kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/1/09 - 3/8/09

Saturday, March 7, 2009

West Wing & the Jesuits

The first time I saw this pro-voucher clip from West Wing, I didn't know anything about Jesuit schools.
Mayor of DC: I have a few thousand names on a waiting list for vouchers already. Go into any one of my schools. Ask kids who want to go to college what they think of vouchers. They'll ask you where they can sign up.

President Bartlett: Could you ask Charlie to come in, please?

[Charlie arrives; sits]

President Bartlett: Tell us where you went to high school.

Charlie: Roosevelt.

President Bartlett: A public school.

Charlie: Yes sir.

Mayor of DC: Where'd you want to go to school, Charlie?

Charlie: Gonzaga. A parochial school. Near Union Station.

Mayor: Why?

Charlie: There's never been a shooting there, they don't even have metal detectors, almost everyone goes to college.

Mayor: Couldn't afford it?

Charlie: Couldn't come close to affording it.

President: You know what this meeting's about?

Charlie: Yes, sir. The mayor told me.

President: What do you think about trying an experimental voucher program for DC schools?

Charlie: I wish they would have had one when I was in school.

President: You planning on telling me that any time soon?

Charlie: Can't say that I was, sir.

President: Your Honor, I'm going to need your help putting out some fires within the Party on this one.

Mayor: You got it. Thank you, Mr. President.

music up

Gonzaga Prep is a Jesuit high school.

Voices of School Choice
A Vote for Ignorance Chicago Tribune
Will Obama Stand Up for These Kids? Wall Street Journal
Voucher Subterfuge Washington Post
School Choice Has Media Mainstreamed CATO

President Bartlett signs on for vouchers
Senate votes down funding for DC vouchers

good news

in today's Wall Street Journal:
Regarding William McGurn's Main Street column "Will Obama Stand Up for These Kids?" (March 3): The Opportunity Scholarship program was created in 2003, as a five-year pilot project designed to give District of Columbia students federally paid vouchers to attend private schools. More than 1,700 students are enrolled in a wide range of private institutions, some world class and others with substantial problems.

Reviews of the program by the Department of Education and Government Accountability Office have found "schools" (sometimes consisting of a single room in a church basement) with significant health and safety issues; teachers lacking basic college degrees or teaching credentials; and no demonstrable evidence that students are performing better than their public school counterparts.

I chair the subcommittee which oversees funding for the District of Columbia and have reviewed and funded this program since its creation. But the five-year pilot program expires at the end of this school year and in order for the program to continue, Congress must pass a bill reauthorizing it. That's not a "sneaky maneuver" on my part; that's the language of the law establishing the D.C. voucher program.

However, 1,700 school children shouldn't be forced out of schools because Congress fails to act. That's why I've funded the program for an additional year, allowing it to continue through the end of the 2009-2010 school year. This gives Congress an extra year to act. Sen. Joe Lieberman has promised a timely hearing on the program and an honest evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses.

If the program is reauthorized, and the district approves it, I will continue to see that it's funded.

Dick Durbin (D., Ill.)
Assistant Senate Majority Leader
Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee

Voices of School Choice
A Vote for Ignorance Chicago Tribune
Will Obama Stand Up for These Kids? Wall Street Journal
Voucher Subterfuge Washington Post
School Choice Has Media Mainstreamed CATO

President Bartlett signs on for vouchers
Senate votes down funding for DC vouchers

Friday, March 6, 2009

why 21st century skills?

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills was put together by a coalition of 8 organizations:
Founding Organizations:

AOL Time Warner Foundation
Apple Computer, Inc.
Cable in the Classroom
Cisco Systems, Inc.
Dell Computer Corporation
Microsoft Corporation
National Education Association

Seven of these are tech companies; one is the NEA. That tells me this is a case of converging interests: the tech companies want to sell technology to schools; the NEA wants to undermine test-based accountability.

What do these two goals have in common, you ask?

On the face of it, not much.

My hat is off to The Partnership: they've come up with an ingenious scheme to make these things happen by linking a widely disliked entity -- the NEA -- with something everybody wants: more, more technology.

Here's how it works.

reduced accountability:

As people like Elena Silva and Linda Darling-Hammond have argued, the states aren't in a position to create sound, objective testing programs to assess 21st century "learning and thinking skills" like "Creativity and Innovation Skills" or "Contextual Learning Skills." The Partnership makes no bones about it, stating flatly that standardized tests aren't up to the job: "Standardized tests alone can measure only a few of the important skills and knowledge students should learn. A balance of assessments, including high-quality standardized testing along with effective classroom assessments, offers students a powerful way to master the content and skills central to success."

