kitchen table math, the sequel: practice in school

Saturday, July 16, 2011

practice in school

Hey everyone - I'm back from IL (didn't get to see Susan S - darn!) - and have just read a brilliant comment left by Lynne Dilligent on Joanne Jacobs' blog. Lynne's comment sums up a core frustration I've felt with the schools forever, re: the need for the school, not the parents, to be in charge of providing and overseeing the practice children need to learn what they're supposed to be learning.

Must go do "SAT work" with C. -- back in a little bit.

(Thanks to Barry for sending the link.)

33 comments:

SteveH said...

I read some of the comments on Joanne's site and found that many just want to change the subject. What Lynne Dilligent talks about is very simple; schools don't ensure mastery of even basic math skills. However, her talk of calcultors opens up the door for some disagreement, and there are some who will always drag in the concept of IQ with little or no correlation to real scores on tests, or how IQ would be used.

K-8 ed school philosophy, not calculators, is the problem. Calculators should allow kids to do more difficult problems with real data. If you took away calculators, they would still have spiraling and kids who don't know 6*7 in fifth grade.

palisadesk said...

(Part 1 of 2)I certainly agree that schools need to do much more to provide and oversee the needed skill practice. But I don't see anyone willing (or perhaps able) to take on the question, what about the kids who need far more practice than the school could reasonably provide?

This is not about IQ, either. While children with lower cognitive ability may be more numerous in the category of those who need excessive amounts of practice to mastery, average, bright and gifted children are also in this category. If their parents have the resources, they can access other providers or do it themselves, but low-SES families lack this option.

Let me give two examples.

One is a child, aged 7, who was a complete non-reader in second grade. He could copy adequately, had good oral language and could participate in "higher level thinking" in a reflective and insightful way. However, he did not know the alphabet (letter names or sounds), nor any sight words other than "the." He could not spell his own name, a common one with 8 letters. Poor teaching (I hear you cry). Well, no. Possibly not outstanding teaching, but he had 2 years of pre-K and K, including one with a special half a day with a small group co-taught by a teacher and a SLP to develop language skills. He had an outstanding teacher in first grade -- one of the best in the district. In his second year in first grade, I tried to help him. He was the first kid I had ever seen or taught (looking at over 800 kids by now) who made no progress with Reading Mastery. Why not? He could not remember the correspondences. He would get them right, and meet the mastery target for the lesson, then the next day -- gone. This frustrated the child no end -- he KNEW he "should" know them, that he HAD known them, and would end up in tears. He did not make it even to lesson 20 of Reading Mastery 1.

So we brought in some PT practice -- using some of the Morningside materials. Focused practiced, twice a day, to learn 4, then 6-8, correspondences. He did manage to learn about 6 (this took WEEKS), but not 8. Then the school year ended. Next fall, we had to start all over again. I got a good program from the UK that was especially developed for kids with poor memory. He was unable to remember using that program, either. 3 months into the year, he moved out of district.
However, before he moved, he had a psychological assessment. I expected them to find he was "LD" (clearly, he was not cognitively delayed), but the psychologist blew me away when he said the boy turned out to be extremely bright -- not in the top 1%, but in the top one-tenth of one percent, with an IQ well over 150 and the reasoning skills of a 20-year-old.

This kid needed MASSIVE practice -- massed practice, distributed practice, probably multisensory practice. He got more in school from good teachers than most kids. What if he were one of the kids in the 60's-era study that required 11 000 repetitions to mastery? How can school possibly provide this? What provisions should we be making for such students (agreeing that they are outliers, we still have a responsibility to serve them). What could be workable?

palisadesk said...

Part 2 of 2)

The other boy was a student of mine this past year. He was not gifted -- in the 30th percentile or so, but that is still adequate for primary grade learning. He could not count past 10. He could not recognize letters of the alphabet; could not even recognize his own name in print. He could not match a numeral like 4 to a picture of 4 things. Over the course of the year I managed to teach him about 6 correspondences and how to sound out some 2-sound and 3-sound words. I did not get his counting skills improved (I tried) or his ability to recognize quantities. Even an approximation was impossible. Show him the numeral 4, he would count to 4 on his fingers, so he had a visual image of "4". Then, show him 3 pictures -- one with, say, 30 toy cars, one with 1 toy car, and one with 4 toy cars. He could not figure out the correct choice by immediately seeing that the picture jammed with toy cars was too many, and the one with a single car was too few.

