kitchen table math, the sequel: 7/18/10 - 7/25/10

Friday, July 23, 2010

a liberal art

from The Math Page:
THE CLASSICAL LIBERAL ARTS included logic, grammar, rhetoric, and geometry. Just as today's liberal arts, they were not for the purpose of learning a trade. They served the purpose of education, which, as Albert Einstein once observed, "is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think."

Geometry, moreover, embraced logic, grammar and rhetoric, because it was approached purely verbally. There was no algebra, no symbols for "angle" or "equals." What the student saw, he explained. For geometry is based on looking, and the sensitivity it develops is the essence of science.

In the 4th century B.C., Alexandria in Egypt was the center of culture and learning, and it was there that the Greek mathematician Euclid assembled the most remarkable textbook the world has ever seen: the Elements of geometry and arithmetic. Written in simple, straightforward language, the Elements has been translated the world over, and through the centuries it has been the model for clear and eloquent reasoning. It was the first written work to introduce what is called rigor into mathematics. That same rigor -- What gives us the right to say that we really know? -- is part of the culture of mathematics today, and it is the model followed in theoretical physics. Anyone truly interested in what mathematics is, can have no firmer foundation than Euclid.

Efforts have always been made to express the Elements in the language of each time and place. The pages that follow are adapted from the translation by Sir Thomas Heath (Dover) as well as the edition of Isaac Todhunter (Elibron Classics)...

Lawrence Spector

Thursday, July 22, 2010

B and D Quadrant Lessons

This is new to me. Our lower schools are part of the "Model Schools" something or other. A group just returned from their conference at the International Center for Leadership in Education, in Wexford, N.Y. The article in our paper refers to how the new national common core standards "establish rigorous learner expectations that emphasize application and performance,..." This supposedly aligns with our town's commitment to "quadrant B and D learning."

"Quadrant B emphasizes application - students doing real-world work - while Quadrant D concentrates on adaption, which enables students to gain knowledge while developing skills such as inquiry, investigation and experimentation."

However, life goes on. Kids take the 6th grade math placement test and few reach algebra in 8th grade.

Common Core [National Education] Standards

I don't agree with Fordham's analysis of Common Core Math Standards. I believe that they are much too weak at the high school level to prepare our children for competitiveness in a global economy. With that said, I thought that readers might be interested to see the Fordham Institute's new report comparing each state's mathematics and ELA standards to Common Core.

The State of State Standards--and the Common Core--in 2010

New York Times Room for Debate Blog, July 21
Will National Standards Improve Education?
[The answer to this question seems to be "NO"]
Equalizing Mediocrity, Sandra Stotsky, University of Arkansas
Common Standards Are Helpful, Richard D. Kahlenberg, Century Foundation
Making a Bad System Worse, Neal P. McCluskey, Cato Institute
At-Risk Children Will Benefit, Michael Goldstein, MATCH Charter School
Uniformity Is Not Equality, Alfie Kohn, author
Understandable, but Wrong, Bruce Fuller, University of California, Berkeley

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Charter Schools and Reality

Fordham Institute has just released a new book detailing the challenges in creating excellence in charter schools. The book, Ohio's Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the Frontlines according to AEI's Fred Hess, is uncharacteristically forthcoming in the lessons Fordham learned, especially those it learned the hard way. Fordham not only was a proponent for charter schools, but was itself an authorizer of charter schools.

Hess says that for him, there were 3 takeaways from the book that struck home the most. The first was how having the label "charter" doesn't make something successful. At best, it gives a school the opportunity to create something successful. Second, that charter schools have the same problems with acquisition of power that every other entity has. "They detail how seemingly zealous reformers can quickly morph into defenders of the new status quo, as charter school operators and others find themselves grasping for dollars, resisting accountability, working to stifle competitors, and generally deciding that there’s no need for further change."

But the third (though second in Hess' piece) is the one I wished was more detailed, and what I'll have to read the book for:
" the authors explain the manifold ways in which “the education marketplace doesn’t work as well as we thought—or as some of our favorite theories and theorists assert...In practice, the authors note that atrocious schools can roll comfortably along for years, fully enrolled—undermining blind confidence that the mere presence of parental choice will serve to encourage academic excellence and discipline lousy schools."

