kitchen table math, the sequel: grass roots

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

grass roots

Some of you know that I've been writing citizens' op eds for a Yahoo Group called the Irvington Parents Forum for some time now.* I've been saying there what I say here.

In the past two years, the town has elected 4 new members to our 5-member school board:

Robyne Camp (elected 2009)
John Dawson (2009)
Bob Grados (2010)
Jim McCann (2010)

If you're interested in grass roots politics, it's worth reading these 4 candidates' "Answers to Forum Questions," because you'll notice that all 4 sound more alike than different: all 4 tell us they embrace academic excellence and accountability.

That is a far cry from the 2007 election, when we had 2 candidates who told the public: 'I don't know anything about education so I'll leave that to the experts, the people we've hired to run the schools.' That is very close to a direct quote.

In 2007, the 2 candidates who promised the public that, where academics and achievement were concerned, they would not provide independent oversight of the executive, defeated the 1 candidate who promised that he would.

This year, their terms up, they retired. Four candidates ran for their seats, 1 as a write-in; 3 of the 4, including both winners, ran on accountability platforms.

The main publicly-stated difference between the 2 winners (Grados & McCann) had to do with "politics," with Grados saying consistently throughout the campaign that he does not like politics, is not a politician, and has no "political agenda." In practice, this means he will vote to keep Math Trailblazers because the administration wants to keep Math Trailblazers. (scroll down)

So in truth, the 2 winners are divided on the question of whether parents and the broader public should have a voice in the education our children receive. However, I think the fact that both sounded like members of the reform camp is probably important.


opinion and fact

The Forum has been taking fire from the administration all year. During the Singapore Math meeting, our Interim Director of Curriculum and Instruction told the board that misinformation about Math Trailblazers was being spread around town. The foolishness making the rounds was the kind of thing, she said, that she once referred to as chatting "over the laundry lines in the back yard."

'But I can't call it that any more,' she said. (words to that effect)

In the last board meeting prior to the election, the Forum was openly denounced by the board president, one candidate (who told the audience that henceforth he would never again read the Forum), and one parent.

Post-election, Ed wrote the statement below in response to complaints by Grados supporters that the Forum is not "balanced":
It’s no secret that this list was created by people concerned about the leadership of our school district, aspects of its educational philosophy, budgetary issues, and a perceived unresponsiveness to community concerns. The list began, that is, as an agent of change. But it has always been open to all comers, and as the husband of the list’s co-founder, I know that essentially all posts are put through. The point of having moderators is not to establish any particular political line but to guard against vulgarity and ad hominem attacks and to prevent our inboxes from being overloaded with spam.

The Irvington Parents’ Forum is as “balanced” or unbalanced as its contributors make it. If we avoided controversy, it would become dull and unreadable. Ditto if all contributors did was state unadorned facts, genre: “The Irvington school district has an enrollment of approximately 1,800 students.”

Contributors express points of view, preferably with facts to back them up. That’s what democracy is all about—taking positions, attempting to support them, and trying to convince others that you’re right. And since we’re fortunate to live in a democracy, everyone is free to take issue (again preferably armed with appropriate evidence) with anything that anyone says.

So, the distinction between “facts” and “opinion” is a red herring. Facts mean very little unless framed by an argument, viewpoint, or philosophy. By the same token, opinions baldly stated and innocent of any factual evidence don’t do the speaker or writer much good. So, for example, if I state the fact that the United States entered World War II in December 1941, that’s not very interesting. But if I go on to opine that we should have gotten involved a year or 18 months earlier and that we didn’t because isolationism still reigned—then my statement, a combination of fact and opinion, becomes more interesting. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s necessarily right. Someone might reasonably respond that the United States didn’t have the military capacity to intervene effectively in Europe in 1939 or 1940, and that even in early 1942, we were woefully unprepared.

It’s as a result of this kind of argument that knowledge advances, new policies are framed, political alliances established, reforms enacted, and the like. Here, at the local level, the Irvington Parents’ Forum clearly fulfills a need. Otherwise, it wouldn’t attract new members almost every day of the week. If you disagree with something that’s been posted—as I’m doing now—go ahead and post a response. The chances are that there will be a response to your response, but again, that’s the beauty and privilege of free speech, especially at the local level. To intervene effectively in the national discussion, it helps to have power, position, and money. Here on the Parents’ Forum, anyone can add her or his two cents for free.

As for the idea that contributors are somehow sacrificing our kids’ education on the altar of local politics, I disagree. We’re creating a dialogue whose goal is to make a good school district better, to give our students the best education we can provide. I’m glad “Kris10why” had a world-class education here in Irvington, but we’ve had posts from recent IHS grads who don’t feel the same way. And, for me, every student counts.

* Since October 5, 2006, to be exact.

endorsement (academic excellence)
endorsement (politics & community sentiment)
McCann!
the Kumbaya statement

51 comments:

Laura M. said...

I can't pretend to know anything about politics, local or otherwise, but I would think that in this case, where the goal is to some extent to build goodwill, your best approach is to take the high road. Which doesn't mean making concessions to appease your critics, but might mean something like encouraging all forum members to be ruthlessly fair and focused on their main objectives.

I mean, KTM can be pretty harsh, which is fine, since it generates a lot of interesting ideas, but the goal here is not necessarily to get as many people to contribute what they can.

I would take the anger people are directing at you as input--you don't need to let it direct you, but you shouldn't have to put too much energy into overriding it, either.

Just my two cents.

Laura M. said...

Also, I'm wondering if you could create a web page through which to solicit and measure a broader range of parent opinion in Irvington.

Not opinion about broad things like Singapore vs. (shiver) Trailblazers, which is more likely to be influenced by political beliefs, but about more core issues, like what skills should be learned in each grade and how those skills could be measured.

I forgot to tell you (I think) that the system where I was student teaching has been piloting Singapore Math and a more generic Investigations/E.M. curriculum this year. I'm pretty curious to find out how that turns out.

Anonymous said...

Free speech - unless of course you don't mind being called a "troll". Direct quote.

Cranberry said...

"Not opinion about broad things like Singapore vs. (shiver) Trailblazers, which is more likely to be influenced by political beliefs,..."

Laura M., do you base that assertion on anything other than opinion? A survey, anthropological research, anything?

Laura M. said...

do you base that assertion on anything other than opinion? A survey, anthropological research, anything?

No, nothing formal, it was a casual assertion (one I probably should have made with more qualifications), though in a way, yes, because I've had a lot of discussions about this topic on a more general discussion forum, among people from different points on the "math wars" spectrum, and that's been my experience.

