kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/28/10 - 4/4/10

Saturday, April 3, 2010

reading workshop

Headline and subhead in the March 31, 2010 issue of Education Week:

Added H.S. Science Courses Said To Yield Mixed Effect in Chicago
Policy did not boost college-going or grades, study finds

Critical thinking challenge: In the two lines above, which word seems out of place?*

department of silver linings

Apparently, the term 'mixed' refers to the fact that after Chicago public schools required all students to take 3 science courses in order to graduate, many more students did indeed take 3 science courses prior to graduation.
Many students passed their classes with C’s and D’s, both before and after the policy was implemented, the researchers found. That suggests a low level of learning and engagement in the courses, they said.

Only 15 percent of students, the study says, completed three years of science with a B average or higher in those courses after the policy change. That was a modest 4-percentage-point increase compared with the period before the policy took effect.

Prior research, Mr. Montgomery said, shows that students who are truly gaining knowledge in courses earn grades of A or B.

“Before the policy, most students received C’s and D’s in their classes,” he said. “If they weren’t being successful with one or two years of science, why would we think they would be successful with three years of science, if we don’t pay attention to getting the students engaged?”


In addition, the study found that students affected by the coursetaking policy were less likely on the whole to attend a four-year college, compared with their counterparts before the policy change. They were also less likely to remain in college.

“It seems clear to us that this was a first step. They now have students enrolled in these classes,” Mr. Montgomery said, noting the required science courses are the kinds that colleges look for on transcripts.

Effect of Chicago's Tougher Science Policy Mixed
By Dakarai I. Aarons
Education Week
Published in Print: March 31, 2010, as Added H.S. Science Courses Said to Yield Mixed Effect in Chicago

I'm sure college-going and grades will soar once they get students engaged.

* answer: mixed

Friday, April 2, 2010

Life of Fred

How is it that in all these years I have not encountered the Life of Fred series by Stanley Schmidt until today?
Some arithmetic books omit the sugar—which is like lemonade without any sweetener. They give you a couple of examples followed by a zillion identical problems to do. And they call that a lesson. No wonder students aren’t eager to read those books. At the other extreme are the books that are just pure sugar— imagine a glass of lemonade with so much sugar in it that your spoon floats. The pages are filled with color and happy little pictures to show you how wonderful arithmetic is. The book comes with 1) a teachers’ manual, 2) a computer disc, 3) a test booklet, and 4) a box of manipulatives. And they are so busy entertaining the reader that they don’t teach a lot of math. This second approach is also usually quite expen$ive.

We’ll take the Goldilocks approach: not too sour and not too sweet. We will also include a lot of mathematics. (Check out the Contents on page 10.) How many arithmetic books include both forms of the Goldbach Conjecture? (See chapter 17.) The reader will be ready for algebra after completing this book.

Jennie on what parents know

I think most parents have NO CLUE that this is how reading is being taught in the schools. This approach is used even in schools that claim they teach phonics. After all, they do teach some letter-sound correspondences for consonants and vowels, and they do encourage children to use that information when looking at the first letter of a word, as you see this adult doing with the "c" in "cat."

Many parents therefore assume, when their child struggles, that the problem lies within their child.
Until a year ago, I was in the NO CLUE category. Just a couple of years ago I would have looked at this video and thought the mom was using phonics.

EduCrazy on urban vs suburban kids

The inner city kids face challenges and hurdles, but you cannot say the families have no culture or support of education (unless you've never met one). But you also can't assume the suburban schools and families are models of good behavior either.

I believe most parents are doing the best they can most of the time. But suburban parents tend to have more resources to remediate and reteach and there's the real issue. A failing suburban kid will get tutoring. A suburban kid's parents can (usually) correct the math mistakes and grammar errors or teach the material again if the child fails. Inner city families tend to lack those resources that are needed to compensate for the lousy instruction their kids get in school.

KIPP visitor's critique

Molly on strategies used by adults who can't read

re: the balanced literacy video
About 20 years I ago, I took part in a training program for Literacy Volunteers of America. It was a fairly intense training for volunteers who would be working with illiterate adults. One thing we learned was the coping strategies that illiterate adults use. This video is a great demonstration of those strategies. Figure out the first letter and look at the picture to guess. We are actively teaching children to use the coping strategies of illiterates, rather than teaching them to read. There is something very wrong with the whole process.

Lynn G on grandma with a pencil

When my littlest kid was about this age, I remember going to a restaurant with my mom (a retired reading teacher). While we were waiting for the food, and everyone was talking about stuff, I saw my mom with a little notebook working through lists of words that she was handwriting and teaching my daughter to sound out.

