kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/29/09 - 4/5/09

Friday, April 3, 2009

Everyday Math in Palo Alto's Neighbor, Menlo Park: Controversial math books get go-ahead

From the local weekly, the Country Almanac:

The Menlo Park City School District is going ahead with plans to roll out new math textbooks in the fall, despite the vocal opposition of a group of parents. School board members appeared surprised by the controversy, and said they would do more to explain their decision to use "Everyday Mathematics" and dispel parents' "misconceptions" about the program.

The board approved the adoption of the textbooks in December, on the recommendation of a committee made up of teachers and administrators. At the board's March 24 meeting, a number of parents complained that they had just heard about the adoption of "Everyday Mathematics" and that the adoption decision was poorly publicized.

"I don't appreciate a process in which the community was almost totally shut out," said parent Perla Ni. "The choice of a math curriculum needs to be a total community process."

Several people said they'd done Google searches and found scathing indictments of the textbooks -- that kindergarteners learn to use calculators instead of learning basic math, that strange alternative algorithms like the "lattice method" are taught in place of traditional ones, and that students are left frustrated and unprepared for future math classes.

David Ackerman, the principal of Oak Knoll school, said those accusations simply are not true, and warned people that just because there's a lot of criticism on the Web doesn't mean it's valid. Try Googling "creation science" he said, and you'll find a lot of hits, but it doesn't mean that creation science is valid or meaningful.

"I have the third-grade textbook. Nowhere does it say to use calculators for learning basic math," Mr. Ackerman told the board. "Out of 600 pages, there are three pages on the lattice method. It's optional."

Superintendent Ken Ranella said that Menlo Park's math scores on the state STAR tests are very high. "A lot of districts would die for 80-85 percent of their kids (testing at) proficient or advanced. I don't think we're going to do something to go back on that."

"I have confidence and faith in the teachers and administrators who looked at (Everyday Mathematics)," said board member Mark Box. "It's not replacing basic and computational (skills) but enriching them with a deeper understanding of mathematics."

The "Everyday Mathematics" textbooks are being used in the nearby Woodside and Portola Valley school districts, but the recent recommendation to adopt them in the Palo Alto Unified School District has stirred up a great deal of controversy.

"If Palo Alto wasn't buzzing about this, there probably would not be a buzz (about it) here," said board member Jeff Child.

Backstory from the local weekly's discussion area:

Hearing on EveryDay Math for MP Schools
Menlo Park, posted by Perla Ni, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Controversial new math curriculum focus on calculators, estimations rather than teaching traditional math

There’s significant controversy about the school district's decision to use Everyday Math starting in Sept. See the Palo Alto Weekly online and several thousand angry parent comments. This affects kids starting September 09 through the next 7 years.

The basic issue is that the new curriculum:

1. Ignores traditional multiplication and division and instead only teaches inefficient, contorted methods that cause confusion and math-avoidance among students. It teaches “partial-products method”, “Egyptian multiplication”, “Lattice multiplication”, etc. Mathematicians and parents have almost universally criticized these methods for teaching math.

3. Instructs kids to estimate rather than actually doing the math to get an exact answer.

2. Instructs kids to use calculators rather than calculating math themselves. Here's the manifesto from the teacher's manual: "The authors of Everyday Mathematics do not believe it is worth students’ time and effort to fully develop highly efficient paper and pencil algorithms for all possible whole-number, fraction and decimal division problems. Mastery of the intricacies of such algorithms is a huge endeavor, one that experience tells us is doomed to failure for many students. It is simply counter-productive to invest many hours of precious class time on such algorithms. The mathematical payoff is not worth the cost, particularly because quotients can be found quickly and accurately with a calculator."

See samples yourself here: Web Link

There's a school board meeting and parent attendance is encouraged:

March 24, 6pm, MP School District Office, 181 Encinal Ave, Atherton

Join the googlegroups parent group on this topic:

AND come out on March 24th!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Why Students Don't Like School is here!

Speaking of cognitive flexibility, Dan Willingham's book is out!

I've got it!

