kitchen table math, the sequel: 8/30/09 - 9/6/09

Saturday, September 5, 2009

21st century skills

Solitaire-playing legislators draw criticism

I'm sure you've all seen this, but I couldn't resist.

help desk: project based learning

I'm posting this email without the writer's name:
My local school district is talking about reinventing the high school around a project-based learning model. I don't know much about this stuff, but I'm concerned about some of the things I'm hearing. Are you aware of any scholarly research that's been done on PBL? There will be some public forums coming up soon, and I'd like to have some hard evidence (one way or the other) to rely on. I just recently found your blog, so perhaps you've written something on PBL that you could recommend as well?

That reminds me: I never got around to writing a post about what happened in Holland when the public schools there moved wholesale to integrated, interdisciplinary, project-based learning.

People hated it. Hated it. People hated it so much they pulled their kids out of the schools and put them in the Gymnasium. I don't know what the Gymnasium are, but I do know that they are in some way associated with Erasmus and that students attending Gymnasium learn Latin and Greek

We heard this story from a professor friend of Ed's, who said her sister had attended Gymnasium and had read Homer in the original Greek by the time she was in 8th grade. As I recall.

Ed's friend said so many people pulled their kids out of the project schools that they finally had to drop the project method and go back to teaching subjects.

I cherish that story.

compare and contrast, part 3

In countries where there is a single health care system -- and thus a single pool of money to pay for it -- it is somewhat easier to control costs. Britain's NHS often decides, for example, that it won't pay for kidney dialysis for a 90-year-old. That means somebody's grandmother will die, but at least Grandma and her relatives know that the money saved is going to be used to help some sick baby or some accident victim.

Q&A with Correspondent T.R. Reid

I came across this passage quite by accident; I was looking for info on the Swiss health care system, and suddenly there it was. The NHS "often" refuses to pay for dialysis for 90-year olds. 


Seeing as how my own 80-year old mom needed an emergency dialysis last year, I took that amiss, and I don't see myself feeling any more friendly to such a policy 10 years from now, when she's 90. Assuming she lives to see 90, which, given her determination and the medical care she's had, she may. Unfortunately, by the time she's 90 she probably will need dialysis, so thank heavens we live here, not there.

At some point, mulling this over, I realized: the wording of this passage is odd.

The NHS often decides not to pay for dialysis for 90-year olds?

Because Britain has a lot of 90-year olds needing dialysis? 

And does often mean not always? Do some 90-year olds who need dialysis  get dialysis? (And how does a person get in that queue?) 

The glaring anomaly, however, and it took me a little while to notice this, is the choice of the word "grandmother." Somebody's grandmother, no less. Not your grandmother or my grandmother. Somebody's.

Of course, when somebody's grandmother dies because the NHS won't pay for dialysis, the people who are most distraught aren't the grandchildren, usually. 

The people who are most distraught are the children. 

So let's try it that way:
In countries where there is a single health care system -- and thus a single pool of money to pay for it -- it is somewhat easier to control costs. Britain's NHS often decides, for example, that it won't pay for kidney dialysis for a 90-year-old. That means somebody's mother will die, but at least Mom and her children know that the money saved is going to be used to help some sick baby or some accident victim.

It would be fun to put together a collection of political euphemismsfrom all realms of the political spectrum** to use teaching writing.  

I wonder if anyone's done that. 

* I realize that this passage is not, on the whole, what you would call euphemistic, seeing as how it states directly that the NHS withholds critical care from the elderly in order to reduce costs. Nevertheless, the use of the words "somebody's grandmother" and, later, "Grandma" avoid calling a spade a spade. 

**balanced euphemisms! Balance is good.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Can we clone her?

Excerpts from an article entitled "Head of the Class" by long-time science teacher, principal and college professor Louse Butler, author of Beating the Bell Curve, in the August 2009 Mensa Bulletin (emphasis--and any typos--mine):

On entering education:
The politics of education was a disappointment and a shock to me. Our boards of education are purely political entities, state boards of education even more so. The two largest teachers groups, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are nothing but political organizations. Throw in the colleges of education [which] are populated by frighteningly political professors, and you have lots of people in power with plenty of axes to grind, many of which bear only tangentially on education. Our schools should be places where barriers are removed and doors of opportunity are opened through the common denominator of knowledge, but they should never be tools of social engineering.

