kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/14/10 - 3/21/10

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Allison on professional development

The example of differentiated instruction grading given in the talk I saw was stuff like "draw the floorplan for a house" with points for decorating, which equaled the same number of points you could get by calculating the area of the rooms.

In another example, you gave a sheet of 15 problems, assigning a variety of points to each, and told them "do enough problems to get 20 points." There were, say, 10 1 point problems, 4 2 points, 3 5 points, 2 10s, 1 20.

The top example is exactly the kind of thing I worry about with tiered homework in differentiated instruction classrooms.

What do you think of the second?

Again, what worries me is hidden tracking inside a classroom, where the bottom kids simply carry on doing the easiest problems year after year without ever advancing to more difficult work.

Steve H on differentiated grading vs tiered homework

Catherine wrote:
"A teacher can easily print out easy problems for the slow kids, medium problems for the medium kids, and hard problems for the hard kids."

Steve H wrote:

I mentioned before that our schools do not have tiered homework. Parents would find out and (rightfully) go ballistic. They do it using a nonlinear rubric between 1-5. Anyone can do the extra work and try to get a 5. The nonlinear aspect allows many lower ability kids to get 3's, but it drives the more able kids crazy when they try to get a 5. The grading is differentiated, not the assignment. All the teachers have to do is vary their judgment slightly when they grade the work.

Spiraling works perfectly with this idea. They present the same material to all kids. If you don't get it this time, you will see it again. The teaching is not differentiated. If you don't understand something, then (by definition) it's your problem. With full inclusion, this means that the student is either slow or just not ready for the material yet. They might be sincere about teaching the best they can, but they have no way of knowing one way or the other.


Full inclusion is the goal, and differentiated instruction is the cover. Actually, a number of years ago, they used the term "differentiated learning". I'll have to see if I can find that. At least that would be more honest.

At our schools, the goal is social for K-6; warm and fuzzy. Starting in 7th grade, they put the screws to the kids, but it's made very clear that any issues belong to the student. They have to work hard and take responsibility for their own learning. The school sets them up in K-6, then whacks them on the head when they get to 7th. And the kids really believe that it's their own fault.

Robin on where we're headed

It does seem likely we are headed toward a period where the heterogeneous classroom will be the only safe way to avoid constitutional scrutiny. That clearly impacts what can go on in the classroom. Imagine the range of math problems that would be needed for cumulative review by 8th grade in such a classroom.

It looks like we will be left then with ineffective and inefficient instructional models.

What people used to be able to read

palisadesk left this passage from John Gatto Taylor:
Looking back, abundant data exist from states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent wherever such a thing mattered. According to the Connecticut census of 1840, only one citizen out of every 579 was illiterate and you probably don’t want to know, not really, what people in those days considered literate; it’s too embarrassing. Popular novels of the period give a clue: Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, sold so well that a contemporary equivalent would have to move 10 million copies to match it. If you pick up an uncut version you find yourself in a dense thicket of philosophy, history, culture, manners, politics, geography, analysis of human motives and actions, all conveyed in data-rich periodic sentences so formidable only a determined and well-educated reader can handle it nowadays. Yet in 1818 we were a small-farm nation without colleges or universities to speak of. Could those simple folk have had more complex minds than our own?

By 1940, the literacy figure for all states stood at 96 percent for whites, 80 percent for blacks. Notice that for all the disadvantages blacks labored under, four of five were nevertheless literate. Six decades later, at the end of the twentieth century, the National Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress say 40 percent of blacks and 17 percent of whites can’t read at all. Put another way, black illiteracy doubled, white illiteracy quadrupled. Before you think of anything else in regard to these numbers, think of this: we spend three to four times as much real money on schooling as we did sixty years ago, but sixty years ago virtually everyone, black or white, could read.

chemprof on handwriting

My students' handwriting is generally abysmal. A lot of them write like elementary school kids, and it impacts their ability to take notes, to solve algebraic problems, and to do well on exams.

The whole idea that they'll all just use computers so handwriting doesn't matter is baloney.

This coming week: 4 "Raising a Left-Brain Child" book talks in New Haven/Boston

Constructivist classrooms, Reform Math, Reform Foreign Language, group learning, writing across the curriculum, 21st century skills, 21st century grading, 21st century gifted programming, and other alarming trends in K12 education--particularly as they affect math buffs, shy/socially awkward children, and children on the autistic spectrum.

More information at Out In Left Field.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Superintendent Frances Gallo combed the classrooms of embattled Central Falls High School. Teachers and students were gone for the day. Gallo was hunting for a particular item: an effigy of President Obama.

She hoped the rumor of its existence wasn't true.

Gallo had fired all the high school teachers just a month earlier, igniting an educational maelstrom in Rhode Island's smallest and poorest community while winning praise from the president.


In this Democratic stronghold, teachers wondered: How could the president they supported turn his back on them? Some peeled Obama bumper stickers off their cars.

Gallo knew Obama's endorsement would create further uproar. She just didn't know how bad it would get.

She continued making her way through the school, clearing the first two floors. She was disheartened by the newspaper postings but relieved she hadn't found the offensive item.

One floor to go.

She climbed the steps and entered a classroom.

There it was.

"You couldn't miss it."

An Obama doll, about a foot tall, hung by its feet from the white board; the doll held a sign that said, "Fire Central Falls teachers," she says.

Recounting her discovery later, Gallo broke down in tears. A flood of emotions poured out, the raw toll of all that has transpired in recent weeks.

When she confronted the teacher responsible, she says he responded that it was "a joke to him."

The teachers, she says, have "no idea the harm they're doing." She thought of Obama's words: Students get only one shot at an education.

"I've tried to explain this over and over again: The children here are very disturbed by the actions of their teachers, and they're torn apart because they also love them."