We all need to buy it, read it, and write 5-star comments on Amazon.

this happens to me all the time

Locked in Car, Woman calls 911

Yes, I realize you could all go read Drudge on your own, un-aided & un-abetted by me.

Is there any good reason why I've posted two Drudge scoops in a row?

None that I can see. Apparently I feel the need to share.

The recording of the woman locked in her car is a classic: she has failed to break set.* Everyone fails to break set all of the time, but this gal had the bad luck to fail so spectacularly she had to call 911.

I think I'll go re-read Dan Willingham on flexible and inflexible knowledge and thank the stars it's not me on that tape.

* Not sure "break set" is still what it's called; I learned the terms "cognitive set" & "break set" in college.

what next?

big black cats in NY suburbs?

bigger than dogs?

is this April Fools?

Taiwan Schmaiwan

comment thread here

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"reality" in Palo Alto

I think it depends on the elementary school. My kids are in middle school now and they have quizzes. I'm not opposing EDM on my own family's account, since my kids aren't in elementary school any more. But, having survived TERC and managed to become proficient in math through our own non-PAUSD enrichment, my kids are an example of what you should not have to do. And I care about the kids whose parents can't coach them through. I hated having to spend precious playtime grinding on math while they wasted their time in school, but at least I was able to get them where they needed to go. In our family's experience, this is a town of special deals, where if you get something for your own family you shut up about the problem, but I am against special deals too and think public education should serve everyone.

Posted by reality, a member of the JLS Middle School community, on Mar 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm

ignoring parents in Palo Alto
welcome to the Grand Canyon
a teacher-mom on Everyday Math
the plot thickens
Steven H on Everyday Math in Palo Alto

where parents get their information
"reality" in Palo Alto

Parents frustrated over math texts
Teacher committee recommends new math text
Ed Week on the ed wars

interview with my cousin re: her experience with EM

Monday, March 30, 2009

the world is far more beautiful

"The universe is a far more beautiful and elegant place than any of us can imagine. We must be ready and able to both construct and use mathematics to help explain ever more subtle aspects of it, and the phrase `I will never use it' should be deleted from our students' vocabularies."

Jim Milgram

pissed off teacher on what good students need

I could write a book on this topic. My AP calculus students are for the most part exceptional math students. Many have never been taught to think. The emphasis in all their classes has been on scoring well on the Regents exam. So much emphasis is put on calculator use that some have forgotten basic arithmetic. One of my students has been in my class in 9th grade and I remember her doing all her calculations by hand with no difficulty. It took me months to wean her away from her calculator dependency.

Good students will be able to pass on their own, but they need guidance as much or even more than the weak ones. By ignoring this group, we are creating a bunch of intellectual idiots.

pissed off teacher

repeat, repeat

Good students will be able to pass on their own, but they need guidance as much or even more than the weak ones.

For Americans, this notion -- that good students need teaching as much or more than weak students -- is sooooo counterintuitive.

I don't say this as a criticism of the U.S., particularly. It's just the way things are. I first learned that other cultures don't think about talent & achievement the same way we do reading Stevenson & Stigler's The Learning Gap.

The cultural difference between American and Asian cultures on this question is so significant that the National Mathematics Advisory Panel report addressed it in its Fact Sheet:
Student Effort Is Important

Much of the public's "resignation" about mathematics education is based on the erroneous idea that success comes from inherent talent or ability in mathematics, not effort. A focus on the importance of effort in mathematics learning will improve outcomes. If children believe that their efforts to learn make them "smarter," they show greater persistence in mathematics learning.

Here's a study by David Uttal:
Abstract The poor mathematics performance of children in the United States has become a topic of national concern. Numerous studies have shown that American children consistently perform worse than their counterparts in many parts of the world. In contrast, children in China, Japan, Taiwan, and other Asian countries consistently perform at or near the top in international comparisons. This paper examines possible causes of the poor performance of American children and the excellent performance of Asian children. Contrary to the beliefs of many Americans, the East Asian advantage in mathematics is probably not due to a genetically-based advantage in mathematics. Instead, differences in beliefs about the role of genetics may be partly responsible. Asians strongly believe that effort plays a key role in determining a child's level of achievement, whereas Americans believe that innate ability is most important. In addition, despite the relatively poor performance of their children, American parents are substantially more satisfied with their children's performance than Asian parents. The American emphasis on the role of innate ability may have several consequences for children's achievement. For example, it may lead children to fear making errors and to expend less effort on mathematics than their Asian counterparts. As research on genetic influences on behavior, traits, and abilities increases scientists should be careful to ensure that the public understands that genetics does not directly determine the exact level of a child's potential achievement.

