tutors, and most kids do better if they are directly and carefully taught by someone who has a clue and values mastery of knowledge and skills. The reasons why common classroom instruction fails in many cases is not due to a fundamental flaw in the model.

Is this the absolute best approach for each child? No, but what are the assumptions for this discussion?


"...that classroom schooling, on the face of it, is bad for almost every child."

What level of bad are we talking about here? Currently, kids get horrible math curricula taught by teachers who don't have a clue. Fixing that problem would have enornmous benefits, but will the result be "not bad" rather than good or great? I would advocate for a better model of education, but I don't know how that would work for something other than homeschooling or individual tutors.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
>I think that most KTM regulars are very pro-homeschooling.

Oh, sure. But, as another homeschooler also wrote above, it is certainly possible to do homeschooling badly: for example, I share that poster’s view that “unschooling” is not a good way to educate kids.

Steve also wrote:
>>[Dave]"lockstep"
>[Steve] This is an ed school term. I can understand why you say this, but this idea is invoked by very many educators as justification for all sorts of silliness.

Agreed. But, even though the progressivists use “individuality” as an excuse for a great deal of damaging nonsense, that does not change the fact that kids are individuals who can and should move at very different paces in different subjects.

It’s like the concept of “freedom” it’s commonly used nowadays by people who want to be “free” of the constraints of objective reality and who want their fellow citizens to foot the bill for their “freedom.”

But still, freedom, as conceived say by the Founders, is actually a very good idea. The fact that fools and con artists twist the idea for bad purposes does not change that.

Steve also wrote:
>What level of bad are we talking about here? Currently, kids get horrible math curricula taught by teachers who don't have a clue. Fixing that problem would have enornmous benefits, but will the result be "not bad" rather than good or great? I would advocate for a better model of education, but I don't know how that would work for something other than homeschooling or individual tutors.

Well, I mentioned in my earlier post some other alternatives. I think the Sudbury model would have worked well for me and for a significant minority of students (though probably not most students). I also pointed out that you can have a tutorial system without having a single tutor for each student. And, there are various models for online learning, some of which seem to be working.

I just do not see a need for a single model for education applicable to all students, any more than I see a need for a single model for a “food-delivery system”: traditional restaurants, all-you-can-eat buffets, chain grocery stores, farmers’ markets – they all have an appropriate role to play.

Same thing for education.

Steve also wrote:
>Lockstep will work fine if the kids are all prepared for the material. Kids can't have individual teachers or tutors, and most kids do better if they are directly and carefully taught by someone who has a clue and values mastery of knowledge and skills. The reasons why common classroom instruction fails in many cases is not due to a fundamental flaw in the model.

That is where we disagree. Almost all the time I spent in grade school was wasted. Each year, I read all the textbooks in the first few weeks, grasped it all, and then wasted the rest of the year. I know a lot of kids like me.

On the other hand, I had a good friend in grade school who was in the bottom fifth of the class: he could not keep up with the rather modest pace of the class and was constantly lost.

From a simple engineering viewpoint, I cannot see how to avoid this: traditional classroom schooling moves at one pace for the whole class. Assuming the teacher aims at the median, the bright kids waste their time, the dumb kids don’t get it. (This is ameliorated a bit if you have ability tracking, but the problem is still not eliminated.)

From the perspective of a physicist turned engineer, the engineering failure here seems obvious to me. It should be obvious to anyone who has been in a traditional classroom for even a year or so, and it is easy to grasp conceptually why the failure occurs.

I’m frankly mystified that this is not obvious to everyone: traditional classroom schooling may work more or less okay for those students in the middle third, but for anyone significantly above or below average, it seems an inevitable failure.

Dave

SteveH said...

"...traditional classroom schooling may work more or less okay for those students in the middle third, but for anyone significantly above or below average, it seems an inevitable failure."

I don't think you will find many who would argue with this general statement, but what model do you propose to fix it? I ask this sincerely.

"I read all the textbooks in the first few weeks, grasped it all, and then wasted the rest of the year. I know a lot of kids like me."

Ideally, you want a one-on-one teaching situation that is geared directly to your needs. Next best, I would say, is to go to a school where you would be in a group of kids at your own level. Of course, this might vary by subject. Where do I sign up?

There is also the issue of interest and motivation. My son could do really well in almost any subject, if he was interested. There are some subjects where he needs the order and expectations of a specific curriculum. In other subjects, that would probably be a hindrance.


