kitchen table math, the sequel: insider baseball

Thursday, March 4, 2010

insider baseball

from Steve H:
At one underperforming high school in our state, the administration got to the point where they fired all of the high school teachers. (They wanted more money.) It recently made national news and even Obama commented on it. Only 7% of the 11th graders met minimal proficiency on the state math test. (Just today, it appears that this leverage has worked and they will come to some sort of agreement with the union.) Ironically, the superintendent of this school system was the one in charge of bringing MathLand to our schools (a different town) years ago. She left to go to this job when my son was in first grade. My son left for a private school after that year and the school started the process of switching to Everyday Math.

I feel that many of us parents are over on the sidelines with our hands raised and asking "Can we say something here?"

At a recent board meeting, when the topic of whether our teachers could 'handle' Singapore Math came up, I raised my hand and asked whether I could say something.

The Interim Director for Curriculum and Instruction said, "No!" Teachers and building principals sitting in the audience were invited to speak; parents had to follow the rules and wait until the end of the very long presentation to make 3-minute comments.

The Interim Director also told us she is recommending that we soldier on with Trailblazers because "there is no perfect curriculum." She said that several times over the course of the evening, with an air of gravitas: There is no perfect curriculum.

Also, we need a math coach, to complement the ELA "teaching learning facilitator" we have now. Plus we need to hire back the teaching-learning facilitator whose position was eliminated last year during the budget fracas.

coming soon to a school district near you

To those of you living in affluent suburban towns: this is the future. Public schools are committed to hiring tenured teachers to teach tenured teachers, and tenured curriculum specialists to "develop" curriculum. Absent tax revolts, there is no conceivable limit to the number of instructional coaches and curriculum specialists affluent schools will attempt to hire in the coming years, because there is no conceivable limit to the amount of "in-house professional development" classroom teachers require and no conceivable limit to the amount of "curriculum development" imperfect curricula require. A whole new tier of administration has been invented and is now in the process of being hired.

This story about Seattle administration tells you where we're headed. Here's Meg Diaz' report. (pdf file)

Do our policy elites have any idea this is going on? Do our newspapers and media outlets?


CassyT said...

Seattle School Board announced yesterday that it would appeal the decision on the textbook adoption.
More at Seattle Math Group blog.

Catherine Johnson said...

Cassy - thanks ---

Catherine Johnson said...

Cassy, do you have a sense of how many schools in the country have adopted Singapore Math?

CassyT said...

I don't have exact numbers, but it seems to me the last quote I heard was over 2000 schools in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

The Common Core national assessment being developed right now will apparently require teachers to grade it as it will have open-ended, critical thinking questions to which their is no specific right answer.
(per Linda Darling-Hammond's presentation to NGA where she said teachers would be the graders).

Apart from the difficulty of knowing where our kids really stand, this will mean employing more salaried human beings with benefits rather than that disinterested computer scantron without union representation.

Between fuzzy math needing remediation and all these coaches and specialists, maybe that's part of the lure. These really are all grow government programs that somehow have to be financed by the private sector.

You may be able to flee California or New Jersey's expensive mandates now, but it's hard to flee national mandates. Then simply closing shop becomes the only option.

SteveH said...

The Central Falls case seems to define the problem for me. The issue is framed entirely by two parties who don't know why the test numbers are bad. The best solution is not something that can be found anywhere along a straight line between their two positions. There is no possibility for something else. At best, the Race To The Top carrot is forcing our state to relax its limits on charter schools, but many on both sides of this straight line will do their utmost to avoid this option.

Unfortunately, even with charter schools opening up, we get things like this:

"The Greene School ( is a proposed public charter high school with a curriculum based on environmental science and the technology that affects our natural world. The school will promote a culture of personal, community and global stewardship."

It's still not OK to have a charter school that focuses on a classical education that sets high academic standards.

Anonymous said...

"It's still not OK to have a charter school that focuses on a classical education that sets high academic standards."

Actually, you could probably swing something if you created a charter school with an emphasis on Latin. That would be the "disguise" to sneak "high academic content" through the review process.

But, yeah, it is sad that generally a charter school cannot "specialize" in "delivering a very good education." That's not one of the acceptable choices ...