Beliefs about genetic influences on mathematics achievement: a cross-cultural comparison
Genetica November 02, 2004

rich schools & biology

This leads me to a topic I have meaning to get posted for months: Richard Elmore has found that wealthy schools are particularly committed to biological explanations of student performance:
In more affluent communities, I also found that variations in student performance were frequently taken for granted. Instead of being seen as a challenge to the teachers’ practice, these differences were used to classify students as more or less talented. Access to high-level courses was intentionally limited, reinforcing the view that talent, not instruction, was the basis of student achievement.

What (so-called) low-performing schools can teach (so-called) high-performing schools
by Richard Elmore
National Staff Development Council VOL. 27, NO. 2 SPRING 2006
schools by

Ditto that.

My all-time favorite experience of this phenomenon (I've had many) was the day Ed and I met with the Earth science teacher and the chair of the science department discuss C's erratic grades in the class, which ranged from A to F.

Their explanation: "C. can't think inferentially."

Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough on my feet to ask why it was he could think inferentially on A & B days but not on C, D, & F days.

Probably because I am a real American.

and see: Carol Dweck: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

the cost of bureaucracy

It is the purpose of this paper to test the following proposition: holding other important factors constant, does the size of the educational bureaucracy have any effect on the efficiency of school systems in producing educational achievement? The empirical results suggest that this is indeed the case. Using 1984 data from the states, we find that public school students in states having relatively large educational bureaucracies are less likely to graduate from high school, and those who do tend to perform more poorly on standardized achievement tests.

Educational achievement and the cost of bureaucracy Gary M. Anderson, William F. Shughart II, Robert D. Tollison
Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 15 (1991) 2945. North-Holland

"Does School Quality Matter" Julian Betts

in a nutshell:
This paper has found that earnings of white male workers depend significantly on which high school they have attended. However, standard benchmarks of school quality explain very little of these differences between schools.

Does School Quality Matter? Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth by Julian R. Betts
The Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 77, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 231-250


The paper searches for links between school quality and subsequent earnings of students. Using data for white males from the NLSY, the paper rejects the hypothesis that workers' earnings are independent of which high school they attended. However, traditional measures of school "quality" such as class size, teachers' salaries and teachers' level of education fail to capture these differences. This result is robust to changes in specification and subsample. The paper contrasts the results with those of Card and Krueger (1992a), and speculates that structural changes may have weakened the link between traditional measures of school quality and student outcomes.

I. Introduction

A lengthy literature has attempted to de- termine which "inputs" to the schooling process affect student outcomes. In detailed surveys, Hanushek (1986, 1989) concludes that there is little evidence that standard measures of school quality have any effect on student performance.

The vast majority of work in this area, dating back to the widely read Coleman Report (Coleman et al., 1966), has used test scores to gauge students' achievements. However, the validity of test scores as a performance measure is questionable, given the low correlation typically found between test results and subsequent labor- market outcomes.


Indeed, if earnings are the metric by which economists measure success in the labor market, it makes more sense to use wages or earnings to gauge the effectiveness of schooling.


A second trait, shared by two-thirds of this literature, is the use of spending per pupil as the single measure of school quality. Murnane et al. (1991, p. 7) criticize this approach as "sterile," since it gives no indication of which of the many components of education spending should be increased to improve student performance

In summary, no published paper in this literature on school quality and earnings has yet measured school quality at the level of the school actually attended. In addition, most studies have measured "quality" in terms of spending.


My findings indicate that while there are significant differences between the labor-market performance of students who attended different schools, these differences are not significantly related to standard measures of school quality. These results accord with the literature on school quality and test scores, as surveyed by Hanushek.