My point was just that I would bet there are more people who agree with some of Catherine's concerns than people who are willing to jump wholeheartedly on the Singapore bandwagon (or the equivalent in other areas).

I think (again, absolutely recognize I could be wrong, and I'd be interested to find out the result) that if you polled people on more low-key items such as whether or not students should be able to do x, y, or z by the end of x grade, you would be likely to have more people respond affirmatively than if you say, "how many people prefer Singapore Math, which makes sure you learn x, y, z, than Trailblazers, which doesn't."

It's a strategy suggestion, though (as I explicitly pointed out), not having actual political experience, it could very well be wrong.

Just giving my opinion, based on what I have observed of people.

SteveH said...

"Not opinion about broad things like Singapore vs. (shiver) Trailblazers, which is more likely to be influenced by political beliefs,..."

Influenced, or correlates? In any case, there are many notable exceptions, and a discussion of the problem can be held on a completely non-political basis. Besides, too many want to muddy the discussion by framing it in political terms.


"I think (again, absolutely recognize I could be wrong, and I'd be interested to find out the result) that if you polled people on more low-key items such as whether or not students should be able to do x, y, or z by the end of x grade,..."

Curricula like Everyday Math claim no paticular time for mastery of the basics. It assumes that it happens naturally if you follow the spiral. Then again, schools could really screw up Singapore Math by not ensuring that kids have mastered the material before moving on. Kumon is probably more rigorous in that regard. I have also run across a few curricula that try to keep kids on track, but the expectations are very low.

However, it definitely reflects an underlying idea of what education is all about; a natural process driven by the child or a carefully planned one driven by the curriculum and teacher. (Do you push or not? Do you value skills and content? Do you prefer bottom-up or top-down education.) However, there are many democratic or liberal parents who believe in the latter. I like to view it as a difference between low and high expectations; between push and not push.

There is an argument that claims that it is about rote learning versus understanding, but that is just a strawman. If you look closely, the understanding is superficial and the expectations are low.


One question you could ask is whether parents or teachers believe that kids should be held back a year if they can't do "x,y,z" in time 't' at the end of a particular year. Then you could ask them if they would want their kids in a class with others who couldn't do last year's work?

Laura M. said...

I guess I just look at how difficult it is to get a consensus even here, between highly informed and educated people who mostly agree on math education.

And I'm wondering, does it actually make sense to try to open up the forum to people of all beliefs? Is that really a logical goal, or would it make sense to really work to turn Irvington into a place that works as well as a prep/exam school?

If it's the latter, I think it is a waste of energy trying to convince people that you are interested in all opinions. Unless you're going to be ultra-cynical about it.

If you think you can get enough votes to move Irvington in the direction you want, I think you should go for it and make no bones about it, and maybe people will be won over when they see how great the school can be.

But if your goal is to get people to agree that all kids need to read and learn math to algebra at least, and that we need to make sure this is actually happening; and that kids shouldn't get shut out of AP classes because of lack of room or enough qualified teachers to teach enough sections, etc., then I think the way to start is to find the place where most people agree, and work up from there.

Cranberry said...

Is that really a logical goal, or would it make sense to really work to turn Irvington into a place that works as well as a prep/exam school?

I'm not an Irvington resident, so perhaps I'm mistaken, but parents are glad to believe that the most expensive suburbs offer an education which works at least as well, if not better than a prep/exam school. Certainly, to look at the figures, it's spending as much per student as many prep schools.

I think (again, absolutely recognize I could be wrong, and I'd be interested to find out the result) that if you polled people on more low-key items such as whether or not students should be able to do x, y, or z by the end of x grade, you would be likely to have more people respond affirmatively than if you say, "how many people prefer Singapore Math, which makes sure you learn x, y, z, than Trailblazers, which doesn't."

Well, perhaps New York is different, but the required grade-level goals should be set out in the state frameworks. They are in our state. I could expend energy arguing for a refinement of the expectations, but they're reasonable. On the local level, it comes down to implementation, which involves curriculum.

Casting aspersions on those who disagree with one never goes down well, and serves to poison the respect necessary for reasoned debate. I have read online comments recently trying to link the "traditional" side of the math wars with extreme right-wing political views. This is laughable. In New England, and New York, for example, the right-wing would be left-wing in other states.

The only shared characteristics of critics of constructivist math I've noticed, on this site and others, are a tendency to be highly educated, frequently in quantitative fields, and to have had children in elementary school. There are a few home-schoolers who comment, but as they have the freedom to choose their own curricula, it's more in the vein of, "why do they do that, thank heavens we aren't in those schools."

Laura M. said...

Cranberry, we seem to be talking at cross purposes.

I don't disagree with any individual thing you have said, but I'm not sure how it responds to what I've written.

I have no idea what Catherine or the rest of the forum members should do. Truly, I wouldn't even venture a guess--my first post was throwing out an idea I had, but that doesn't mean I have any idea if it will work.

The one point I'm willing to back up is that I think it would be easier to chose either a top-down or a bottom-up solution. Either do what you need to to push through your agenda (and to be clear, if that happened, I'd probably pick up and move my family to Irvington), or be prepared to accept something less than what you want but better than what you have.

Trying to use the bottom-up process to convince people to agree with you every step of the way seems like a recipe for miscommunication and distrust.

cranberry said...

"Trying to use the bottom-up process to convince people to agree with you every step of the way seems like a recipe for miscommunication and distrust."

There's nothing wrong with public debate about the manner in which a town or city chooses to spend the majority of its budget.

Those who want to change public schools for the better are forced to use the bottom-up process. The internet makes this much more effective, as it's no longer possible for administrators to placate the discontented with different answers for different people. When parents can compare the answers they received online, with parents in other grades, it's no longer possible for school system insiders to "manage the message." Miscommunication and distrust arise when people notice that they've been told different things, and when committees are thanked for their input, are patted on the head, and then the committees must watch their recommendations put on a shelf and ignored.

A top-down solution would need the superintendent's support. The choice of a superintendent falls to the school board. The only way to influence the school board is to influence its composition. The only way to influence its composition is to convince enough voters of the necessity for change. That process is bottom-up. It always has been. The internet has made it easier to reach and organize voters.

Cranberry said...

I should add that by the time any school reform efforts bear fruit, the original malcontents' children have left the system, either by graduating or changing to private schools.

It's not a perfect process, by any means. I think in most years, school administrators tend to get what they want. People who don't have children in the system only start paying attention when money gets tight.

The state and federal government also get involved. At present, our state is proposing to drop standards which are thought to be the best in the nation for standards which have not yet been set (and thus, can't be compared.) I'd love to be able to act in a top-down way on this. As a single citizen, though, it's just not possible.

