kitchen table math, the sequel: national standards thread at Jaye Greene

Friday, March 12, 2010

national standards thread at Jaye Greene



Why Race to the Middle (pdf file)
by Ze'ev Wurman and Sandra Stotsky


SteveH said...

I don't see how national standards can do anything other than institutionalize mediocrity. It's a top-down, better than nothing philosophy of educational improvement.

The goal is not to force education towards some rising statistical average, but to provide the best opportunities to individual kids right now. Statistics might provide some useful input, but the goal is not to improve a number. The educationally rich will get richer and everyone else will become a slowly improving statistic.

Why do people even talk about just one standard? Why don't they ever talk about different levels or different paths and the key turning points. What we are facing is one standard that continues to allow schools to screw up K-8 math. And they will still wonder why there is an academic gap.

Catherine Johnson said...

How would that look?

Different paths - key turning points -

Sounds great, but what would that look like?

SteveH said...

"Sounds great, but what would that look like?"

It's what most schools do right now. Some start separating kids in math in 4th or 5th grade. Our town uses a 6th grade math placement test. Then there is the tracking in high school. Even if a national standard was forced on schools, they will still provide these tracks. What is the point of "a" national standard? It's surely not to provide a path to the best education for the willing or able poor. It's a way to treat kids as statistics, not individuals. It's a way for people to think they are doing something about poverty. Education is not a statistical tool.

I keep harping about individuals versus statistics. Education is being sacrificed. I would argue that it's all about anecdotes. It's all about individual cases. When I try to fix the errors in a program, I don't work from the top-down. I don't collect error statistics. I find one specific error, trace it, and fix it. Then I find the next error, trace it, and then fix that. Each error might not be the big one, but then again, there might not be just one big error. It might just be how a bunch of small errors interact.

We've talked in the past about different levels of standards. We have something like that already. NCLB state tests define the lower level cutoff, but high schools have their AP classes and SAT tests. That won't change with the new standards. At best, the new standards will just raise the lower level a little bit. If they want to set proper standards, they need to define an upper level for K-8. They need to define how kids can or should be tracked along the two different levels. Some schools have already done this. I'm not saying that they do it well, but at least they are dealing with reality. A single national standard for all does not do that.

Catherine Johnson said...

Oh - I get it.

Although...I would like to see schools do less 'differentiation,' not more.

My school has a 'fix the bug' approach to education. It's a little hard to explain, but one sign of it is the intense focus on "Extra Help." That was actually one of the criteria for being put in Earth Science in 8th grade: "is proactive in seeking Extra Help."

It's assumed that students naturally have difficulties in the classroom and must seek extra help.

At the meeting for parents whose kids were moving into the high school both the principal and the guidance counselor spent a very, very long time talking about all the Extra Help the high school has available. That was the pitch: we offer Extra Help all day long.

I want to see a laser focus on providing effective classroom instruction.

I want to see a laser focus on reducing the number of kids who need Extra Help.

Especially with Response to Intervention coming into law ---

J.D. Salinger said...

Slightly off topic: I recommend that inability to learn math via reform methods should be considered a learning disability. Thus, such students would be covered under IEP's and by law, schools would then be forced to actually teach them math.

SteveH said...

'fix the bug'

Bugs are often symptoms of deeper problems. You have to work back to the source, not just cover up the problem. I used to have students who changed stuff in programs until the bug went away. They weren't exactly sure why the bug went away, but they didn't care. If they really understood, then it would lead them back to the real problem. A working program probably means that you just didn't test enough.

For a school, a response to kids having problems is to make sure they ask for extra help. They really should dig deeper and figure out why they are having problems. Our high school saw that kids were having problems with algebra, so they added a new course that included a practice lab. (They weren't practicing algebra!) They are fixing the symptom and not the cause. I suspect that it isn't very correct for the high school to go back to the lower grades and tell them to fix their act. It's easier just to blame the students; that they need to take responsibility for their own education. Kids are being thrown under the bus to cover for the schools.

Catherine Johnson said...

What were they practicing in the new course?

A few years back the then-chair of the math department added a math lab in 8th grade because the kids needed so much extra help. (She was great, btw -- this isn't a criticism.)

Now that math lab has been turned into 'enrichment' and 'extensions' and we're still paying for it.

Catherine Johnson said...

I recommend that inability to learn math via reform methods should be considered a learning disability.

According to the administration here, that day is coming.

He says "Response to Intervention" will eventually be applied to all subjects at all ages.

So: if we have 20% of our high school kids not learning math, they will then be re-taught math in teacher-student ratios of 1:3 to 1:5.

VickyS said...

Well, here's the funny thing. In St Paul at least, last I heard, Special Ed students were using Saxon instead of Everyday Math.

