kitchen table math, the sequel: 9/6/09 - 9/13/09

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NYT writer: just sit those kids next to kids who CAN graduate college!

Public universities are damaging the American economy and failing their students, says New York Times writer David Leonhardt. Only half of those who enroll complete a Bachelor's Degree in 6 years. "Failure Factories" are the norm, he says.

The United States does a good job enrolling teenagers in college, but only half of students who enroll end up with a bachelor’s degree. Among rich countries, only Italy is worse. That’s a big reason inequality has soared, and productivity growth has slowed. Economic growth in this decade was on pace to be slower than in any decade since World War II — even before the financial crisis started.

So identifying the causes of the college dropout crisis matters enormously, and a new book tries to do precisely that.

Yes, what could possibly be the source of the dropout crisis?

Yes, inadequate precollege education is a problem. But high schools still produce many students who have the skills to complete college and yet fail to do so. Turning them into college graduates should be a lot less difficult than fixing all of American education.

“We could be doing a lot better with college completion just by working on our colleges,” as Robert Shireman, an Education Department official who has read an early version of the book, says.

So what problems are there that schools could solve?

The first problem that Mr. Bowen, Mr. McPherson and the book’s third author, Matthew Chingos, a doctoral candidate, diagnose is something they call under-matching. It refers to students who choose not to attend the best college they can get into. They instead go to a less selective one, perhaps one that’s closer to home or, given the torturous financial aid process, less expensive.

Let's see if I have this right: a student goes to a less rigorous school than he could have, and a student doesn't mortgage her future to the hilt! These are the sources of dropouts?

In effect, well-off students — many of whom will graduate no matter where they go — attend the colleges that do the best job of producing graduates. These are the places where many students live on campus (which raises graduation rates) and graduation is the norm. Meanwhile, lower-income students — even when they are better qualified — often go to colleges that excel in producing dropouts.

“It’s really a waste,” Mr. Bowen says, “and a big problem for the country.”

This is as close as the author gets to an answer to why undermatching is bad: attending an under performing school, as defined by low graduation rates, because those schools produce more dropouts!

Of course, he implies something more: if the student just went to a college that does a GOOD job of producing graduates, why, they would be more likely to graduate. Culture is king, no?

But such an argument is just the college version of the old busing argument: black kid can't read? Sit her next to a white kid who can! That'll teach her!

Is that what the authors meant? Don't look to the article to clarify.

The article does mention one other source of high dropout rate: a lack of incentive by students to bother to graduate.

Failure has become acceptable. Students see no need to graduate in four years. Doing so, as one told the book’s authors, is “like leaving the party at 10:30 p.m.” Graduation delayed often becomes graduation denied.

Actually, this is a point against the interest of the authors'. does it really mean graduation is denied? Or is it a statistical quirk caused by counting only 6 years after entrance? A useful data point would be the distinction between students still in school after 6 years and those no longer working on a degree. Likewise, what are the incomes of the students at the point of departure from school?

But the original premise that students who have the skills to complete college are not doing so remains unsupported. Is it true, or is it just that we will think and do anything to avoid confronting the disaster that is K-12?

We are doomed

Crimson Wife said:
Conservatives do tend to oppose constructivism- but so do plenty of liberals. My parents are die-hard Democrats but are in favor of teaching phonics, traditional math, and the Great Books.
Until March 2009, I had not seen a single exception to this rule.


Indiana's governor aims to transform high schools with technology
ASCD SmartBrief | 03/13/2009

Indiana's 350 public high schools could get a high-tech makeover if Gov. Mitch Daniels wins support to replace many classroom lectures with group learning. "No one knows what the ideal or perfect model for helping our kids achieve more is, but here we have something that works," said Daniels of the model that has been introduced to six Indiana high schools. "It's a huge step beyond what we have been doing. It's affordable, and it can be moved into schools very quickly." Indianapolis Star, The (03/10
Mitch Daniels went to Princeton with Ed, I think. He knows what a liberal arts education is.

Once you've got Reaganite fiscal conservatives who are not trapped in 1980s nostalgia plumping for group learning, it's all over.

Reactionary politics at Kitchentablemath?

In a recent comment on Out In Left Field, someone mentioned having "reactionary politics shoved in my face" here at As recent examples, the commenter in question cited this and this.

For my part, I've added the commenter's reaction to my growing list of associations between general political ideologies on the one hand, and, on the other hand, specific opinions/observations about the Powers that Be, status quo, and prevailing fashions, in grade school education.

My list also includes Barry Garelick's discussion of how Lynne Cheney's criticisms of Reform Math made democrats not want to touch it; rants at Rational Math Ed; the political branding of Mathematically Correct members and, of course, teacher's unions and the legacy of Progressive Education.

I'd love to write a longer piece about this political branding, because I think it, combined with what seems to me an unprecedented polarization in this country of political "debate," is one of the biggest obstacles to improving public education, I'd hoping at some point to write a longer piece about this.

So, if you have other examples of this, or thoughts about them, please share them here! Along with your thoughts, in particular, about reactionary politics at kitchentablemath.

If I had to guess, I'd guess that many of us here are politically moderate or eclectic, pragmatist, suspicious of big bureaucracies and big government (because of what these have done to education), and sympathetic to free markets (e.g., school choice). As for whether we tend to be hawks or doves, religious or agnostic, pro choice or anti-abortion, or for or against curbside recycling, I doubt that there's much here at ktm on which to base any firm conclusions.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wu: Arithmetic to Algebra


I was just taking a look at the link, and it reminded me of the time C. asked me, "Does algebra have numbers or only letters?"

I remember posting that question & laughing about it; then Tracy W explained to me that that was a correct question/observation....

Monday, September 7, 2009

Melanie Oudin


from the WSJ:
Melanie Oudin, 17, stunned another high-ranked opponent Monday and became the youngest woman to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals since Serena Williams in 1999. "That's amazing," Leslie Oudin, Melanie's mother, said. John Oudin, who flew in Sunday from a sales meeting in Atlanta to watch his daughter defeat Nadia Petrova in three sets, marveled at his daughter's toughness. "She doesn't seem nervous out there," he said. "I don't know where that came from."

—Tom Perrotta

She was homeschooled:
Making a stab at normalcy within the bubble of youth tennis, the Oudins could not bear the idea of sending a daughter away to some academy to be raised by a coach. It even took Melanie the better part of a year to persuade her mother to begin home schooling her in the seventh grade.

It was the only way to accommodate the minimum of four hours a day devoted to hitting and conditioning.

The Career Path to Pro Tennis Often Passes High School
Published: August 30, 2009
New York Times

the President's speech to school children

It's here. (Haven't read yet - just came across a link.)

Looks like I'm headed back to Evanston ---- 

update - he's telling the 'before schooling' story!
And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

I love that story. 

Speaking of parents who teach, I had a long conversation with one of the doctors taking care of my mom today. She's back in the hospital, this time in ICU. Towards the end, my sister started to give him my number and, when he heard the exchange, he said, "Westchester County."

Turns out he grew up in Mt. Kisco.

This sparked my sister to ask him whether he had attended public schools or private. He said, "Public, but my wife and I may not send our kids to public schools." 

Then he said, "We're thinking about group homeschooling."