kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/21/10 - 3/28/10

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Free Online Resources: Hippocampus

The Monterey Institute for Technology and Education

is an educational non-profit organization committed to improving access to education. MITE (pronounced "mighty") manages a range of projects from establishing systems for the development and distribution of open educational content to efficacy studies and other educational research. Two of MITE's cornerstone projects are the National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) and the MacArthur Series on Digital Media and Learning.

One of their services or enterprises is Hippocampus

A free, public website for high school and college students that offers NROC content.

I haven't poked around much but it looks interesting.

cheap private schools - ?

I've been wondering about something.

Is there a way to create cheap private schools?

Relatively cheap, I mean?

Relatively cheap private schools middle-class parents would be willing to pay for -----

I'm asking today because I just came across this passage from an editorial by Paul Peterson while scouring the internet for more spending x scores graphs:
Universal public high school is relatively new in this country. As late as 1900, more than two-thirds of all US high-school graduates got their diploma from private schools; public schools were turning out only 62,000 graduates a year. In later decades, school districts expanded the "public option" in education; by 1960, 90 percent of high-school age students were enrolled. When something is free, people will use it.

Today, though, only about 10 percent of elementary and secondary students attend a private school. Private schools now attract only two kinds of families: 1) the well-to-do, who are willing to pay the high cost of private schooling; and 2) those seeking to preserve their religious traditions.

Anything available on the cheap will drive out the more expensive -- except for those with hefty wallets or strong convictions.

Health lessons from schools
Paul E. Peterson
New York Post
fyi: Yes, this passage comes from an editorial about the health care bill (back when the public option was still on the table), but that's not the point.

The point is: the cheap drives out the expensive. I'd never heard it put so succinctly.

Public schools are fantastically expensive ($30K per pupil in my district last school year). Yes, we have special education and a zillion mandates, but from my perspective one of the main reasons public schools are fantastically expensive is that constructivism costs an arm and a leg.

If you're running a constructivist school, you have to have tiny little classes so the kids can work in groups without the decibel level breaking the sound barrier; you have to have mixed-ability classrooms because.....well, just because, which means kids move through the curriculum at a snail's pace; you have to have spiraling curricula which also means kids move through the curriculum at a snail's pace; you have to have SMART Boards and laptops and Smart Phones and lord knows what else because it's the 21st century; you have to have literacy specialists and math specialists because the failure rate with balanced literacy and fuzzy math is high; you have to have lots of parent reteaching at night and/or parent hiring of tutors because the kids aren't great at discovering and constructing knowledge.... I could go on.

I've been thinking about "cheap private schools" ever since reading about the Knowledge Schools in Sweden. It's true that, technically, a cheap private school costs more than a public school, but when you contemplate the many costs of getting a slow, fuzzy education instead of a fast, coherent education, the money you'd spend on a 'cheap private school' might start to look like a bargain.

A year ago I was talking about the issue of school spending and quality with a friend, and I said, "A good education costs less; a bad education costs more."

She pointed out that this principle is true on two levels: the school budget but also the life of the child. A bad education costs the child.

Suppose you put together a bare bones K-5 or K-8 school with the fundamentals parents want....

Could you do it?

What would it look like?

anonymous on Chicago schools

What most middle class parents in Chicago are seeking when they have their children apply for the magnet and selective schools is classmates that are not two grade levels or more behind. If the teachers are also good, all the better. But many would choose humdrum teachers, in a grade-level or better classroom, over high octane teachers trying to teach to a large number of children with serious remediation needs in the same room as children already on grade level.
Funny how parents just aren't getting with the program on differentiated instruction.

Or anything else, for that matter.

children should struggle
mixing fast and slow learners
constructivism solves classroom discipline problems
ed schools and you
palisadesk on recent graduates of ed schools


Alexander Givental writes:
Admitting publicly your love for math is likely to produce the same effect as announcing yourself a Martian.

Alas, mathematics is cherished by us, Martians for being a spectacular combination of beautiful art and deep science. Often challenging, yet enjoyable and most transparent of all subjects in school, it is a prominent and enlightening companion in life.

