kitchen table math, the sequel: 5/17/09 - 5/24/09

Saturday, May 23, 2009

concerned parent on Everyday Math & tutoring

"Parents are shelling out money for their kids because of such programs."

This is the problem. I live in a high SES town where the parents volunteer in the classroom, help with homework, read to their kids each night, make sure their kids get to school on time, and purchase a copy of the Everyday Math reference book to keep at home and help with homework.

Many of these same parents still shell out $80/hour (cash) to the teachers to tutor their child on the side; or they send their child to Kumon, Huntington, or Sylvan because their child just isn't getting EM. These parents are convinced there's something wrong with their child even though their child is trying to pay attention in class and diligently doing all the work.

In these cases (I know of many), there should definitely be an option to support the child because they all don't have access to a teacher like Cheryl or to Singapore Math, for example. They get the teacher they get (who may have little if any interest of content knowledge when it comes to mathematics) and are subjected to ill-conceived curricula such as Everyday Math. Who lobbies for these children?

In these cases I would rather see taxpayer money go to effective tutoring than to pay for teacher in-service or a math coach who lacks advanced math content knowledge and is merely a cheerleader for the math curricula d'jour.

where have I been?

So....yesterday I stumbled across this fantastic blog devoted to Singapore Math.

Then today I was reading the Grade 4 Word Problem on the new blog.

Then....after clicking around some more...I discovered that: the great new blog is written by Cassy T. The way you can tell is: it says so on the top of the blog.

So now I'm praying Cassy's blog hasn't been around for MONTHS.


And I find that: YES!

IT HAS BEEN AROUND FOR MONTHS! Since February 19, 2009 to be precise.

Remind me never to get involved in a school board campaign again.

Intellectual DNA

I've just left a comment at Robert Pondiscio's post "In Defense of the Liberal Arts" at the Core Knowledge blog:
I had a revelation not too long ago re: the liberal arts disciplines (including math, science, philosophy, rhetoric).

The disciplines are the intellectual DNA of the professions.

Law and medicine are called the "liberal professions" because they derive from or are descended from the liberal arts disciplines. If you've had a liberal education, you're at a tremendous advantage when it comes to learning a liberal profession.

I've believed for some time nowbecause I think I've lived itthat a solid grounding in the liberal arts disciplines turns you into a fast learner in the world of work. Siegfried Engelmann has a terrific new article out on the ways in which teaching to mastery increases the speed of learning. A central reason why disadvantaged children are slower learners when they begin school than advantaged children is that they lack the prior knowledge middle and upper-middle class parents take for granted.

It seems likely to me that, for adults, a liberal education is the equivalent of the "prior knowledge" advantaged children bring to Kindergarten. A student who graduates college with a "survey" knowledge of the liberal arts disciplines combined with a major in one discipline brings a vast store of prior knowledge to the world of work (and family & politics & religion)
I'll get passages from Engelmann's article posted soon, I hope.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Everyday Math causes hoarding in Anchorage

Yesterday was the last day of school at my local elementary.  Today, I went to pick up some stuff and to say bye to all of my kids teachers.

I spoke to four teachers cleaning out their classrooms.  Every single one of them was in the process of hoarding math text books and scavenging worksheets to help supplement their forced transition into Everyday Math next year.

Of course when the subject of Everyday Math came up while I was talking to two of them, I started my rant.  "Your preaching to the choir" was their exact response.

My kids 3rd grade teacher was talking about how she was taking a class in Everyday Math this summer.  As a 30 year teacher, she told me how she has been through this before.  She said that she talks about she addresses the alternate algorithms like she is required to do, but then says "Now let me show you a better way" and continues to teach like she always has.

My kids future 6th grade teacher had already talked with the middle school pre-algebra teacher about what sort of things she needs to supplement to ensure they are ready for middle school math.

On the way out I ran into the Principle, and made a comment about EM.  "Oh I love Everyday Math" was his response.

Strange how the response varied so much between the teachers and the administration.

On another math related note, all three of kids scored advanced in math on their Standards Based Assessment (SBA) end of year tests.  My 5th grade son managed to score a 600 out of 600.  The only perfect score in any subject in the whole school.  Of course next year, all three of them will be taking EM.  At least my son qualified to take pre-algebra at the middle school next year, so I won't totally be working on my own on my EM insurgency.

p.s. sorry I haven't posted in a while :)


The speech therapist at school told us about this site: Internet4Classrooms.

Apparently it has short reading passages with comprehension questions following, which is what I need for Andrew.