I'll posit a couple reasons why "the market" in charters doesn't work to create academic (or necessarily any kind of) excellence (though again, I don't know if this is what Fordham found.)

First, parents make decisions for their children based on what they can observe. But what they observe is extremely limited, and very few of the observables are decent proxies for academic success. In schooling, parents are often unable to ascertain at the end of year (or several years) if the school met their needs that year. Feedback from other parents is extremely limited as well. Few parents are willing to detail to others their observable problems with a school unless it is egregious. Amorphous issues such as fit, or personality, aren't easy to judge for future effect even if they are observable.

This is very different than most markets for goods which have many more observables. Most goods are of much shorter duration, so there is no long term commitment when the goods fails to meet the consumer's needs. Of longer duration goods, few have observables so hidden as in schooling.

Compare to buying a car: even if you keep it for a decade, you know each year whether or not your car met your needs for that year. Problems that are experienced are very likely to be clearly delineated as manufacturer error, service error, customer service problem, so again, the observable feedback loop is closed. If it the car is really terrible, many states have lemon laws to protect the buyer.

In a school, the most likely observables are the cheeriness/safety of the facility, the personality of the teachers, and the happiness of the child. Determining if that happiness is because the child has been fed the intellect equivalent of twinkies every day, or if it's because the child is receiving 3 full balanced meals with just enough morsels of dessert, is another hidden observable.

A second reason why markets don't apply properly is because parental buy-in is very large, so a willingness to confront the problems or errors with the parent's choice is muted. Just as someone doesn't want to read camera reviews after they've made a $500 purchase and find out they made a bad choice, parents may be less interested in admitting the negatives of their child's school when it makes them feel regret about their own choice.

But I'll be getting the book. Perhaps Fordham has learned how to attack these challenges.

Xiggi on starting & sticking

I love this --

Why is it hard to start and stick to a SAT self-preparation program?

Simple answer! Because there is so much “stuff” to read, and most of it is boring and sounds silly. Most of us have been there … Mom and Dad announced that they had a surprise for us. After a successful trip to Barnes and Noble, they slowly unveil the goods: a collection of fat and colorful books printed on cheap paper. Faking some enthusiasm, we grab the books and retreat to our room, hoping to find some peace. However, it is usually short lived as Mom and Dad announce that they expect us to take test Numero Uno on Saturday at 8AM. But, why? Our strong objections are simply rebutted by a stern, “Because so and so told us at the bookstore that it was important to take the test just like they do at the center. Oh well, let’s see what the books contain. Very soon, we are reading about strategies and tricks that ALL sound so simple. After a few pages, battling the desire to fall asleep, we decide to just take one of those simple tests. After all, we are not like Joe Blogg, that bumbling fool who gets tripped so easily. We work our way through the test finding as sole motivation the promise of a great score. Yeah, I’ll show Mom and Dad that I know all this stuff.

A few hours later, despite having gone well over the time limits, we announce to our unsuspecting parents that we may very well be done with the SAT. We give them our test and tell them, “Yep, go ahead, score it”. Mom, knowing better, passes the fat book to dear hubby. To your great surprise, you witness the fatidic apparition of more crosses than check marks. No, no, that can’t be. I am not Joe Blogg. How could I miss the third question? A level 2 question! The verdict comes in at around 550 for the math and verbal sections. Smartly enough, you did skip that stupid writing component. Dad does not seem too surprised and simply whispers, “Better luck next time,” A short week later, after many unsuccessful attempts to read more than twenty pages, the second test yields a similar result. While you avoided the same mistakes, other problems surfaced. That silly Reading Comprehension section just killed you.

Dad, as usual, does not say much, but Mom has a great idea. “Tomorrow, I’ll call those nice people at Prince Something Review or Kal Plan.” You accept this outcome with a degree of relief and are now doomed to sit through thirty to forty hours of organized torture. At least, if you fail, you could blame Mom and Dad.

