kitchen table math, the sequel: 4/19/09 - 4/26/09

Saturday, April 25, 2009

foiled again

I was cruising through the word problems at the end of Section 5-8: Problem Solving Using Fractional Equations in Mary Dolciani's Algebra and Trigonometry Structure and Method Book 2, congratulating myself on the fact that not only can I now do what I consider to be reasonably difficult word problems, I enjoy doing them.

Then I hit this one:
19. A commercial jet can fly from San Francisco to Dallas in 3 h. A private jet can make the same trip in 3 1/2 h. If the two planes leave San Francisco at noon, after how many hours is the private jet twice as far from Dallas as the commercial jet? (page 246)
I couldn't do it, and I didn't enjoy not being able to do it.

I'm not even going to look at #20.

Until tomorrow.

Friday, April 24, 2009

High Schools Too Obsessed With College

This was the title to a letter to the editor that caught my eye.

"The examinations for high school graduation now sound like a college-entrance exam instead ..."

"Keep business math and general math plus general science in the curriculum for those students not planning careers in math and science."

It struck me that schools are screwing it up at both ends of the spectrum. They don't provide the needed education for those who want a technical career as an engineer or scientist, and they don't provide a proper education for those not wishing to go to college. All kids are told that they will earn so much less money if they don't go to college. Somehow, technical schools and trades get lost in the discussion. Even the Achieve organization is doing workplace studies that show that everyone needs Algebra II.

I don't agree.

The workplace studies were based on a self-serving evaluation of what kinds of tasks each job needed. These tasks were translated into a specific course in a traditional math curriculum. They did not look at exactly what math was needed to get the certification or degrees required for each job.

Schools want more rigor, but they get it all screwed up. Instead of fixing up and adding rigor to basic K-8 math, they try to impose some sort of false rigor in high school, which is usually translated to algebra I or algebra II for all. (not to mention capstone projects and portfolios) The more capable students don't get what they need and the rest get courses designed to prepare them for community college. Many just drop out of school. I can easily see why many kids think that high school is a joke.

We have a well-regarded technical school in our area and if kids can survive high school, they will find a wonderful sense of reality there; something that is completely missing at our community colleges.

I'm all for setting a goal of a proper course in algebra I for all by 8th or 9th grade. This keeps all doors open. After that, the math curriculum needs to offer courses based on specific educational needs, not vague concepts of rigor or workplace analysis. Educators love real world problems, but they can't seem to apply it to themselves.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

knowledge is good, part 3

Text just pointed me to this comment left at the end of Tom Friedman's column Swimming without a Suit. 174 readers have "Recommended" it thus far, as have the Editors, and you may want to do so as well.

In fact, I Recommend you do.

April 22, 2009 9:23 am

I spent the vast majority of my teaching career in the States, but have been teaching abroad since 2003. In my opinion, the problems with the US educational approach are legion, but the most serious among them can't be fixed with money. That problem is the lack of understanding of the fundamental goals of education.

One gets an education not just to make more money and grow the economy. One gets an education in order to have a foundation in real knowledge about the subjects that have evolved over centuries and have a direct bearing on our society today: not only math and science subjects but also history, one's own and foreign languages, and yes, even philosophy, or the history of ideas. All of this knowledge constitutes the essential property held in common by the citizens of a society, a common bond, and must never be taken for granted but rather continually renewed.

Over the past several decades in the US, the unifying body of knowledge, and the discipline required to attain it, has been deemphasized. Education has become 'student-centered', in an effort to stay 'relevant' and continually innovative so that students are never out of touch with the purpose or usefulness of their learning. Ironically,or perhaps naturally, this emphasis on the student has led to the alienation of said student from his own learning process because he becomes less receptive to input, less respectful of the expertise of authorities in their subjects, ie his teachers, and less likely to meet challenges when they require a cooperative effort.

I recognize the difficulty of creating an educational program that can provide foundation knowledge and serve to unify so vastly diverse a population as ours, but lowering expectations is no way to avoid misunderstandings between ethnic groups. In fact, as I know from my personal experience of teaching in the US, the young members of the ethnic minorities in my state were desperate for a denser, more packed curriculum in all subjects as they felt this was the only way to attain any kind of equality with more established Americans.

Thus I think that we should pursue a national initiative to return teachers to their role as experts and students to their role as learners. This will not threaten our national strength as independent thinkers but only restore it. Lately we have become too fragmented and preoccupied with surface effects to think at all.

KP, Secondary school teacher presently working in Europe
— Michaela, Portland Maine

Goldin & Katz!

The White House cites Goldin & Katz!

The same folks I've been citing for lo these many months!