On science education in the US:
There are too many people in education who think that science and math are elite subjects. They think they are too difficult for the average student and therefore are not to be emphasized in curriculum or in practice. These people are wrong. Science and math not only provide essential information, but they give us a logical and critical way of thinking. Science is a process of thought as much as it is a body of knowledge Science and math should be part of all instruction, enhance all instruction, and clarify all instruction. Sadly, the same people who want to reserve science for the few are the same people who don't want us to teach phonetic reading, civics, or geography.

Right. Science and math, as disciplines and over time, promote the development of critical thinking. Critical thinking cannot be taught in a vacuum.

And essential information to boot!

Where would she like science curriculum to go?
I can tell you where [it] shouldn't go. The consolidation of science curriculum into general science instead of its component disciplines is nothing more than a dilution of scientific knowledge to accommodate the shortage of qualified science teachers. We saw the same think happen when "social studies" was substituted for the real disciplines of history, geography, civics, and economics [ed: right, Catherine?]. And look what a mess that has turned out to be!

On the state of education in the US in general:
The drop out rate of first-year teachers is ridiculously high. The children don't seem to want to learn, and their behavior runs from difficult to outrageous. Our schools have, frankly, fed their students a load of manure. At the very least, the first-year teacher feels that their training doesn't reflect the real world. They become disillusioned, frustrated, and angry with themselves and the system and they quit. It is a terrible waste of time and talent. Show me a teacher who went into education just because they love children, and I'll show you a person who will be found bound, gagged, and abandoned in her closet by a group of third graders some time in mid-September. What you have to love is knowledge.

I see school systems that seem to have decided their first and only function is educating their students in a rigorous and challenging curriculum, and those systems are beacons of light in a dark night. It is interesting that these positive changes seem to be all in small and isolated spots. There aren't any "big course" corrections coming out of our colleges of education.

On why education in the US has slipped:
Part of the problem is teacher preparation. Another problem is our decision to excuse poor performance instead of correcting it. Starting in the 1970s, there was a "feel good" movement that pushed for a mea culpa for the world's ills by giving students a pass on anything that might make them feel challenged. What we got was a generation that was very comfortable with failure. We are having a hard time recovering from that, because the students who grew up with that are now teaching the next generation of teachers.

That's the most concise synopsis of the main problem I've ever seen.

On what the next generation of children can expect:
If we are going to compete with students in the emerging nations, especially in Asia, we are going to have to stop using schools for social experimentation and return to using them for education. We are going to have to accept that students must be reading fluently by third grade. They must be ready for algebra in eighth grade.

On how to reach students in mixed ability classrooms:
Many theorists in the educational community will be shocked to hear me say that I reached all of my students by teaching to the top of the class. You put in plenty of safety nets to catch the students who need extra help, but the forward direction of the class should always be the top. By doing that, you make sure you reach the students who will return the biggest bang for the buck, and you make success the standard. The key is to assume that most of your students can achieve the same standard. You help everyone, but hold no one back. . . Not that my class was a democracy. I was in charge, and any one who doesn't think that children need a leader hasn't tried to organize so much as a rock fight.

Wow. If we had 100,000 Louise Butlers, just imagine where US education would be!

the sorting machine

I'm sick as a dog* -- who knew stress had anything to do with the immune system? 

And, on a directly related subject: Who Killed Health Care? by Regina Herzlinger is great. Wonderful! Especially the chapter on 'dysfunctional culture.' 

I've been planning for months now to write a post called "It's the culture, stupid," a concept that came to me after re-reading Richard DuFour's "Restructuring Isn't Enough." Turns out Herzlinger has a section titled exactly that: It's the culture, stupid

Before I retire to my bedroom, here's an excerpt from her book:
"You won't believe what happened to me this week. I checked an elderly diabetic into my hospital. The guy had a lot of troubles. A great guy, but he just can't manage his diabetes. I had operated on his foot a few weeks ago. And what do you know? As soon as he heals, he goes on a bender. His sugar goes out of control. He was in terrible shape. I checked him into the hospital because I suspected he had an aneurysm ... If he tested positive, I knew I had to operate immediately, the next day. That baby could blow any minute and he would bleed to death.