Xiggi at College Confidential
Xiggi at urbandictionary

Googlemaster on learning from disaster vs success

People don't usually analyze the reasons for success, but they do analyze the reasons for failure. The company I work for has a thing we do called "root cause analysis" and "the five whys" where we dig and dig and dig to try to find the real reason for failure. We don't usually do this for successes. Maybe we should.

- The customer reported a primary key violation on table FOO.
- Why is the customer getting a PK violation on FOO? Because the software is trying to insert two records for the same thing.
- Why is the software trying to insert duplicate records? Because two threads are trying to do the same work.
- Why are two threads trying to do the same work? Because there's a bug that wasn't caught.
- Why wasn't the bug caught before release? Because we didn't test the multi-thread scenario.
- Why didn't we test the multi-thread scenario? We were going to test it, but we ran out of time. (Or, you could branch off in a different direction here and go with "Because we didn't know the software needed to support multiple threads of execution.")
- Why did we run out of time? Because "just a small feature request" was added to the schedule after we did the planning and estimation.
- And so on...

help desk - a girl rides her bike

A girl rides her bicycle to school at an average speed of 8 mph. She returns to her house using the same route at an average speed of 12 mph. If the round trip took 1 hour, how many miles is the round trip.

A. 8
B. 9 3/5
C. 10
D. 11 1/5
E. 12

Xiggi says:
Use a simple formula for average rates ....

(2 x speed1 x speed2) ÷ (speed1 + speed2) or in this case: (2 x 8 x 12) ÷ (8 + 12).

Most everyone will notice that the answer is 2*96/20 or simply 96/10. This yields 9.6 or 9 3/5. The total time to do this, probably 20-45 seconds. Not a bad method to know!
How did he derive this formula?

Meet Xiggi.

lgm on school district problems

Up in my area of NY, folks (mainy blue collar [people who] work in NYC gov't agencies and came here for the 'good schools') could care less about charters. They see that concept as a waste of resources that would be better devoted to fixing public school. Essentially, they want the district to be the charter by having the state stop forcing full inclusion and go back to grouping by academic instructional need. Allow test out, allow honors courses, allow slow learner courses, have alternative school, but do not allow the inclusion of violent children, druggies, gang members, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill and severe needs to be an excuse not to offer a year or more's worth of curriculum to each unclassified child each year. They propose that unclassified disruptors/nonparticipants pay the difference in cost between the alternative school and the regular setting.

Additionally, they'd like to fire the teachers who are presenting rather than teaching or are incompetent or abusive. It's been six years since the middle school failed AYP and the taxpayers stopped the 'blame the student' game and funded 'extra help' and rTi. They want to cut costs by having the unclassified students learn the material in the classroom, not from the extra help/resource teacher.

On the other hand, some parents view this proposal as racist or elitist. They work behind the scenes rather than engage in debate at board meetings for continuing full inclusion. Homeschool, homebound, alternative, and private school numbers continue to increase as does the number of hours of 1:1 aides for the emotionally disturbed and behaviorally challenged, and the security guards to remove the violent and disruptive.

Steve H on opposition to charter schools in the suburbs

Our school committee has come out publicly against allowing our kids to go to charter schools because our public (town) schools are rated so well on the state tests. They want it to be a state law. Of course, these tests only indicate the percentage of kids who get over a minimal proficiency cutoff point. They claim that this means they provide a quality education, so kids should not be allowed to go anywhere else.

They see it as their money that they are losing. It's not an argument of marginal costs. They have experience with laying off teachers. It may not be a continuous function, but their argument is more fundamental than that. It's about control. Charter schools challenge that control.

When our son was at a private school (grades 2-5), one parent seemed quite satisfied that it wasn't a charter school that siphoned money away from her daughter's school. However, charter school money is not part of our town's school budget calculations. It's a separate budget category. School funding is primarily driven by the number of kids per class.

We got a certain amount of negative (elitist) reaction when our son was in a private school in the early grades. Now that he is back in the public schools and is headed to high school next year, everybody asks where he is going (because he is a top student). Apparently, it's elitist in K-8, but quite understandable for high school. When we tell them that he is going to the public high school, we get a lot of happy reactions. Perhaps it's a vote of confidence for where they are sending their kids.

the GMAT does not allow calculators

I had no idea.