Looks good so far --

Thursday, May 21, 2009

due process for parents of general education kids

from Barry G:
As people think about lobbying their Congressman/Senator, it might be good to have some outlines in hand for legislation that offers parents due process for general education. One thing that SPED [special ed] laws allow is, for example, testing. If a parent requests their child be tested to determine possible LD or other problems and to determine the need for an IEP, the school must comply. If they do not, the parent has the right to have the child tested by a firm of their choosing, and if the results show the child has problems, the school then has to reimburse the parents for the cost of the testing. And in fact, upon initial request, the school has 60 days to make a determination of whether the child qualifies for an IEP.

We need laws that allow parents to be recognized. Parents should have the right to have their child tested in math, English etc using say ITBS. If the results show the child is doing poorly, the parents can be reimbursed for the cost of testing and also reimbursed for tutoring, or using Sylvan, etc. Rough idea, I know, but you get the gist. Any thoughts?

SPED: special education
LD: learning disabilities
IEP: Individualized Education Plan (for SPED kids only)
ITBS: Iowa Test of Basic Skills [parents of general education kids can order the test & give it to their children themselves, which I did one year - around $40 - ask me if you want details:]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Singapore Math comes to Dobbs Ferry

Westchester Math Lab

Walking distance from my house.

speaking of SAT scores...

Colleges Acknowledge SAT and ACT Score Cut-Offs in Admissions

This is news only because journalists continually write articles quoting college admissions officers saying SAT scores don't matter, or are going out of style, or are used holistically, or are "optional," or god-knows-what.

Trust nothing a college admissions officer tells a newspaper.

Some of the comments are great.
I was “waitlisted” at two of my top schools and when I called to follow-up, I was told point blank it was for my SAT scores. Sorry, but I have a hard time buying the holistic bit. Particularly given the number of applications some of these schools receive. They need to have an initial filter; test scores give it to them.

On a related note, I was also shown a list of applicants, while applying to grad school, and they were sorted by GRE score. Again, the person who showed me the list said, point blank, we sort first by scores.


When my first child and oldest daughter was readying to choose a college, I asked the admissions department of my alma mater whether she should apply. I was told, first, before any other topic was raised or question was asked, that the college board cutoff was such and such–about fifty points higher than my daughter’s score.

She had gone to a pricey progressive private high school, where her grades were not bad, though not straight As. She did well in English, but also in biology and math–her only really weak course was chemistry.

Her guidance counselor, a Harvard graduate, was unable to interest the admissions departments of any major ivy league school in considering my daughter.

I asked the college admission department if a legacy mattered at all. “Somewhat,” I was told. Eventually, my third child was admitted, but he made the board score cut.

This practice has at least one side effect that has not been well understood. It is actually part of the decline of the humanities in American colleges and Universities, because the boards emphasize quantifiable ability–obviously so in mathematical skills, but still true in the “verbal” part of the exam: what else could such an exam do but quantify? Even the writing exam is graded, not on quality of the writing, but on quatifiable features, e.g. whether it has topic sentences at the beginnings of paragraphs (a custom universal in America but nowhere else, and only due to college entrance exams, including AP English), whether it has a standard three-paragraph form, whether it has an intro and a conclusion, and so on. THe content can be invented; can be virtually nonsense, but the template of the essay form to which all high school English writing is now taught can be measured, counted, and scored. Likewise the multiple choice questions which test for information processing ability only. There is no way to build a standardized test for humanitas.

— droll

Our child is a high school senior. He scored very well on his ACT but his cumulative GPA at the time of applications was just below 2.5. He was, nonetheless, offered scholarships and entrance into honors programs at different schools. You don’t need to convince me that these test scores are really where it’s at.


Having retired from the college counseling field, I recall when it became non-PC to use a single test score as a cutoff for admissions. There was some discussion of this being racist and not being the purpose for which tests were standardized (and thus leaving schools open to lawsuits). So colleges were coached to say they viewed test scores as “only one factor in a holistic assessment.” It my observation that some college admission teams actually employ holistic assessment and some only pretend to do so. Some admissions staffers value test scores because they value tests but don’t know an instrument’s limitations; others are racists. It’s hard to discern who is who isn’t it?


The holistic approach apparently does not apply to the NJ state schools. My sister’s twin daughters did not do well on the SATs, but they each have excellent gradepoints, extra-curriculars, outside jobs, sports, and stellar course grades for the college courses they have taken in their junior and senior years of high school. They and my sister were each told flat out that it was meet the cut-off score or we don’t look any further. Luckily, the non-state schools that they each applied to accepted them(2 acceptances each). I wonder if this policy is linked in any way to the budgetary issues in NJ government?

