kitchen table math, the sequel: 4/26/09 - 5/3/09

Friday, May 1, 2009

anonymous on what administrators want

I just lost my position.... I wish I knew what they wanted. When students are silent in rows, they prescribe groups. When they are talking too much, they prescribe quietly sitting in rows.

Steven H on soccer games & grocery stores

I see KTM as more than a kitchen table; it's a web-based extension of a grocery store or soccer sideline where we can discuss with other parents and teachers without having to rush home to cook dinner. There are always new parents coming into the grocery store. Hopefully they will realize that they aren't "the only one who's complained."

I think parents are very interested in any information they can get. This is the kind of information that many people won't talk about in a letter to the editor. It's also information that schools really don't want to discuss publically either.

For many discussions, there is a niceness factor that gets in the way of critical analysis. If a waiter asks if you liked your meal, most will probably say it was just fine, still tip 15%, but then go to another restaurant. For schools, you can't go anywhere else and you have to worry about consequences. Besides, I really like the teachers at my son's school. Since there is no process for parental input on curriculum or things that go on behind the veil, I would have to become a real pain in the ass to try and make changes. So what happens? parents smile and say that everything is fine, but then go out and hire a tutor.

KTM works to remove the veil (and sometimes the niceness factor) to try to get to the core of issues. In math, this means the details of mastery and the meaning of understanding. Things are happening at schools and parents have to pick up the pieces at home. These aren't always nice, happy, constructive discussions because they involve fundamental beliefs and assumptions.

dialogue of the deaf

Here's Robert Pondiscio:

[O]ne of my frustrations is the silence of the “reform community” on curriculum, as if what children learn doesn’t matter. Too often, those of us who support a rigorous curriculum feel as if we’re talking to ourselves.

“Teacher quality is the most important thing!”

“Sure, it’s important that kids have great teachers. But don’t you think curriculum matters?”

“Of course, as long as it’s taught by a great teacher! Preferably in a charter school!”

“OK, but what about the curriculum?”

“Oh, that’s very important. Did I mention teacher quality?”

“Yes, you did.”

“Well good, because that’s the most important thing. And we should have merit pay, to align the teacher’s interest with the students’, just like we align executive and shareholder interests in business.”

You know it might help improve teacher quality if we had a national curriculum. Then teachers could focus on differentiating instruction and honing their craft. They could focus on how to teach instead of what to teach.”

“Now you’re getting it. You agree that teacher quality is the most important thing!”

“Well, that’s not really what I was saying…”

“The problem is we have too many teachers who really should be looking for other jobs. And they’re being protected by people who are more concerned with protecting adults than what’s best for children.”

“Be that as it may, you know there are lots of good reasons to support a national curriculum. Student mobility, for example. And background knowledge is fundamental to reading comprehension. You care about boosting reading test scores, right?

“Absolutely. And that can’t happen unless there’s a high quality teacher in every classroom.”

You’re not listening to a single word I’ve said are you? I’m trying to talk about curriculum, and you’re only talking about charters, and unions and firing bad teachers.”

“Fire bad teachers? I couldn’t agree more! Teacher quality is the most important thing!”

“Never mind.”

I sympathize.

Yes, yes: the crying need for Good Teachers.

Good teachers teaching what, exactly?

Actually, I would go so far as to say I would prefer bad teachers if the subject being "taught" is 21st century skills.

Paolo Freire at Core Knowledge

Mention the name Paolo Freire at a gathering of educated people and you’re likely to get blank stares. Unless members of that group went to ed school, where the Brazilian theorist is nothing less than a rock star, and his 1970 book Pedagogy of the Opressed is part of the canon.

Freire is Foul and Foul is Freire

Who is Paulo Freire?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

KTM as keeper of the flame

We go on a lot about whether government money can fix things, if vouchers can work, what the future innovations can look like, what would make them possible. We don't reach consensus very often, and it's unclear whether or not we should. It makes me wonder if I'm doing any good by participating on this blog if I just go back again over the same arguments, returning to the same points we've made before. Even when I agree with others, I've found I am busy negating arguments instead of finding new solutions. So, what then, am I doing that's valuable? What is KTM doing that's valuable?

One big way in which KTM is valuable was so obvious to me that I overlooked it. KTM is a keeper of the flame of What Works. When everyone else has forgotten what curricula worked, what methods worked, what subjects were supposed to be taught, and how they were taught, this blog will recall.