Decision makes schools chief loathed and loved
by Wayne Drash
CNN March 18, 2010

differentiated instruction : Fordham report


The study is based upon survey findings from a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 900 public school teachers in grades 3 to 12, plus qualitative data from five focus groups, conducted in winter-spring 2008.



Heterogeneous grouping of students in a classroom implies that teachers will respond flexibly to the different learning levels among the students in their classroom. But teachers evince serious doubts about how well they are carrying out differentiated instruction in their own lessons.

More than eight in ten (84%) teachers say that, in practice, differentiated instruction is difficult to implement.


Differentiated instruction-the strategy whereby teachers adjust their material and presentation to the diverse array of academic abilities within a given classroom-is tricky to implement, according to teachers. Education experts and policymakers who believe that this is the optimal alternative to tracking should recognize that, from the perspective of teachers, it is easier said than done.

In your judgment, how easy or difficult a mission is it to Implement differentiated instruction on a daily basis in the classroom?

Somewhat difficult: 48%
Very difficult: 35%
Somewhat easy: 12%
Very easy: 4%
Not sure: 1%

The following description of what it took for one teacher to try to make differentiated instruction work sounds like an engineering exercise requiring the most delicate and complex analysis and judgment. It also reveals substantial self-doubt about the execution:

"Language arts, we've really been struggling because we do have so many different levels of kids. They're always in the same classes all mixed together, so I do a lot of differentiated instruction with tiered lessons and flexible grouping. Where kids are really, really strong in writing they're with a particular group of students for writing activities. Then they might be in a different group altogether for reading, just depending on where their levels are. [Moderator: How do you identify that/] Some is teacher observation; some is testing and assessment scores. At the beginning of the year, a lot of it's based on the state standards test scores that they showed the previous year. Sometimes there's teacher observation that follows them [here] as well."

High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB
Tom Loveless, Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
page 65

As far as I can tell, virtually every school district in the country has committed to differentiated instruction as its core principle of instruction and instructional grouping.

Evidence-based decision making is not a hallmark of public schools.

National Standards (CCSSI)

The high school math standards seem to me to leave a whole lot to be desired - far below our current expectations for college preparedness.

If you have the time, compare these standards to the Major Topics of School Algebra in the National Mathematics Advisory Panel's Report, then take a look at current ACT math content.

Wurman and Stotsky: New Standards will set schools back
[They must be talking about me!]
High school math teachers will look in vain for course standards in Algebra II, pre-calculus, or trigonometry. The drafters deem algebra, which the prestigious National Math Advisory Panel identified as the key to higher math study, as an outdated organizing principle.

You can find CCSSI standards HERE

Comments are due to CCSSI by April 2, but you might also consider posting them publicly somewhere else.

More information available HERE

Thursday, March 18, 2010

cumulative practice

I've been meaning to get a post up about this article for years now. I think it's incredibly important (relates to Direct Instruction, too).

No time to write now, but here's the abstract:

2002, 35, 105–123

This study compared three different methods of teaching five basic algebra rules to college students. All methods used the same procedures to teach the rules and included four 50-question review sessions interspersed among the training of the individual rules. The differences among methods involved the kinds of practice provided during the four review sessions. Participants who received cumulative practice answered 50 questions covering a mix of the rules learned prior to each review session. Participants who received a simple review answered 50 questions on one previously trained rule. Participants who received extra practice answered 50 extra questions on the rule they had just learned. Tests administered after each review included new questions for applying each rule (application items) and problems that required novel combinations of the rules (problem-solving items). On the final test, the cumulative group outscored the other groups on application and problem-solving items. In addition, the cumulative group solved the problem-solving items significantly faster than the other groups. These results suggest that cumulative practice of component skills is an effective method of training problem solving.

Note: the effects of cumulative practice on problem solving.

Not "procedural fluency" or "automaticity" or "mastery" etc.

Problem solving.

The path to problem solving goes through a particular form of practice - cumulative practice - not through "do the problem 3 ways" (Trailblazers) or "explain how you got your answer."

Matthew on National Journal

right now

effect size

Dan Dempsey says:

By Golly .. the insanity just will not stop .. another educational pack of lemmings is ready to follow the "Whole Language" rodents into the sea of ignorance.

Hattie Visible Learning effect sizes:

Phonics = 0.60
Whole Language = 0.06
(1/10 as effective and good for a decade of educational malpractice)

So now we are off to the decade of the twins I trust: "Problem & Project Based Learning"

Nope we don't want any of that effective stuff like Worked Examples, Direct Instruction, or Mastery learning.

Not when Problem Based Learning = 0.15

You know what?

I'm going to start talking about effect size at school board meetings.

Something new and different.

treemageddon, part 2

This is our road, which everyone calls "the bumpy road." We live on the left-hand side; the people on the right still don't have power 5 days after the storm. If you click on the photo you can see the scene in all its glory.

21st century boondoggle

from Robin:
Former America Online CEO Barry Schuler is now heading the National New Tech Board.

The goal of New Tech is to "engage students and teachers in an innovative instructional approach that integrates project-based learning and a 1:1 student to computer ratio".

Now why would tech companies be so supportive of that vision?

Here's the crux: these ed reform ideas that will result in little learning are great for a business' bottom line once they become a preferred government vendor.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which I think may be the progenitor of the phrase "21st century skills," was created by tech companies working in partnership with the NEA.

I'm against 21st century skills.

Seeing as how they don't exist and all.

I feel like I'm repeating myself.

what do children want?

from Lisa:
I live in IN and went to our school system's program on our new 'tech' high school with my 8th grader. He was mortified. It was everything he hates about school now intensified. Lots of group work and projects vs tests and grades. His comment was hilarious. They showed a picture of a 19th century school room as what is wrong with schools and he raised his hand and asked where he could find a school room just like the one in the picture (everyone facing forward in rows watching a teacher at the blackboard.)
Well, at least they get to sit in chairs.