Well, if your eyebrows are up, look up what math means in Martian:

“The central idea of all of mathematics is to discover how it is that knowing some few things will, via reasoning, permit us to know much else — without having to commit the new information to memory as separate facts, — writes Madge Goldman, the president of Rosenbaum Foundation, in her preface to teacher’s guide to “Primary Mathematics,” the core elementary school math curriculum from Singapore, whose US edition was arranged for by the Foundation. — Mathematics is economy of information, not its unnecessary proliferation. Basic mathematics properly presented conveys this lesson. It is the connections, the reasoned, logical connections, that make mathematics manageable. Understanding the structure of mathematics is the key to success. Everyone can be 'good at mathematics,' and this textbook series, as has been proved in Singapore, shows how.”

Given the immense dedication of Tehiyah families to learning, there is little doubt that our remarkable, talented, inquisitive, intelligent kids, literally all of them, deserve and have the potential to, not just be good at math, but become true “Martians.” In this article, we highlight the necessary prerequisite for such promise to come true: the strength of our math program in Elementary School.

The math books from Singapore currently enjoy high acclaim and this year are even being put up for adoption by the California public school system. It is good to know therefore that our school began using them (namely Primary Math intended for grades 1–6, and Earlybird Math for the grade K) in Fall’04, i.e. way before they came into such fashion, and hence for reasons more sound than acclaim. What could the reasons be?

Mathematicians familiar with the present curriculum landscape attest that, unfortunately, there is not much choice. Strange as it sounds, Singapore math programs are virtually the only available elementary math curricula that don’t make a Martian cringe in embarrassment over every other page. Relying on most other programs seems just as wise as inviting Russian emigres to teach your kids English.

There is a good news too: Thanks to decades of stability in the country’s education system, Singapore math programs have evolved into materials nearly perfect pedagogically.

Is there Math on Mars? (pdf file)
By Alexander Givental

what do students want, part 3

from Crimson Wife:
My DD would probably have "no word problems" high on her math wish list but when using math IRL, one is rarely handed an equation to solve. The math I use day in and day out are basically word problems:

"Crimson Wife has $70 in her wallet. She has to fill up her 12 gallon gas tank at $3.13/gallon. She also has to pay the $15 co-pay at the pediatrician's office. Does she have enough cash to purchase 2 kids' meals costing $4.99 each and a salad for herself costing $6.49? (ignore tax as she also has a bunch of loose change)"
what do students want, part 2

orangemath on math software

I've used everything, but MathScore (soon). While it seems counter-intuitive, rigor isn't among the first issues at looking at software - at least in a classroom environment. For example, a major concern is the number of questions in the database! If there aren't enough questions, then students cheat like crazy. Furthermore, the main value of online instruction - isn't the instruction - but the "continuous formative assessment."

Actually, good instruction is a problem. Several software vendors, such as ALEKS, intentionally keep the instruction brief, because it forces the students to think more in solving problems. The programs that really instruct well - they sell WELL to curriculum consultants, etc. - but students don't learn more. They do less work. This sounds bad, but consider textbooks. Students don't read them. They start on problems and flip to examples.

Much more can be said, but before developing opinions; use ALEKS first. It is by far the most robust product - with a solid AI engine - and it uses constructive responses. It may not cover enough for an independent active learner, if so; try Cognitive Tutor. If price is an issue and you work with primary and are fruitful. However, for pre-K, start with Symphony Math.

If your focus is pre-Algebra, iPass from iLearn is actually a great product - a bit costly for me, and you need to buy into its 2x2, proportion approach.

With experience, you will develop bias that has nothing to do with Instruction. For example, StudyIsland has great questions and it allows users to submit corrections to questions (ALEKS has no wrong questions) but it's just multiple choice. APEX has great instructions and some constructive responses, but unlike ALEKS, the response must be exact in spelling, etc - a dumb system and APEX has numerous wrong/bad questions.

I haven't toyed with expensive solutions like Apangea. They include instruction with real person help. This is the big deal that many of you want. While Apangea uses US Math majors, the future is low cost help from India when a student gets stuck.

This was written quickly. Contact me if you have questions:


OK, for those that want rigor, you should try Raffles from Heymath: Heymath has excellent flash demonstrations combined with Raffles Singapore Curriculum. Spend some time on this site and see what is making Asia tick. Also, SmartMath is sold through Encyclopedia Brittanica, but it is Hong Kong's Planetii.

Math software is a worldwide competition with ALEKS and ST Math technology leaders, but there are many others. Remember, price matters when comparing.