Jim McNerney

I have had years of experience at graduate school admissions for my department. First, the TOEFL had an institution-imposed minimum for admission, and experience told us that it was too low. Also, there is doubt about testing conditions in some countries.

Second, we came to understand that there are only three scores on the General portion of the GRE: high, middle, and low. Enough students take the GRE more than once, so we were able to see the variances in scores not attributable to additional education.

Third, subject-area GRE scores are useful. Since we did not require them (but were encouraged), when good scores showed up we regarded applicants as confident in their disciplinary knowledge.

Fourth, general and major GPAs are unreliable because they depend on the standards in place where they were earned. From less-highly-regarded institutions, applicants may have perfect GPAs, stellar letters of recommendation, and miserable GRE scores. When admitted, their failure rates were high, unless they dug in and made up for what they had not learned. OK GPAs from top institutions, or from students who had lots of jobs to get through college, were treated as just fine, and that’s mostly how they turned out.

Leading Edge Boomer

preparation for College Admission Exams

SAT Question

I started reviewing typical math questions in a SAT test prep book I have. My reaction is that preparation would make a VERY big difference. I think I will have to put together my own simplified list of things you have to know automatically.

However, I read in this book that when you apply to college, they get to see ALL of the scores from all of the times you took the test. They said that some colleges will average the scores and not just take the highest ones. I was thinking that I would have my son start taking the test several times to get him up to speed. The book said that this isn't the best thing to do. You're better off practicing at home and then taking the test. If the results are about 100 points (total) below what you get in practice, only then should you take the SAT a second time.

Haven't been there and haven't done that.

When I was in school, I took the PSAT and the SAT once, with absolutely no preparation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Camp & Dawson

Robyne Camp Answers to 10 Questions

John Dawson: Answers to 6 Questions

Community Service

Is it now common for schools to require community service? What are some examples of how this works? I don't see anything explicitly required by our schools. This came up because my son was asked to play the piano at a special meeting in another town. In the course of the conversation, the person (who was a high school teacher in the other town) said that they would give him a letter of community service. My first reaction was irritation. My son would (should) make the decision without that carrot dangling in from of him. Of course he said yes, but when I mentioned the community service angle, he wasn't surprised. He said that they push that all of the time at school, although he didn't think it was mandatory for our middle school.

Philosophically, all of this bothers me. I always remember what Ollie North's lawyer said during the Iran-Contra scandal:

"I'm not a potted plant. I'm here as the lawyer. That's my job.”

That's how I feel. I'm not a potted plant. I'm here as the parent. That's my job.

I don't want my son always looking for an angle or for something to go on his resume, but I can see the changes taking place.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Castles in the air

I was at a meeting recently with several district-level administrators from around the country, and the discussion turned to the current financial situation. Either I’m completely naïve about the realities of school funding, or they’re in denial about the current state of affairs. I still don’t know which is closer to the mark.

Given the state of things, one would expect administrators to look at the $100 billion in stimulus funds as a temporary reprieve: a two-year window to get their houses in order before feeling the full effect of the financial downturn. It should allow for a softer landing.

But there was no talk of reducing expenses, finding efficiencies, or eliminating programs. Instead, the primary focus was on using that money for teacher training, with new data systems a secondary interest. There weren’t many specifics available: some wanted to focus teacher training on RTI or on target areas (reading and math), and the discussion around data systems was very general (ie, “must be easy to use,” etc. - nothing that would be helpful in actually building or customizing a system).

While the Department of Education has repeatedly said that the stimulus funds are a one-shot deal, these administrators were convinced that all they had to do was show some kind of progress – however they chose to define it – and the money would be renewed. I haven’t heard anything about continuation of funds from any other source, but these folks were certain that as long as they moved the needle in some way, the money would keep flowing.

In fairness to them, the guidance for use of the stimulus funds is focused on academic outcomes, and that’s the framework they have to operate in. But the expectation for renewal was totally new: first time I’ve heard that anywhere, yet there was a clear expectation among everyone there that it would happen. And a clear lack of planning for what would happen if it didn’t.

Has anyone else seen this sort of thinking? Any signs as to how your districts are dealing with the stimulus money or the financial situation in general?

letter to the editor, part 2

Letters to the editor are becoming a specialty around these parts.