At a minimum, shifting the focus away from "college knowledge" to 21st century skills, as my own district has done, offers educators an alternative standard, which can't be assessed by objective means and by which they can be deemed successful regardless of scores on state tests, NAEP, SAT, ACT, etc., etc.

tech sales to schools

The NEA is committed to "child-centered" teaching, as you can see here, here, and here. Child-centered teaching doesn't work, and a large majority of parents dislike it intensely, but the hopes and dreams of parents cut no ice with unions and the ed schools, so tant pis. Thus the edu-world has spent the past 100 years trying to kill off the liberal arts disciplines in spite of the fact that virtually no one outside the edu-world wants them to do this. And it responds to its chronic failure to educate children, as well as to the constant push-back from parents and taxpayers, by dreaming up new versions of William Heard Kirkpatrick's Project Method and pitching them to the public as reform.

That is where Intel et al come in. Read through the Partnership web site and you find repeated references to project based learning, inquiry, "interdisciplinary themes" and the like, all of which can be pursued via the collaborative wonders of "technology." Unions are bad, but tech is good, so tech is used to justify the need for less liberal arts, more projects, and a winding down of standardized testing.

Here is Gerald Bracey, writing in a recent letter to Education Week (registration required):
I was ready to toss out [the term] “21st-century skills” until I was skimming your recent article on the topic and found it familiar-sounding (“ ‘21st-Century Skills’ Focus Shifts W.Va. Teachers’ Role,” Jan. 7, 2009). Then I decided we could keep the concept, but just rename it. Let’s call it Progressive Education, or Digital Dewey, or The Reincarnation of William Heard Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick, one of John Dewey’s colleagues, wrote “The Project Method” for the September 1918 Teachers College Record.

If the Partnership succeeds - it has signed up 10 partner states in 7 years - the union will be able to teach "skills" that can't be assessed and the tech companies will be able to sell schools the technology they need to do it.

et voila

Joanne Jacobs on 21st century skills
Industry Makes Pitch That Cellphones Belong in Classroom
Progressive Education in the 1940s (youtube)

organization porn

That's what Carolyn's friend calls this kind of thing.

I'm not there yet.

Needless to say.

cold turkey

Good Lord.

The Amazon search engine appears to be kaput.

Here's what I get when I search for Charles Dickens.

So....I guess it'll be interesting to see how much work I get done today.

Seeing as how my desk is clear and all.

update 4:20 pm - Amazon search now working so no one can share my trauma.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Robert Pondiscio on 21st century skills

Send this to your local school board.

High School Quest

In a comment somewhere, Catherine asked for an update about our high school quest.
My son has chosen the Middle Years IB program in the district. His classes will include:
  • Intro to Literature
  • Geometry
  • World Geography/History
  • Spanish 1 (He chose this, he's had 2 yrs of Latin)
  • Biology
  • Health/PE combined-semestertotal
He also chose:
  • Theater (instead of art or music) -semester
  • Geospace (Astronomy & Geology)
  • Team PE -semester
  • Business Economics - semester
No study hall. (unless you count the PE classes)

I've had to put aside John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction, to read Robert Fried's The Game of School. Somebody tell me these books have a happy ending!

Instead of homeschooling the boy, we're providing value-added instruction. Last night we watched Religulous and that provided plenty of opportunity for discussion.

An update on our charter school's expansion into high school:

A final proposal was submitted to the school board and they agreed to send it on to the district. The original goal was to give the school a science/math focus.

There was an interesting discussion at the Information Night or "reveal" night for parents. The proposed coursework for 9th - 12th grade would require:
  • 4 yrs math
  • 4 yrs science
  • 3 years foreign language

In the local district, students are required to take 2 years of each. Some parents at the "reveal" night thought that the curriculum would be too boring and rigorous. I pointed out that the local colleges: CSU, UNC & CU Boulder required 3 years of each subject to be admitted (UNC only requires 2 yrs of a language), and ivy league schools were in line with what the charter school would be requiring, hence the name "Liberty Preparatory Academy".

The budget proposes offering 40 new courses with only 8 new teachers. Here's how the math track would look... Currently students take the following math courses:
  • Pre-algebra (may test out) 7th grade
  • Algebra 7th or 8th And a few 9th graders)
  • Geometry 8th or 9th
  • Algebra 2 9th
Proposed courses beyond 9th grade are:
  • Pre-Calculus
  • AP Calculus
  • Discrete Math -semester
  • Personal Finance -semester
  • Discrete Math -semester

Taking my younger son as an example, here is what his math options would look like:
  • 7th grade - Algebra
  • 8th grade - Geometry
  • 9th grade - Algebra 2
  • 10th grade - Pre-Calculus
  • 11th grade - AP Calculus
  • 12th grade - 2 semester courses. of course he can always take these in 11th grade as electives. To continue in math, he'd have to go to the local community college.
Also at the Information Night, the social committee presented how fun the new high school was going to be. "I mean, we all loved high school because it was so much fun!" she gushed. I'm not exaggerating when I say she used the word"fun" 13 times in her presentation. There was also concern and discussion about the Character Foundation Stones, the hoity-toity name of the school and the dress code.