III. Results

It would be premature to search for the characteristics of schools which influence earnings without first determining whether earnings differ between workers who attended different high schools, ceteris paribus.


[A]ll four regressions were repeated with the addition of father's and mother's years of education, a dummy variable indicating whether any family member possessed a library card when the person was 14 years old (as a measure of the intellectual environment of the family) and the imputed hourly wage of the father.'0 But in each of these regressions, even when these personal and family characteristics were added, the null hypothesis that schools have no effect on earnings was rejected...


In summary, despite repeating the regression under many different specifications, and using various subsamples designed to eliminate poten- tial data problems, the same conclusion holds throughout: three commonly used measures of school quality--the teacher-pupil ratio, the relative salary of starting teachers and the percentage of teachers with Master's degrees or higher--in general bear no significant positive relation to the subsequent earnings of students.


Overall, these results do not lend much strength to the notion that better high schools contribute to earnings by leading workers to acquire more education and/or training than they otherwise would have.


However, as shown in table 5, subsequent earnings of students do appear to be positively and significantly related to the number of students enrolled at the school, although the elasticity at the means is only 0.044. This suggests that mildly increasing returns to scale may be at work. Table 5 also presents evidence that a school with a higher percentage of disadvantaged students is likely to produce graduates with lower earnings, at least for those students who achieve less than 12 years of education. (The interaction term between this variable and education is actually positive, so that students with more than 11.98 years of education are predicted to have higher wages as the percentage of disadvantaged students rises.) Similarly, the percentage of grade 10 students who drop out without completing grade 12 has a negative and significant effect on earnings, at least for those workers who obtain less than 13.4 years of education.2


[T]he size of the school, as measured by enrollment, is related to earnings, and is a variable which policymakers can control. This is the sole measure of school "quality" which this study has found to be significantly related to students' subsequent earnings. [ed.: don't know how this relates to the "small school" movement...]

bureaucratization of the schools & school quality:

[I]ncreasing bureaucratization of public schools might have weakened the link between standard measures of school quality and educational outcomes. In a cross-sectional study using state-level data from 1984, Anderson, Shugart and Tollison (1991) find that states with larger educational bureaucracies tend to produce stu- dents with lower standardized test scores. In a 1987 survey of secondary school principals, fully 69% complained of administrative roadblocks caused by new State guidelines and requirements (National Center for Education Statistics, 1991, p. 92). The idea that increasing bureaucratization of the public schools reduces their effectiveness is gaining widespread acceptance.


An implication of these hypotheses of "structural change" in the public school system is that standard school quality measures should still be significantly and positively related to wages of those who attended private and parochial schools. When the basic regression from table 1 was run on the subsample of white males who had attended such schools, the teacher-pupil ratio and the percentage of teachers with post- graduate degrees were indeed significantly and positively related to earnings. However, this intriguing result should be regarded with caution as it is based on 507 wage observations involving only 58 individuals.

growing the administration

Coming across this study today is a case of serendipity.

In the past five years, my tiny little school district (1848 student enrollment in K-12 projected for 2009-2010) has been massively bureaucratized. I've always been told that when you grow the administration school quality declines, but I'd never seen a study saying so.

Now I've got two.

Anderson, Gary M., William F. Shugart III and Robert D. Tollison, "Educational Achievement and the Cost of Bureaucracy," (pdf file) Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 15 (1) (1991), 29-45.

Weintraub, Daniel M., "Wilson Calls for Schools to Set Own Rules," Los Angeles Times (Jan. 29 1993), Al and A26.

Education 2.0 - Now with more bird sounds!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

teaching to the middle

Barry G:

Gifted students need instruction in math as much as others--and good instruction.

physics teacher:

I couldn't agree more. Yet I've heard more than once that all the better students will figure everything out themselves, no matter what, and our mission is teach the lower achieving students.

In education it seems that "all students must succeed" has morphed into "all students must succeed AT EVERYTHING". I have students that will likely be very successful fashion designers/marketers or artists, but they're in my class because they have to be somewhere. Yet I'm supposed to take the greatest care that they succeed at the expense of kids who chose to be in my class because they want to be engineers or scientists. The latter group will figure it out for themselves.