She picked rhyming families and concentrated on a single internal vowel sound at a time. Then they wrote simple sentences.

By the time the food arrived, my daughter was reading sentences with no picture clues. And every now and then my mom would throw in a new word without warning that was similar and in the same family, but required my kid to look at the letters and think about what was happening.

Good teaching can take place anywhere, anytime, with the simplest of tools. You can keep your technology integrationist. I've got Grandma with a pencil.

John Hopkins

The "S" is out: We're "John Hopkins" now

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Post-Doc Academy Charter School? "Academy of Wisdom and Learning"

(Although published on April 1, not a spoof.)

Michael Drout's dream high school, Academy of Wisdom and Learning

I would open a school staffed entirely with new Ph.D.'s, probably mostly from local New England universities, who wanted to get teaching experience. It would pay $42,000 per year with full benefits on two-year contracts. The idea would be that faculty would teach at the Academy as a way-station on their academic careers, kind of a teaching and research post-doc. They would receive intensive on-the-job training about how to teach (because there is no tougher audience than high-school kids), though even if they weren't great teachers at the start, they would have energy and excitement about their work and would become good teachers.

Everyone would be expected to do research as well. We would have weekly colloquia and presentations, part of the benefits would include Interlibrary Loan and access to academic databases, etc, and time would be set aside each week and within each day to do and present research. The headmaster (me, to start) would advise and support the staff in interdisciplinary research efforts, bring in speakers, etc.

The "catch" would be that the students would have to be included in this research in various ways--you'd have to design your projects so that students could help, and this working on cutting-edge research projects would be a way to focus student learning. If a student was helping, for example, on a 19th-century history project, then the teacher would be teaching the students the background they needed to understand the project and contribute to it.

OK, KTMians, what's your take? Go over to Prof Drout's blog to comment

Core Knowledge pilot study in NYC

here (pdf file)

6X Greater Literacy Gains for CKR Students than Students at Demographically Similar ComparisonSchools

Compared to peers, kindergarteners taught with the CKR program made more progress in all areas of reading tested: spelling, phonemic awareness, decoding, and comprehension.

Teachers’ Views:
“The Skills Strand is really very good for the students. Their reading levels are higher this year than last year.”

"At first, I felt that many teachers did not know if they agreed with teaching sounds before letter names. But by January, when teachers started to see their children reading, they became believers” became believers."

“The Skills Strand has exceeded my expectations. I think it is the best reading program I have ever used. We are thrilled with the results. I hope it is introduced into more schools. We plan to change the sequence of the Listening Strand.”

“After seeing how well Core Knowledge Skills worked for teaching my children to read, I would have a hard time teaching any other way.”

administrator views:
“This year with Core Knowledge Reading, all of the teachers are communicating more, they discuss the pacing and delivery strategies” pacing and delivery strategies.

“The CK pilot has honed the professional conversation.”

“There was resistance and suspicion on the teachers part in the beginning but they are ecstatic over the results— the children are reading! “

The finding that professional conversations amongst colleagues were 'honed' is interesting. Stuart Yeh reports the same phenomenon in his book Raising Student Achievement Through Rapid Assessment and Test Reform. Sound curriculum and testing programs are as good for the grown-ups as they are for the children.

Thanks go to Erin Johnson for supplying the link.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Andrew Coulson is feeling optimistic.

a picture is worth a thousand words

from chemprof:
In the "it is always worse than you think" category, I had someone from the education department recently tell a story where she expressed frustration with a kid for trying to sound out the word when "the picture is right there." Why they think this teaches reading is beyond me.

5th grade in Bolivia

When he arrived at the school, he was dismayed to learn he had been assigned to teach the lowest level of math. He grew unhappier still when he discovered how watered-down the math textbooks were -- on a par with fifth-grade work in Bolivia. Faced with unruly students, he began to wish for his old job back.

Jaime Escalante Dies at 79; math teacher who challenged East L.A. students to 'Stand and Deliver'

the Jesuits, again

Escalante was born Dec. 31, 1930, in La Paz, Bolivia, and was raised by his mother after his parents, both schoolteachers, split when he was about 9. He attended a well-regarded Jesuit high school, San Calixto, where his quick mind and penchant for mischief often got him into trouble.