I was reading through the Manhattan GMAT tutorial on "Fast Math" thinking, "Wouldn't it be even faster to do that on a calculator?" when it came to me: it sounds like they don't allow calculators on the GMAT.

Sure enough.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bostonian on college readiness & state tests

"College readiness" is not a binary but a continuous measure, as Pondiscio says. Why doesn't New York state have all high school students take the SAT I (reasoning) and three SAT II (subject) tests, report the results on transcripts (including percentile equivalents), and let students, parents, employers, and colleges use the results as they see fit?

State universities should create online calculators predicting a student's chance of graduating based on his SAT scores and high school grades, based on their experience with past students, so that potential students can make informed decisions before enrolling in college.

"disasters teach more than successes"

Is that true?

in the Times today:
Disasters teach more than successes.

While that idea may sound paradoxical, it is widely accepted among engineers. They say grim lessons arise because the reasons for triumph in matters of technology are often arbitrary and invisible, whereas the cause of a particular failure can frequently be uncovered, documented and reworked to make improvements.

Disaster, in short, can become a spur to innovation.

There is no question that the trial-and-error process of building machines and industries has, over the centuries, resulted in the loss of much blood and many thousands of lives. It is not that failure is desirable, or that anyone hopes for or aims for a disaster. But failures, sometimes appalling, are inevitable, and given this fact, engineers say it pays to make good use of them to prevent future mistakes.

The result is that the technological feats that define the modern world are sometimes the result of events that some might wish to forget.

“It’s a great source of knowledge — and humbling, too — sometimes that’s necessary,” said Henry Petroski, a historian of engineering at Duke University and author of “Success Through Failure,” a 2006 book.

Taking Lessons From What Went Wrong
Published: July 19, 2010

CATASTROPHE The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig collapsed in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22, as indicated in the time code on this photograph.

Robert Pondiscio on college readiness

at the Irvington Parents Forum:
It seems to me that there is an obvious and probably unresolvable tension at work here.  Tie a high school diploma to a high and meaningful standard and you will have boxcar numbers of children who will not measure up now or in the foreseeable future.  Keep it low and you're essentially misleading a similar number to believe they have achieved a level of preparedness they have not.  Advocate for a two-tier system, and you risk (as others have noted) a return to the bad old days.

At present, "college ready" is little more than a bumper sticker.  The fact that only one in four kids (as based on the most recent ACT results) are prepared to do c-level college work in all tested subjects is ample proof that it's not an operative goal for high schools anywhere.  Given the range of colleges, it's a slippery concept.  Harvard ready is not the same as Hostos ready.  The only possible solution of which I can conceive is for state assessments to give families meaningful feedback not on the equally ephemeral concept of "on grade level" but whether or not a child is on track for acceptance within that state's university system--and guarantee a seat if so.  New York can't say I'm Harvard material.  But they certainly should be able to say if I'm SUNY material.

NY state tests in the TIMES

New York Will Make Standardized Exams Tougher
Published: July 19, 2010

New York report is out

Regents Approve Scoring Changes to Grade 3-8 Math and English Tests
July 19, 2010

To help inform the Regents deliberations, the Department – together with testing experts Daniel Koretz and Howard Everson (both are members of the State’s Technical Advisory Group) and CTB/McGraw-Hill, the state’s assessment contractor – conducted a series of studies and surveys concerning student cut scores and student proficiency. Among their findings were the following:
  • Nearly a quarter of students in all New York State two and four-year institutions of higher education take remedial coursework;
  • Students taking more remedial courses in their first year of college are less likely to persist in higher education;
  • Students who score below an 80 on their math Regents exam have a much greater likelihood of being placed in a remedial college course;
  • Students who score above an 80 on their math Regents exam have a good chance of earning at least a C in college-level math;
  • Students who score at least a 75 on their English Regents exam have a good chance of earning at least a C in Freshman Composition;
  • Institutions of higher education around the state consider a score of 75-85 on Regents exams to be the bare minimum for college readiness;
  • Students at the current Level 3 proficiency standard on their 8th grade math exam have less than a 1 in 3 chance of earning an 80 on their math Regents;
  • Students in high need districts at the current Level 3 proficiency standard on their 8th grade ELA exam have about a 50-50 chance of earning a 75 on the English Regents;
  • Students scoring below 80 on their math regents and below 75 on their English Regents exams have a high likelihood of scoring below 500 on the SAT.