But JD's comment may have been intended to point out that average and above-average students, who are otherwise not in need of any interventions, but who can't or won't learn the fuzz masquerading as math these days just might find a back door into a curriculum that gives them real math!

Not so far off--in some states (Albuquerque is an example) gifted students are considered special ed and get IEPs. Their needs are fairly well met there, I have heard.

Allison said...

re: the CCS in math,

here is what they have to say on expressions (since revised?):

Expressions are constructions built up from numbers, variables,
and operations, which have a numerical value when
each variable is replaced with a number.
Expressions use numbers, variables and operations to describe
The rules of arithmetic can be applied
Wu has this to say:
CCS has wisely chosen to bypass defining a “variable” and get
to “expression” directly. Since CCS has aspirations to be the
de facto national standards, its pronouncement on what an “expression”
is must be taken seriously.
So what is an “expression” according to CCS? It is a construction.
But what is a construction? Is it any assemblage of symbols
and numbers? And what are the rules of the “operations” for
the assemblage? WHY can the “rules of arithmetic be applied
to transform an expression without changing its value”?
Do YOU think this tells you what an “expression” is? More
importantly, can you use this to teach your eighth grader what
an expression is?
Continuing, CCS says:
An equation is a statement that two expressions are equal.

Wu says:
According to CCS,
xyzrstuvw = 2a+3b+4cdefghijklmnopq
is an equation. What does it mean? Is this what you want to
tell your students, and if so, do they know what you are talking
The cardinal rule in the use of symbols is to specify explicitly what each symbol stands for.
This is called the quantification of the symbols. Make sure your students understand that.
There is a good reason for this: symbols are the pronouns of
mathematics. In the same way that we do not ask “Is he six feet
tall?” without saying who “he” is, we do not write down
xyzrstuvw = a+2b+3cdefghijklmn
without first specifying what a, b, . . . , z stand for either (this is an equality between what? Two random collections of symbols??
What does it mean??).
He goes on to explain quantification. St epecifically, it must be made explicit that each expression involves ONLY NUMBERS, and how you know which numbers the expressions refer to.

Barry Garelick said...

Not so far off--in some states (Albuquerque is an example) gifted students are considered special ed and get IEPs. Their needs are fairly well met there, I have heard.

So for the kids who are unfortunate enough to not be classified as gifted, they are stuck with reform math. I guess it's because those in power believe that only gifted students can benefit from instruction and exercises.

palisadesk said...

Steve H says It's what most schools do right now.

I'm not sure about this (I don't doubt that's what they're doing in his area). Mine is an extremely large district, and we don't do anything of the kind. We don't start separating kids out for math in a systematic way until tenth grade. That means kids can get all the way through K-8 math -- with "differentiated" lessons, with or without (usually without) an IEP and still be at a very low level of math knowledge. If they insist, they can still sign up for honors math in 9th grade. Of course guidance counselors and advisors will tell them to sign up for a lower level of math but they can take honors math in 9th grade -- this is basically Algebra I as far as I understand. They will fail of course but no one prevents them from taking it. That is the first time they encounter any "tracking" in math. We give no tests or exams in math at any point along the way except the holistic required "performance assessments" that rate writing about math higher than any actual problem solving or computation (calculators are allowed throughout on those tests).

So we aren't providing any tracks at all, and I wonder about other large districts. Maybe they aren't doing it either.

SteveH said...


I can't say that I can calibrate this accurately. However, I spent a long time looking at middle school web sites throughout southern New England (I just went town-by-town) and found that almost all of them offered different tracks in math. Some even separated kids starting in 4th or 5th grade. I didn't find any high school that didn't offer multiple tracks. Whether kids were ready for those tracks is another issue.

My point is that this won't change with "a" national standard. At best, it might improve low end expectations, but it will not fix the K-8 math problem. And if you were to define multiple standards, there is still no guarantee that it will fix anything. At best, one might hope that it would force schools to at least provide a proper path to algebra in 8th grade and calculus in high school.

It was just a few years ago that our school got rid of CMP in 7th and 8th grades and offered the same algebra course used at the high school. It's still sink or swim to get to that class, but at least the path is there.

VickyS said...

So for the kids who are unfortunate enough to not be classified as gifted, they are stuck with reform math. I guess it's because those in power believe that only gifted students [and special ed kids-vs] can benefit from instruction and exercises.

Maybe it's more of a case of once a district has bought into a massively expensive reform curriculum and signed a 5-7 year contract, it has to impose it on someone! And the middle kids are sitting ducks without a cadre of advocates.

If, as a previous commenter suggested, perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, IEPs could be written for kids who can't learn via reform math, that might be the one way to make an inroad into these "done deals" from the district's curriculum committee.

Barry Garelick said...

And the middle kids are sitting ducks without a cadre of advocates.