Crimson Wife said...

It's my observation that the "math wars" doesn't split among political ideological lines but rather along how comfortable the individual is with math. The ones who are working in technical or financial fields prefer Singapore & similar programs. The ones (often but not exclusively women) who are math-phobic just *LOVE* EDM and other "fuzzy" programs.

The only ones I see dragging politics into the conflict are district administrators. The district in which we were zoned until last December refused to even consider Singapore, asserting that it was "inappropriate for English Language Learners".

Laura M. said...

I actually meant political in a more local sense, not in the sense of being an overall "conservative" or "liberal." Leaning toward progressive education can be thought of as a kind of political stance in its own right, as can leaning toward a more direct instruction and/or behaviorist model.


Cranberry, I actually agree with you about the bottom-up approach.

But if you're going to take that approach, I think the most likely way of achieving the most important of your goals is to figure out the minimum amount of convincing you need to do to make that happen.

For all we know, most Irvington parents and other residents may be open to most of the kinds of changes Catherine and the rest of the forum would like to propose, but they might be more friendly to those changes without having to embrace the entire package at once.

I think it's at least worth taking the time to information gather on that level, to find out what you really have to work with.

SteveH said...

"I think the most likely way of achieving the most important of your goals is to figure out the minimum amount of convincing you need to do to make that happen."

What's a nice, simple, or minimum way to convince educators that their assumptions and cherished beliefs are fundamentally flawed? At the very least, their assumptions value social goals over academic ones, and their academic goals are limited to getting better numbers on a simple state test?

In our town, the school committee never questions academics or curricula. The schools have meetings with parents, but no educational assumptions are ever discussed, just details of the current organization. Many parents have tried all sorts of things in constructive and incremental ways, even offering their own time and knowledge for free. (Didn't Catherine once offer to teach an afterschool course in Singapore Math and was shot down?) In the end, many parents send their kids off to other schools and this reduces the pressure for change. In Irvington, it sounds like townspeople want members on the school committee who do not abdicate all academic control to the schools. The schools won't like this. It's not a nice battle to fight.

High school is usually a different world because they already have different levels or tracks, and more parents see the importance of academics in preparing for college. (Some don't realize that in math, a lot of damage has already been done.) Some high schools even offer both AP classes and an IB program. There is no longer a need to make a trade-off between social goals and academic ones. Teachers know more about their subject areas and care about content and skills.

The world is different in K-8, and the battle goes right to the heart of some very basic assumptions of education. It's also about turf. Educators do NOT want parents having any control over what goes on in the classroom. It won't be a nice fight to change that.

Laura M. said...

What's a nice, simple, or minimum way to convince educators that their assumptions and cherished beliefs are fundamentally flawed?

I'm not sure that's necessary, though.

I think all that's needed is to figure out how to get enough vocal support in the community for a particular goal that it becomes easier for the administration to agree to it than to fight it. Maybe one goal at a time, even.

Anonymous said...

"What's a nice, simple, or minimum way to convince educators that their assumptions and cherished beliefs are fundamentally flawed?"

I am not sure that this is possible.

When I read the 1989 NCTM document, it seems to me that the *goals* of the authors are different than mine. This is as much a value judgement as anything else. I don't think that they will change their values, so it would be required to show that what they are pushing doesn't achieve what they want. But what if it does? Then what?

I don't remember seeing anything in that document about enabling the maximum number of kids to major in STEM fields if those kids wanted to do so. Since this isn't a goal, pointing out that the '89 standards track the vast majority of kids *out* of these fields probably isn't going to have much impact. *MY* kid, for example, is pretty much tracked out of any opera career at this point, and I don't get to worked up over it. Pointing this out to me won't change my basic approach. I think that the same is true for the NCTM crowd.

I think that you would almost have to convince these people that allowing lots of kids to get STEM majors if they wanted to do so was important. *Then* we could start discussing whether or not MathLand worked. But I don't think that you can persuade them of this, so I don't see much hope.

-Mark Roulo

Genevieve said...

I haven't read the NCTM document, so I can't comment on that. However, in my area there does seem to at least be a lot of lip service about needing more students to study STEM. What I have heard from area districts is that Project Lead the Way will do this. Most districts are also transitioning to Everyday Math.

I don't know if the districts' staff don't know how to accomplish their STEM goals, or if they don't really mean what they say.

SteveH said...

"This is as much a value judgement as anything else."

It can be argued as more than a value judgment, but I don't think many in K-8 education have the ability to understand the problem in math. In fact, they are taught the wrong things in ed school. I don't think there is any sort of step-by-step process to get them to understand to the point where they will make the needed changes. What you have left is an unpleasant fight via school committee.


".. in my area there does seem to at least be a lot of lip service about needing more students to study STEM."

Likewise for our area, but they seem incapable or unwilling to follow the problem back to the source in the early grades.


"What I have heard from area districts is that Project Lead the Way will do this. Most districts are also transitioning to Everyday Math."


This indicates that they (the leaders) don't have a clue. Even the PLTW web site (in their FAQ section) has to explain why the regular math (algebra, geometry, trig, calc) courses are so important. It doesn't sink in. Somehow, PLTW classes are supposed to provide some sort of magic motivation that will erase all remedial math issues.


"I don't know if the districts' staff don't know how to accomplish their STEM goals, or if they don't really mean what they say."

Both, I think. High school math teachers know that it takes the calculus track to achieve a STEM career. They also see kids come to high school with remedial math problems, and they must know that many of these kids are quite capable. PLTW could help (it's optional), but they know that math is still the key. The math and science teachers would know this more that other educators, but they are not the ones pushing the happy PLTW STEM talk.

I have mentioned before that I think it's odd that high school math teachers don't create a big stink about the poor math skills of students coming in from the lower grades. In our high school, they created a 9th grade algebra course with a lab (for skills practice) rather than blast the lower schools for poor performance. I think this lab is ironic. Class is used for discovery and the lab is used for skills!

It wasn't the high school teachers who forced our lower schools to change from CMP to the same proper algebra course used in the high school. It came from the parents of kids who had to make the jump from CMP in 8th grade to the honors geometry class in 9th grade at the high school. Word was that some high school math teachers preferred to trash the abilities of the kids rather than step on the toes of their lower school colleagues.

Fixing K-8 math is not going to be a simple or nice process. Even if you were to get them to change to Singapore Math, they would still screw it up because they just don't care about ensuring mastery of basic skills. They won't separate kids by ability or willingness to learn.

Laura M. said...