Monday, July 19, 2010

before we implement

I just noticed this editorial comment at the head of McCallum's paper on "encouraging classroom discussion of scientific papers":
The technique proposed by Malcom McCallum to encourage discussion of scientific papers is one of the many creative ideas that ecology teachers have developed to engage our students. While Malcom was able to use some creative assessments as well as his observations of students to support his conclusions, I would encourage everyone to consider how we could measure learning gains before we implement new or novel teaching techniques.
Dr. William Bromer 
editor of Ecology 101

Clearly, this man has never attended ed school.

college teaching - class discussion

Terrific write-up of a paper on college teaching:
Dr McCallum describes a common classroom situation: trying to get the students to actually read a scientific paper. You'd be surprised to learn that this is not as easy as it sounds, because reading and understanding a scientific paper is difficult. In these classes, the professor would assign a paper or series of papers and one student would act as the presentor of the paper while the others were the student "presentees." To ensure that the "presentees" also read the paper instead of passively sitting in the classroom or texting their friends, the professor would either reward or force student questions and discussion. To do this, some faculty awarded points for each question asked. Others asked questions about the paper on exams. Frequently, "participation points" would be awarded to force individual participation.

"In fact, the many different angles used by professors in my many classes all ended the same way," writes Dr McCallum in his paper. "Inevitably, a growing number of students did not read the papers unless they were the presenter."

To engage all his students, Dr McCallum devised and tested an innovative method in the two-hour lab section for his senior-level environmental physiology class. The design worked like this: Dr McCallum brought two copies of 10 different manuscripts on critical thermal maxima. In this case, almost all of these manuscripts were by Victor Hutchison, and they were very similar except for the organism involved. Only one of the manuscripts was a review paper. In a classroom of 20 students or less, each student was given a different manuscript. Only a few students had a duplicate paper, so almost everyone was responsible for their own article. Then, the students were given roughly 15 minutes to read their paper in class. At the end of that time, Dr McCallum asked if everyone was done. If anyone was not done reading, they were given a little more time to finish.

After everyone had finished reading their paper, Dr McCallum randomly asked one student to briefly describe what their paper was about. After they had done this, Dr McCallum asked the other student who had that same paper if the first student's iteration followed their understanding. Invariably, the second student had things to add or ask. Then Dr McCallum randomly asked a student with a different paper to compare what they read in their manuscript to what the other two students presented. If a second student had read the same paper, Dr McCallum then asked that individual if s/he had anything to add. Then, Dr McCallum asked the presenters of the first paper if they felt that the comparison was accurate and to explain why (or why not). Dr McCallum found that continuing this scenario through approximately four papers led to a fluid discussion where only an occasional question from the professor was necessary to stimulate further participation Figure 1:

The result of this model was not only to circumvent many lazy student behaviors, but also to improve reading comprehension by familiarizing students with how to read, process, and evaluate complex scientific manuscripts in a short period of time. To test this hypothesis, Dr McCallum included a 10-point short-answer question on an exam that asked students to discuss the topic of the papers that were discussed in class. He found that almost all of his students had at least a working knowledge of the topic and 65% earned at least 7 points on this question. When compared to the more traditional "presenter-presentee" scenario used during the previous semester, only 33% of the students earned at least 7 points on a similar question.

But even more interesting was that Dr McCallum's students' GRE, MCAT, and ETS major field exam scores increased significantly. For example, the class averages for raw section scores in the ETS major field test in biology increased 12% from the previous year and 50% relative to students taking the same classes with other instructors within one year of introducing this technique. Additionally, the number of students entering graduate and medical school also rose.

Parrots, People and Pedagogies: A Look at Teaching and Education
McCallum, M. (2010). A Method for Encouraging Classroom Discussion of Scientific Papers. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 91 (3), 363-366 


A few years back, C. moved into my then-office to sleep because Andrew had gotten too noisy to share a bedroom with. Since I never managed to get my computer shut down by bedtime, Ed and C. eventually developed a guessing game re: how many windows Mom has open on her iMac. It was always many dozens. Many, many dozens.