I love the line about parent expectations & artificial turf.

update 9/5/2009

The LoHud link no longer works. Here's the full text of the letter:

Unfair description of Irvington voters

MAY 18, 2009

I was taken aback by the denigrating tone of your May 11 endorsement of Irvington school board candidates. The editorial betrayed a disturbing ignorance of local issues when it sniped at Irvington residents, caricaturing them as wealthy "movie and media stars," and conveyed irony that residents expect "... students to continue to perform with the best of them," despite an unwillingness to spend large sums for artificial turf fields.

The editorial's focus on dollars and cents misses the central point that Irvington residents - the majority of whom happen to be middle- and upper middle-class - have been rankled for years by a district administration that repeatedly ignores or belittles parents' concerns about the uneven quality of academic programs; implemented a controversial new math curriculum despite overwhelming community opposition; and has overseen the installation and replacement of four different middle school principals in less than six years. In this context, residents were understandably angry to discover that district expenditures have risen above $26,000 per student - the second-highest level in Westchester County.

Contrary to what was implied by your editorial, I am proud to be a member of a community that uniformly and vigorously supports its public schools. If we didn't, we would have walked away from these battles long ago.

Kathy A. Kaufman

And here is the Journal News endorsement to which Kathy was responding:
Our recommendations for Irvington school district
May 11, 2009

It would be so easy to lapse into assumptions when talking about Irvington. The pricey restaurants, the movie and media stars, the big houses - while taking stock of these things, the casual observer might easily conclude that the locals just throw money around. Members of the Irvington school board could set you straight on that one.

Twice in as many bond votes, district voters rejected propositions to spend millions to renovate athletic fields - this despite the pleas of so many disenfranchised (or so they said) young people. The last vote, in December, wasn't even close. A $6 million bond failed by nearly 1,000 votes. Additionally, from where this Editorial Board sits, it seems the public discourse over school funding here has taken on a harder edge. At the same time, district residents expect Irvington students to continue to perform with the best of them.

Among the five candidates running for school board, we think two offer district residents the best opportunity to reach both those aims - Tanya Hunt, the board president, and Kevin Swersey, a challenger. Hunt, a full-time mom and former press secretary to members of Congress, has been on the board since 2006. She knows the district inside and out; she was an active PTSA and Irvington Education Foundation volunteer before joining the board.

As board president, she has led the district through what doubtless has been one of the toughest budget deliberations in years. The $51 million budget before voters May 19 would increase spending less than 1 percent; taxes would rise 0.2 percent. Ten positions would be axed. Another ballot question aims to cut transportation costs. "I believe it is critically important in these difficult times to have school board leaders like me who intimately understand the complexities of governing and running a school district," Hunt replied to our questionnaire. We agree.

Swersey is a fine wine consultant. He has served minimal duty as a volunteer - it used to be that everybody running in Irvington had extensive volunteer experience. More recently, though, Swersey has worked hard on his own to drill into the school budget, pressing for answers, probing for savings and efficiencies, holding officials accountable. Whether Swersey actually "has the goods," so to speak, is another matter. In this economic climate, however, it is painfully clear that what district residents want is someone who will press for answers - and keep pressing. We think Swersey, better than the other challengers, would fill that bill.

Also on the ballot are John Dawson, a teacher in Yonkers; Paul Janos, the former Tarrytown mayor; and Robyn Camp, a lawyer.

A Journal News editorial

Robyne Camp won with 53% of the vote.

She was the only candidate of the 5 who was not endorsed by a newspaper.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

One Step Ahead of the Train Wreck

Barry Garelick has a great new article in!

SAT Question of the Day

This is the question of the day from the College Board

"The following sentence contains either a single error or no error at all. If the sentence contains an error, select the one underlined part that must be changed to make the sentence correct. If the sentence contains no error, select choice E."

The Sun has been shining for "nearly" five billion years and is thought "that it has" sufficient thermonuclear fuel in its core "to shine" "for about" another five billion.

A "nearly"
B "that it has"
C "to shine"
D "for about"
E no error

[Ed. My question is how do you define "error" in writing?]

Correct Answer: B

Here's Why:

The error in this sentence occurs at (B), where there is awkward and unidiomatic phrasing. The awkward “that it has” should simply be “to have.”

Question Type: Identifying Sentence Errors (Writing)

[Ed. Too bad they don't give hints on the test.]

"Hint - Look for awkward or wordy phrasing."

[Ed. Awkward or wordy phrases aren't "errors" to me. This tells me that SAT prep can make a huge difference.]