I really did not know how to address his problems. Nothing I tried worked very well. Here was another kid who needed MASSIVE practice.

Both these kids urgently wanted to learn. I can't blame attitude or lack of effort. These are extremes, but every year I see kids who are less extreme but whose need for practice goes well beyond what instructional time can possibly provide.

What's the answer for these kids?

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what the answer is when children don't learn letters and numbers through huge amounts of repetition. In the old days, the answer would have been for the child to drop out of school and learn to use their other talents, but that doesn't seem like a good option today. Except that, that is actually the decision we make for children with IEP's when they are permitted to use audio recordings instead of reading. It makes me very upset to think that children are switched to audio before being given the amount and intensity of reading instruction that they need, but at some point we have to face the reality that there are outliers like this. The child you describe who's highly intelligent will be able to figure out accomodations for himself if he's allowed to develop his non-reading talents; the slower child will have a harder time, of course.

SteveH said...

"...what about the kids who need far more practice than the school could reasonably provide?"

"Poor teaching (I hear you cry)."

I don't see anyone making that argument at all.

What I see are arguments that describe how schools don't try to ensure mastery at all. That is the whole point of the thread. They spiral through the material and assume that mastery will happen when the kids are ready. If it doesn't happen, then it must be the fault of the student.

Bonnie said...

I went to school in Germany, where the attitude is very much that the parents are responsible. Our classes were devoted to teaching us material or doing labs. We were dismissed at noon. We did all of our work at home after lunch. Mothers were expected to supervise. Even today, mothers typically do not work in Germany because they are expected to be the primary overseers of their kids education. It is a system that works very well in Germany - their schools are very good. When we moved back to the States, I tested 2 grades ahead and was skipped.

Catherine Johnson said...

What if he were one of the kids in the 60's-era study that required 11,000 repetitions to mastery? How can school possibly provide this?

My philosophy is: figure it out!

(Not you, palisadesk! Us - schools & the country.)

I believe that the individual student should be the "unit of analysis": average scores can't serve as the measure of the individual child.

Children who need 11,000 repetitions should have 11,000 repetitions.

As to how to provide this practically, there are various options.

First of all, I don't see why we can't have supervised study halls in which kids do the repetitions they need to do. Here in NY we're required to provide "AIS," which is a period during which kids having problems....attend a special study hall. (I'm not sure what they do there.)

Second, many parents (though by no means all) could oversee structured practice at home.

Third, I can also imagine 'outsourcing' structured practice to a private company that specializes in practice such as Kumon.

Kumon is practice; that's just about all it is. It's not a teaching or tutoring company: you pay for practice sheets that your child does every day. Mom oversees, which means a) Mom makes sure the practice sheets are done and b) Mom scores the sheets afterwards.

Catherine Johnson said...

Bonnie -- thanks for the info on Germany.

That's interesting.

I recall.....an anecdote about German schools bringing in constructivist math (or was it the reform math of the 60s and 70s?) ---- and then getting rid of it instantly because parents protested.

I think the power parents wielded in that case had to do with the fact that parents were overseeing all the work at home ---- ?

I've got to track that story down.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think schools took a wrong turn when they stopped talking about what students "know and can do" and started talking about what students "understand."

HUGE mistake.

That was our issue with the math chair. We were at loggerheads; she kept saying students "understood" what was being taught; we kept saying C. was having a bad time of it.

Finally I said, "He doesn't need to understand more. He needs distributed practice."

That's when she told us that "if" students needed distributed practice (if!), parents could find worksheets online.

At that point I had, I think, two 4-inch 3-ring binders FILLED with worksheets I had found online, and I still didn't have the worksheets I needed for the test the kids were about to have. I'd searched high and low.

I ended up creating worksheets myself.

Catherine Johnson said...

but the psychologist blew me away when he said the boy turned out to be extremely bright -- not in the top 1%, but in the top one-tenth of one percent, with an IQ well over 150 and the reasoning skills of a 20-year-old.

Did the psychologist say anything about why this might be the case?

I find this fascinating --- I've never heard of high IQ associated with very poor memory....

Did the psychologist say anything about this boy's working memory?

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen the opposite case from palisadesk's here.

I sometimes tutor the son of a friend of mine. I think he's classified....probably with mild LD. He's an athletic kid who's not quick to pick up academics.