Jaime Escalante Dies at 79; math teacher who challenged East L.A. students to 'Stand and Deliver'

Jaime Escalante, RIP

His wife and son later joined him in Pasadena, where his first job was mopping floors in a coffee shop across the street from Pasadena City College, where he enrolled in English classes. Within a few months, he was promoted to cook, slinging burgers by day and studying for an associate's degree in math and physics by night. That led to a better-paying job as a technician at a Pasadena electronics company, where he became a prized employee. But the classroom still beckoned to the teacher inside him. He earned a scholarship to Cal State Los Angeles to pursue a teaching credential. In the fall of 1974, when he was 43, he took a pay cut to begin teaching at Garfield High at a salary of $13,000.

"My friends said, 'Jaime, you're crazy.' But I wanted to work with young people," he told The Times. "That's more rewarding for me than the money."

When he arrived at the school, he was dismayed to learn he had been assigned to teach the lowest level of math. He grew unhappier still when he discovered how watered-down the math textbooks were -- on a par with fifth-grade work in Bolivia. Faced with unruly students, he began to wish for his old job back.

Motivating students

But Escalante stayed, soon developing a reputation for turning around hard-to-motivate students. By 1978, he had 14 students enrolled in his first AP calculus class. Of the five who survived his stiff homework and attendance demands, only two earned passing scores on the exam.

But in 1980, seven of nine students passed the exam; in 1981, 14 of 15 passed.

In 1982, he had 18 students to prepare for the academic challenge of their young lives.

At his insistence, they studied before school, after school and on Saturdays, with Escalante as coach and cheerleader. Some of them lacked supportive parents, who needed their teenagers to work to help pay bills. Other students had to be persuaded to spend less time on the school band or in athletics. Yet all gradually formed an attachment to calculus and to "Kimo," their nickname for Escalante, inspired by Tonto's nickname for the Lone Ranger, Kemo Sabe.


The Advanced Placement program qualifies students for college credit if they pass the exam with a score of 3 or higher. For many years it was a tool of the elite; the calculus exam, for example, was taken by only about 3% of American high school math students when Escalante revived the program at Garfield in the late 1970s.

In 1982, a record 69 Garfield students were taking AP exams in various subjects, including Spanish and history. Escalante's calculus students took their exam in May under the watchful eye of the school's head counselor. The results, released over the summer, were stunning: All 18 of his students passed, with seven earning the highest score of 5.

But the good news quickly turned bad.

Testing controversy

The Educational Testing Service, which administers the exam, said it had found suspicious similarities in the solutions given on 14 exams. It invalidated those scores.

The action angered the students, who thought the service would not have questioned their scores if they were white. But this was Garfield, a school made up primarily of lower-income Mexican Americans that only a few years earlier had nearly lost its accreditation. "There's a tremendous amount of feeling that the Hispanic is incapable of handling higher math and science," Escalante reflected later in an interview with Newsday.

He, like many in the Garfield community, feared the students were victims of a racist attack, a charge that Educational Testing Service strongly denied. Two of the students told Mathews of the Washington Post that some cheating had occurred, but they later recanted their confessions.

Vindication came in a retest. Of the 14 accused of wrongdoing, 12 took the exam again and passed.

After that, the numbers of Garfield students taking calculus and other Advanced Placement classes soared. By 1987, only four high schools in the country had more students taking and passing the AP calculus exam than Garfield.

Jaime Escalante Dies at 79; math teacher who challenged East L.A. students to 'Stand and Deliver'
Stand and Deliver Revisited

what do parents want?

Reading this Brian Mickelthwait post, I was inspired to conduct my own investigation.

whole language products for sale on eBay: 199

balanced literacy products for sale on eBay: 22

look and say products for sale on eBay: 60

phonics products for sale on eBay: 7,260

Of a piece with the observation that nobody ever hires a constructivist tutor.

Brian Mickelthwait explains look-and-say

Not long after teaching me to read, my mother got to know some teachers and found out about the “look-and-say” method for teaching reading, and from then on, whenever education was mentioned, she would complain about this doctrine.

This look-and-say method of “teaching” is to me so absurd that even now I am handicapped when describing it by sheer incredulity.... Instead of looking at letters, you look at entire words, and try to remember what each word, viewed as a single indivisible pattern, says. Look-and-say turns the deciphering of English into a project as daunting as the deciphering of Chinese or Japanese.

To make this daft process easier, you are given incidental clues. A sentence about a pig is shown next to a picture of a pig. If you get stuck at P I G, you guess — guessing being much encouraged — either from the picture or from the face of whoever is reading along with you. Then, while remaining confused about what you just “read” and how you did it, you bash on. The one thing you are not told is that P spells puh, I spells i and G spells guh, which means that P I G spells puh-i-guh pig, and you don’t need to guess about it. The one thing, in other words, that you are not told about, when subjected to the look-and-say method for learning to read is: reading.