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences
Jimmy graduates

The anemic response of skill investment to skill premium growth
The declining American high school graduation rate: Evidence, sources, and consequences
Pushy parents raise more successful kids

The Race Between Education and Technology book review
The Race Between Ed & Tech: excerpt & TOC & SAT scores & public loss of confidence in the schools
The Race Between Ed & Tech: the Great Compression
the Great Compression, part 2
ED in '08: America's schools
comments on Knowledge Schools
the future
the stick kids from mud island
educated workers and technology diffusion
declining value of college degree
Goldin, Katz and fans
best article thus far: Chronicle of Higher Education on The Race
Tyler Cowan on The Race (NY Times)
happiness inequality down...
an example of lagging technology diffusion in the U.S.

the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
Bloomington High School & "path dependency"
the election debate that should have been
the golden age: a NYC teacher remembers
the White House cites Goldin & Katz

stimulus jobs

Sorry I've been missing in action -- lots of goings-on here in town. Good news on that front.

And tonight is Jimmy's birthday party, so I may not be back in the swing of things 'til sometime tomorrow.

In the meantime, I've just this moment stumbled across a New Yorker post about President Obama's "stimulus jobs":
It is common to say that we are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The structure of the economy in which that crisis is occurring is very different than during the nineteen-thirties, of course. Just how different is highlighted in this chart (pdf file) from research by Anthony Carnevale, Jeffrey Strohl, and Nicole Smith, of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. They estimate that the Obama Administration’s stimulus bill will create about 3.7 million jobs—and that just over half of those jobs will require some college education. A remarkable fourteen thousand eight hundred jobs, they estimate, will require post-doctoral work.


Jamie P. Merisotis, of the Lumina Foundation for Education, dropped by our offices the other day and mentioned this Georgetown research. Lumina seeks to drive the rate of college completion in the United States from its current level of just under forty per cent to sixty per cent. The U.S. once led the world in this area; now, among rich industrialized countries, we are tenth. The current leaders (over-achieving Finland among them) put about fifty-five or so per cent of their populations through college.


In general, much of the education spending in the bill is delivered as direct transfers to states to help them retain teachers and administrators at a time when local and state tax revenues (from which our school K-12 public-school systems are funded) are collapsing. Even this block transfer money is being used to coerce prospective reform—in particular, by forcing states to develop new plans to collect information on school, teacher, and pupil performance. This information in turn will presumably be used to strengthen the “No Child Left Behind” law if and when it is renewed over the next couple of years.

Schooling the Stimulus
Steve Coll

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Middle-school Math Classes Are Key To Closing Racial Academic Achievement Gap

ScienceDaily (Apr. 22, 2009) — More challenging middle-school math classes and increased access to advanced courses in predominantly black urban high schools may be the key to closing the racial academic achievement gap, according to a University of Illinois study.

"Although we've poured a lot of money and resources into trying to reduce inequalities between black and white students, we've mainly focused on test scores and that hasn't been successful," said Christy Lleras, a U of I assistant professor of human and community development.

Why target middle-school math? Lleras said there's a feedback loop between math placement, student effort, and academic achievement.

"Over time, these three factors affect each other. Students who take more advanced math courses in middle school lengthen their lead over time, and the positive school-related behaviors developed in those advanced courses lead to even higher achievement.

"But the opposite is also true. Lower math placement in middle school significantly lowers a student's chances of getting into higher-level math courses in high school, which translates into fewer skills and behaviors and greater achievement gaps in high school," she said.

These gaps are largest in high-minority urban schools. "For kids in predominantly black urban schools, the biggest predictor of the math course they took in high school was the math course they took in eighth grade. For all other students, the biggest predictor was their prior achievement, not the course they took," she noted.

Lleras used data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Educational Longitudinal Study to follow the effects of math placement, school-related behaviors, and achievement in more than 6,500 public school students as they progressed from the eighth to the tenth grade.

Transcript data indicated the highest-level math course the student had taken at these levels. Math achievement was measured via tests given at the end of these school years. And engagement and effort were measured by teachers' evaluations of the student's attentiveness, disruptiveness, and homework habits.

Lleras believes that increased access to more advanced and rigorous math classes in high-minority urban schools can have a significant direct effect on all students' achievement and particularly that of African American students.

"Being in a classroom where the expectations are higher, the course work is more rigorous, and the climate is more academic has huge effects on student effort," she said.

Lleras worries that lower-performing schools will concentrate on teaching to the tests mandated by No Child Left Behind.

"Instead of focusing on test scores, we may be better able to affect educational trajectories by improving teacher quality and reducing class sizes, which helps to create school climates that foster both academic learning and student effort," she said.

Because racial achievement gaps were already significant by eighth grade, Lleras believes educators must begin to address gaps in achievement and opportunities to learn much earlier.

She argues that universal preschool and expansion of Head Start would go a long way toward reducing early racial inequalities because early-childhood programs tend to affect student-related attitudes and engagement more than achievement test scores.

"Children can't learn new material until they have the toolkit of skills and school-related behaviors to do so," she said.

"Then we have to make a sustained effort to keep these children learning over time. We need a persistent and additional effort to support urban minority students through tutoring programs and improved access to challenging material and high-quality teachers," she said.

"This study was a snapshot of three years in these kids' lives, and in just three years, they were falling farther and farther behind," she added.

The study was published in a recent issue of the American Educational Research Journal.