We're now at least two generations into an education establishment that has eradicated the idea of direct instruction of students in subject areas. Two generations now means no one knows that reading or literature used to be rigorous; that grammar was once taught to schoolchildren. Two generations where no one knows the simplest algorithms for helping children master basic math facts. Two generations of no direct knowledge of the value of a comprehensive liberal arts education.

Ed schools are busy burning every copy of every wheel left in existence. The teachers themselves have never heard of this odd invention, because they've been taught by ones who never used it.

Someday, parents, teachers, school administrators, whomever, are going to start looking again for the wheel. They are going to start asking "What subjects should be taught? How can they be taught efficiently?" This blog has done more to promote the answers to those questions in every subject than anything other institution. KTM is a living museum, in the best sense of the word. Who else out there is performing this service? KTM is a virtual monastery that doesn't need to cloister itself to keep the truth alive. We need more of them, but having even one will be a necessity for parents in the future. Every time we find another answer, another subject that was taught, can be taught, and find references to the materials themselves so we can teach it again, we're saving a kid in a future generation. Even if we never can find a way to save them from the schools we've got now.

Empirical evidence math education isn't necessary declining

Here's a story that should bring a bit of perspective to us: in this town, neither the city officials nor the journalists know a stitch of math at all, so we may not be worse off than we ever were after all. Catherine needn't work through Dolciani to surpass this!

Here is the original story most of which is excerpted below:

Truro zoning decision hinges on single vote
By Mary Ann Bragg
April 30, 2009

TRURO — Voters narrowly approved one of four zoning amendments late Tuesday night at the annual town meeting. But town officials were still looking at the exact vote count on that article yesterday.

In a vote of 136 to 70, voters passed a new time limit on how quickly a cottage colony, cabin colony, motel or hotel can be converted to condominiums. The new limit requires that those properties be in operation for three years before being converted to condominiums.

The idea behind the zoning amendment is to slow the pace of condominium development in Truro and preserve more affordable accommodations for tourists, according to citizens proposing the warrant article.

The exact count of the vote — 136 to 70 —had town officials hitting their calculators yesterday. The zoning measure needed a two-thirds vote to pass. A calculation by town accountant Trudy Brazil indicated that 136 votes are two-thirds of 206 total votes, said Town Clerk Cynthia Slade.

Brazil said she used the calculation of .66 multiplied by 206 to obtain the number.

But using .6666 — a more accurate version of two-thirds — the affirmative vote needed to be 137 instead of 136, according to an anonymous caller to town hall and to the Times.

Slade said that she called several of her colleagues to see how they calculate a two-thirds vote, and the answer varied widely. In Provincetown, Town Clerk Doug Johnstone uses .66. But Johnstone said he'd never had a close vote where it might matter.

A spokesman from the Secretary of State's office was not available to comment yesterday.

Slade said she will let the state Attorney General's office decide on the correct count, as part of their normal review of town meeting decisions.

Honestly, it makes me feel bad for Ms. Bragg.

Hat tip to Eugene at, who lists 9 problems with this article, not all of which are mathematical in nature. Can you find them all?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I'm getting emailed press releases these days & thought I'd pass this one along:
I wanted to alert you to this weekend's episode of NOW on PBS this
Friday night looking squarely at public education reform. The big
question: How is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan going to spend $100
billion in stimulus money - almost twice the education budget -- to fix
our nation's schools?

During his seven years running Chicago's public schools, Duncan went
head to head with the teacher's union and skeptical parents by closing
down low-performing schools, getting rid of all the teachers,
principals, even the janitors, and reopening them with new staffs as
"turnaround schools." It's a drastic step, but the results have been
promising. On Friday, May 1 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW
travels to Chicago to investigate the collateral damage of a
top-to-bottom school makeover, and to get a glimpse of what the future
of education might look like for the rest of the country.

"We have to be willing to experience a little bit of pain and
discomfort, but our children desperately need it and deserve it,"
Secretary Duncan tells NOW. "Just as we have to do it, unions have to
change, principals have to change, teachers have to change, parents have
to step up... business as usual is not going to get us there."

Do we need to gut our public schools in order to save them?

The NOW on PBS website at will feature this video online
immediately following broadcast. It will also feature a head-to-head
"issue clash" on the contentious subject of merit pay.

I think this focus will be of great interest to your readers and
audience, so please consider posting and placement in your newsletters,
blogs, tweets, and other communication avenues.

Thank you for your attention and consideration,


Joel Schwartzberg
Director of New Media

NOW on PBS...
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