I think my life is about to change.

political opposition to suburban charter schools

re: "Is there a political movement against charter schools for suburban kids?"

Actually there is political opposition to charter schools from other than the public school officials. In my town, there is one of the best public charter high schools in the country (probably the best lottery-admission charter high school). The demand for the education it provides is high, with the chance of winning the lottery and getting it varying from 0 to 15%, depending on which grade you are trying to enter at.

It is continually being attacked as being "elitist" (despite the lottery admission).

I've seen political opposition to charter schools from parents who feel that any school choice (whether charter or magnet) diminishes the local neighborhood school. They want those families to stay and devote their time and energy to improving the neighborhood school. There are plenty of people who feel that any school other than the neighborhood school is inherently elitist.
Yes, it does: the teachers' unions, the politicians whose elections are paid for by the teachers' unions, and throngs of "progressives" who believe that progress means closing loopholes of liberty that threaten to grow and weaken state control over education.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have no shortage of "activists" who tell me that this "charter school business" is just the latest right-wing attempt to "destroy public education," "undo all the progress we've fought for for so long," "go backwards from a social justice curriculum to a right-wing traditional curriculum," and "maintain the status quo of oppression."

In an enlightened, progressive area like the Bay Area, a lot of people see any reversion of decision-making power from the state back to individuals, such as choice in any form in public schools, as the opposite of what they mean by progress.

middle class kids & charter schools

In today's Wall Street Journal:
New Jersey is preparing to announce the confirmation of at least six new charter schools this week, but proposed charters in Princeton, Teaneck and Flemington won't be on the list, dealing a blow to a movement to widen school choice to affluent districts.

A zoning technicality tripped up the Princeton International Academy Charter School, a Mandarin-immersion program that faced strong opposition from the three school districts whose students it would serve. When nearing an already-extended July 15 deadline for the state to approve the school's certificate of occupancy before granting final approval of its charter, the districts raised legal questions about the charter's variance request to occupy a Plainsboro seminary building.

That, in turn, postponed a zoning hearing that could have given the school its certificate of occupancy. Last week, the commissioner of education declined the school's request for another extension, forcing dozens of families to find an alternative for the upcoming school year.


At the heart of these New Jersey cases is the question of who can and should be served by charter schools, which receive public money but can be run privately. School-choice advocates assert that charters should be open to parents who want something different from what public schools offer. They argue that demand alone should be the test.

Those who oppose charters in high-performing areas—a group that often encompasses the public-school districts themselves—say that charters are only viable in urban areas where parents are faced with failing schools. "Within the public-school system, we need more definition around the circumstances and conditions for when choice is necessary," said Judith Wilson, superintendent of the Princeton Regional School District, who called the Mandarin-immersion school a "narrowly defined option."

About 160 families in the Princeton area wanted that choice, despite the district's argument that language immersion is a luxury amid budget cuts. Lydia Grebe, a nurse practitioner who moved to Plainsboro two weeks ago to send her daughter to second grade at the new charter school, is one of them.

"This is being ripped away like a Band-Aid," she said. "I'm stunned."

Charters Derailed in Areas of New Jersey
JULY 19, 2010
Assuming this is the same Princeton Regional School District that fought the founding of the Princeton Charter School tooth and nail, I think it's safe to say the district learned nothing from that experience.

Either that, or they learned all the wrong lessons.

Those who oppose charters in high-performing areas—a group that often encompasses the public-school districts themselves—say that charters are only viable in urban areas where parents are faced with failing schools.
Does the group "those who oppose charters in high-performing areas" include anyone other than "public-school districts themselves"?

Is there a political movement against charter schools for suburban kids?

I think not.  I take it back.

Cassy T takes technology

The first day of ed school, the advisor/professor told students that we should expect to be studying for 30 hours for the 15 credits we were taking that semester. The students revolted! They simply could not believe the courses would take so much time. Most of us also had FT jobs teaching.

FYI- I was required to take a technology course in which the culminating assignment was a powerpoint e-portfolio. This was 7 years ago. No wikis then.