Fixing K-8 math is not going to be a simple or nice process

If that really is the case, then you had better be prepared to bring out the big guns. Again, even though I prefer the idea of a "lean," bottom-up solution, my original point is that you can't push through a top-down solution by using a bottom-up process--you're going to have to have more power than those who are prepared to oppose you, and be comfortable wielding it. Maybe there's a third way, but I have no idea what that might be.

SteveH said...

"...then you had better be prepared to bring out the big guns."

Isn't that what they are doing in Irvington? They just didn't start this out of the blue. They have had a history of trying other things. However, they still have to fight the battle over who has final authority over the curriculum and teaching methods. It seems that some of the board members view their role only as money managers.

In our town, (mostly) parents have driven better math down to 7th grade by forcing the school to eliminate CMP and match up the curriculum with the high school. This was also helped by our new state law that requires 7th grade and higher teachers to be certified in the areas they teach.

K-6 math is now the main problem. Our lower grades are strictly full-inclusion. They use Everyday Math because it allows them to push kids along and trust the spiral. The state math test grades are marginally higher (over the horrible MathLand), and a reasonable number of students still make it to algebra in 8th grade. That is the limit of their analysis. No force is left to drive the changes into the lower grades. It runs into the full-inclusion roadblock.

I think that what Irvington is doing is the only way to force the issue and to have a proper debate of the details. Too many K-6 educators are more than willing to trust the spiral, and too many parents are willing to trust the schools.

Laura M. said...

force the issue and to have a proper debate of the details.

I don't think you can do both at once. You can force the issue or you can have a proper debate--it's hard enough to have a proper debate without people feeling like they have no control over what happens.

That's my point. I think it is a waste of energy and resources trying to convince the community that there is going to be a proper debate, if the goal is to have a top-notch school system. A proper debate might not lead to the right kind of changes.

Again, unless it is done very cynically, with the goal of quieting opposition long enough to get a stronger foothold. Personally, I wouldn't be interested in going down that road, but again, I have no experience with politics, local or otherwise, so I have no idea if it would be a good idea or not.

Bostonian said...

SteveH wrote:

"High school math teachers know that it takes the calculus track to achieve a STEM career. They also see kids come to high school with remedial math problems, and they must know that many of these kids are quite capable."

One can be an engineering major and take calculus in the freshman year of college. I don't think high school calculus is a must for STEM study in college, although it would be helpful. About 25 years ago when I took calculus, at one of the better-ranked public high schools in my state, only a small fraction of students who took calculus took the A.P. calculus exam. Most students just wanted some exposure to make college calculus easier. They also had "senioritis".

A broader point is that most people simply aren't smart enough for STEM careers or the mathematics those careers require, but SteveH is very unrealistic about this. Linda Gottfreson
http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/2009day2-cognitive-enhancement.ppt cites estimates that an IQ of 125 is needed to become a chemist, for example.

SteveH continually writes as if BIG improvements could be made in student achievement -- everyone could learn calculus in 12th grade -- if only the right curricula were used. He has not provided evidence for this belief. If calculus and other math courses are watered down to make them passable by mediocre students, then no one will learn advanced math in high school (but some will be tutored elsewhere).

Allison said...

--One can be an engineering major and take calculus in the freshman year of college. I don't think high school calculus is a must for STEM study in college, although it would be helpful.

Steve didn't say this.

Steve said that you have to be on the calculus *track* to achieve a STEM career.

That's not because a student needs calc in high school per se.

It's because any track other than the AP-calc track is so weak in math skills that the courses don't teach anything close enough to mastery to leave high school prepared to start calc in college.

Most AP calc students don't either, these days, in fact, as is seen by the weakness of eng students at U Wash, UC Berkeley, etc., but the only real chance for mastery of algebra and pre calc is to be on the honors math track. It "shouldn't" be this way; and it "didn't have to be this way", but this is the way it is now. If you're not on the AP calc track, you're on a road to nowhere in terms of STEM. You will never catch up.

However, it's more than just that; 25 years ago, high schoolers didn't have the international competition they do now for slots in top colleges in the US. Increasingly, high schoolers do need to take AP calc simply to be competitive at getting into top engineering and science schools.

Allison said...

Leaving aside whether or not Steve said what you think about "if only" the right curricula were used,

even if "most" people aren't smart enough for STEM careers, the ones who are smart enough are losing ground now. College educated parents, even with STEM degrees, are watching their children be unable to do simple arithmetic to mastery, unable to grasp geometry or algebra. This is because of terrible teaching, terrible curricula, full inclusion, and the rest of the disasters. You can tell because the parents that do know what's needed sends their kids to Kumon/Sylvan/Huntington/etc. to try and catch up. But remediation after the fact is often too late.

If that weren't enough bad news, discovery learning often turns off the bright students in math, so they don't want to pursue a STEM career.

So even though fixing k-8 is obviously not sufficient to increase STEM careers, it's certainly necessary.

SteveH said...

"A broader point is that most people simply aren't smart enough for STEM careers or the mathematics those careers require, but SteveH is very unrealistic about this."

So it's OK to teach math badly because it just doesn't matter? It's OK that only kids who are supported at home or with tutoring will have that opportunity?


"SteveH continually writes as if BIG improvements could be made in student achievement -- everyone could learn calculus in 12th grade --"

Strawman.

BIG improvements can be made, but that doesn't mean that all students will get to calculus in 12th grade. Back when I taught college math and CS, I saw many students who had to change their career dreams and switch to a department with simpler math requirements. I'm talking about a course in statistics, not calculus.


I can't follow whether you are saying the there is no problem in math education or that it really doesn't matter.


I'm not the one pushing STEM careers. I don't even like the term. I don't even support PLTW. But I do support teaching math well and not closing individual educational doors based on IQ statistics. I find that extremely abhorrent.

Barry Garelick said...

But I do support teaching math well and not closing individual educational doors based on IQ statistics. I find that extremely abhorrent.

So do I. And speaking of Charles Murray, here's a review of his book "Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s
Schools Back to Reality".

The review was in Educational Horizons.

Allison said...

Barry,

Are you claiming that Murray DOES advocate closing *individual* educational doors based on IQ statistics?

Because the drive by mention of him leaves it quite unclear. He's said no such thing, anywhere, and has said the opposite many many times.

Here's a piece summarizing an AEI symposium that he and Flynn were at.

Murray, on the other hand, does not believe that there is much evidence that government educational interventions beyond some reasonably adequate level can permanently boost IQ test scores. Murray’s preferred policy is to forget group averages and encourage private and public institutions to treat people as individuals.

Do you interpret "treat people as individuals" to mean "apply some IQ test and sort accordingly"? If that's not what you interpret it to mean, where do you have the impression that he advocates such?