On the harm done by "look-and-say": A reaction to Bonnie Macmillan's Why School Children Can't Read (pdf file)

And let us not forget: Thank you Whole Language.

the emperer's new clothes

This is amazing:
My 8 year old watching [the balanced literacy video] over my shoulder asked what happens when the book has no pictures.
(from Anonymous)

KIPP for high-SES kids

in the comments thread

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

balanced literacy

For some time now, I've wondered exactly what people are actually doing when they teach kids to read via balanced literacy. This video makes clear what "predictable text" is and why knowing the sound of the first letter in a word isn't the same thing as phonics. Watch what happens at the end of the tape (what doesn't happen, I should say) when this little girl encounters the word 'me.'

boys need phonics

There has also been concern about the growing gender divide in achievement, starting in primary schools.

Under the synthetic phonics system, children are taught the sounds that make up words rather than guess at entire words from pictures and story context.

Rhona Johnston, a professor of psychology at Hull University, and Dr Joyce Watson of St Andrews University, studied the results from 300 children originally given training using synthetic phonics when they were five.

The progress of the group at primary schools in Clackmannanshire was compared with 237 children using the more usual analytic phonics approach.

Boys taught using synthetic phonics were able to read words significantly better than girls at the age of seven, with all pupils ahead of the standard for their age.

Boys were 20 months ahead while girls were 14 months more advanced than expected.

At the end of the study, boys' reading comprehension was as good as that of the girls, but their word reading and spelling was better.


"Teachers told us they had fewer disciplinary problems and less trouble in the playground because boys were succeeding and had higher self esteem."

Professor Johnston's work has been influential in persuading the Government to re-write its national literacy hour - returning to a system that dates back to Victorian times.

Synthetic phonics fell out of favour in the 1960s and 1970s in favour of progressive 'child-centred' learning that was championed for decades by educationalists in the Labour movement.

Boys do better than girls when taught under traditional reading methods
London Evening Standard

and see: Bonnie Macmillan explains why boys need synthetic phonics more than girls do.

The girl show

The National Honor Society says that 64 percent of its members — outstanding high school students — are girls.

[I]n elementary schools, about 79 percent of girls could read at a level deemed “proficient,” compared with 72 percent of boys. Similar gaps were found in middle school and high school.

The average high school grade point average is 3.09 for girls and 2.86 for boys. Boys are almost twice as likely as girls to repeat a grade.

Boys are twice as likely to get suspended as girls, and three times as likely to be expelled. Estimates of dropouts vary, but it seems that about one-quarter more boys drop out than girls.

Among whites, women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 62 percent of master’s degrees. Among blacks, the figures are 66 percent and 72 percent.

In federal writing tests, 32 percent of girls are considered “proficient” or better. For boys, the figure is 16 percent.


There is one important exception: Boys still beat out girls at the very top of the curve, especially in math.

In the high school class of 2009, a total of 297 students scored a perfect triple-800 on the S.A.T., 62 percent of them boys, according to Kathleen Steinberg of the College Board. And of the 10,052 who scored an 800 in the math section, 69 percent were boys.

The Boys Have Fallen Behind
by Nicholas Kristof

The public schools have been completely and totally feminized. Period. There are virtually no guys left inside them and there is virtually no guyness in the air. Suffocating.

I speak as the parent of a high school boy who is happy as a clam attending a BOYS school.

see, e.g.:

Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind
by Richard Whitmire

The Why Chromosome by Thomas S. Dee (boys need men teachers)

boys need phonics more than girls

Progressive Ed's War on Boys by Janet Daley

homeschooling co-ops as cheap private schools

Crimson Wife wrote:
There is a new full-time homeschooling co-op starting next year in my area. Basically the parents wanted to start a private school without having to worry about all the red tape of officially making it a school. They're charging $400/mo., which is less than half of what the typical secular private school around here costs.

Steve H wrote:
Is it possible to have a homeschool that doesn't inlcude your own kids, and to charge money? Is a "homeschooling co-op" a particular thing defined by the state?

I've always thought that group homeschools could be a great way to try out or start up a private school. Maybe that's all you ever need. Many parents are willing and able to teach certain subjects. You could pool resources to buy a van. You can take advantage of town and state-sponsored sports and music opportunities. You could be done with academics by noon.