I may be wrong about this, but as far as I can tell he seems to learn quickly. Not 'quickly' in the sense that I can talk fast or move through material at a brisk clip and be confident he's gotten it....but quickly in the sense that - again, as far as I can tell - he doesn't seem to need a lot of practice before he retains material.

I remember when he was little (maybe 4th grade), he did a Saxon "Fast Facts" sheet with me. Those sheets are supposed to take 5 minutes (is that right??); he needed 10 at least. Took him FOREVER to get through one.

I saw him one week later & he was faster but still much slower than the other kids.

Then, just TWO weeks later, he was suddenly up to speed. He'd done no practicing in between.

I don't know what the story is, and of course I've had limited experience working with him, but my guess is that he's fallen victim to the "understanding" criterion: my school district is all about 'understanding,' not 'knowing,' so kids don't get much in the way of formative assessment.

Probably because he's classified, when he does badly on tests, everyone assumes that's to be expected.

Here's another issue: one thing I've learned with this boy is that it's possible not to be particularly brainy in school BUT STILL to have academic 'talents' or at least interests.

This kid is drawn to numbers and math, always has been.

We (we meaning parents, teachers, passers-by) don't seem to have a category for 'average IQ/good at math.'

We don't have a category for doing well in something even though lots of other people do better than you if that makes sense & I realize I'm not making sense at this point.

What I'm **trying** to say is that this kid should probably be "specializing" in math even though he's not going to be a mathematician or an economist or a statistician.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think it's possible, with this boy, that he needs more time than average to gain understanding but less time than average (or no more than average) to master procedures, remember when to use them, etc.

Here's another example.

I started working with him this summer because he didn't pass a Regents exam.

The first day we got together, C. and I told him what "SOHCAHTOA" stood for. We did that at the very end of the hour - and we talked about it pretty quickly. PLUS we weren't doing the type of organized lesson that helps students remember; we were working our way through a JMAP practice test & SOHCAHTOA came up.

He said he had never been taught SOHCAHTOA.

When he came over one week later, he remembered what SOHCAHTOA meant and could show me on a triangle.

He really seems pretty speedy to me as far as sheer memory goes---

palisadesk said...

I find this fascinating --- I've never heard of high IQ associated with very poor memory....Did the psychologist say anything about this boy's working memory?

I had quite a discussion with the psychologist about this case (he told me later I vastly understated the reality when I told him, before the assessment, "this will be an interesting case.")

Yes, high IQ can go along with very poor memory in some things (obviously not in everything). Often such a person will merit a double exceptionality of “Gifted” and “Learning Disabled.” The memory deficits will be specific to certain types of tasks. For example, the individual may score very low on Digit Span (or reverse Digit Span) on the Weschler subtests, but extremely high on the various reasoning subtests. There may be significant differences in memory performance depending on whether the information to remember is verbal, visual, symbolic or representational, embedded in a context, or context-free.

Memory is, of course, a complex construct. We typically discuss it in dichotomous terms -- "short term memory" versus "long term memory," and conflate "working memory" into "short term memory." Willingham's book on "Why Students Don't Like School" does this, and it's one of my reservations about the book that he does not sufficiently elaborate on "working memory" in pedagogical terms. WM is best described as a particular kind of short-term memory -- the kind of short term memory where you have to WORK WITH (duh) the items held in memory, while you do something. Often the example given is dialing a 10-digit phone number, but there are others, especially in mathematical computation, reading complex sentences -- even, in the beginning stages for young children, holding three or more "sounded out" phonemes in mind long enough to blend them together and "sound out" the word.

However, memory is much more complex than suggested by these distinctions, which are adequate for everyday use perhaps but not for understanding complex learning problems. An individual can have excellent short-term memory for what is said, while s/he is extremely weak in remembering details of the environment, or where s/he just put something (familiar to many of us in that where-did-I-put-my-keys moment). Willingham does make an important point when he emphasizes, we remember what we pay attention to, so for those of us whose memory of object localization is much weaker than our auditory memory, conscious attention to where we put something will go a long way towards ameliorating the problem.

There's a useful standardized diagnostic test called the WRAML (Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning) which measures different types of short term and slightly longer term memory, and individuals can show huge variation across subtests. I had a different student who scored below the first percentile on most working memory tasks but at around the 65th percentile on short-term memory with meaning-bearing information. This was helpful in programming for him: mnemonics assisted him, as did multisensory cues like the Jolly Phonics characters, songs and "actions" for remembering correspondences.