It's like forcing someone like myself into a ballet class, identifying me as the student with the "greatest need", and then insisting that the instructor spend the most time on me even though I'll just squander the effort.

Vicky S on the lost generation

Kids with high math aptitude do need good teaching to reach their potential; most cannot/will not do it on their own. But there's more to it than that. We are killing their interest and motivation.

Many elementary kids with high math aptitude who suffer through the likes of Investigations and EM are left terminally frustrated with math. How many of us have watched the transformation of our kids from eager first or second graders who loved math, to irritated 5th and 6th graders who no longer can even enjoy it. And since they've checked out for a few years, many are going to find it very difficult to pick up the pieces in high school. They'll have gaps. They'll be behind. And they are not too likely to struggle back to the heights they would otherwise reach.

We are losing a generation or two of potential mathematicians. They will be doing other things.

unified theory

from Paul H:
It's instructive to put constructivism in context. I put it smack dab in the middle of; Spiraling Curricula, Curricula Bloat, ** Constructivism **, Inclusion/Immersion, and Grade Level Placement. I'll call these the five horsemen of the apocalypse.

Horse #1, Spiraling Curricula (the Trojan horse), lays the natural hierarchy of a subject on its side, preferring to teach everything in a strand as a set of increasingly complex parallel universes that never need to be mastered. We spend, on average, 6 years on concepts that other countries dispense with in 3.

Once you install horse #1 you observe that, without mastery, every stovepipe in the spiral is easier to achieve success in (because you don't really measure it anymore). This leads to the evolution of horse #2, Curricula Bloat, where you get to fill your newly invented extra time with bloated concept development (2-3 times more concepts per year than is common in the TIMMS countries that surpass us).

Horses #3 and #4, Inclusion/Immersion and Grade Level Placement, differ in motivation but produce the same noxious result, an enormous range of student capabilities in a single classroom, with an attendant reduction in the number and type of teachers that address them. And finally with horses 1,2,4, and 5 teamed up you're ready for the lead horse, horse #3,Constructivism.

With an exquisitely complex spiral, delivering an overwhelming number of concepts to a highly diverse population grouped by virtue of their hat size, there is no other choice but to have the kids teach each other. Horse #3 is inevitable.

Every argument you hear for constructivist philosophy is no more than rationalization, devised to make palatable, the misbegotten notion that kids can teach themselves the things that mankind learned over thousands of years, driven by the need to address the maelstrom created by the four horsemen that accompany it. Once you figure out where it comes from you're better able to appreciate why it's so popular. Unfortunately, it's very hard to change the direction of the lead horse when the rest of the team is not cooperating and these horses all tend to be discussed in isolation, where they can be made to sound plausible. Together though, they are undeniably toxic.

And yes I know there are only four horsemen but I'm invoking my 21st century skills to invent my own literary reality.

the Jesuit teachers

The Jesuit teachers also knew that fixing the impression was extremely important. This fits in with their stress on memory-work—and it was not automatic memorizing, it had to be thorough understanding. Their manuals of teaching never tire of saying: Repeat, repeat and repeat. They nearly always add that the master must watch carefully and vary his questions to ensure that there is nothing mechanical about this repetition, but then they urge once more Repeat and once more Repeat.

The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet
p. 147-148

the high school vanishes

It took 5 years for my school district to reach this point.

has it been 100 years?

Our Many Educational Fads and Fancies; Professor Ladd of Yale Says That School Teachers Are Always Experimenting, But Do Not Seem to be Getting Anywhere
By Prof. George Trumbull Ladd of Yale University.
June 18, 1916, Sunday
Section: MAGAZINE, Page SM13, 4473 words

true story

Martin Kozloff wrote this & says it's OK to post:

So I have a class on instructional design.

20 young women and three guys.

All very sweet and bright kids.

The first day one kid stays after class.

"I have something to tell you."


"Well, I may have a hard time in this class."

"How come?"

"I have brain damage."

"Oh, man."