Just saw David Pogue's column re: treemageddon.

This is what it looks like.

We missed most of the excitement Saturday night because we were in the city watching a play, God help me.* So, although the drive home was suspense-filled, we didn't figure out how bad it was 'til the day after when we got in the car to pick Jimmy up at his group home. Treemageddon is right. Block after block we saw huge, towering trees ripped up by the roots, lying akimbo across smashed roofs, smashed cars, and whole side streets. I'm not sure I had ever seen the root ball of a 6-story tree; in the space of one 10-minute drive I saw so many I lost count. Ed said it reminded him of when we drove through Los Angeles the day after the Northridge earthquake ogling all the crushed dingbats.

My neighbors across the way still don't have electricity & they don't see anyone working on the lines.

* Drove there and back in a Prius without mishap. No common sense-y (family motto).

Closing the achievement gap: awarding points for diversity

From today's Philadelphia Inquirer:
Concerned that its top academic schools are not racially and economically diverse enough, Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is proposing major changes in how students are admitted to them.
The plan would take admissions decisions away from principals and their committees, and select students for magnet and citywide admissions schools centrally, using a computerized system...
District officials suggest a 1000-point system, 600 points of which would be based on test scores and grades, according to the draft that was distributed to high school principals. Other factors woud include behavior and attendance, and, for the first time, 200 point for "diversity" as measured by the student's neighborhood or zip code and income level.
The proposal could upend a decades-old selection system for the magnet schools, long an educational refuge for the city's middle class where many powerful and influential leaders send their children.
According to John Frangipani, chief of schools operations:
District officers...want all neighborhoods and zip codes--from the richest to the poorest--to be fairly represented in magnet schools such as Masterman and Central, where student test scores are among the highest in the state.
As the Inquirer reports:
At Masterman last year, 28 percent of the students were black, compared with 60 percent districtwide. Whites made up 44 percent of the students, compared with 13 percent districtwide.
Districtwide, 76 percent come from low-income families, while at Masterman the number is 44 percent.
To ensure that this bold proposal works as well as its architects intend, I suggest the following additional measures:

1. A 20% wage tax surcharge on anyone who works in Philadelphia and moves his or her private residence outside the city limits.

2. A 20% tax on private school tuition.

3. Outlawing home schooling.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

AP science & math

from Education Week:
Begun in the 1950s to let gifted students undertake college-level work in high school, AP courses, in Mr. Sadler’s words, have since become “the juggernaut of high school education.” Growing at a rate of 9.3 percent a year in the past two decades, enrollment in AP courses well outpaces the 1 percent yearly increase in the number of students graduating from high school, the book says.


...some students elect to retake the AP course they took in high school by enrolling in an introductory-level course in the same subject in college.

In his study, Mr. Sadler and his research partner, Gerhard Sonnert, look more closely at the retakers in 55 randomly selected colleges across the country.

Their aim was to see whether students who took and passed high school AP courses had an edge over their college classmates in the same subject, after controlling for differences in students’ academic backgrounds or previous science coursework. (AP course-takers typically have more extensive science backgrounds and better grades than non-AP students.)

The answer, judging by the students’ grades in the introductory-level college classes, was yes. The former AP students didn’t ace the classes—their grades fell on average in the range of B to B-plus—but they did better in their chemistry, physics, and biology classes than peers without any AP experience.

That was not the case, though, for students who had previously failed an AP biology test; they fared no better in that subject in college.

Grade Bump

In another study featured in the book, Mr. Sadler also applies some systematic analysis to the GPA-boosting “bonus points” that high schools often assign to AP-course grades. College-admissions officers also use similar methods to add weight to AP-course grades when comparing students’ grades.

To find out if the extra points were warranted, Mr. Sadler asked college students in 113 introductory biology, physics, and chemistry courses about the level of high school science courses they had taken and the grades they received in them. He then compared the results with professors’ reports of their students’ grades in those introductory science classes.

Mr. Sadler found that students who took honors or AP courses in high school science added an average of 2.4 grade points, on a 100-point scale, to their college science grades for each additional level of rigor. Based on that calculation, he figures that students who take honors courses ought to receive an extra half-point on a grade-point-average scale of 1 to 4, while AP courses ought to be worth an extra point, and an extra 2 points if students pass the exam.

Book Trains Critical Eye on AP Program's Impact
By Debra Viadero
Published in Print: March 17, 2010, as Book Eyes Impact of AP Classes and Exams
Education Week

A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program
Edited by Philip M. Sadler, Gerhard Sonnert, Robert H. Tai, and Kristin Klopfenstein

Sara on leveled books

I agree that the focus on high quality literature was the one bright spot in the original Whole Language of the 80s and early 90s. As I understand it that focus on quality literature left in the late 90s, and it was replaced by "Leveled Libraries." The early readers focus on "predictable text" with just one new word on each page, usually a word that can be guessed from the picture. "Ducks live in a pond. Fish live in a pond. Plants live in a pond." and so on.

This is causing me to think of snakes on a plane....

Possibly because I am living with a 15-year old boy.

children taking risks

The subject of very young children "taking risks" in school came up the other day, in a comments thread, I think.

Here's where it comes from.* Whole language. Children being taught to read in a whole language classroom are risk-takers.

I think we can take it on faith no one teaching children to read using a field-tested synthetic phonics program would conceive of his or her students as risk-takers.

There's a reason for that.

* NCTE links to this group.

more on national standards

I have mixed feelings.

I'll probably stick with that.

the vision thing

“As New Tech schools continue to expand nationally, Governor Daniels’ vision for blending education and economic development in Indiana will be utilized across the country” said Wick.