Overall, there was a lot of interest in the proposal with close to 200 families asking for more information.

Bellevue, WA teachers being instructed on how to deal with parents

This is a video of Phil Daro and Uri Treisman of the Dana Center, during a visit to Bellevue, WA. They are instructing teachers on how to deal with parents opposed to reform math. In a nutshell: "Lie".

The synchronization between sound and image is off, so lip movement will not match the words. Doesn't matter; even if it did, the effect would still be nauseating.

Phil Daro does this kind of thing routinely, and he is part of a group called the MARS team. MARS stands for Mathematics Assessment Resource Service, which operates in part from a grant from NSF. ( Grant No ESI0137861). The MARS team has a website, and it contains all kinds of useful information including "tools". One such tool is setting up a "peace treaty". According to the web site, the peace treaty

" a disarmament tool – a brief statement of common beliefs that the non-specialist public can understand. It is not a compromise, but a response to the legitimate concerns of the public, especially parents. It can be adopted as a policy of the district, circulated to the press, or by any other means of getting it to the public as a representation of what the district math leadership believes about the issues spelled out in the Treaty. To build such a consensus, it is important also to bring in mathematicians from the local academic community who are interested in mathematics education in schools but have not adopted extreme positions. The letter and meeting agenda are designed for this purpose, complementing the text of the Peace Treaty."

Note that the key qualifications for mathematicians from the local academic community are that they not adopt "extreme positions"; loosely translated this means they should not be against fuzzy math.

The peace treaty is "to help change agents, if and when the 'Math Wars' impact their system, to take the heat out of the exchanges by seeking common ground and civilized discussion of areas of disagreement."

I think that's what Daro is doing here in this video, though he is talking only to teachers, and he seems to definitely be quite defensive against those pesky parents.

The last blurb on the web-page on the "peace treaty" provides the following advice:

"Do not worry about getting people to sign the treaty. You sign it and make it public. Then challenge anyone who attacks you on the grounds they are attacking what you stand for in the treaty. Dare critics to sign on or publicly expose their disagreement with it. Do not add divisive language, even if it warms your heart. Do not use this tool as a public education tool. It is a public engagement tool. It is already understood by the public. They want to know if YOU understand it. This is not an expression of your philosophy. It is a direct response to issues framed by the public. Don’t change the subject."

Prince William County , Virginia votes to keep Investigations

Sad news from PWC, VA. The school board voted to keep Investigations, though that's not how they phrased it. They voted for a "blended approach". Which means Investigations. An excellent summary of the night's events can be found here.

The parents have not given up, however, and school board elections are not far away. There are many disgruntled parents there.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Addendum on document that exposes so-called "success stories" of TERC Investigations

I posted something earlier about Prince William County, Virginia, refuting Pearson's "Evidence of Success" of Investigations. A person in PWC says it better than I did:

"We were told that MI was research proven. Well the research the school board was citing was a document called “Investigations in Number Data and Space: Evidence for Success”. A very diligent parent called every school district in that marketing brochure and most have dropped or are dropping MI. The rest are either heavily funded with large numbers of title 1 schools or very small school districts."

This document is an incredibly important indictment; not only against Investigations but against the marketers selling this snake oil.

A blogger named Black Velvet Bruce Li has been making YouTube videos serving as a documentary of the proceedings of the Prince William County School Board. His latest addresses the above mentioned document.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rules of Discernment

What shall we do? We should not do anything wicked and we should not do anything absurd. Between these boundaries lie a vast number of possibilities. 

What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David L. Fleming, SJ
p. 89

I love the Jesuits.

Book of Proverbs

For homework this weekend, C. had to pick out 10 proverbs he likes. 