"Well, the PCP (primary care physician) who is my patient's gatekeeper just called me. Because he represents the HMO, the gatekeeper has to approve the bill. He thinks I should not have admitted my patient into the hospital for the tests. He questioned my judgment. He told me I was practicing bad, wasteful medicine. He threatened to throw me out of the insurer's network of doctors if I kept this up. I lost my temper. I told him in no uncertain terms that he just does not understand my kind of medicine. He's out of his league-out of his depth."


I have heard Paul's plaint many times in the course of the research I've conducted for my Harvard Business School case studies and after the lectures I've delivered to hundreds of health care groups. I know from decades of interactions with business organizations that when colleagues cannot communicate with each other without rancor and misunderstandings, when competence and motives are questioned without cause, the organizational culture has gone terribly wrong. In successful organizations, confrontations of this sort lead to intervention and analysis by upper managers, and ultimately to a plan to correct the problem ... but in most managed care organizations, this kind of culture does not exist.


Here's how a successful health care organization handled a similar problem.

Joan is the Oklahoma-based technical specialist for a firm that manufactures life-support equipment. She is notified that the device in a Louisiana hospital is not working properly. The hospital has no backup and has tried all the usual remedies to no avail. This too is a life-or-death situation that calls for immediate action. But, unlike Paul, who had to "consult" the PCP before he could act, Joan can proceed to do what she knows to do: she e-mails a request to her manager for permission to ship an expensive replacement device ASAP. Permission is expeditiously granted. She also knows that if she does not receive a response within 15 minutes, she is authorized to proceed on her own. Here, everyone cooperates: all efforts are properly focused on the right and expeditious thing to do for the patient's well-being.

Why are these two situations so glaringly different? It is not the existence of clear procedures in one case and not the other. They could have made a difference, of course. But the core difference is that Joan's organization has a culture that lends itself to the development of such protocols and Paul's does not.

People in an organization whose culture relies on a shared vision are positive and action oriented rather than negative and blame oriented. They want to work things out, find solutions, and serve their customers. ... The culture helps them realize that a confrontation is not a clash of personalities, but rather a sign that something deeper is going wrong and a signal that it must be fixed to preserve the organization's ability to perform its mission.

In health care, a productive organizational culture means finding ways to help patients. But such cultures have become rarer and rarer in managed care organizations and hospitals for reason that we will explore....

Who Killed Health Care?
pp. 29-32

That's what we're missing in so many public schools: a culture focused on making sure all students succeed. 

Here's DuFour, writing in 1995:
Ten years ago both the structure and the culture of Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, reflected it commitment to the traditional task of sorting and selecting students. 


In this structure, teachers saw themselves as quality control inspectors. Their job was to present information as clearly as possible, assess the aptitude of each student, and promote student success by placing students at the appropriate ability level. Assigning grades according to a bell-shaped curve was a common practice that, by definition, limited the number of students who could achieve at a high level and ensured that a certain percentage were destined to fail. The “teacher as quality control inspector” had little need to collaborate with others. There was no compelling reason to coordinate curriculum, instruction, or assessment with colleagues teaching the same course.

Teachers were not only isolated from one another but from parents as well. No active parent organization existed other than booster groups for specific student activities. Teachers were required to communicate with parents only when a student was in danger of failing. Further, the primary means available to communicate student failure was an individual letter to each parent. Thus, parents received a progress report only if failure was imminent. The majority of parents had no idea how their child was doing until they received a repot card in the 10th week of the semester. 

“Restructuring Isn’t Enough by Richard DuFour
Educational Leadership April 1995 p. 33-24

* How sick is that, anyway? I've never seen my dogs take to their beds with fever & sore throat.

All Things PLC (Richard DuFour)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I vote 'no'

Anonymous asks:
Can anyone think of a good reason for the only required book for 10th grade Honors English to be Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W Loewen?