Indiana New Tech High Schools Become Model for National Expansion
Source: KnowledgeWorks Press Release

Just to be clear, Governor Daniels' vision for blending education and economic development in Indiana is not Governor Daniels' vision. Not originally.

It is Bill and Melinda Gates' vision.

I'm against it. See, e.g.: next time, try Core Knowledge

bonus factoid

Mitch Daniels went to Princeton. He should know better.

Salad v. Big Mac

Less than one-half of 1% of federal subsidies go to fruits and vegetables. 

Solve that Randi Weingarten.

Lessons from Ski School

I just picked up my kids from a day of ski school. It was a great experience for everyone. The kids seemed to enjoy the day. And as a parent, I felt like they learned a lot and were challenged appropriately for the day.

The experience made me wonder: What if academic schools were taught like ski schools? Here are some things that might change:

1. Children would be grouped by ability, not age.

Ski schools are organized by ability group, with age separation only for adult vs child. This means that the classes have children with different ages. For example, my older son, who is 8 years old, was in class with 10- and 13-year olds. And my 5 year old was in class with 3 and 4 year olds. From what I could tell, instructors, parents and children weren’t rattled by this notion.

If schools were to do the same, children would be in class with their academic peers, not their age peers. This would make it easier on teachers and students, as students would be able to focus on building the skills that they need to build, not on some arbitrary standard that someone their age should be able to do, and teachers could focus on skill-building for *all* students in the class since they would have similar ability levels.

2. Parents would be given very specific feedback about what their child need to do to get to the next level.

At the conclusion of the day, I was given very detailed feedback. For example, my older son needed to stay on the “fall line” consistently as he did the moguls. When I probed further, the instructor told me in detail what my son needs to do because the instructor had a very clear idea of what a skier of a given level should be doing.

Imagine being given very specific feedback in a parent-teacher conference: “Currently, your son has mastered 456 of our 1,234 spelling words that students need to master at this level. To get to the next level, we are focusing on subset of 124 words, mostly dealing with long vowel sounds. Here’s a list of the reference words, with your son’s progress noted.”

It would make our job as parents easier, provide transparency into the classroom, and help me answer the question “What do you do all day?”

3. Students would only be allowed to advance to the next level when they have demonstrated mastery of the current level.

My older son is attempting to get to the next level. However, they will not advance him until he consistently demonstrates the skills that are required at that level. And there is no negotiating this point. Everyone recognizes that promotion without mastery is a disaster waiting to happen.

Imagine hearing something similar from your child’ teacher: “Your son/daughter needs to become proficient at all multiplication tables up to and including 12x12, as measured by our proficiency exam . . . he’s very close, but he’ll need to focus on these problems to advance to the next level.”

4. The instructional approach and techniques at the beginner level would look quite different from that at advanced levels.

In the beginning of ski instruction, instructors use the “wedge” to teach skiing. It’s an artificial construct to help students learn how to turn and shift their weight from ski to ski. As the student progresses, the wedge is abandoned as skiers are taught to ski with their skis “parallel”. In the final stages, independent use of upper and lower body is taught. Each of these stages looks quite different, yet no one worries that it won’t eventually work.

What if the same approach were used in reading instruction? You might get this in your child’s backpack:

“Dear Kindergarten Parents,

. . . In reading instruction, we are continuing to teach children letter/sound correspondences. We are limiting our instruction of vowels sounds (e.g., short a, long a, long “o”) to isolate the effect of an “e” has at the end of some words. During this phase, the stories your child is reading won’t be “authentic”. In fact, they will sound contrived and silly because we are focused on helping them to improve their tracking skills with decodable text, and teaching them how to use punctuation marks to identify sentences and paragraphs. Eventually, as they become proficient decoders, the stories will become more authentic and sound more like stories you are used to hearing as an adult. Please bear with us and help us make this phase of learning fun by emphasizing tracking, going left to right when they read, and helping them use punctuation marks to tell them how to group words. When they don’t know sounds, simply provide the sounds to them and help them feel good about their experience with reading.”

And here’s the kicker . . . everyone in the ski school system seems completely happy with it. There is no jealousy across groups because a skier who is a “4” would be completely unsuccessful skiing in a “5” group. And parents aren’t pushing for their child to be upgraded to another level because they know it would mean misery on the mountain.

If we could only get educators to realize the beauty of this approach . . .

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

palisadesk on "onset" & "rime"

definition from U. of Oregon:

Onset-Rime: The onset is the part of the word before the vowel; not all words have onsets. The rime is the part of the word including the vowel and what follows it.

Catherine wrote:
Diane McGuinness says 'onset' and 'rime' (first letter/rest of the word) is bad, bad, bad....but I have forgotten why.

palisadesk wrote:
I don't recall just what Diane McGuinness said about onset-rime, but I can think of several reasons those advocating a synthetic phonics approach to beginning reading would frown on it.

1) It gives the new reader the wrong idea about what is entailed in "reading" a word. We want the child to learn to process the correspondences from left to right, "all through the word," as the UK folks say. We do not want them to think that we glance at the first letter, then the end of the word, then try putting two parts together, as the default strategy.

With "balanced literacy" children tend to look all over the place for "clues" (Fountas and Pinnell call this "word solving") -- the teacher's face, the pictures, the shape of the word, anything but the letters in sequential order

2)It suggests that rime units are "sounds" to be "learned." There are between 100 and 200 common rime units in short words that beginners can expect to see. But English has only 40-44 spoken phonemes which have about 70 common encodings in beginner vocabulary (forget about "yacht" for now). The memory load of trying to learn hundreds of "sounds" as separate entities is only exceeded by the memory load of trying to "learn" all the Dolch/high frequency words by sight alone. Many kids simply cannot do this and quickly determine that they will never be able to read. A negative mindset from the get-go is definitely a thing to avoid.