Allison said...

Sorry, that quote from Reason was supposed to be in italics, to make it clear was not my writing.

"Murray, on the other hand, does not believe that there is much evidence that government educational interventions beyond some reasonably adequate level can permanently boost IQ test scores. Murray’s preferred policy is to forget group averages and encourage private and public institutions to treat people as individuals."

Barry Garelick said...

OK, I see by the quote in the book review I cited that he's not saying spend less effort on some children:

“Neither politicians nor school boards will publicly accept the
reality that I tried to illustrate with the questions from NAEP,” Murray writes. “Some children are just not smart enough to succeed on a conventional academic track.” Just not smart enough. . . . Few dare to talk that way, but it is essential “to accept that it is okay to think in terms of what a child may reasonably be expected to accomplish.” It’s essential, not to justify less effort to educate some children, but
to brush away romantic rhetoric about “leaving no child behind” and
other favorite slogans.


For some reason, though, I'm just not enamored with him. Must just be me, I guess.

SteveH said...

This is from the review of Murray's book.

"Murray notes that a top-flight electrician
is likely to earn a good deal more than a middling middle manager,
and have at least as interesting and socially valuable a career."

In our area, you can go to a vocational school to become an electrician and get an Associate in Science Degree. The math expectations are more rigorous than many regular college degrees. His college distinction is somewhat meaningless.

It is, however, a reasonable argument that educators push too many kids into going way into debt for a meaningless college degree. The question then becomes what do you do with that information? Send them off to a vocational school where the educational and hard work demands could be greater? Do you adovocate for much more rigorous K-12 schools so that employers better value high school graduates?


"It is cruel, Murray says, to demand that students meet standards
that have been set without regard to their academic ability and that
they cannot meet. One of the most irresponsible developments in
education, Murray believes, is that schools have abandoned 'rigorous,
systematic assessment of the abilities of all the students in
their care.'"

Assessment for what purposes? To decide what doors to open or close? This is supposed to be less "cruel"? Would you trust schools to make this decision for your child? There's the rub. On the other hand, if he means this as justification for not automatically passing kids on to the next grade if they flunk, then I might agree.


"... again tries to shift the terms of a national debate, away from what Murray calls an 'educational
romanticism' that serves both students and the nation poorly
and toward a more-realistic assessment of what schools can accomplish."

Who gets to make these decisions, schools or parents? Pushing STEM careers and courses like PLTW is a romantic view of education and the world. Pushing better math in K-8 and trying to get most kids to algebra in 8th or 9th grade is not. Forcing all kids to get some sort of vague set of algebra II skills by the end of high school is romantic and silly. Providing rigorous math tracks for all levels of students is not, especially if schools have tried their best to get students through a proper course in algebra without remediation.

I agree with Barry. I don't like his hot button angle on the problem.

Allison said...

Instead of the drive by shot at him, you should read the actual books.

Neither of you has read Real Education nor the Bell Curve, and Barry, you didn't answer my questions. It was okay to slander Murray on this board based on what a review supposedly said he said? You couldn't find any example whatsoever that even remotely supported your contention.

Steve, the first quote you picked didn't express the issue that Murray's talking about a modern Bachelor's of ARTS degree, which, other than putting someone into serious debt, has little value. You argue with a strawman. Despite what you or Barry claim, Murray isn't saying college is only good for those good at math. Murray argues that the BA is a waste for nearly everyone, including and especially those with math skills. He doesn't claim that the modern BA is rigorous at all. On the contrary, credentialling by means other than the BA makes lots of rigorous vocational programs better.

Murray advocates more rigorous k-12 schools because *that is what parents want*. Not because it will magically close the achievement gap, but because parents should have choice. His point is to stop spending effort on the GOVERNMENT trying to fix the gap, and let private institutions tackle education however they want. So his answer to who decides is parents, over and over.

So instead of rushing to condemn him for the strawman that he supposedly advocates individual IQ testing of the population to track students, and condemning HIM for "his" hot button angle--when You and Barry attacked in a drive by--and then backing up to "then I might agree" with ambiguous sentences from a review, you should just read the darn book.

SteveH said...

IQ is a hot button angle, even if it is applied statistically. How can he look at NAEP test results to calibrate what is average? I look at NAEP test results and conclude that there is a lot of poor math education in K-6. KTM is not just about advocating for high IQ kids. The major problem in math education is not IQ, so what is the benefit of coming at the problem from that angle?


“Neither politicians nor school boards will publicly accept the
reality that I tried to illustrate with the questions from NAEP,” Murray
writes. “Some children are just not smart enough to succeed on a
conventional academic track.” Just not smart enough. . . . Few dare
to talk that way, but it is essential “to accept that it is okay to think
in terms of what a child may reasonably be expected to accomplish.”


"a" child.

"...just not smart enough to succeed on a
conventional academic track"

What about the speed of coverage? What about motivation and effort? How do those variables fit in? How is this calibrated?


"One of his recommendations is that schools perform a
complete psychological workup of first-graders, including IQ, with regular updates as needed."

"psychological workup"? Wow! Who are the people who do this? Will this information really only be used to judge whether the school is doing a good job or not? NAEP and state tests aren't good enough?



"If we then discover that some schools
record much better results for children of similar ability than other
schools do, we can determine what they’re doing differently and
make sure other schools do it too. If on the other hand children
of similar ability attain similar achievement levels no matter what
school they attend, 'we can stop obsessing' about what any given
school is doing wrong. Says Murray, 'There’s not much that even the
best schools can do to raise the reading and math achievement of
low-ability children.'"


If he wants government out of the way, then who is this "we"? This sounds like a multi-school analysis ... "make sure other schools do it too". This doesn't sound like parents deciding.


Why is an IQ argument needed in the first place? Everyone knows that some kids are smarter than others. You don't need IQ to argue against pushing everyone towards college. Talking about IQ is not going to change K-6 educators' views on full inclusion. They already claim that they meet the needs of kids at all levels with differentiated learning. You don't need IQ to argue that it doesn't work.

It's great that he recommends a core knowledge curriculum, but is this the "conventional academic track"? What are the other tracks and when do kids get permanently switched to them? Is it a slower pace or is it different material? Do parents really get to decide?

Yes, I'll have to read the book to see if he qualifies many of these daring comments. However, I won't be a blank slate until then when his goal is to push so many buttons just to promote his books. He can't have it both ways.


"So his answer to who decides is parents, over and over."

He must then do a lot of backtracking from his sell-the-book rhetoric.

Cranberry said...