The student I posted about had low working memory scores -- I forget exactly, but around maybe the 6th percentile -- but immediate working memory wasn't an issue. That's how he could manage to meet criteria in the DI lessons, or on the Morningside practice sheets -- he could hold the information in mind for short periods of time AND learn to work with it (we successfully taught him to blend simple words, for example). But, he could not hold this information in mind over time -- until the next day, for instance. In some areas of phonological memory and retrieval, he was well below the first percentile. So it's not "working memory" at play here, but memory and especially retrieval over a longer period of time.

kcab said...

I find this fascinating --- I've never heard of high IQ associated with very poor memory....

If he was tested with the WISC-IV (one of the current generation of IQ tests, often used by schools), there are four sub-scales: VCI (Verbal comprehension index), PRI (perceptual reasoning), WM (working memory), and PSI (processing speed). Entirely possible to be high in some indices and low in others. The VCI and PRI indices are more "g" weighted than the others and can be used alone to calculate something called GAI (general abilities index), while all four indices are used to come up with the full-scale IQ. Anyway, that's what I've read. Though, could well be that the child whom palisadesk describes has a memory problem other than working memory.

palisadesk said...

Children who need 11,000 repetitions should have 11,000 repetitions.

As to how to provide this practically, there are various options.


The evidence from the '60s study with the 11 000 repetitions is that students DID eventually master the material, and that their ability to learn new material, with fewer repetitions, increased at a predictable rate. The problem providing the needed practice for a boy like this (well, one of the problems) is that immediate corrective feedback would be necessary. That means a study hall scenario wouldn't work, even with a very committed student; we also don't yet have computer programs that can provide immediate feedback on this type of learning (even were technology available for such students on a regular basis).

Unfortunately, every student I've taught with severe challenges like this has had parents who could not help. This boy was removed from his mother's custody due to neglect, was living with a father who worked shifts and did the best he could but a regular homework schedule was beyond him, and his own literacy skills may have been weak. In other cases, the parent or parents were illiterate (completely -- came from countries where no public education was provided) or illiterate in English.

Contracting out is a solution that has occurred to me, but I don't know of many private providers that can offer the needed practice, either. Kumon’s offerings on the reading front are not research-based. I think an Orton-Gillingham approach might have worked with this student (maybe Liz Ditz will weigh in) but typically, O-G approaches require significantly more instructional time than public schools can offer, and in tutorial set-ups depend on parental reinforcement. Not an option in these cases.

I think a more doable possibility would be a trained army of paraprofessionals who would be contracted by the school or school district to work with individual student 1:1 (max, 1:3) and be flexibly assigned, not bound to one school. Problem is, if they are very good at what they do, they would make far more money in the private sector (hourly rates for O-G tutors – or DI tutors -- vary but start at over $60/hr in rural areas around here and climb well over $100/hr in the city. No school district can match that).

What some school districts have done is pay for private tuition to specialist schools. This ends up being extremely costly because of all the litigation involved, but it might be the real answer if an expedited and accountable process were put in place. It would have to ensure that the child needed the service, and that the service would produce results, and be reasonably time-efficient and available to lower-income families. I’m thinking of something a bit more restricted than a “voucher” system as usually defined; the problem with “vouchers” is that many, many snake oil salesmen out there could prey upon vulnerable families. See here for just one illustration: Teach Effectively!

I don’t want my tax dollars spent on charlatans (yes, I know, enough of them are wasted on the system as it is – but no need to exacerbate that). I would want to see some regulatory parameters in place.

Anonymous said...

An inevitable (and necessary) questin about the very bright child with terrible memory: was there ANYTHING that he could hold in his memory? the names of his cousins? bird songs? baseball statistics? anything at all? the reason I ask is the large number of stories we hear about professional athletes who can barely pass easy courses in college, but who can memorize a huge playbook and recall the various plays instantly. Some sort of filter is keeping out the academics and letting the high-stakes information get through and get remembered.

Anonymous said...

"... the reason I ask is the large number of stories we hear about professional athletes who can barely pass easy courses in college, but who can memorize a huge playbook and recall the various plays instantly."

Could you point to one such story? I know of stories (possibly true, possibly not) where an NFL team had to *simplify* its playbook for a given quarterback, but I haven't heard any stories where the student/player couldn't pass classes but could memorize a huge playbook.

-Mark Roulo

palisadesk said...