3)It trains kids into the look-at-the-first-letter-and-take-a-flying-leap strategy, which backfires once words get beyond one syllable. These kids will go on to read "disappear" as "dinosaur."

That said, once children have learned to decode sequentially, all through the word, phoneme by phoneme, there is some value in having them work with larger units (like rime units) but not in the patterned way onset-rime is usually taught. Some kids get really hung up on sound-by-sound word decoding, and don't easily move on to process larger units of words. So, recognizing that letter-groups like "og" or "ip" are usually spelled the same and sound the same can enhance their fluency.

But, instead of reading and writing onset-rimes with merely initial consonant substitution (man-can-fan), they can read and write words with the target "rime" unit in different positions: fog, soggy, toggled, dogsled, toboggan. This ensures they will continue to look at all the letters of the word, in order. Even Reading Mastery, a synthetic approach if ever there was one, introduces rhyming units and explicitly tells children that these parts that look the same usually are pronounced the same -- ime, lime, chime -- but they don't go on to hammer it as a decoding strategy to be used in lieu of all-through-the-word reading.

Research by the Clackmannanshire authors found that only children who could decode at the phoneme level could use larger units to read by analogy, which is what fluent young readers do when confronted with a new (short) word -- if they can sound out "late," they can read the name "Nate" even if they haven't seen it before. Generally, fluent readers have internalized common patterns to automaticity -- but they initially learned those patterns in a sound-by-sound, letter-by-letter way. There is research on how many times a beginner will "sound out" a word before it becomes an automatic response, but the results show extreme variability -- from 5 reps or fewer to many thousands. Most kids are in the middle, sounding out words dozens of times before recognizing them "at sight."

Some very successful remedial programs for children with reading disabilities emphasize teaching students to use analogy to read, especially for multi-syllable words. Maureen Lovett developed her PHAST program as part of the NICHD-funded reading research, and it teaches kids a self-talk strategy for decoding by analogy, but this is after they have already learned the phoneme/grapheme correspondences and how to blend them into words. She has data to show this is a very successful approach. This is also the general approach taken by the Benchmark School, a private school for kids with reading disabilities, which also has excellent evidence of success.

Both these programs however teach rime units differently than the "balanced literacy" initial substitution method, where all-through-the-word decoding is *not* emphasized.

For more information on these alternatives, you can Google Maureen Lovett and PHAST and/or Irene Gaskins and Benchmark School. The latter has written an excellent book about strategies to help struggling readers. It deals with multiple areas -- not only decoding, but organizational skills, reading comprehension, vocabulary, written expression and so forth. I give it three thumbs up.

Catholic Schools & crime

This paper represents the second stage of an effort to test previously unstudied implications of a dramatic shift in the American educational landscape, namely, the rapid disappearance of Catholic schools from urban neighborhoods. In a previous study, we used data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods to measure how Catholic school closures affected perceived levels of disorder and social cohesion in Chicago neighborhoods. In this paper, we use data provided by the Chicago Police Department to test two related hypotheses about the effects of Catholic school closures on violent crime rates. The first is that Catholic school closures will lead, in relatively short order, to increased crime in a neighborhood. The second is that that crime will increase most dramatically in those police beats where previous school closures led to elevated levels of physical and social disorder and suppressed levels of social cohesion in 1995. We find that Catholic school closures are linked to increase in violent crimes, and that the most significant increases occur in police beats with the highest levels of school-closure-related disorder and -suppressed social cohesion in 1995. Our study contributes in unique ways to two critical legal-policy debates about policing and education policy. First, and most significantly, our data provides a novel means of testing the broken windows hypothesis. We know, from our previous investigation, where school closures have elevated disorder and suppressed social cohesion, and, using a 3SLS analysis to solve simultaneous equations, we are able to link these findings with subsequent elevated levels of serious crimes. These findings suggest a connection between disorder and serious crime, even if not the direct one posited by Wilson and Kelling. Second, the study contributes new and important evidence to debates about school choice, especially in light of the very real possibility that urban Catholic schools will continue to disappear unless new sources of tuition assistance become available to the students that they serve.

Margaret Brinig & Nicole Stelle Garnett
Notre Dame Working Paper, March 2010

We need vouchers.

Has anyone else noticed that a lot of charter school imagery looks like Catholic schools of yore?

what is my school teaching & when, redux

from lgm:
I have asked that question also. None of my children's math teachers will answer it. They seem to reserve the right to get bogged down and cut material out, so don't want to be held accountable. I go to to ensure that we cover ALL the Regents material at home since the school can't be bothered to commit to doing so. Indeed, this year I've had to teach the last 2 factoring topics that are usually taught in Alg. I, simply b/c the teacher decided it was too much for the class my kid was assigned to.

please explain

You really have to see it to believe it.

What happened to "Show your work"?

source: Math Problem of the Week

Katharine Beals on constructivist selection bias

It has recently occurred to me that one reason why Constructivist classrooms appeal to so many people--including so many newspaper reporters--is because of their inherent selection bias.

Consider this. Only in certain types of classrooms can the Constructivist dream become a reality. Only in certain classrooms, that is, can you have groups of students spending so much of the day doing hands-on group activities without running up against either a shortage of materials or total chaos....

All the factors that favor Constructivism--small class sizes, well-behaved students, in-class parent volunteers, specially-trained teachers--correlate in turn with school district wealth, which correlates in turn with the socio-economic status of the families that enroll at the school.

And, as study after study has shown, high socio-economic status is correlated, independently of particular schools and their pedagogical practices, with academic achievement.

Thus, it's easy to connect the dots between Constructivism and academic success--and pleasant learning environments and compliant children and the crème de la crème of specially-trained teachers (those who win the opportunity to teach such desirable children in such desirable environments)--even though Constructivism per se cannot claim credit.