I don't even know what a Powerpoint portfolio is.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

pop quiz, part 2

Pew Research New IQ Quiz

I love these things.

Gladwell on Kaplan

From the moment he set up shop on Avenue K, Stanley Kaplan was a pariah in the educational world. Once, in 1956, he went to a meeting for parents and teachers at a local high school to discuss the upcoming S.A.T., and one of the teachers leading the meeting pointed his finger at Kaplan and shouted, “I refuse to continue until THAT MAN leaves the room.” When Kaplan claimed that his students routinely improved their scores by a hundred points or more, he was denounced by the testing establishment as a “quack” and “the cram king” and a “snake oil salesman.” At the Educational Testing Service, “it was a cherished assumption that the S.A.T. was uncoachable,” Nicholas Lemann writes in his history of the S.A.T., “The Big Test”: The whole idea of psychometrics was that mental tests are a measurement of a psychical property of the brain, analogous to taking a blood sample. By definition, the test-taker could not affect the result. More particularly, E.T.S.’s main point of pride about the S.A.T. was its extremely high test-retest reliability, one of the best that any standardized test had ever achieved. . . . So confident of the S.A.T.’s reliability was E.T.S. that the basic technique it developed for catching cheaters was simply to compare first and second scores, and to mount an investigation in the case of any very large increase. E.T.S. was sure that substantially increasing one’s score could be accomplished only by nefarious means.

But Kaplan wasn’t cheating. His great contribution was to prove that the S.A.T. was eminently coachable—that whatever it was that the test was measuring was less like a blood sample than like a heart rate, a vital sign that could be altered through the right exercises. In those days, for instance, the test was a secret. Students walking in to take the S.A.T. were often in a state of terrified ignorance about what to expect. (It wasn’t until the early eighties that the E.T.S. was forced to release copies of old test questions to the public.) So Kaplan would have “Thank Goodness It’s Over” pizza parties after each S.A.T. As his students talked about the questions they had faced, he and his staff would listen and take notes, trying to get a sense of how better to structure their coaching. “Every night I stayed up past midnight writing new questions and study materials,” he writes. “I spent hours trying to understand the design of the test, trying to think like the test makers, anticipating the types of questions my students would face.” His notes were typed up the next day, cranked out on a Gestetner machine, hung to dry in the office, then snatched off the line and given to waiting students. If students knew what the S.A.T. was like, he reasoned, they would be more confident. They could skip the instructions and save time. They could learn how to pace themselves. They would guess more intelligently....The S.A.T. was a test devised by a particular institution, by a particular kind of person, operating from a particular mind-set. It had an ideology, and Kaplan realized that anyone who understood that ideology would have a tremendous advantage.

Examined Life
Malcolm Gladwell
The New Yorker
December 17, 2001

"To say you can’t improve scores is to say you can’t improve students"

Speaking of SAT prep, I came across an obit for Stanley Kaplan, who died last year. It's a beautiful story.

From the Times obit:
Stanley H. Kaplan, a businessman and teacher who carved out a lucrative niche in the world of for-profit education and made test-preparation classes a rite of passage for students across America, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 90 and had homes in Manhattan and Boca Raton, Fla.

Propelled by his students’ success on the SAT and other standardized exams — and by the enormous growth in standardized testing — Mr. Kaplan transformed the Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Center from a tiny tutoring operation in his basement in Brooklyn in the late 1930s into a nationwide test-preparation company.

Along the way he successfully challenged the College Board's denials that coaching could significantly improve student scores and convinced the Federal Trade Commission that his claims of helping students were valid.

“To say you can’t improve scores is to say you can’t improve students, and I disagree with that,” he told The New York Times in 1979.

By November 1984, when Mr. Kaplan, then 65, sold his business to the Washington Post Company for $45 million, it had more than 120 teaching centers and nearly 100,000 students.

Today, Kaplan Inc. is a diversified education company and the Post Company’s largest business, recording $2.3 billion in revenue last year.

Mr. Kaplan did not start out with a strategic plan to build a business. He began by preparing students for the New York State Regents exams. But when a student showed up in 1946 asking for help on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (as the SAT was then called), he saw an opportunity. And when students later sought his help on medical school exams, he signed them on, too.