Another key aspect of math software is "coverage:" not all students respond to a software program well. Every classroom needs at least two programs to reach everybody (time on task, number of problems). ALEKS has great coverage - somewhere between 60-70 % with my reluctant students, adding IXL or Smartmath gives me close to 100%.

Note: I laugh when people simply compare programs. As a teacher I play to find a fit. I need at least 2 programs. If you use just one, like "I Can Learn," which has nice embedded videos for instruction, I doubt if all students succeed. Don't be confused by averages in score growth, when every student must learn.

If I don't use ALEKS, I need 3 programs. For example, I respect Cognitive Tutor a great deal, but not many of my students respond to it. They quit.

Thanks, OrangeMath!

but some are more equal than others

Taken almost in entirety from Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club: though I left out one part of the murkiest side of this story.

The Washington Post says the discovery of a special list through which the Chicago elite might have gotten their kids into good schools shows how a system can be gamed to provide one kind of service for the haves and and another for the have-nots. “Public” systems run on guidelines and not all of them are published. Chicago faced a resource allocation problem. According to the WaPo most Chicago schools “face huge academic challenges” which meant that many parents didn’t want their kids in ordinary schools. They were “dissatisfied with neighborhood schools” and so need to “jockey for a limited number of slots in well-regarded magnet schools, out-of-boundary schools or selective public schools that base admissions on criteria such as grades and test scores.” But the VIPs couldn’t really be expected to line up. One solution: a front door and a backdoor. That’s why Duncan’s list was secret, referring to a special list maintained by current Secretary of Education who then ran the Chicago school system. It contained a list of connected parents and special schools. Some school officials they denied there was any correlation between these two columns whatsoever. If there was a backdoor the rear entrance had no visible signs.

“We didn’t want to advertise what we were doing because we didn’t want a bunch of people calling,” CPS official David Pickens admitted to Tribune reporters Azam Ahmed and Stephanie Banchero, who broke the story.

But those who could read the secret writing could find it. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune described the special glasses needed to understand the way things really work in the Windy City. He says the Daley dynasty designed it some things to be hard to see, unless you had the spectacles. “Today, I’m not going to rip on Daley. Instead, let’s focus on his brilliance, in creating Chicago’s two-tiered public school system. It bound the professional class to him and maintained him in power.” His Honor figured that the way to keep the professional class on his side was to corrupt some of them. So he built a two tier system, like a building with an executive washroom and a sewer. Those who wanted to use the executive washroom needed to find it. Most of all, they needed a key. Those who didn’t play could join the crowd or they could slip into their own environment where everyone was comfortable with everyone else amid the freshly changed linen and scented soaps. Kass explains:

The mayor knows how it works. He etched it into Chicago’s civic infrastructure years … When first elected in 1989, Daley eagerly reached out to those in the city’s predominantly white professional class. They were edgy and many were considering leaving Chicago.

In response, the mayor built top magnet and college prep high schools, pushing through work-rule changes to attract the best teachers. He produced the schools that nervous white-collar voters demanded.

Members of the professional class wanted city life. But they wanted their children educated. They became clients of Daley’s first tier. …

… education in the second tier remains abysmal. High school dropout rates are still around 50 percent, yet much higher when magnet schools are exempted. But even as tens of thousands of kids drop out to become calcified in the permanent underclass, the second tier still supports the mayor.

It’s not just about education. It is about jobs and patronage. Top teachers either fled or were lured to the top schools. But middle-rung teachers and below are the backbone of the teachers union.

The neighborhoods were rewarded with local school councils to elect, and budgets to manage and principals to appoint. By allowing the locals to run their mini-fiefdoms, Daley bound neighborhood activists to the system.

They were no longer beefers outside City Hall. They’d bought in.

Daly discovered the great rule of demagoguery. Convince those who’ve never eaten pâté de foie gras that the swill they are eating is it. Serve the real pate to those who already know what it tastes like. It was a system that would have been instantly familiar to former Soviets. World class academies for the nomenklatura, shacks on the banks of the Volga for those on the outs. Mayor Daley has indignantly denied the special list was used for playing favorites. He argued that just because there was a VIP entrance doesn’t mean anyone actually used it. The Chicago Sun Times reported that “Daley said there was nothing wrong with former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan’s office maintaining such a log because ‘no favoritism’ resulted from it.” One official, Office of Compliance Chief Anthony Boswell, whose children qualified for a magnet school after moving in from Denver said that while it made him look bad, he didn’t actually know if he received preferential treatment.