Feeding the Beast

Public education financing is a classic Faustian bargain. In return for allowing government's taxation authority to spread the cost of educating our children across the entire population we have largely given up the right to purchase the education of our choosing. The consequence of that deal is an unimaginably large and unresponsive gomonpoly that not only ignores its customers but has the temerity to make it illegal not to consume its services (unless you're wealthy enough to pay for both it and its replacement).

Without this deal with the devil, you could pay for your child's education and be relieved of the tax burden that spreads the cost while enabling the monster's existence. I'm not convinced most people would sign up for such a system but imagine for a moment that they did. This would restore the ability to choose your service provider but our society would be left with the one intractable problem that started the whole push for public education to begin with, what to do with the kids without the resources (parental resources) to pay their own way?

As a society we've made a clear choice that it's unacceptable to leave kids behind. Even if you accept the immorality of such a proposition you certainly wouldn't want your communities to be overrun by a subculture with zero education and no means to provide for themselves as adults. Vouchers attempt to address this by leaving the financing system in place while creating a group of people who approximate those wealthy folks that can purchase what they want because they can afford it. Vouchers, as appealing as they are, don't address the problem. They put a band-aid on it. Public education's financing scheme is the root of the tree and as long as parental control is coupled to public financing, parental control will be insignificant.

It seems an insoluble problem, to maintain public financing for equity and cost sharing, while at the same time breaking the public (government) control over the system. But is it? Governments have a legitimate interest in ensuring that all citizens have access to suitable education but they have no more legitimate interest in running the system than they have with running the local Beauty Salon that they license. The problem to be solved is how to maintain our societal interests in equity and cost sharing (a financing issue) while returning control to the consumers.

What makes capitalism work is the tension between profit and value. Companies that maximize profit, at the expense of value, don't survive. Companies that maximize value at the expense of profit, don't survive. Survival goes to those organizations that navigate their offerings to a sweet spot; enough profit to satisfy stockholders (with increasing equity or dividends or both), and enough value to satisfy customers (with high quality products that meet their needs). Public education financing today is not concerned with survival. Profitless, it grows by coercion of a few elites. Valueless, it only satisfies the elites, not the consumers.

Here's a way to solve it. Think of an ideal future point. Every consumer (parent with children in the system) has enough school cash to buy the service that meets their value proposition. Every producer must struggle to find that sweet spot (they are allowed to thrive or die). Government uses their power of taxation and regulation to ensure that the cost is spread and minimal standards are met (products are safe and perform as advertised).

In this future state all schools are private entities. They can be non-profit or profit making. Profits have no constraints. They can be used in any combination to increase equity stakes (by growing), or be distributed to share holders (as dividends). The taxing authority converts school tax revenue to school cash. School cash can only be spent on a school. Everyone who pays taxes gets school cash. There would be a range of value propositions for consumers as well as the tax paying non-consumer and there would be a range of value propositions from producers. Let a free market sort out the sweet spots and let the shareholders manage their companies.

Parents, as consumers, spend their school cash at the schools where they place their kids. Everybody else is an investor, spending their school cash to purchase a stake in a school. The 'investors' have no restrictions on which school they invest in. For a school to survive it would have to attract enough parental consumers and stake holder investors to be attractive for every round of investing. A viable school would have to satisfy both the parental expectations on education, and the investment expectations of their shareholders. Neither the parents nor the investors have enough school cash (alone) to make a school viable. Investors would have an interest in the educational value because without that value there wouldn't be enough parental consumers to make the investment work. Parents would have an interest in the investment value because without that value there wouldn't be enough investors to meet the additional revenue requirements.

Would this work?

How could you get there from here?

Monday, April 20, 2009

another satisfied customer, part 2

Irvington Parents Unite

This is an arresting moment. I've never met the woman who put up this web site, nor had I met the people distributing fliers at the train station until two weeks ago, when one of them attended the same budget forum I did. Hadn't heard tell of them, either.

Come to find out, as a management philosophy, "We do what we do"* doesn't work any better for other people than it does for me.

Particularly not when superintendents doing what they do doubles the budget in 10 years' time.

compare and contrast

budget school year 2000/2001: $24,124,756 district enrollment: 1744
budget school year 2008/2009: $50,583,424 district enrollment: 1888

Differentiated instruction doesn't come cheap.

bonus factoid

athletic teams:
2000-2001: 46 teams / 58 coaches
2008-2009: 64 teams / 77 coaches

Sixty four teams, seventy seven coaches, a $50 million dollar budget for 1900 kids --- and no intramural program to speak of.

I wonder why that is.

bonus factoid, part 2

enrollment 2008/2009:
grade 9: 150 students
Kindergarten: 127 students

projected Kindergarten enrollment 2009/2009: 119

* or, alternatively, "The answer is no"

trouble in paradise
more trouble in paradise
another satisfied customer, part 2

more trouble in paradise

flyer from the train station

uh oh

Did you know.... (pdf file)

Petition to Reduce (pdf file)

trouble in paradise
more trouble in paradise
another satisfied customer, part 2

trouble in paradise

the natives are restless

really restless

The natives are so restless we have village residents who've composed so many letters to the editor they've developed a fan base.

trouble in paradise
more trouble in paradise
another satisfied customer, part 2