For decades his services remained local, marketed to Roman Catholic schools and to yeshivas. Most students arrived by word of mouth. But he gradually began to attract students from around the country.


Despite his growing success, Mr. Kaplan faced resistance from the College Board, which continued to assert that gains from test-preparation courses were minimal. Opposition was so strong, Mr. Kaplan recalled, that some students felt a need to register under false names, like Jane Doe and Albert Einstein. 

In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper refused to run his advertisements, and the university denied his requests to hang posters and rent rooms for his courses. He called the opposition “elitist” and distributed T-shirts on campus. Students flocked to his classes.


Despite the criticism, Mr. Kaplan was convinced of the value of his teaching, which both reviewed subject material and offered strategies for taking tests. Indeed, in 1979 the F.T.C. found that test preparation by Kaplan and other companies could improve students’ scores.


The son of Jewish immigrants from what are now Belarus and Latvia who did not attend college — his father ran a plumbing business, and his mother helped out — he grew up in a household that valued education.

In his autobiography, Mr. Kaplan wrote that he was sure that when he and his brother and sister were born, his mother “swatted us on the backside and pronounced with conviction, ‘You’re going to college.’ ”

He said he performed well in school because he “strove to please” his mother, a perfectionist who directed his kindergarten class in a Mozart minuet, complete with powdered wigs, velvet coats with tails and long gowns.


Although he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and second in his class at City College in 1939, he was unable to get into medical school. “I was Jewish, and I attended a public college,” he wrote. “I had a double whammy against me.”

That experience made him a champion of standardized tests when others attacked them. If there had been a medical school admissions test, he said, he could have shown the medical schools that he was the equal of students from private universities.

He began to turn his sideline in tutoring into a formal business. He created worksheets and review tapes and laced his classes with jokes and repetition.

In 1943, after he complained about errors in Barron’s test preparation books, the publisher invited him to help write and edit the books. Seeing it as a good way to promote his own business, he wrote 16 study guides for the New York State Regents exams.

As the business grew, it remained at heart a family enterprise. At one time or another his mother, his wife, his older brother, his three children and his father-in-law helped out, and he ran the business from his home until 1957.


Mr. Kaplan claimed to have discovered his affinity for teaching at the age of 9. “While other children played doctor, I played teacher,” he wrote in his autobiography. He said he often volunteered to help classmates with their schoolwork. If they refused, he sometimes offered them a dime to “just sit down and listen.”

His schoolteachers recognized his talent, too. His algebra teacher often sat in a big chair in the corner while Mr. Kaplan led the class. And when he was in 10th grade — he was 14 — his school offered him 25 cents an hour to tutor other students.

He was also an instinctive entrepreneur. As a youngster, he noticed that his friends often borrowed books from his house. He decided to create a lending library, setting up an office in the playroom, issuing library cards and charging two cents a week per book. Some weeks he made as much as a dollar. These instincts continued to be reliable as he built his test-preparation enterprise.

Stanley Kaplan, Pioneer in Preparing Students for Exams, Dies at 90
Published: August 24, 2009

Kaplan Inc.
Stanley Kaplan loved to teach.

Stanley H. Kaplan: Test Pilot: How I broke testing barriers for millions of students and caused a sonic boom in the business of education

help desk - SAT reading & essay books

I have a terrific stack of SAT math books (will post).

Does anyone out there have recommendations for SAT reading & writing prep?

progress report, part 2 & help desk

I started working on "SAT math" in earnest on 6-21-2010. At that point I was barely breaking 600 on practice tests.

Today - 7-18-2010 - I answered all of the questions in "score bands" 600-690 and 700-800 posted on the SAT Skills Insight page.


600-690 range:
40 questions
39 correct
(I missed a circle question because I have yet to review circles.)

700-800 range:
30 questions
20 correct

help desk

Question number 1 in Skill Group 6, Score Band 700 - 800

The graphs of the functions f and g are lines, as shown in the figure above. If function f of x = (m times x) + b for some constants m and b, which of the following could define the function g?

I'm stumped.