There is also the problem (which is why this blog originally started) of bad math curricula. Even if you can send your child off to a separate school, there is no guarantee that he/she won't get Everyday Math. I've been there.

I see lots of issues at many levels and assumptions. I wish I could identify a perfect system and how to get there. The best I can come up with is school choice and lots of time for it to evolve. In theory, supply will meet demand, but it might take years for parents to figure out what to demand, since they have had so little practice. Some might choose unschooling and that's OK with me.

Allison said...

I think the "traditional schooling" is a straw man onthis blog--who is arguing for it? What does it mean? Does it really imply that no schooling can work?

Socrates did schooling. He didn't do ZPD, individual progress in a one room school house.

Socrates held a class, albeit miles away from the modern Dewey inspired notion of a classroom.

So I'm with Steve that schooling of people together in a group with a teacher is not the enemy. It can be done well, and it provides advantages over individual tutoring, not just economies of scale for the teacher, but for the student. The other students DO, in fact, ask questions that elucidate points that a given student won't have thought of. Other students do push assumptions away that you will mistakenly think are true, and the teacher won't point out aren't (because the student and teacher's overlap of consciousness is not total.)

Different schooling goals are achieved by different schooling groups, and by different cultures. Which cultures do we want to create?

r. r. vlorbik said...

i too "wasted" school like dave
and his friends. but there were
always plenty of cool kids all
around me doing school-like stuff...
but cool!... in elementary years.
this was bloomington and we...
the kids i knew and loved...
were many of us "faculty brats"
like i was; i'm a child of IU
every bit as much as of bloom-
ington, particularly in these
early years. anyhow.

so i was way ahead in reading;
this became such a point of pride
for me that you could call it
a defining characteristic.
my whole theory of *academic* learning
is: books will replace your life with
something far better. deep literacy
is like mecca or the gohonson or something:
hold it in your heart and pray
without ceasing (find *something*
to read that induces that
"*this* is what matters" feeling
[that otherwise mostly comes only
from... but this is a PG rated blog]).

but back to schools. somebody said
something about, essentially,
communities of scholars. and *this*
is the heart of the matter where
"schools" as opposed to "learning"
is our topic. the neoliberal occupation
imposes the doctrine that the purpose
of all organizations is to make, some
big pile of money somewhere, grow.
while at the same time to make,
as many people as possible,
sit quietly and listen. ideally,
for example, one is a "communications"
company designed to get people
to try to debug deliberately-broken
software... i'm talking to you mister gates...
at their own expense with the help
of *as many incomptent*, first off
*robots*, but then layers-of-dim-workers,
as can be made to pay or to get
people to quit trying to solve
their problem (while still of course
paying in; the problem with
"contracts" being that the entity
living in real time with a body
cannot *get anything from*
a monster existing only in
men's opinions and the
laws of the god-damn land;
whereas they can send goons
of ever-increasing scariness
and will you better believe it).

and schools must be made to
run the same way. or else.

so the communities of scholars
that formed so naturally back home...
and still do in lots and lots of places
i'm sure; the occupation is not yet
complete but the real america gets
harder and harder to find all the time...
are *damage* to management if
they can't be made to visibly
*serve management's goals*.
which are that everybody sit
quietly and listen of course.
this is the only job power wants to fund:
make 'em listen to us peacefully so we
don't have to get nasty.

you'll never get anything else
from government schools.
read the bible for hecksake.
the "jewish" program is the
biblical program for the priests.
the biblical program for the
masses is frequent brutal asskickings.
that's why there's a book of kings
(actually several; samuel counts)
and that's why when j-h wants
to punish the people he imposes
a census. why the cross...
a torture device... is the symbol
of a god-the-father religion
and "submission" is the name
of the other. if you want it done
right, well there's nuns and rabbis.

more likely to value scholarship
than teachers carefully bred to
act as slaves of robots run by
moneysimple thirdraters.
dig in and hide if you've got
a good thing going.

end morning ramble. anybody still here?
i love you for it then you better believe it.
& oh how i love being me. thanks, u-school!

Beth said...

Two questions:

1.) Am I the only one who finds vlorbik's comments unreadable?

2.) vlorbik, would it kill you to write a standard paragraph?

r. r. vlorbik said...

1) not by a long shot.

2) never has so far.
depends on the paragraph i imagine.

JanetC said...

Vlorbik,

I've always enjoyed your idiosyncratic paragraphs.

Standard formatting has its time and place, but blog comments should be a free for all in form and thought.