An inevitable (and necessary) question about the very bright child with terrible memory: was there ANYTHING that he could hold in his memory?

Rote memory, per se, isn't all that closely correlated with IQ. One of the best students at arithmetic operations I ever taught was one with clear cognitive disability, yet he could multiply and divide fractions, convert units of measurement, calculate ratios and percentages at lightning speed and in his head. He was good with other rote information too, like states and capitals. Some individuals with severe intellectual disability still have phenomenal ability to learn and retrieve statistics, data, facts or whatever on specific topics.

In this boy's case, I wish I had had an opportunity to debrief the psychologist in detail and go over the results of the WRAML. As to whether he could remember anything, yes of course he could. When you talked to him, you didn't have the impression he "didn't remember" anything! He knew class routines, was aware of the time of day, knew people's names, could tell you where he lived, retell a story, discuss a favorite TV show or movie, and so on. He had been in a preschool language development program (IIRC he talked late) and sometimes mispronounced words, like "pisgetti " He had a classmate named Dakota, and he could never get that name right,. It came out "Cadoda" or Kodoka.

I suspect his memory issues were clustered in the area of decontextualized information, and especially, decontextualized symbolic information. He had equal difficulty with remembering math facts, but not the concepts. He was not like the other student mentioned, who could not grasp quantitative concepts. He followed oral directions well and in any kind of discussion had thoughtful points or observations to make. On the other hand, he didn't know letter names, letter sounds, sight words. He could copy nicely -- no motor problem -- but when he asked me how to spell the word "it" and I told him, "eye -- tee," he looked worried and said, how do you make a T. He did not have "muscle memory" of the letter/sound either, even though it was in his first and last name.

The problems with specific phonological memory skills are hallmarks of what is commonly called "dyslexia." The term is not one I find all that useful, because by definition it means "kids with average ability who show problems x and y" while kids with below average ability, with the SAME symptoms, are written off as just slow, when in fact they respond to the exact same teaching protocols as their brighter "dyslexic" peers. Nevertheless, there is good evidence for a neurological basis for some literacy difficulties. The presenting problems and neurological areas involved vary, according to the best research available, but they are amenable to instructional intervention. Most individuals with moderate to severe dyslexic profiles can learn to read and write with appropriate instruction, but may always lack fluency and need adaptive technology or recorded material to get through demanding academic programs.

The problem for a young person like this one is the amount of guided practice necessary to get a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder to literacy. I suspect a multisensory approach would work (albeit slowly) but require enormous amounts of time and supervised practice. I don't think writing off a child this young with "accommodations" is the way to go (especially if he is eager to learn), but I don't see a viable solution to the instructional time/personnel problem. I do think the case of "outlier" kids like this one should be on the table for discussion and problem-solving, not ignored.

RMD said...

What about a computer-game approach?

I don't know enough about the subject, but kids love the repetition and the new levels, and computers don't get tired

Crimson Wife said...

"the individual may score very low on Digit Span (or reverse Digit Span) on the Weschler subtests, but extremely high on the various reasoning subtests.

I'm 100% certain my DD would be like this if she ever took the WISC (there was no digit span test on the WPPSI). She cannot repeat back a 4 digit number in the correct sequence at almost 9 years old even though she tests off-the-charts bright.

As I mentioned in the other thread, we're in the process of trying to sort out whether it's an auditory processing issue, an attention issue, a memory issue or some combination.

palisadesk said...

What about a computer-game approach?


Computer games -- yeah, that would be good. In fact, there are such games for math facts -- I learned about Timez Attack on this site, and was bowled over by how much some of my students this year loved it (and yes, they did learn those facts). Unfortunately most of my little guys were not ready for Timez Attack - - the company is producing one for adding, subtracting and division but they aren't ready yet (or weren't the last time I looked).

The problem with teaching beginning reading skills via a computer game is the feedback loop -- the computer doesn't know whether the child is saying the sounds right, or blending correctly, or whatever. Headsprout Early Reading, which I highly recommend, has some work-arounds for this, but it's not a game and not designed for the most challenged kids. It provides a lot of massed and distributed practice, but not enough for the kids I'm talking about.

Such a program could be designed, though, I'll bet -- and maybe incorporate voice-recognition or some other way of ascertaining whether the student is speaking, blending etc. correctly. There are quite a few programs on the market to develop pre-reading skills (phonemic awareness, for example). I've heard of Earobics and some others, but have not had an opportunity to see them, and I don't think they are games that kids would choose to do (while Timez Attack is such a game).