SteveH, you must read his books. You are assuming arguments not in evidence.

As I understand his arguments on college degrees, he is not arguing for tracking students into rigid tracks in kindergarten. He is calling for everyone in the system to reevaluate the value of a college education. Yes, he does point out that, in his definition of a "real" college degree, comparatively few people have the intellectual firepower to make it through. Many students who currently receive degrees would not fit his definition of people who are best served by receiving a B.A.

He does argue for a system of certification (yet to be constructed) which would allow students to focus on the careers to which they are best suited. He calls for dropping the holy awe awarded the B.A. I believe that his recommendations, if they ever were fulfilled, would lead to a more demanding educational experience for most students.

His "four simple truths" are:

Ability varies.
Half of the children are below average.
Too many people are going to college.
America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.

Also, do not rely upon reviews of _The Bell Curve_ to judge the book. I believe that many of its critics didn't read the book. Read the book. I think its prediction that the use of the SAT for college admissions would lead to the loss of intellectual leaders from rural and underdeveloped America (because they were drawn to the developed coasts, and did not return to their hometowns) did prove to be true.

SteveH said...

I never argued that I don't agree with him on these points, but I'm not going to ignore the other things he says.


" he is not arguing for tracking students into rigid tracks in kindergarten."

I never claimed that he did, but what is the point of psychological testing? How is that information used?


"Yes, he does point out that, in his definition of a "real" college degree, comparatively few people have the intellectual firepower to make it through."

I'm not sure how this idea is turned into policy or even just advice to parents. Are college graduates being beaten out of jobs by high school graduates? How do you break that supply and demand cycle, with an IQ argument? Do you apply gatekeeping?


"He does argue for a system of certification (yet to be constructed) which would allow students to focus on the careers to which they are best suited."

Not many would argue with his four simple truths ... in general. I'm all for more carefully defined tracks and matching kids up with whatever career they may be interested in, but details matter.

Schools can map out a sequence of courses that would lead to a vocational school associate's degree in electronics. They can do this with all sorts of career paths. Schools can make it clear what sort of jobs await them in the future. Students will try to follow the path of their dreams, but if they can't handle it or flunk, they will have to revise their plans.

I don't see where an IQ analysis comes into the picture. Schools will react to supply and demand rather than someone's arbitrary calibration between IQ and material. Proper courses will weed out the students and you don't have to care about IQ versus motivation and speed of learning.

Allison said...

--How can he look at NAEP test results to calibrate what is average?

By definition, NAEP scores have averages, and are most notably reported by those averages. What do you mean "calibrate" ? You and I both know the definition of average, so what is your issue here?

Murray is the first person to point out that we've no idea what a good statistical *improvement* is on such tests, however. NCLB suffers from this problem, because we've never done the work to find out--it's not difficult, but it's not been done.

If you read his book, you'd know this.

Allison said...

Steve,

Your questions are off topic because you've never read his books. You keep saying he's using the IQ argument, and how that's not helpful, yet you have no idea how he uses the argument. To wit: in Real Education, he uses it to demolish the idea that we should pour money into getting rid of an achievement gap. Instead, we should just try to give people better educations. In the Bell Curve, he uses the argument to say that we should consider drastically changing the types of interventions we use to help the lower SES quintiles out of poverty, and instead, because right now, the methods used hinder or harm those whose IQs aren't high enough to make sense, say, of modern mortgage documents.

How this continues to be portrayed as abhorrent is beyond me.

Linda Seebach said...

"Just read the darn book."

Thank you, Allison; that needed to be said. Hasn't stopped the ad hominem attacks, though -- "... his sell-the-book rhetoric" -- what possible difference does it make to Murray's argument what his motives are?

Having every child tested for IQ (though I would do it later, perhaps at the end of elementary school) would clear away a lot of educational underbrush. We don't know how big the racial achievement gap is, after controlling for differences in individual IQ. Maybe there isn't one; we don't even know that.

There might be slightly fewer people saying things like, "Instead, the overwhelming predictor of student achievement is the level of parental education for the student" -- a comment from someone who describes himself as a research professor.

That parental education might be a proxy for the correlated IQs of parent and child? Not even on the table for discussion. Under the rug, in fact.

Yes, I'm sure schools could figure out ways to misuse the information; they do that with most things. But we'd have saner education theories if people weren't trying desperately to hide the causes of achievement gaps. If we tracked IQ instead of race and class, we wouldn't be arguing about how to close the gap between the 85-95 group and the 105-115 group. There's wide individual variation in performance, but it's not wide enough to bridge so large a statistical gap.

lgm said...

Every child is tested for IQ around here....the CogAt is the preferred test in this area. The results are used in placement determinations.

One of the reasons I went into afterschooling math was that one of my children was sick and was made to take the test rather than being sent home. The results didn't reflect his prior performance (measured with a group acheivement test, state tests, and unit tests in the classroom) but the admin refused to take that into account for placements. There is no doubt in my mind that IQ test results will not be valid for too many children.


Just offer the complete math course to everyone that is not certifiably brain damaged, at the pace they need in a way that they can understand with enough practice to ensure mastery. Quit kicking kids off the boat.

cranberry said...

Has anyone studied the reliability of IQ tests, when administered by different people? I would assume, off the top of my head, that researchers administering the same tests, in a controlled setting, to cooperative subjects, would be relatively reliable, and would be likely to come up with similar scores for the same subjects.

However. The field of IEPs and such seems to be to be really wild & wooly, and I wouldn't bet my life that IQ tests administered by school personnel who have taken a workshop, or something, would be exceedingly reliable. I remember taking something which might have been a group IQ test back in the Dark Ages, in elementary school, and it can't have been too accurate. For one thing, the record player had a noticeable distortion, so many of the kids may not have heard the questions well.

And on the other hand, I do wonder how the knowledge of "who's paying the bill" influences score interpretation.

Anonymous said...

My son's (special ed) IQ jumped almost 20 points by late grade school, but has since lowered.

One tester, who also happened to be the principal of a private gifted academy, told me that they don't like to think there's a difference in results sometimes from one tester to another, but she believed that it did happen at times. I thought it was funny because the first tester for my son was an old man, while the second one was a young, pretty female.

SusanS

kcab said...

Rapport with the tester definitely makes a difference on the individual IQ tests. On group tests, some very intelligent kids overthink the questions and score lower as a result. Then there's looking at the various parts that go into the overall score, some people will have very uneven scores, for many different reasons.

IQ testing can be useful sometimes, but seems pretty fraught with difficulty to me. Plus, definitions of IQ change over time and between test designers - that is, the weighting of the various sub-measures changes. You've always got to be careful with those numbers to make sure your comparisons are apples to apples.

pragmaticmom said...