No, they apparently weren't doing it as an example of propaganda. No, I did write English and not History.

another reason to vote 'no' on your local school budget

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cult of Personality as character ed, multiformat edition

Emphasis mine.

Dear Principal:

In a recent interview with student reporter, Damon Weaver, President Obama announced that on September 8 — the first day of school for many children across America — he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens.

Since taking office, the President has repeatedly focused on education, even as the country faces two wars, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and major challenges on issues like energy and health care. The President believes that education is a critical part of building a new foundation for the American economy. Educated people are more active civically and better informed on issues affecting their lives, their families and their futures.

This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation's school children about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong. I encourage you, your teachers, and students to join me in watching the President deliver this address on Tuesday, September 8, 2009. It will be broadcast live on the White House website 12:00 noon eastern standard time.

In advance of this address, we would like to share the following resources: a menu of classroom activities for students in grades preK-6 and for students in grades 7-12. These are ideas developed by and for teachers to help engage students and stimulate discussion on the importance of education in their lives. We are also staging a student video contest on education. Details of the video contest will be available on our website in the coming weeks.

On behalf of all Americans, I want to thank our educators who do society's most important work by preparing our children for work and for life. No other task is more critical to our economic future and our social progress. I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead to continue improving the quality of public education we provide all of our children.


Arne Duncan
Attachments: Classroom Activities Pre-K - 6 Grades 7 - 12

Menu of Classroom Activities: President Obama’s Address to Students Across America
Produced by Teaching Ambassador Fellows, U.S. Department of Education, Pre K- 6
September 8, 2009
Before the Speech:

• Teachers can build background knowledge about the President of the United States and his speech by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama and motivate students by asking the following questions:
Who is the President of the United States?
What do you think it takes to be President?
To whom do you think the President is going to be speaking?
Why do you think he wants to speak to you?
What do you think he will say to you?

• Teachers can ask students to imagine being the President delivering a speech to all of the students in the United States. What would you tell students? What can students do to help in our schools? Teachers can chart ideas about what they would say.

Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials?, like the mayor,senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?
During the Speech:

• As the President speaks, teachers can ask students to write down key ideas or phrases that are important or personally meaningful. Students could use a note‐taking graphic organizer such as a Cluster Web, or students could record their thoughts on sticky notes. Younger children candraw pictures and write as appropriate.As students listen to the speech, they could think about the following:
What is the President trying to tell me?
What is the President asking me to do?
What new ideas and actions is the President challenging me to think about?

• Students can record important parts of the speech where the President is asking them to do something. Students might think about: What specific job is he asking me to do? Is he asking anything of anyone else? Teachers? Principals? Parents? The American people?

• Students can record any questions they have while he is speaking and then discuss them after the speech. Younger children may need to dictate their questions.
After the Speech:

• Teachers could ask students to share the ideas they recorded, exchange sticky notes or sticknotes on a butcher paper poster in the classroom to discuss main ideas from the speech, i.e. citizenship, personal responsibility, civic duty.

• Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:
What do you think the President wants us to do?
Does the speech make you want to do anything?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?

What would you like to tell the President?

• Teachers could encourage students to participate in the Department of Education’s “I Am What I Learn” video contest. On September 8th the Department will invite K‐12 students to submit a video no longer than 2 min, explaining why education is important and how their education will help them achieve their dreams. Teachers are welcome to incorporate the same or a similar video project into an assignment. More details will be released via

Extension of the Speech: Teachers can extend learning by having students
Create posters of their goals. Posters could be formatted in quadrants or puzzle pieces or trails marked with the labels: personal, academic, community, country. Each area could be labeled with three steps for achieving goals in those areas. It might make sense to focus on personal and academic so community and country goals come more readily.

• Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.

• Write goals on colored index cards or precut designs to post around the classroom.

• Interview and share about their goals with one another to create a supportive community.

• Participate in School wide incentive programs or contests for students who achieve their goals.

• Write about their goals in a variety of genres, i.e. poems, songs, personal essays.

• Create artistic projects based on the themes of their goals.

• Graph student progress toward goals.
The 7-12 one is even worse.