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

Do newspapers have any idea what's going on? Well, in my town there really is not a newspaper anymore. When I moved here over 10 years ago we had a pretty good newspaper for a town this size. They covered the school district pretty well, certainly covering school board meetings in detail. There was always something going on, some superintendent in crisis, some big decision being made. Now the paper has essentially fold (what "essentially" means -- long story, lets just say "folded") ... well now everything seems to be peachy! Nothings is happening. I guess.

But even back when they were doing a pretty good job at reporting personnel/policy/financial issues, they could not fathom the curricular issues. Our school district started using Everyday Math several years ago. There was a sizeable community disgruntlement, exhibited by several letters to the editor and also some reporting by the local paper. But from the way they reported it I had no idea what the curriculum was like. As I recall, the reporting only made two points: (1) there are real-world problems, which seems to be a good idea, and (2) parents can't help their kids with homework. That latter point evoked, for me, descriptions of "new math" (set theory in grade schools, 1960s). They did not get into constructivism, spiral, lack of teaching-to-mastery, and the other issues that ktm have brought up. So as much as I miss the local paper, they were useless, in their heyday, about reporting on curricular issues.

Anonymous said...

Affluent parents may prefer nicer looking schools (charter or high priced private) with lots of high tech and good opportunities for competitive sports but there is little demand for higher academic standards. They like their iPhones and plasma TV's but I guess they don't want their kids to come up with the hi-tech breakthroughs of the future.


Allison said...

--Do our policy elites know what is going on?

The SEIU knows what's going on. The AFSCME knows too. This is their intention. Do the rest of us? Well, read VDH on California. When we don't, it's willful blindness.

Allison said...

One reason parents prefer nice looking schools with high tech and competitive sports is because those features are easily observable.

How do you observe high academic standards? What does that look like? Can you a tour a classroom and get a sense of it? Even if you think you can, is it like interviewing people where we think we pick out the best candidate, but we're fooled most of the time?

So those other things serve as proxies for academic standards. Not very good ones, but what else can you observe?

People choose Kumon and Huntington because they can see the high standards in those places.

Catherine Johnson said...

Allison - absolutely.

You can't look inside the black box.

Catherine Johnson said...


Latin as the hook.

That would work.

Catherine Johnson said...

Does VDH know public schools are hiring a 3rd tier of administrators?

I don't see that in the article (haven't got time to read the whole thing now.)

I don't think willful blindness is the explanation. This is all happening under the radar, and by the time people realize it has happened it will be too late.

It's a classic case of "the bad gets normal," which Temple talks about.

One of the regular commenters and writers here actually **discovered** that in her district number of teachers had skyrocketed while enrollment had risen only slightly and class size had stayed the same. She figured it out by going through district docs and counting heads, I think.

School districts make it very difficult to know what's happening.

Crimson Wife said...

I think a big part of the problem is there are significant numbers of parents (especially moms) who are math-phobic themselves, even in affluent areas.

Back in January, I attended a "math forum" sponsored by the district to which we'd just moved. We homeschool but I didn't want to completely rule out the neighborhood school without having some grounds for that decision. Let's just say that I got plenty!

The following day, I was talking with some of the women in the town moms' club. I was civil and just mentioned that I was "concerned" about the approach. Turns out all the other moms save one (I'll get to her) were enthusiastic about the "fuzzy" math. Typical comment went along the lines of, "I was always a dummy at math growing up but *THIS* stuff is great!"

Make of it what you will, but the lone dissenter was Asian. Not surprisingly, she also worked in some sort of technical field (I forget exactly what she did). Also unsurprisingly, she's got her kids enrolled at the local Kumon center...

Anonymous said...

Parents talking to other parents can make a difference. I've seen that over the years, especially if you speak in generalities like "not having a foundation" or "you can't do algebra without being solid in arithmetic." Math phobes do have common sense, but often don't realize why they're actually phobic.

Math phobes are very intimidated by people who are good at math so they're easily intimidated by teachers. I gradually figured out who the math phobes were at my school, but it was rather suprising because it was not who I thought it would be.


Allison said...

Crimson Wife,

The elementary school teachers, almost all women, are just a subset of those very same moms, and feel the same way. That is why they like these curricula.

momof4 said...