"Yeah, when I was six, my Mom and me were hit by a drunk driver. She died right there. I ended up in the hospital in a coma."

He takes a photo album out of his pack. It's a little kid's photo album. You know, with flowers and birds on the cover. The pics show his rehab. The first picture is of him right after the crash. His arms and legs are broken and twisted. He has no lower jaw that I can see. Teeth are sticking out from under his nose. [He now has a long scar along his jaw line from ear to chin.]

"He says, 'Man, I was ALL f%$#d UP!"

"I say, "Yeah, what're you supposed to be, Frankenf%$#ingstein?"

We laugh.

He didn't look human.

As the months go by, the pictures show him looking better and better.

The doctors tell his father that he will be a near vegetable. Better to put him in a nursing home.

But the physical and occupational therapists work on him for years.

He graduated from college with a B.A. in Liberal Arts.

He coaches several sports at a nearby private school.

He wants to teach secondary history.

He has told the class that he has little memory of when he was in the hospital.

Today we began to examine 100 Easy Lessons.

I start at the last story. I have the class identify the pre-skills needed to read the story accurately and fast and to answer the comprehension questions.

When we read the word "tame," he stares at the wall, eyes unfocused.

I say, "Uh, Mason, are you crapping your pants? Again?"

Everyone laughs, because I'm so funny.

"No, but there's something about the word 'tame.'"

Then we examine all of 100 Easy, starting with lesson 1, to see how the skills are taught, leading to the last story.

Then we watch a video of teaching with 100 Easy.

Again he stares into space.

And then, I swear to all gods known and unknown, he yells, "I KNOW this book! That's what my teacher in the hospital used to teach me to read and talk again!"

The girls in the class are almost hoiking and blubbering.

I merely say, "Jeeezus Christ on a bike!"

He says that he's (that moment) remembering the cover of the book and how he and the teacher went back and forth during instruction.

Then I show the class Zig's "memory paradigm," where you review a sequence of names for things and keep adding new ones.

He says, "She did that, TOO! Now I remember! That's how she taught me what things are called, and how to remember. Yeah, that's exactly what she did. I remember this!"

He says, "Marty, I have to write to Engelmann. He saved my life. He's God."

Rich Getzel on teachers & constructivism

The fact is, it would be a lie to say that schools teach "reading, writing, and 'rithmetic" these days. Sounding out words, memorizing 6 x 4 - we're obviously going to lose these kids if we demand that they master these basic skills. This is the kind of thinking that pervades education, and as a new educator, I want to do terrible things to the snake oil salesmen who have peddled this ideology.

But don't lay the fault squarely on the teachers. Many publications often pit parents (who depise EM) against teachers (who unqualifiedly embrace it). But practically every teacher I know (that's a lot) depises the fuzzy math programs to which our schools have subscribed.

I am a new teacher, 23, but I learned mathematics from a traditionalist perspective. I came to my school, as a newly minted educator, and I was horrified by the Impact Math textbook that I was expected to use. It is worse than Everyday Mathematics. It is constructivism on steroids, and I wish more people would talk about this program, because it gets short shrift compared to Everyday Math.

At no point does the textbook spell out any procedure necessary to solve a problem. It is riddled with convoluted "discovery" exercises that theoretically will help students induce the right answer, and the right way (or ways) to get there. There is a dearth of practice problems (i.e. the kind of problems that students will be expected to answer on a standardized test).

So how did I adjust? I simply never used the textbook. It could never work with CTT students who, across the board, were years behind in mathematics. I taught the way I was taught the material. It's a challenge because every night I have to hunt for activities and problems. But I do believe that the students have responded very well. It's a shame, because they don't have a standard reference (textbook) to help them do their homework at night, but even if we used the Impact Textbook, they would not have a reference.

Practically every teacher I know who has had the misfortune of inheriting Impact Mathematics does some variation of what I do. Even my principal is baffled by the textbook, but it was sold as the most widely used textbook out there. The higher-ups (chancellor and his ilk) are gung-ho about constructivist learning, and as a result, teachers, and sometimes even administrators, are slaves to a system they despise.

But hey, it's a change from the old way, and any change is good, right?