Here's the list:
25:15 With patience a judge may be cajoled: a soft tongue breaks bones.
25:16 Eat to your satisfaction what honey you may find, but not to excess or you will bring it up again.
25:24 Better the corner of a loft to live in than the house shared with a scolding woman.
26:4 Do not answer a fool in the terms of his folly for fear you grow like him yourself.
26:11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool reverts to his folly.
26:17 Like catching a stray dog by the tail, so is interfering in the quarrels of others.
27:3 Heaviness of stone, weight of sand, heavier than both: annoyance from a fool.
27:15 The steady dripping of a gutter on a rainy day and a scolding woman are alike.*
29:3 The lover of Wisdom makes his father glad, but the patron of harlots fritters his wealth away.
29:13 Poor man and usurer are found together, Yahweh gives light to the eyes of both.

I asked him what the last one means.

He says he doesn't know.

* I learned from my Fluenz lesson this afternoon that the Spanish word for wife - esposa - also means handcuffs.

wealthy schools & the decline at the top

A terrific discussion thread follows "cranberry on wealthy schools and the sorting machine."

I see the issues raised here as fundamental, and have raised them with my school board here -- which is taking them very seriously. 

Attewell's article (pdf file) was a revelation to me. I had experienced everything he describes, but hadn't put it together and certainly had no idea someone had "done the math."  (I've still not read the article closely; if I see things differently once I do, I'll revise this.) In any event, I've been planning to write a series of posts about Attewell. 

For now, here is a passage that is true of the situation in my own district:

Academic Tracking Among Strong Students


This article considers tracking in its newer form, especially the role of AP and honors math and science.


[I]n the first model, the odds of a student from a nonexam public star school taking one or more AP examinations is 1.375 times as high as a student of a similar gender, race, and parental education who is enrolled in a nonstar public school (the reference category or yardstick). In the second model, after controlling for SAT scores, the odds of a student in an affluent star school taking an AP examination is .823, or only 82 percent as high as the odds of a demographically similar student with an equal SAT score who is enrolled in a nonstar public school.


In some star public schools, access to the honors track has become limited to the cream of the cream. Accomplished through advising and tough grading policies, this new form of tracking leads to a steady attrition out of advanced math and science courses, causing experts to wonder why talented young Americans avoid these subjects.
This is exactly what we've experienced in a wealthy suburban school district. 

A capable student whose area of strength is math/science takes Honors everything (math, science, social studies, foreign language, ELA); a capable student whose area of strength is verbal takes Honors ELA/social studies/ELA but is likely to be "washed out" of Honors math and some of the Honors science courses via "tough grading." 

Honors math and some Honors science courses are viewed as courses for the mathematically gifted; Honors ELA/social studies/foreign language are viewed as courses for the capable and industrious.

Add weighted grading into the mix and the result is that math/science students dominate the top 10% of the class regardless of SAT scores, IQ, or native ability and effort.

[T]his new form of tracking leads to a steady attrition out of advanced math and science courses, causing experts to wonder why talented young Americans avoid these subjects.
More later.

Paul B on individual white boards vs clickers

Clickers would be to this process as a music score would be to a jam session.

The whole idea is chaotic interaction on the kid's side with an expert on the teacher's side. When I do it with math it's totally unscripted. I only start with a particular goal in mind and then I let it rip. I'm constantly analyzing for misconceptions, language hickups, arithmetic problems, process problems, etc. It's mentally grueling and physically exhausting.

There's no room for even a second's worth of technology. Technology would be an intrusion on a beautiful thing.

I've had some of my biggest problem students jumping up and down in this process yelling and thumping their chest saying "Yo! I'm smart!". These same kids, under discovery, eat their pencils and throw stuff.

No clickage. Not ever.

This seems like the moment to head on over to Amazon & pick up a copy of Weapons of Mass Destruction Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling. (thanks, V.)

more from palisadesk re: response cards & choral response

I first heard about using individual student whiteboards about ten years go, from a fabulous online teacher listserve, 4-8 Connection. Prior to that, I had used small individual chalkboards (often available in toy stores, but also from school supply companies) and children wrote on their boards with chalk and held them up. We practiced spelling, history, punctuation, science, math and a number of other skills in a whole-class setting. This was a very challenging urban middle school (I taught seventh grade at the time). Chalkboards were expensive, messy and a problem for students with asthma, however.

From the 4-8 connection group I learned you could get your own individual whiteboards by going to Home Depot and asking them to cut showerboard to your specs (they would often do the cutting for free); I got a class set of 10x10 boards and prepared them (for easier erasability) with a coating of Turtle Wax. Kids brought a (clean) old sock to keep in their desk and use as an eraser. Now that many dollar store chains carry cheap whiteboards, the Home Depot idea may not be as valuable but it is still an option.

Even though all our classrooms still have large chalkboards, there isn't room at those boards for all students to write simultaneously, and the advantage of individual boards (laminated light-coloured cover paper will also work well) is that using individual response methods increases engagement and academic learning time. A practical book for teachers who want some ideas on how to use individual response systems in whole-class teaching is a book from Sopris West entitled Think,Get Ready, Respond! which outlines not only the use of whiteboards but also variants like colored cards, Yes/No signs and so forth.