Boswell’s children ended up on the waiting list for Mark Sheridan Elementary Math and Science Academy, a South Side magnet school where admissions are based on a lottery, but were subsequently admitted in time for the 2008-09 school year. Those admissions have also drawn the attention of the school system’s inspector general.

“Tony has no knowledge of anybody inside city government, outside city government or from the moon calling to get his kids in to Sheridan school,” Boswell attorney Jamie Wareham said. “He can’t say it didn’t happen. But he didn’t ask for it, and he wasn’t aware of it.”

The Chicago school saga is fascinating for the penumbra which it throws over the possible management of Obamacare, whose architects hail from the same city as Daley Education. What if like Chicago, there were a fist of cold steel and rotting flesh beneath the velvet glove? Who could ever prove it? Daley has already denied that the VIP list was ever used by VIPs. Nobody ever called nobody about nothing.

Daley didn’t exactly force parents at swordpoint to bend their knees and kiss his regal garments. His genius here is more coercive, not the force of the warrior, but the subtle work of the arborist. They eagerly graft their branches to his trunk.

The first-tier kids go on to top colleges, the parents sing Daley’s praises. The second-tier workers are rooted firmly in the status quo. And the tree blooms and bears fruit, mayoral election after mayoral election.

It’s pâté de foie gras and if you don’t know it, what’s the diference. Is everybody happy? A permanent majority. All hail the future


financial literacy
[A]mong respondents age 50 and older, only half of them got the first two answers right and only one-third of them got all three answers right.
There's an interesting exchange about what schools should teach re: financial literacy.

And, if you follow the link to JumpStart, you find this:
In 2008, the Jump$tart Coalition also conducted its first national survey designed to measure the financial literacy of college students. The two surveys present contrasting results. The financial literacy of high school students has fallen to its lowest level ever, with a score of just 48.3 percent. The average score for college students on the same 31 question exam, however, was 62.2 percent, nearly 15 percentage points above that of high school seniors. In fact, if measured on the high school senior base of 48.3 percent, college students actually did nearly 29 percent better. In addition, scores improved for every year of college with seniors averaging 64.8 percent. The good news is that American college graduates are close to being financially literate and probably will be so with more life experience. The bad news is that just 25 percent of our young adults are graduating from college and this number appears to have stabilized. This means that 75 percent of young American adults are likely to lack the skills needed to make beneficial financial decisions.

and: interview with an online economics teacher

Computer-Based Math Instruction

What are current products (local computer or web-based) for individual teaching (learning) of math. I came across one called ILEARN, but it seems to be positioned as a remedial product, not as a curriculum replacement. I also found the web site ( very annoying because there are no detailed examples.

Are there any that are what we would call rigorous? If schools are really not going to have teachers teach (just guide), then I'm not sure why a 21st century (!) computer-based approach would not be really big. All kids could progress at their own speed and mastery could be done on an individual basis. One of the issues of the Everyday Math crowd is the requirement to achieve mastery "for all" before moving on to new material, but this is not a problem because everyone is moving at his/her own pace. Nobody is being pushed or slowed down. If kids get A's on the computerized test, they can move on. Otherwise, a report can be generated which gives the teacher a good idea of how to help the student.

Like a lot of modern teaching (even without computers), this assumes that the role of the teacher is only for support. It could be that their goal is not full inclusion or differentiated instruction, but mixed-ability group learning.

Does anyone know of a rigorous computer-based math curriculum?

what do students want, part 2

from Laurie Rogers:

Students said they want:
  • More “examples”
  • “Explanations,” line by line, of how to do each skill
  • Helpful “resources” within the textbook structure, such as the meanings of words, “answers,” “glossary,” directory, lists of mathematical procedures, explanations of mathematical symbols
  • Clearer and simpler language, “easier to read and understand”
  • Classical math – the math schools used to teach, the math that will get them to college without remediation – with “equations, algorithms, formulas, theorems”
  • Useful “visuals”
  • Uncomplicated word problems; (or) No more word problems
  • Content that’s germane to them, to their life, to college and to their future
  • More time and opportunity to “practice” skills
  • Small, portable machines that will calculate for them
  • The paid adult in the classroom to actually show them how to do things
  • To be allowed to progress when they understand something
  • Help from a “Website”
  • To learn a skill before they’re told to use it
  • A textbook that isn’t so big and heavy
  • A book they can work in at home

Rogers, L. (December, 2009). "School district excludes feedback from committee, students." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site

I'm especially partial to "learn a skill before they're told to use it," thanks to C.'s experience in middle school math, where the first application was always on the test. The kids went from seeing a procedure done a couple of times in class to one or two ungraded homework assignments practicing the procedure to multiple-step word problems applying that procedure on a graded test.