Constructivist selection bias

daryl-michelle on constructivist math in a wealthy district

In the wealthier districts like mine parents get tutors for their kids, or become de facto tutors. This is never taken into account when these districts brag about their quality and test scores. This is our 2nd year of constructivist math, 3rd grade, and its been a nightmare for certain kids (and their parents), with hours-long homework sessions resulting in still-failing grades (or non-grades, we use "indicators" here, I suspect, to cover up for this math...). The school is very willing to refer parents to tutors who charge $40/hr while pretending each kid is the "only one" struggling, but even before this every teacher who wanted to tutor gets booked all summer. I cannot tell how constructivist our math classes are in practice, but the materials for the program definitely expects it to be taught that way. And it is everywhere -"socratic circles" are in middle school social studies and english classes, in lieu of teaching, and my shy daughter can never come up with anything to say. But then our high school mathematics program mentions using Bloom's Taxonomy, which I do not fully comprehend but its supposed to encompass cognitive, affective and psychomotor areas of learning. Huh? How about just teaching math and we'll worry about the rest. Home schooling is looking better and better...

comment posted on Constructivist selection bias
Been there, done that.

instructional grouping vs differentiated instruction

A principal reason districts cite increasing staffing ratios—whether by adding teacher aides, instituting team teaching, or lowering class size—is the challenge of “differentiating instruction” to meet the needs of an educationally heterogeneous population in each class. But a far more effective—and less costly—solution is to change how classes are formed.

While much attention has been given to the size of classes, almost none has been directed to how they are formed. Classes are not chance aggregations of pupils; at least in principle, they are composed of students who have mastered the prerequisite skills and knowledge to function in the class. But in most American schools students are assigned to classes based on age—regardless of whether they have demonstrated such mastery. As students move up the grades, their teachers confront an increasingly unmanageable array of undiagnosed knowledge gaps among their students; these gaps impede the acquisition of new skills and explain the dismaying fall-off in student performance in the middle and high schools grades that is a hallmark of American schools. Exhorting teachers to address these gaps through “individual attention” or, to use the current buzzword, “differentiated instruction” is a fool’s errand.

The SABIS model of class formation proposes an alternative. The SABIS International Charter School in Springfield, Massachusetts enrolls 1,574 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade and has the largest waiting list, nearly 2,700 students, of any Massachusetts charter school. Tenth graders from low-income families outperform their peers in the Springfield district schools by 45 percentage points on the state’s respected MCAS test (92 percent proficient or advanced, compared to 46 percent) in English and 50 percentage points in Math (83 percent versus 33 percent proficient or advanced) and for the past seven years every SABIS Springfield high school graduate has been admitted to an institution of higher learning.39 The school has literally closed the achievement gap by race and income; tenth-graders in the low-income and African-American NCLB subgroups outperform the average student statewide. In 2008, Newsweek named the school just one of three urban “top U.S. high schools” in Massachusetts.40

Students are placed in grades by skills level, not age. From phonics in kindergarten through AP classes in high school, students are taught each learning objective to mastery. Through electronic assessment tightly keyed to the curriculum, their teachers are alerted immediately when they fail to demonstrate mastery of a skill they have just been taught. Rather than move forward, their teacher re-teaches the concept or arranges for tutoring of individual students by their peers so that knowledge gaps do not form that undermine later learning. A schoolteacher can no more successfully introduce algebra to students who have not mastered division than a college professor can teach an advanced chemistry class to students who have not completed basic courses in the subject.

So equipped, SABIS teachers routinely succeed with classes of thirty students. Ralph Bistany, SABIS’s founder, sees it is as SABIS’s mission to demonstrate that a world-class education can be delivered affordably and scoffs at those who claim thirty children cannot be taught effectively in one classroom. “First, we need to define the word ‘class,’” he says. “Every course has a prerequisite—concepts that the course is going to use but not explain. That list of concepts determines who belongs in the class and who doesn’t.” If the course is German, and one student is fluent and others cannot speak a word of the language, the students obviously should not be taught together, he explains. At SABIS, students in a class have the same background but neither, he hastens to say, “the same ability nor the same knowledge.” So formed, it doesn’t matter whether the class has ten students or fifty. “In fact, fifty is better,” he adds. “We have worked with classes of seventy in countries where it is allowed, and it has worked like a charm.”

The Efficient Use of Teachers by Steven F. Wilson Ascend Learning, Inc.
A Penny Saved: How Schools and Districts Can Tighten Their Belts While Serving Students Better

“fifty is better”

palisadesk on whole language vs balanced literacy

The early Whole Language movement (going back to the late 70's-early 80's) did emphasize quality literature, or "real books," partly in response to some of the basal sludge on the market. However, current "balanced literacy" does *not* feature "quality literature" but rather, "leveled books" which are specifically written to correspond to the Fountas and Pinnell/Reading Recovery levels and to lend themselves to being "read" by the approaches encouraged, e.g. picture cues, syntax cues, looking at the first letter and "predicting" (guessing) the word, and so on. Usually these books, while very glossy and colorful -- and correspondingly costly -- are banal and vapid to the point of soporific.

While one criticism of more phonics-based reading schemes was that they didn't sound like authentic speech or written English ("Dan did run at the cab"), the current books have stilted language that is every bit as artificial as, and no more like authentic speech than, the Dick and Jane "Oh, oh, oh, look, LOOK,LOOK!" or "the fat cat sat on the mat."