Quite true. Especially kids who aren't gifted but might truly have a learning disability. It sounded like Albuquerque automatically, or fairly easily anyway, granted IEP's for kids who classified as "gifted". It didn't sound like kids truly in need made that cut.

Allison said...

Don't think the gifted are getting off easy.

Here in St. Paul, the gifted kids use Everyday Math. In Bloomington, a large suburb of Minneapolis, the gifted program accelerates by one year--and uses Everyday Math. The gifted in Edina use Everyday Math.

There are big issues surrounding whether or not an IEP is an appropriate crowbar for a gifted child (or any kid), but people who are merely a few percent of the population aren't going to be well served by any bureaucracy.

VickyS said...

Back when I was looking into the Bloomington MN gifted program for my kids (one of the most well-developed programs in our area) I asked about curriculum. The program directors had complete autonomy over all subject areas except math. The district forced them to use Everyday Math (like all the other students in the district). They supplement, they enrich, they use the next higher grade level...but they still have to use EM. In junior high they use CPM. I bet that's forced on them too.

Shows you how deep those claws can dig.

SteveH said...

"...the gifted program accelerates by one year--and uses Everyday Math."

I'll bet even Andy Isaacs would say that's stupid.

"There are big issues surrounding whether or not an IEP is an appropriate crowbar for a gifted child (or any kid),.."

A school committee member once told me in excited terms that IEPs for all were the way to go. She was also really big on full inclusion and differentiated instruction.

Right. Where's Tinker Bell?

Allison said...


Thanks for the Tinker Bell reference.

I was considering responding earlier to Catherine and your conversation about differentiated instruction, where Catherine seemed to misunderstand what it meant, but then I realized I would be ranting, and didn't post.

But now I'll rant. :)

Schools are filled with people who believe in Heaven on Earth.

In their Utopian world, we can have everyone in a classroom working at their own ZPD even while the variance in grade skills/knowledge is 4-7 years. We'll just have teachers create classwork that reaches everyone at their own place, voila!

In their Utopian world, children will make meaning for themselves in mathematics through discovery learning and inquiry into material that begins 4000 years ago, and they'll catch up to now in under 13 years.

In their Utopian world, schools will oh, heck, here's the Edina public school web site, strategic direction A:

"Maximize the achievement of all students by developing and implementing personalized learning for each student " and E: "Maximize the district’s resources of time, talent, finances and facilities"

Yeah, THOSE TWO work really well together.

SteveH said...

"Schools are filled with people who believe in Heaven on Earth."

I've thought about this for years, and it bothers me sometimes when discussions on KTM seem to sincerely look for some sort of meaning for what goes on in schools. We give them way too much credibility. In many cases, there is nothing there.

Differentiated instruction is one of those things. We argue the case against DI as if it's some sort of carefully-defined plan. We come up with precise arguments about why it can't work. They don't care because they didn't base the original decision on anything more than their opinion. They wanted full inclusion and they don't want to hold anyone back a grade. It wasn't as if they found out that differentiated instruction worked and then decided that they could implement full inclusion.

In that sense, honing detailed arguments against differentiated instruction is a waste of time. I'm guilty of this. I keep thinking over and over that all it will take is just the right viewpoint or argument, and then educators will see the light. It isn't going to happen.

I guess this has sunk in from time to time, and I comfort myself to think that, at least, I'm helping other parents. But, then I keep thinking that some sort of explanation will make a difference. We end up continually playing their game. They can just throw out some blather and then ignore us.

So, all I can say about differentiated instruction is that there is nothing there. In our schools, it has ended up as differentiated grading applied using rubrics. It didn't start that way. It happened because they started with nothing and couldn't find anything that worked. The best technique they could come up with was to separate kids by ability (for short periods of time only) in the same classroom.


Take out the wall and "voila!" differentiated instruction.

Allison said...

--Differentiated instruction is one of those things. We argue the case against DI as if it's some sort of carefully-defined plan. We come up with precise arguments about why it can't work. They don't care because they didn't base the original decision on anything more than their opinion.

I'm not claiming it's a plan at all. It's just HOPE! and FEELINGS! We're gonna hope it works because it would feel GOOD if it worked! Never mind the reality. And yes, you're right, arguing with them about the reality DOES NO GOOD because reality wasn't a variable in the decision making process at all.

Schools are filled with believers. They WANT to believe. These ideas of theirs are part of their feelings, and their feelings tell them that utopia is possible.

It doesn't require them to have a concerted plan. It just requires a worldview that informs their decision making process, and largely, that worldview believes in Utopia. If we just do what makes us feel good, and hope for the best, then things will be better and we don't have to think about tradeoffs or opportunity costs. That free lunch is there somehwere if they just believe in it.

It matters whether or not they are believers in Utopia, because it tells you that if you don't, then you and they dont' agree on the FACTS. You can't change someone's mind if you don't agree on the facts.