Two years of misery.

what do students want, part 1

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the things money can't buy, part 2

From the Everyday Math response (pdf file) to the new CCSI standards:
It may be that some on the Mathematics Working Group, perhaps over-generalizing from their personal experience in school, underestimate the cost of bringing all children to mastery on, say, decimal long division with the traditional algorithm.
I have an idea.

How about the schools economize on curriculum materials by purchasing Primary Mathematics instead of Everyday Math, so we have enough money to teach everybody long division?

Please Take This Dyslexia Survey

(cross posted at I Speak of Dreams)

The UK site Dyslexic Brian have written a survey and would like to have responses from all over the English-speaking world.

The survey is up at SurveyMonkey and consists of ten questions. The survey should take less than 5 minutes to complete.

Click here:

to be taken to the survey.


note: I agreed to help publicize the survey but I am not responsible for the questions. It's part of a social-media experiment.

Everyday Math's comments on the CCSSI math standards

The people at Everyday Math have submitted comments on the draft math standards called "Common Core Standards" that were recently released for public comment. You may find them here. It may be me, but it appears that the people at Everyday Math are openly stating that "teaching by telling" is a bad thing. I seem to recall that they denied the charge that their program was dictating to teachers how to teach. Just for the record, I have objections with the CCSSI "Common Core standards" as well and am preparing comments with some others. My objectons are not the same as Everyday Math's, however.

Here are Everyday Math's comments:

On March 10, 2010 the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, and other organizations issued draft Common Core Standards (CCS) for K-12 mathematics and reading. We at CEMSE have examined the mathematics standards for Grades K-6 and have found them to be seriously flawed.

If we are to have national standards, then those standards should be designed to prepare students for life in the 21st century. We believe that the proposed CCS standards for mathematics in Grades K-6 would promote a back-to-basics curriculum that ignores the profound changes that have taken place in the last 50 years. CCS’s largely paper-and-pencil approach to mathematics in K-6 is obsolete.

We believe CCS’s K-6 mathematics standards have seven serious shortcomings:
1.An overemphasis on paper-and-pencil arithmetic.

2.Inadequate exposure to concepts of data and probability.
3.A disregard of existing and emerging technology.
4.An outmoded approach to geometry.
5.A neglect of applications of mathematics.
6.An interpretation of “focus” that ignores how people learn.
7.An overemphasis on teaching by telling.

We urge the CCS Initiative to revise its 3/10/10 draft standards to address arithmetic, data, probability, technology, geometry, applications, and pedagogy in more forward-looking and research-grounded ways. Elementary school children need a broader approach to arithmetic, a useful grounding in basic data and probability, realistic and interesting applications, access to technology, a geometry curriculum based on research and enabled by technology, and a pedagogy that fits how they actually learn.

Monday, March 22, 2010

momof4 does the arithmetic

re: group learning
Let's see; it's very important to have a great/highly-qualified teacher, but somehow a few minutes per hour of that teacher's time (supervising groupwork in a full-inclusion classroom) is just as good as having 45+ minutes of her time (in a teacher-centered, homogeneous classroom)? Does the ed world have any idea how illogical that sounds? Impossible is probably closer to it.


What impact will a 4-day school week have?

Lynn G on children in groups

I can say from anecdotal experience that putting kids in groups tends to reinforce the group issues they already had, even cement their anti-social tendencies rather than correct them.

For example, I was in my 4th grader's classroom awhile back when the kids were assigned to groups of four kids to work on a writing project. It was a pretty good idea and the kids came up with some very interesting ideas. BUT, the groups didn't seem to enhance the work product -- nothing came out of it that they wouldn't have been able to do individually. And, the kids with the most trouble academically sat on the edges, didn't contribute or were rebuffed by their more able peers. For them, it was a complete waste of time. For the "good" girls, they had a great time sitting with their friends, putting down the boys in their group, and doing their best to come up with something the teacher would like.