You can see some free samples here:

At the higher levels, some are pretty good, especially the non-fiction. But at the earlier levels, they are no improvement over "A Pig Can Jig" and in fact are worse, because they promote guessing, inhibit development of decoding skills, and still offer no real content to the reader. Better beginner books are the 70's era SWRL Beginning Reading Program books, now public domain and downloadable here

or here

Great children's literature can still be included in the "read aloud" component of the day. This is a must in the inclusion classroom -- many kids will be unable to read age-appropriate or challenging books, but can certainly understand them and gain a lot of vocabulary and background knowledge if the teacher reads excellent stories aloud. Not only fictional classics from The Wind in the Willows to Lassie Come Home, but also non-fiction pieces about science, history, biography. I found kids were fascinated by tales of unsolved mysteries (the Mary Celeste, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart), famous disasters (the Hindenberg, the Black Death, the Titanic), natural catastrophes (volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis) and these often sparked kids to do research and reading on their own. Sometimes participation in a class read-aloud gave a student with low literacy skills the opportunity to show superior reasoning and analysis.

Ideally we would get all students reading so that read-alouds would be for enrichment and extensions but I don't see that happening in the foreseeable future. "Balanced Literacy" will not meet the needs of those student who need explicit and systematic instruction (and this need is not much correlated with IQ or family background).

Sarah on balanced literacy vs phonics

You can't balance whole language and phonics because they are opposites. "Balanced literacy" as taught to my 1st grader meant (in part) "if you don't know a word, look at the first letter and guess." Phonics is "if you don't know a word, sound it out." Those two points of view contradict each other and cannot be "balanced."
A friend here described her child's experience with balanced literacy.

It was exactly as Sarah says: the kids were supposed to guess what the unknown words were, using context.

But - and here's something I hadn't heard before - every day the kids would read the same authentic book and guess the same words.

I can only guess that that happened because no matter what curriculum they're using, teachers know that kids need repetition in order to learn. So instead of giving the kids repetition via decodable books, like the Bob Books, they gave them repetition via the same authentic children's book.

But I don't know.

a parent on Trailblazers homework

I encountered this in my 3rd grader's homework. He learned his math tables from 1-5 and knows the 10s and 11s. His homework consisted of 30 multiplication problems; 7 of them were problems that he had never seen before.

9 x 9, 6 x 9, 7 x 6, blank x 7 = 49, blank x 6 = 36, 9 x blank = 63, and blank x 9 = 45.

The worksheet was called "Tracking Down Facts." He was upset by this. It was not covered in the classroom so he had no idea what to do. Leaving them blank is not an option for him -- he hates to get in trouble. He likes to do his homework on his own so he doesn't want to ask me for help. His feelings were anger, frustration, anxiety, hopelessness, desperation and finally he broke down and asked me what the answers were.

I sat down with him and asked him what 9 x 10 was and he knew and then I asked him how he could do some easy math to figure out what 9 x 9 was. He got it and painfully worked out all the other problems. This is how my child is learning math with Trailblazers. How did this scenario play out in all the different homes in town?

This is not helping children think through math problems -- it is teaching them how to cope.

I think parents assume that homework is a review of material covered in the classroom -- at least in early grades. I think that parents would be shocked to know that this is one of the core principles of Trailblazers: let the child struggle through problems they have not seen before and come up with their own strategies to solve them and then painfully explain their answers.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

what do their words mean?

Here is a survey of Twin Cities suburbs school district web sites. From here, it is clear that no parent could tell what is being taught. For whom are these web pages? What audience do they serve?

The educational language is very nearly the same for each. What parent could discern the differences, if any exist?

From the Hopkins School District site :

"In the Hopkins Public Schools we help all children become independent readers and writers through a balanced literacy program. Of equal importance in literacy instruction are the emphasis on reading for meaning and the promotion of literature for enrichment and lifelong learning...

The balanced literacy program in our elementary schools includes reading aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. The Hopkins elementary reading curriculum includes five areas of reading instruction—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. Our guiding principles for the elementary level, available for download at the link below, are the basis for all instructional decisions, including best-practice instruction and material purchases. Our school district uses Pearson/Scott Foresman's READING STREETS curriculum for our core reading instruction in kindergarten through Grade 6."

Then they have the above picture under the title Reading: Elementary Balanced Literacy.

That graph is coupled with what they refer to as "our guiding principles".Here are the first few principles:

"The K-6 Reading curriculum team of Hopkins School District believes literacy education should promote the development of literate students who construct meaning through reading, writing, listening and speaking. To accomplish this goal teachers will employ a balanced literacy model. Literacy instruction will include explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary/word study, comprehension, and motivation using a variety of literary genres. We believe in a balanced literacy model that includes; read aloud, word study, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading.

Literacy instruction is based on the following guiding principles:
1. Instill the love of reading and the importance of being well read.

2. Reading is taught for meaningful, authentic purposes. People read…
a. for pleasure
b. to be informed
c. to perform a task

3. Use high-quality, high interest literature in a variety of genres.
a. authentic trade book literature
b. content area topics
c. multiple levels of difficulty
d. diverse in cultural representation

4. Explicit and systematic instruction must be provided in these areas:
a. A comprehensive word study/phonics program significantly improves children’s
word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension. This program should be
strong in phonemic awareness & phonics instruction in the early stages of
• Phonemic awareness
• Phonics instruction
• Sight word recognition
b. Fluency is a strong predictor of comprehension.
• Rate
• Expression
• Intonation
• Attention to punctuation
• Vocabulary knowledge
c. Building background knowledge increases comprehension.
• Pre-teaching vocabulary
• Concepts (pictures, examples)
• Experiences
d. Vocabulary plays an important part in learning to read. Children use words they
have heard to make sense of words they see in print. Vocabulary is also very
important to reading comprehension.
• Indirectly through conversations and modeled read aloud
• Reading experiences
• Direct instruction
• Word Study (affixes, Latin, Greek roots, dictionary skills)
• Learned through multiple exposures

5. Balance teacher and student led discussions. Use higher order thinking skills and practice comprehension using think alouds, constructed response, literature response writing, etc.