UPDATE: Changes have been made. No longer does it say "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president." Now they just write them for themselves, and are still used later to make kids accountable--lucky them! But at least the cult of personality part is a bit muted now.

Here's the new version.

Robert Pondiscio on Reading Workshop

Lastly, there’s the question of how valuable the 30 different books for 30 different kids approach really is. I was trained in Readers Workshop and had to use it in my classroom. It wasn’t effective, or satisfying. It becomes almost impossible to have deep, rich conversations about books. You can’t possibly be familiar with every book every kid is reading, so you’re encouraged to ask questions that are not terribly deep or interesting: Can you describe the setting? Which character are you most like? Are there any questions you wish you could ask the author? It’s a kind of cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers way to teach literature. If today’s mini-lesson is “Good readers pay attention to what characters say and do” (yes, we actually teach that to 5th graders) it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about War and Peace or Captain Underpants. At one level, that’s true. At another, it’s just plain silly.

You can easily say “not every child participates in those rich, whole-class discussions.” But not every child is engrossed in reading in the reader’s workshop either. A lot of them are just going through the motions.

Reader's Workshop Mashup

Mrs. Eduwonk weighs in

re: Reading Workshop

We should also step back and ask for a moment whether many of today’s students who are disengaged are because of the substance of the material, the quality of the teaching, or because they haven’t been taught to read so encountering challenging literature is frustrating for them? Good stories have timeless appeal and as the Eduwife – a former high school literature teacher herself — likes to point out, if you can’t make many of the classics, with their sex, violence, and foul deeds exciting for students then you’re in the wrong line of work.

Call Me E.D. Hirsch

how I spent my summer vacation

Yesterday my mom transferred to the nursing home for rehab. Amazing.

Turns out she did break her pelvis after all; she broke it twice, in fact. Two fractures finally showed up on a bone scan.*

The fractures were the least of her problems, though. We've had two harrowing weeks dealing with spikes in potassium, drops in kidney function, tachycardia, bradycardia, "afib," elevated white blood cells (2 episodes), an unexplained bout of extreme abdominal pain, and a memorable episode of apparent heart failure.

All this along with extreme pain, which my mom rated '9' on a scale of 1 to 10 when someone finally asked. The pain prevented my mom from sitting up, standing, or walking, all of which she critically needed to do.

And now she's in rehab.

* When my mom's primary care physician called to report the results, he said, "Sometimes the primary care physician is right."

another reason to vote 'no' on your local school budget

Reading Workshop

Don't want it, don't want to pay for it.

Here's Robert Pondiscio.

Teachers telling it like it is

. . . the UFT is an advocate for teachers . . . The UFT is not there to protect education or to insure excellence in the classroom.

The UFT . . . Their job is to protect us, not the students.

. . . when students start paying dues, that's when the union will start representing them.

These are lifted from teachers’ comments over at a NYC Educator post where they were lamenting what they considered to be a teacher-bashing New Yorker magazine essay about the infamous ”rubber room”. Most readers would probably agree that this piece was not kind in its treatment of NYC teachers.

Although I certainly don’t fault these teachers for their candor, it did surprise me a bit. I rarely see this type of honesty from educators, where they openly admit that the union’s goal is to protect the teachers, not the students. Interestingly, on their website the UFT claims it is “an advocate for public school students”. Now, some would argue that protected teachers = well-educated students, but I would disagree that it works out that way all the time or even most of the time.

On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that the overriding goal of parents is to protect their children. Parents want to insure excellence in the classroom for their children. Let’s be clear, although unions and parents are often supportive of each other, in many ways this is an adversarial model at work, with each side protecting its own interests. I would like this to be uppermost in the minds of all involved in education reform efforts, especially whenever the unions agree to participate with disingenuous claims that it’s all “for the children”.

As we at KTM have been saying for years, parents should not be shut out of the education debate. If teacher unions, politicians and education bureaucrats are the only ones allowed a place at the table, how likely is it that our children’s interests will be prioritized as they should be? Parents, specialists in the various disciplines and other interested parties should be included in order for there to be any chance for a fair and productive resolution of our nation’s education crisis.