But with the kids divided into 5 or 6 groups, the teacher could not be everywhere. She was needed full-time in at least 3 of the groups, and her dropping in for a few minutes on each group was too little too late. One kid in my daughter's group is in dire need of social skills. He spent the entire time spinning circles on his butt, standing up and asking to go to the bathroom or wandering off to the windows, or telling the other groups members that this was "stupid" or complaining that no one listened to him. When the teacher hovered, he acted out less, but at no point did he contribute.

I think about that and wonder, how is the 21st CS movement helping him? When the theory hits the road, how do they really expect kids to learn anything useful? How are they going to get the kids that need the social and collaborative skill to gain them just by assigning them to a groups of social adept kids?
Speaking as a parent whose son is attending a boys' school, I read accounts like this one and shudder.

Public school officials need to ask themselves whether group work is hurting some (or many) kids more than helping.

In reading, girls outperformed boys in 2008 at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Higher percentages of girls than boys scored at or above the proficient level on state reading tests at grade 4, grade 8, and high school; in some states, these gaps exceeded 10 percentage points.

Are There Differences in Achievement Between Boys and Girls?
Center on Education Policy
March 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

onward & upward ALEKS geometry

Back to Algebra 1.

I wonder if I'll ever get back to Fluenz?

fast feedback

I'm reading Stuart Yeh's book on rapid assessment of student learning via daily computer quizzes: Raising Student Achievement Through Rapid Assessment And Test Reform.

It's terrific, though it's also a case study in education school thought world-ery.

[F]unding for rapid assessment programs may enable schools to begin to address the challenge of the No Child Left Behind Act to improve student achievement without compromising educational quality.
Statements like this appear throughout the book, along with companion statements assuring readers that rapid assessment reduces skill and drill to the bare minimum, leaving maximum time for "critical thinking activities." The author has written an entire book about direct instruction, practice, and feedback: teacher teaches a lesson, then students do a bunch of problems and the computer scores their work pronto.

But 'drill' is bad.

Yeh is the person who showed that class size reduction was 124x less cost effective than rapid formative assessment.

what is ACTION?

What do student leaders grow up to be? It strikes me how national political disconnects and the microcosmic political disconnects within an umbrella student organisation are really quite similar.

One disillusioned leader of a cultural organisation here at UVA told me that student leaders' effectiveness here is judged not on the amount of grassroots organising and day-to-day organisation building they do, but on how many glitzy events they throw for their organisation. Did you help your organisation throw three big parties last semester? Awesome, come join this secret society, dedicated to public service and troublemaking in a cool way (but whose day-to-day activities consist of partying, as I am told).

Meanwhile, the many grassroots leaders who work to strengthen routine, day-to-day connections (e.g. between high school students and undergraduates) or gradually build connections overseas (e.g. those behind ThINK / "There Is Hope In North Korea") get little press coverage.

When we talk about ineffective politicians, programme organisers, or education administrators, we should consider where they come from and what was encouraged/promoted in their youth. Perhaps we should also consider what repels capable individuals of suitable character from public service. Some of it is inherently human nature: it is easier to direct public and press attention to big, one-time events rather than day-to-day work. It is also the way, I suspect it works in politics, from school districts to national governments. Before the US did economic stimulus payouts, this was a routinely Singaporean thing to do to convince Singaporeans that the government was doing *something*.

Consider that the name of the Ministry of Education teacher who introduced bar modeling (among other key innovations) to the Singapore primary math is virtually unknown -- his name can be found on a comment thread in this blog, if you search hard enough. The opinions and the authoritarianism of Lee Kuan Yew are celebrated while the intellectual philosophy of the guy who really helped build Singapore, Goh Keng Swee, is rarely mentioned in current Singaporean political discourse. Among the key members of the Central Committee of the People's Action Party, I feel that Goh Keng Swee was the true George Washington -- he retired from public service in 1984 after having spent four decades in the civil service, quietly building the Singaporean economy and education system. Many Singaporean teachers believe he is the true reason why Singapore went from "third world to first".

Meanwhile, Lee Kuan Yew (who loves the limelight) frequently goes on radio and television to tell us how Western liberal democracy is inappropriate for an Asian nation with Asian values, or to make shocking comments about what he thinks about Indians and Malays compared to Chinese, or how Chinese dialect use should be actively suppressed in favour of Mandarin.

With that in mind, we should also beware dismissing those leaders who do real behind-the-scenes work but get little attention for what they do, while unwittingly promoting those leaders whose success has been built by the flashy.