6. Use a balanced literacy model which includes:
a. direct instruction
b. guided instruction
c. independent learning

7. Build a whole-class community that emphasizes important grade level concepts and
builds background knowledge.

8. Knowing that students enter school with a diverse background of literacy experience and skills, instruction must be differentiated to meet the needs of each learner. Small group instruction using appropriate texts for the learners has proven effective in meeting the needs of all learners.
The Edina schools have this to say about literacy:

"We believe that literacy is the fundamental academic asset. The mission of Integrated Language Arts in the Edina Public Schools is to "develop literate, life-long learners who read, write, speak, listen, and view effectively by engaging them in rigorous, relevant curricula." This process begins before formal schooling and continues throughout life.

The Edina Language Arts Curriculum is comprehensive and standards based. The Houghton Mifflin Reading Anthology and Leveled Libraries provide the foundation of teacher and student materials to meet the learner outcomes identified in the curriculum. The curriculum includes direct instruction in reading skills and strategies both in whole class and flexible group format. Teachers use a variety of assessments to determine flexible group assignments. The groups are adjusted throughout the year. The 6-Traits of writing is used for instruction, assessment, and communication about writing. "

The specific grade 1 curricula they list is:

Theme 1: All Together Now
Friends do all kinds of things together.

Theme 2: Surprise!
Things don't always turn out the way you expect.

Theme 3: Let's Look Around!
Interesting things happen in the world around us.

Theme 4: Family and Friends
Family and friends share good times.

Theme 5: Home Sweet Home
Everyone has a different kind of home

Theme 6: Animal Adventures
Real and imaginary animals have all kinds of adventures.

Theme 7: We Can Work it Out
Characters find unique ways to solve problems.

Theme 8: Our Earth
We can all care for and enjoy Earth's resources.

Theme 9: Special Friends
Some friendships are more special than others.

Theme 10: We Can Do It!
There's always a way to get things done.

Writers' Workshop
Beginning with the end in mind, we recommend to move to using a Writing Workshop as the preferred instructional framework. Best practices and research indicates that the Writing Workshop is a powerful and effective way to encourage and improve writing by placing responsibility on students, holding them accountable for developing their writing skills in multiple genres and building their confidence and enjoyment of writing. This student-centered approach may require changes in instructional patterns for teachers, students and parents

The Bloomington School district has this to say:
"The Bloomington Public School System is a results-based educational system that models continuous improvement. The basis for our assessment of improvement is student achievement. Student assessments are designed from a comprehensive curriculum of state, national, and local standards, delivered by a professional and highly qualified staff using instructional techniques defined by best practice and research – proven strategies."

What does that look like for, say, reading? Following from that site, you can get to the rubrics and standards.
Here's an sample of the rubric
for first grade reading.

Grade 1 Literacy Mid Year and End of Year rubrics
• Reads high frequency words
Assessment - High Frequency word list (online)
January June
4 = 100+ 4 = 125
3 = 70-99 3 = 100*
2 = 50-69 2 = 70-99
1 = <50 1 = <70
*100 correct words may be a combination of any of the 125 words. A list of the 125
shuffled together is posted on this website.

• Comprehension
Assessment – DRA (use DRA Continuum - Comprehension
category for determining proficiency)
4 = Advanced at level 8 or independent or higher above level 8
3 = Independent at Level 8
2 = Independent at Level 4 through < independent at level 8
1 = Lower than independent at level 4
4 = Advanced at level 16 or independent or higher above level 16
3 = Independent at Level 16
2 = Independent at Level 10 through < independent at level 16
1 = Lower than independent at level 10
• Fluently reads grade level text
Assessment – DRA (use DRA continuum for proficiency
descriptors at each level)
4 = Advanced at level 8 or independent or higher above level 8
3 = Independent at Level 8
2 = Independent at Level 4 through < independent at level 8
1 = Lower than independent at level 4
4 = Advanced at level 16 or independent or higher above level 16
3 = Independent at Level 16
2 = Independent at Level 10 through < independent at level 16
1 = Lower than independent at level 10

No parent could make heads or tails of that. Who is the audience? What need is being met by putting this content on the web site?

Given the above information, how could a parent assess curricular, instructional, or performance differences? They couldn't.

Cato on public vs private school spending

Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent.

To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation's five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.

Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.

To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

They spend what?
by Adam B. Schaeffer

I had no idea how much my own district was spending. I had been dividing the budgeted total by student enrollment, but it turns out we spend more than we budget because we borrow money to pay tax certs. (I think that's how things go - I'm still trying to master budget issues.)

I'd been thinking we were spending a couple hundred dollars over $28K per pupil.

Turns out the real figure is at least $30K and probably closer to $32.

And rising.

onward & upward, part 2

Programs like the Grassroots Cafe, J-term and Be a Buddy, Not a Bully! have earned Malcolm Price Laboratory School a national award designed to honor schools that educate the whole child.

The school recently won the first-ever Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, created to recognize schools that "move beyond a narrow focus on academic achievement to take action for the whole child, creating learners who are knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically active, artistically engaged, prepared for economic self-sufficiency and ready for the world beyond formal schooling." The award was given by ASCD, a nonprofit, worldwide education organization, which boasts more than 170,000 members in 136 countries.
PLS Wins National Education Award

cooking in Spanish class

While PLS 6th graders are cooking in Spanish class, kids in Singapore are learning math.

100 years of real dollar revenue growth

America’s Schools Have Experienced a Remarkable One‐Hundred Year‐long Period of Sustained Year‐Over‐Year Real Dollar Per Pupil Revenue Growth

America's Public Schools Face a Far Less Fortunate Future (pdf file PowerPoint)

Very worth taking a look at ---

another test - U. Wash

ESS 102 Math Assessment

Only 16% could solve for x:

y = x/x-1