I would never have described myself as a mathy kid, but I loved and did very well at arithmetic and was started on unofficial algebra in 8th grade, using the same text as my freshman best friends. I loved it; it was logical, clear etc. Unfortunately, over the summer, the HS had switched to the new math. Disaster; I'm not sure the (only math) teacher understood it. However, I still had learned enough math to create D 1/3 & 1/4 normal saline, plus multiple additives, from stock IV solutions in night recovery room, as a new college grad. I had very good 1-8 teachers (6th grade excepted)and everyone learned basic arithmetic and everyone was a competent reader and writer. It was a small rural school with few teachers with college degrees and limited resources, but it was a stable student population, the (mostly middle-ageed and elderly) teachers valued real academics highly and they made sure that we learned phonics and grammar despite (mandated) whole language materials. Unfortunately, many of them retired and were replaced by ed school grads with all of the fuzzy theories one would expect from them.

Allison said...

Catherine, I'm sorry I wasn't more clear. I wasn't trying to say that VDH was talking about the specifics of teachers creating new bureaucracies. He is a classicist. He talks about how Rome fell. This is how. He has talked at length about the rise in CA of state workers since 2003, about the administration levels at university, and about the public sector unions. He's talked for years now about what's coming, and CA is the canary in the coal mine.

What I meant was that honestly, if you are a policy elite, or even just a breathing voter in CA, and you haven't seen that the head of the beast is public sector unions, you have to be willfully blind at this point.

Of course the public sector unions are creating more public sector union jobs. Why would they do anything else? How do you suppose you create bumps in your pension, but for having high salary jobs in your final few years before retirement? Why wouldn't teachers unions create positions for their members to do just that?

It's their very own Cloward Piven strategy: wipe out any non union position by establishing a guaranteed annual income for the union members.

There’s 357,000 people who work for the state of CA now, 40,000 more than just five years ago. Public sector growth in the US is skyrocketing. de Rugy says that in the US, between jan 08 and jan 2010, there was a loss of 8.7 million jobs in the private sector while the public sector gained almost 100,000 jobs.

Then there's this lovely story on how michigan is forcing business *owners* into becoming *public employee union members* where upon they automatically take dues money from the business owners. The mechanism by which they claim they can do this? If the business owner takes public assistance dollars (as in the case of daycare workers who get state vouchers for clients too poor to pay themselves), then they are a public employee!

(it's wsj, and behind the paywall, but i'll email it to anyone who wants it. it was at weekly standard too.)

There's this on the two class society we've become:
which has this lovely stat:
At all levels, state and local government employment grew by 13 percent across the United States from 1994 to 2004. The number of judicial and legal employees increased by 28 percent. The number of public safety workers increased by 21 percent. The number of teachers increased by 22 percent...Michael Hodges’ invaluable Grandfather Economic Report uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics to chart the growth in state and local government employees since 1946. Their number has increased from 3.3 million then to 19.8 million today—a 492 percent increase as the country’s population increased by 115 percent. Since 1999 the number of state and local government employees has increased by 13 percent, compared to a 9 percent increase in the population.

And I haven't even touched on the public pension tsunami.

Or we could talk SEIU = ACORN = criminal enterprise = SEIU.

Here are more articles by Hanson:

SteveH said...

I see that ex-Governor Moonbeam is running again in CA.

Allison said...

--This is all happening under the radar, and by the time people realize it has happened it will be too late.

No, it has already all happened under the radar, and it is too late.

Saint Paul public schools:
budget (07-08): $629 million
students: 42,000
teachers: 3470
staff: 3100

1 employee for every 6 students. approx 15000 per pupil spending.

Minneapolis public schools:
budget: 654 million
students: 35000
teachers: 3300
staff: 6255

Nearly 1 employee per 3 students. Nearly 20 000 per pupil spending.

indianapolis public schools:
budget: 589 million
students: 34000
teachers: 2450
staff: 4000

Much more reasonable, why only 1 employee per 5 students, and 17000 per pupil spending.

I could keep going, but really, it's not that the bad may become normal in the future. It did.

lgm said...

The district here is stating that the number of teachers has to increase even as the population decreases, due to the enormous increase in the percentage of classified and at-risk children who require mandated services. The goal is clearly to reduce nonrequired courses so resources can be shifted to remedial. An unclassified student is looking at triple study hall in middle school, and a senior at 5 study halls (of 9 periods) in high school as electives are eliminated to save money. (1 study hall monitor is less cost than 1 certified teacher)