Yet still.


During spring break, I (with two dozen other members of above-mentioned cultural organisation) went to UPenn to attend conference aimed at Asian-American activists, leaders, grassroots organisers, et al. which occurs every year. 1400 students there, all for noble aims (in addition to fun). The workshops reinspired me to recommence initiatives that I had gotten discouraged to pursue, and one workshop facilitator (spoken word artist Kelly Tsai) was very good at intimately connecting with participants, even with 30-40 people in the room. She is the type that would make a good teacher -- it goes beyond extrovertedness, as mentioned in the recent NYT article.

However, there were a lot of organising hiccups. The "grassroots" feeling was lacking; the organisers felt distant and unapproachable; my group was shut out of the Irvine Auditorium where the massive opening ceremony was being held, because they had run out of seats and the unionised Penn staff would not allow for standing or even use of the upper balcony. There was little visible effort to maximise what we took away from the workshops, e.g. foster post-workshop discussion after the workshops themselves ended.

Having 1400 students from dozens of schools ranging from MIT to Johns Hopkins to University of Florida in one place -- some of them graduate students already involved in teaching in low-income areas, immigration law, racial discrimination issues, etc. -- is a big opportunity! It's an exciting chance to build a really strong and effective grassroots network. But there were little efforts to mix up the cliques. 500 participants alone must have been staying at our hotel (we squeezed 8 people a room). Apparently when you pack 80 active, passionate youth leaders into a hotel lobby at a time, the thing that should dominate discussion as you wait for the elevator is what room the party is at, who's getting the alcohol, or which frat you are going to hit.

There are always hiccups in every event. But this is an annual event that has gone on for nearly 30 years (albeit at different schools). At the closing ceremony, the organisers spent 15 minutes making speeches congratulating themselves ("To the 20 members of the X&Y Committee, it wouldn't have been possible without you!") and how the Penn chapter had worked on this for two years. Which is fine, I guess. It would have been nice to have sounded more receptive to feedback -- I totally did not get the "tell us how we can improve!" vibe from the ceremony.

Why are some leaders or teachers effective, even "miraculous"? I believe it's their constant search for self-improvement... a trait a Teach for America consultant has noted as well. They are always looking for problems or hiccups to fix.

But I wonder how many conferences go on similarly to the one I attended, even when they aren't student-run. Take teacher workshops -- if you brought 1400 teachers from all over the country into one place, what could they achieve? But what do they achieve, usually?

Jean on ergonomics

Here's another thought: ergonomics is important when you're using a keyboard all the time. How many kids who type everything are using a keyboard designed for smaller hands? How many of them sit with proper posture, with their arms held at a good angle? The number approaches zero, right?

If a child spends hours a day, for years, typing in bad positions with ill-fitting equipment, he's being set up for repetitive stress injuries that will not go away.

I speak from experience, since my husband is a software engineer. He started programming when he was 10, and of course never heard the word ergonomics. By the time he was 23, he had severe tendinitis in both arms, which he's now had for over 10 years (though it's improved with attention to ergonomics and physical therapy).

I'd bet that schools that require students to type everything or use laptops all the time don't give a second's thought to the physical consequences of constant keyboard and mouse use.

handwriting, part 2

Vicky S:
Here's another side of it: kids who can't write cursive can't read it either. Ask a student who has never learned cursive to read a handwritten paragraph. You'll see what I mean.

When my older son (who writes in cursive) did spelling tests at his new school in 4th grade, and they exchanged papers to grade them, not one person in the class could read his words (and his cursive is quite good).

Susan S:
Another problem, along with lack of practice, is the fact that some schools allow keyboarding papers as early as 4th grade. Thats what happened to my son. They gave him a choice so he chose the computer.

I finally realized in middle school that he couldn't write a legible paragraph. He was dependent on the computer and spellcheck. I had to spend a year forcing him to handwrite summaries for me and he complained mightily because his hand hurt after a sentence or two. It took a few weeks for him to relax with the pen or pencil and pop off a paragraph. This is ridiculous for kids about to go into high school English followed by the ACTs.

I also had to re-teach him certain letters in upper and lower case. No teacher corrected his mess when he was doing extended response in class, something they do a lot to prepare for state tests.

Oh yeah, and rarely did he come home with lined paper. He had idea how to use it.