However, I can't imagine that states would allow this to go very far, not because they don't think they will work, but because they might work too well.

I have also thought that an inexpensive, but very rigorous, college was possible. Just provide excellent teaching and keep overhead low. Professors would just teach, but they would have to teach at least 4 courses. Back when I taught math and CS full time at a college, we had a number of adjunct teachers who had regular jobs in industry. Some were leaders in their area. They wanted to teach even thought they were paid next to nothing.

What about homeschools where some of the classes are taught in the evening when many parents are available? It's more useful than baking cookies for the PTA. Parents and non-educators have a whole lot to offer academically, but they are kept out. That adds a lot to the cost.

It's nice to think of ways around the system, not ways to fix the system. Talking about the CCSSI standards is a lose-lose proposition.

Crimson Wife wrote:
Here in CA, there is no such thing under the state ed code as "homeschooling". HS kids are either enrolled in a private school (can be a single-family one or an ISP like Calvert or Seton), a public school (including virtual charters and district ISP's), or are tutored (there are very strict requirements and it's mostly child actors & athletes who do this).

I'm not 100% sure, but I would presume the students in the co-op would be legally enrolled in private schools established by their parents. There are a number of private school regulations that specifically exempt single-family schools.

The parents are free to pool their resources and hire a teacher, rent a meeting space, purchase curricula and supplies, etc. This happens frequently but typically the co-ops are part-time. The difference with this new one is that it would be 5 full-days.

Amy P wrote:
Our kids' school is about $6k a year for elementary with class sizes around 12 and separate art, music, Spanish and PE teachers. However, it's in Texas, it started as a free homeschool co-op, it's right next to a college and draws on graduate students to teach courses (like Aristotelian logic for 8th graders!), a lot of teachers have kids at the school, and the they aren't paid a bunch. The upper grades are more expensive. The high school is still a work in progress (we only have up to 10th grade right now). I still don't know if it's going to be practical to run a high school on such a small scale. I'm committed to sending our kids there until the end of 8th grade, but I'm waiting to see how the high school does. For all I know, our kids may eventually want to swim in a bigger pond with more extracurricular options. We have two kids now and basically manage on one good (but not lawyer or doctor good) salary. We have one paid-off car and we still rent. I don't know how we would pay for three or four kids in private school at the same time, but I will cross that bridge when/if I get to it.

Vicky S wrote:
Here is my idea for the homeschooling community: a homeschool center that operates during the day, say 8-5. Combination day care, tutoring center, homework help, community center, play date venue, library, computer access, exercise space, study hall, group project staging area...everything under one roof. Parent stays 100% in charge of homeschooling, but can make use of facilities, work a PT job or get to a doctor's appt. Can pay by the hour or the day, drop in or regular. You're not a school, and the government is not involved--but you provide some infrastructure that allows homeschooling to flourish in your community.

Matthew on cheap private schools

This is what it looks like:

Two Million Minutes

... for about $7k per pupil, I believe.

BASIS Tuscon

RMD on cheap private schools

Bob Luddy, who started the Franklin Academy charter school in Raleigh, founded a series of private schools, Thales Academy. The tuition was $5K a few years ago, and I believe his costs are in the $6,500 range. Franklin Academy averages 1 year and 4 months of achievement for every single academic year on the areas measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Also, Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy gets about $6,800 per child to educate their children, and has amazing results (check out their CSAP scores online). Their high school was number 1 in the state in 2007.

If you really just want to educate kids, it's not nearly as expensive as if you have other goals in mind.

can you spell 'Oak'?

Just saw this YouTube over at the Society for Quality Education. I assume it's staged, but it's pretty funny.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Math and literacy vs. other subjects in elementary school

I recently gave a talk at the Yale China Association in which I learned some interesting things from a couple of Chinese nationals about elementary ed in China. I write about these in my most recent Out in Left Field post, in which I talk about the stereotype of rote learning in East Asian schools.

However, there was one interesting observation that I wanted to highlight here for people's opinions: apparently, in elementary school, mainland Chinese students only have two subjects: math and Chinese, with three hours of math per day.

This got me wondering about the value of early training in history/social studies and science. Are the Chinese losing anything important by delaying these subjects until later? Or is it perhaps a good thing to wait until students are older for these subjects--as opposed to highly cumulative ones like reading/writing and math?

On the other hand, is it perhaps a good idea to give students some variety of subject matter, and a break from all that math and literacy? But even if this is the case, are science and social studies the best candidates for this, or would it be better to instead have more time for art and music?