Using something students can hold up, rather than something on their desk or to be corrected later, has several positive effects. Kids who are anxious, inattentive, or low-achieving for a variety of reasons participate much more readily and unison responding, whether oral or visual-motor, allows the teacher to monitor how well the students are learning or applying the concepts and material taught. If there are a number of incorrects, the teacher can (without singling anyone out), back up and re-teach an earlier step. Or, s/he can present a "differentiated" task, e.g. a challenge task vs. a "regular" one and let students select which one to respond to. It provides a lot of useful information to the teacher on what students know and can do. S/he can mentally note which students need additional practice or a comprehensive review and address those students' needs separately at another time (thus not singling them out in front of peers).

Unison responding and group response systems have been validated as effective practices for a long time (DI of course incorporates oral unison responding in all programs). Some references I found are here:

JABA study on effectiveness of response cards

Meta-analysis of research on use of response cards

More practical information here:

Group Response Techniques (pdf file)

Teacher viewpoint

Using Guided Notes, Choral Responding, and Response Cards to Increase Student Performance (not sure what the URL is for this one - CJ)

Think, Get Ready, Respond! book I recommended earlier

Note to Paul B: Robert Marzano recommends the use of whiteboards and response ards, so you can safely come out of the closet. All the district pooh-bahs pay lip service to Marzano's principles even if they have never read any of his books (often the case).

If they don't want to read the books, some basics are here:
Conversation with Robert Marzano (pdf file)

vendor dependence disorder

Someone used that phrase the other day to describe the public schools, and I aim to be the first person to get it on Google.

vendor watch: Race Around the World

It's Learning at the Extreme!

Why More Mathematicians Don't Oppose Reform Math: and why we desperately need them to

(Cross-posted at Out In Left Field).

Yesterday's NPR Weekend Edition Saturday featured an interview with Stanford University professor Keith Devlin on the importance of Algebra, and while I listened to it, it suddenly occured to me why more mathematicians don't oppose Reform Math.

Here's what I posted on the NPR website:

Keith Devlin suggests that, given calculators, students should focus less on accurate arithmetic calculations, and more on algebraic reasoning. But, as Devlin's fellow mathematicians (e.g., Howe, Klein, & Milgram) have argued, mastering the basic algorithms of arithmetic is essential preparation for algebra. And while the most mathematically inclined students--including Devlin himself--may be able to master these algorithms without much hands-on, numerical practice, the vast majority do need lots of practice, and striving for correct answers is an essential part of that practice.

Today's arithmetic, unfortunately, has been seriously watered down by the new "Reform Math". More mathematicians need to examine this curriculum and speak out against it; ironically, because they can get by without much arithmetic practice, and because so many of them found arithmetic boring, too few mathematicians have considered the potentially dire consequences that the latest trends in grade school math present to the rest of the population (and to the country as a whole).

When our most prominent, accomplished mathematicians, who themselves may well have gotten by without developing accurate arithmetic skills, discount the importance of teaching such skills to the general population, they do a terrible disservice to elementary school math education (and may themselves be horrified by the results, years later, when today's grade school students enter their classrooms).

Consider what one other NPR poster has taken away from the Devlin interview. As she writes in her post:

I want to thank Dr. Devlin for a great quote that I plan to post at the front of my classroom. "Mathematicians often make mistakes in elementary arithmetic because we have our minds on higher things." That will come in very handy!

compare and contrast, part 2

Signed by President Bush in 2004, the program gives around 1,900 students from low-income [D.C.] families up to $7,500 to attend private schools of their choice. The five-year pilot program is up for renewal next year, but Ms. Rhee doesn't see school choice as a threat to her mission in the public schools. She shakes her head. "I would never, as long as I am in this role, do anything to limit another parent's ability to make a choice for their child. Ever."

Schoolhouse Rock
Saturday, December 22, 2007 12:01 A.M. EST

In February 2008, the [Massachusetts] board... became the first to reject a charter school recommended for approval by the commissioner of education.


During the board’s debate over the proposed charter school, Patrick appointee and board PTA representative Ruth Kaplan commented that charter schools are too focused on sending students to college, saying “families…don’t always know what’s best for their children.”

Accountability Overboard
By Charles D. Chieppo and James T. Gass
Education Next Spring 2009 (vol. 9, no. 2)

nose clippers & you

also at Seth Robert's blog

the unknown unknown

at Seth Robert's blog

Or should that be the known unknown?