I am a big fan of Singapore Math and my kids do it to supplement what they learn at school. I blog on math workbook curriculum at http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?page_id=1927

I also like Daily Word Problems and Life of Fred.

Pragmatic Mom
Type A Parenting for the Modern World

http://PragmaticMom.com
I blog on education, parenting and children's literature

SteveH said...

"What do you mean 'calibrate'".

"... and instead, because right now, the methods used hinder or harm those whose IQs aren't high enough to make sense, say, of modern mortgage documents."


That. How can you make that claim? How do you translate IQ into making sense of mortgage documents? How is this done in practice? How is it used? The implication is that IQ information is used to make individual educational decisions - not by the parents.


How much of the academic gap is due to poor teaching (or lack of help at home or with tutors), and how much is related to IQ? When I look at the NAEP questions and results, I don't think IQ. I think bad math teaching and curricula.

How do you separate the two issues? In our state, nobody argues about the achievement gap. They only talk about getting kids over the extremely low cutoff point on the state tests. They have difficulty doing that.


This is a question on a 4th grade NAEP test:


14, 26, 38, ______ , ______


The numbers in the pattern above are increasing by 12. Which of these numbers is part of the pattern?


A.
52

B.
58

C.
60

D.
62


45% got this wrong. Is this IQ or poor teaching? Consider that this question fits into the modern math diet of patterns.

We're not talking about an achievement gap between good and great. We're talking about an achievement gap to get over a minimum cutoff. This is not an issue of shifting resources to more worthy and capable students. It's an issue of basic teaching competence.

So, here we are at KTM arguing against really awful math in K-8, and along comes an argument that says that the main factor is really IQ. There are two issues here, the absolute height of the learning curve and the slope that reflects the gap. You can't look at the height of the curve (results from NAEP) and make judgments about the slope (the gap). An IQ argument focuses on the slope, but the real problem is that the whole curve is too darn low. Some might want to flatten the curve (eliminate the gap), but what I see are educators just trying just to move the low part of the curve above the cutoff.


"Neither politicians nor school boards will publicly accept the
reality that I tried to illustrate with the questions from NAEP,” Murray
writes. “Some children are just not smart enough to succeed on a
conventional academic track.”

Based on NAEP. This reflects complaints I've heard about how mastery of a proper algebra course is unreasonable for so many kids.


Even if IQ testing is never used to limit individuals, then exactly how is it used? How is money being badly spent closing an academic gap that can't or shouldn't be closed? They can't even close the gap to the low state cutoffs. Is that an IQ issue? How would the money be shifted? Does it magically cause schools to drop full inclusion or Everyday Math?

Allison said...

Steve,

Are you actually incapable of understanding how comprehending modern mortgage documents is related to IQ? Are you actually incapable of understanding that a discussion on how mortgage documents might at too high level for some people does not lead to an "implication that IQ information is used to make individual educational decisions not by the parents" , but might instead inform us that, say, social mores are the best way to teach people not to select nonamortizing mortgage products?

IQ is a proxy for g factor, this factor that is correlated with a certain kind of ability. We can play games naming that ability if you like. It's not the same thing as how good you are at making a jump shot, or how well you can carry a tune. You have no problem admitting that some people can carry a tune better than others, right? And you have no problem admitting that we don't know why you can train some people to carry a tune better than others, right? Whether it's culture or genes is not the issue here.

"When I look at the NAEP questions and results, I don't think IQ. I think bad math teaching and curricula."

Really? You think *some* people suffer under bad math teaching and curricula, and these people are statistically not the whites and asians? Why is that? Do you think that the whites and asians across the country managed by luck to have better teaching or better curricula?

Have you considered asking why some groups do worse than others if we are always complaining about how regardless of where you go, there's bad math teaching and bad curricula?

The "I think of bad math teaching and curricula" is because of your bias, not because you know the evidence.

You aren't really asking "how much is related to IQ?", because if *you read the evidence and books written on the subject*, you might learn the answer. Instead, you keep asking these questions while refusing to read Murray.

And what amount of evidence would convince you otherwise? This is not a rhetorical question. Tell me, if all of the evidence in the US said that regardless of curricula, the academic gap was still present, would you consider that the gap wasn't due to curricula? What if the gap was present in LSAT scores of incoming classes at the leading law schools? Would you think that was a bad math teaching and curricula issue?

To your final question, "How is money being badly spent closing an academic gap that can't or shouldn't be closed?" Has it occurred to you that the push for low expectations and full inclusion classrooms is because those methods are designed to decrease the achievement gap? And as long as administrations are afraid of increasing the gap, they will never allow increased expectations, where some kids soar and others move along adequately?

Don't you think the money now is badly spent? All the money on full inclusion? On mindless discovery learning and math appreciation? Has it occurred that a system of high expectations, high accountability, high rigor, is left to fall on the floor lest it continue to create an achievement gap?

SteveH said...

"Are you actually incapable of understanding how comprehending modern mortgage documents is related to IQ?"

What is the IQ cut off point for this? Don't you understand that that is my question? Who makes this decision and how is it applied in schools?


"Do you think that the whites and asians across the country managed by luck to have better teaching or better curricula?"

You're mixing up two different issues, the amount of learning that can be accomplished and the gap.


"The 'I think of bad math teaching and curricula' is because of your bias, not because you know the evidence."

How easy do the problems have to be to figure out that the problem is not IQ but teaching? Are you saying that there is no fundamental problem with K-8 math curricula? You look at NAEP test results and come to the conclusion that the amount of learning (not gap) is an IQ issue? Where is your evidence for that? Everything is not a gap issue.


"...the academic gap was still present, would you consider that the gap wasn't due to curricula?"


Again, there are two issues here. As you improve teaching, the amount of learning will go up, but the gap might increase (or not). IQ might inform you about the gap, but you are trying to tie it in with some specific amount of learning that can be achieved. That is what I call calibration. That is the problem.


"Has it occurred to you that the push for low expectations and full inclusion classrooms is because those methods are designed to decrease the achievement gap?"

I don't buy that argument. The fundamental driving force of education is not reducing the gap. It's meeting pathetically low state test cutoffs. You could say that there are two gaps; one based on IQ and one based on some sort of minimal level of learning. Most schools are stuck trying to fix the latter. Schools really don't care about the IQ gap. They would be thrilled just to get high marks on the state test. Like our schools, they could then claim that they provide a quality education.


"And as long as administrations are afraid of increasing the gap, they will never allow increased expectations, where some kids soar and others move along adequately?"