Most of the practice that he did receive in grade school was in the form of journaling. His own thoughts of "I love to play with my ball" are more critical at that time than learning to shape letters properly, apparently.

Cursive is important because they can't read it, like Vicki said. They can't read their parent's love letters or the Declaration of Independence. Cursive gives them more practice which helps to strengthen those small muscles in the hand. At some point, I agree that allowing them to choose is fine, but I would push it to high school. They have to be forced to write until it's fluid, something we of another age took for granted.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. It's another thing you must do at home and early or you'll have to remediate later.

I know a lot of kids who write a '4' the same way they would print a lowercase 'u', except with a longer tail. A '5' is written the same way as an 's', and a '9' is written starting from the bottom, then up, and a counterclockwise circle at the top.

I think they "discovered" this because no one showed them how to pick up the pencil to finish the 4, or to put the "little flag" on top of the 5, or to change direction when writing the 9.

And they hold their pencils the way little crabs would hold them! By the time they get to middle school it would need Total War to fix, and I would lose.


It is dreadful. My friend who teaches at college level can't read their stuff... and as mentioned above.. ironically the typing is as bad or worse. They are never taught how to write a sentence... just told to write, from kindergarten on. I admit my grammar isn't the greatest... but atleast I know it isn't... they don't.

Last year (Gr4) my son's teacher taught them cursive. He told me they'll never see it again - he's taught 30yrs or so - BUT, he was going to give them a crash course in it. Now, my son had already had some cursive b/c OT sent some home. He can now read (ok) and write (messy but no worse than his printing) in it - gr 5.

Chem Prof gave me an idea, this summer when he's doing spelling words I'm going to add "write in cursive" to the instructions.

Thanks for the reminder.

exo attends a professional development presentation

We recently had a PD which was called "Differentiated Use of Textbook". The presenter, former elementary school teacher from PA, started withe following: "The textbooks are boring, they contain too much dry information and too littl pictures and connections to technology".

Mind you, she presented to a high school teachers. Especially in math and science, it's common among us to be annoyed with extremely heavy textbooks with TOO MANY pictures and TOO LITTLE of information so we rarely request that kids carry textbooks to class relying on lectures and for homeworks they use online versions.

Now, this whole differentiated textbook talk can be summarized a s following: sorry, kids can't read. So let's group them together and do this activity, and that activity, and this one activity so they will not need a textbook at all! And everyone will feel better, because stronger kids can go and research more online! And weaker kids can be assigned points for participation!

Temple Grandin would say this is an example of "the bad gets normal."

lgm on school spending in hard times

re: why school spending goes up in hard times:
My experience in this year's round of school budget discussions is that the staff could care less about the general taxpayers' vocal desire to pay market wages, have employees contribute toward their healthcare costs at a level equal to other state government employees, cut costs by seeking efficiency, and share services with local gov'ts. The tactic of sticking it to the students continues...'give us our raise and pass this budget' or 'we'll cut sports/extracuriculars' etc.

There was a bone tossed to seniors a few years ago in the form of a tax reduction. But for everyone else, it has been vocalized that a $1000 increase in property taxes really shouldn't be a problem. I get the feeling that the classism is on the rise.

I actually wouldn't mind paying more in taxes, except I know it just goes to teacher salary, not to students. I reallly can't see paying a gym teacher over $95K in a county where the average person takes home 50K. I can't see paying a math teacher over $100K when the results are this dismal, and even if every child was scoring a '4' on the state exam, I know that the large Fortune 100 company over in Dutchess Co. is not paying its engineers with higher educational levels and similar experience that much for a nonmanagement job. I'm for a salary cap on positions and reasonable compensation.
My town doubled school spending in 10 years' time with no measurable gains in student achievement. Real per pupil spending (based in audited financials) is now around $32K. And rising.

This year we've pushed the administration to adopt evidence-based decision making and link spending to student achievement.

No dice.

Does the quality of a student’s handwriting affect SAT essay grading?

After reading chemprof on handwriting, I caught a thread on collegeconfidential that asked, How much does handwriting affect SAT essay grade?

I would say probably yes, because I agree with this comment:

Officially, it's like jgraider says. They're professional graders, handwriting quality is not one of the things being judged, so it has no effect.

Unofficially, essay grading is by its nature subjective. An essay where all the letters are beautiful and flowing will look better than an essay of chicken scratching, whether or not it's officially used as a criterion.