Full inclusion is not driven by an IQ gap analysis. In fact, our schools try very hard to differentiate learning. (It doesn't work, however.) This isn't just a cynical attempt to cover a no-child-get-ahead philosophy.


"Has it occurred that a system of high expectations, high accountability, high rigor, is left to fall on the floor lest it continue to create an achievement gap?"


I don't buy this premise. High schools allow kids to separate by ability. Many middle schools offer tracks. K-6 is now driven by an egalitarian (and cost saving) goal of full-inclusion, but they know that some kids are smarter than others. Full-inclusion is not a gap leveling tool. Discovery learning and math appreciation are not gap leveling tools. They really believe that these things are better for all.

Education is not driven by an inability to come to grips with an IQ gap.

Bostonian said...

SteveH wrote:

"Education is not driven by an inability to come to grips with an IQ gap."

Education policy such as NCLB *is* driven by the goal of eliminating achievement gaps, and educators are not allowed to question the feasibility of this, as discussed in a recent article Achievement Gap Politics .

SteveH said...

Most people know about the implicit philosophical slant and expectations of ed schools. This happens in other fields, like social welfare. However, ed schools don't control public policy. Some of their ideas get watered down or changed to reflect parents' demands or just plain reality.


"No Child Left Behind was entirely about the achievement gap and measuring schools to see if they'd closed it."

Exactly what gap are you talking about here, and what is the cause of that gap?


One can argue that NCLB shifts resources to the low end of the spectrum with the more able kids having to fend for themselves. It's quite another thing, however, to show that these resources are wasted because the kids are not able to master the material. It's more likely that the resources are wasted because of fuzzy and romantic ideas of learning. You don't see them using different curricula and teaching methods in urban schools where there are high concentrations of low SES families and minorities. There is nothing stopping them from showing us their best stuff.

I claim that education policy is driven more by a desire to fix poverty, but they want to do this on an egalitarian statistical basis (a rising tide floats all boats), rather than an individual basis. They don't care about the bright urban child who comes from a good home and has the IQ to get to Harvard. I've mentioned before that many educators don't even seem to like very smart kids. I've sent missives to the major education columnist in our state about how she worries more about keeping kids from dropping out than about providing a proper education for those minorities who are willing or able. I could argue that NCLB causes a lot of waste trying to coddle kids just to keep them from dropping out. They could provide more choice to allow those who are willing and able to get the heck out, but they don't do that. Their goal is to fix the poverty gap, not provide proper individual educational opportunities.

How about flipping the IQ argument around 180 degrees. Rather than use IQ to limit individuals, use it to allow them to get out to better opportunities? But what about those who can do more because they work really hard to get good grades? Why not just ignore IQ and use exam test results? They don't even do that. Although tracking starts in middle schools, the damage has been done and many of the brightest minority kids are tracking off at lower slopes. Educators really don't want to close the achievement gap, they just want to close the gap to the minimal state test cutoffs so that they can claim victory. If you have a higher IQ, schools don't care or worry about you, no matter what your race or economic standing.

If they separated out the best and brightest urban kids for special attention, that would be very helpful in reducing the academic gap. Instead, they are left to molder with the rest of the kids. That's because the gap is only defined to a low proficiency cutoff level. If you get over that level, then they don't care about you anymore, no matter what your race.

Catherine Johnson said...

The ones who are working in technical or financial fields prefer Singapore & similar programs.

Absolutely.

Though every once in awhile you'll come across a math/science professional who is sold on constructivist math (I've twice read about mothers employed in math/science fields who advocated fuzzy math programs in their districts.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Every child is tested for IQ around here....the CogAt is the preferred test in this area. The results are used in placement determinations.

I didn't know **any** schools were still giving IQ tests.

wow

I've mentioned before that there's so much lowballing around here that at one point I figured parents needed to start having their kids' IQs tested in order to prove that they **could** learn algebra in 8th grade.

Did I ever post this??

Ed and I used to say that the slogan of the middle school should be: Your child. Not the little genius you thought he was.

The new principal is apparently terrific, btw. So I don't know how much of that attitude is still in the school -- but it did go beyond just the principal when we were there.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think it is a waste of energy and resources trying to convince the community that there is going to be a proper debate, if the goal is to have a top-notch school system. A proper debate might not lead to the right kind of changes.

I don't know what a proper debate is or should be (I'm not being sarcastic), but the fact is: here in Irvington we are having a debate - and we have been having a debate for perhaps 2 or 3 years now.

We're having a debate and we're having real politics.

When we moved here, we didn't really have either (although it turns out there was a dissident camp back then that we didn't know about). The school board was the next step up from the PTSA. I don't say that to criticize the PTSA; I was a PTSA volunteer for years. I say that to convey the sense in which the board saw itself and was seen by the public: not as a board, but as volunteers whose efforts on our behalf we were expected to appreciate.

During their campaigns, board members told voters explicitly that they would not exercise independent oversight of the executive. They promised to leave all academic decisions up to the 'experts,' the people we hired to run the school. I can't stress this point enough: we have not had an independent board in all the years I've lived here. The superintendent managed the board, not vice versa - and this is characteristic of school boards across the country. (I've got a couple of terrific Education Week articles to post on this subject.)

What has been happening in my town over the past few years is the return of local, democratic politics, which means debate and dissent.

As to the issue of whether a real debate might lead to the wrong decisions being made, that is entirely possible. That's the nature of democratic politics. Somebody wins, and the people who don't win think bad decisions are being made.

That's why I am strongly 'pro-choice'; I constantly push the idea that if we don't have a consensus about what kind of schools we should have, then we *must* offer choice, possibly in the form of a school-within-a-school, as Scarsdale has.

We can offer an instructivist track and a constructivist track.

I'm not willing to hand children's educational fates over to a 'tyranny of the majority.'

But 'minority rights' are equally part of liberal democracy. Debate and dissent could lead to a majority deciding they want Everyday Math and Fountas & Pinnell (though I've seen enough survey data to believe the vote would come out the other way). BUT the right of the minority to have their children educated well can't be abrogated by the majority.

SteveH said...

"That's why I am strongly 'pro-choice';..."

Me too, but the consensus idea assumes that there is a process to get the school to do something it doesn't want to do. Our K-8 schools would never allow a discussion of full inclusion and social promotion, even if it's just for some students who would opt out. It's a philosophical control issue. They know it has nothing to do with best practices. They don't even want students to go to charter schools to get something else. They want the money and they want the control.

Do you have any details about Scarsdale's school-within-a-school? Is this for K-8? Was this driven by parents and the school board? Did they break the full-inclusion model, or is this just for math?