Allison said...

Mark asked
--Could you point to one such story? when Anonymous said...
"... the reason I ask is the large number of stories we hear about professional athletes who can barely pass easy courses in college, but who can memorize a huge playbook and recall the various plays instantly."

Michael Lewis' description of Michael Oher in the Blind Side is one example of this type of incongruity. Oher can't read a playbook; he can't even understand the Xs and Os on the blackboard. But as soon as it's shown to him on the field, he's described as understanding immediately what all of the plays are, able to predict opponents, etc. One of his coaches called him a kind of savant for it.

Allison said...

-- I do think the case of "outlier" kids like this one should be on the table for discussion and problem-solving, not ignored.

I agree with you, PalisadesK, but I'd rather we kept focus on the issue when problems like this interfere with basic reading and math competency/mastery, rather than just looking at outliers as something that need fixing.

The main problem is before you even get to such outlier students--the problem is we can't even talk about the need for practice in any sane way in education, or even admit that different people need different amounts of it because there might also be some truth to the idea that different groups of people need different amounts of it, on average. As long as we're stuck ignoring reality--that the same unit of practice will produce different achievement in different people--we can't begin as a society to discuss and then decide what we are willing to do for people who need more practice than others to become competent at, say, reading. That's why full inclusion and spirals in math are so seductive--we get to gloss over reality and pretend conceptual understanding can come to everyone, even when we know for a fact that procedural mastery can't.

SteveH said...

Allison defines my frustration over the last 10 years exactly. It's alomost as if the core problem can't be discussed. When my son was in fifth grade, parents and teachers had a meeting to talk about Everyday Math. The discussion focused on the need for balance, but the school did not say what that meant exactly. At that high level, nobody disagreed.

Talk of full inclusion and differentiated instruction are kept at a high level with no discussion of details and assumptions. Our K-8 schools had a public meeting once about a 5-year strategic plan, but basic assumptions were "off-the-table", and being strategic, few details were discussed.

The Everyday Math spiral presumes that proper mastery is achieved just by following the protocol. If mastery is not achieved, then it's not, by definition, a problem with the curriculum. At most, it might be a flaw in practice, not concept. That's where "trust the spiral" comes from - just keep going.

How can many other discussions be meaningful until these basic assumptions are resolved? How can educators create a definition of understanding that is virtually uncoupled with mastery of skills? In fifth grade, my son's math teacher sent home a note claiming victory over critical thinking and problem solving even though she didn't get to 35% of the material in Everyday Math.

I've mentioned before that schools use general talk to placate parents and to get them to go away. Then they get to decide on the details. What can parents do after a happy discussion of balance and Everyday Math? Say "Show me the details?" That probably won't be received well. This is their turf.

As for details, do schools really have any? I remember asking for the detailed curriculum at the private school my son attended in grades 2-5. They didn't have one. I asked for any sort of syllabi that the teachers might have. There weren't any. I was told to make an appointment with the teachers and they could talk to me about their lessons.

palisadesk said...

I always find SteveH's contributions illuminating, mostly because they show how vastly different things can be. Would that I would meet parents advocating for stronger curricula, challenging "differentiation" and full inclusion! Not only do we have details on the curriculum which we can share with parents, we have volumes of work samples and exemplars to share, to show what is expected and how grades are given in every subject at every elementary grade level. Very few parents are even remotely interested in these specifics, although most will be polite when asked to look at them. Even though we have a spiral curriculum, I have never heard the phrase "trust the spiral" from anyone, anywhere, except here on KTM (maybe it's an Everyday Math thing -- the schools I've been in can't afford Everyday Math).

Full inclusion came in fueled by parental demand and a fortunate coincidence with cost-cutting on the part of the district. It's much cheaper to "include" everybody than it is to provide targeted special education services, remedial programs and the like. Add in "equity" concerns about the fact that low-achieving children who qualify for sped are disproportionately minority students, and you have the perfect storm.

SteveH asks, "As for details, do schools really have any?" Well yes, we do. We have detailed curriculum documents, and we must hand in VERY detailed plans for each school term, ahead of time, which show:
-- how the instruction is aligned to the curriculum expectations
--exactly what the students will produce or do to show they have met the expectations
-- the rubrics, exemplars and grading guides
-- the formative and summative assessments to be used
-- the resources to be used
--the modifications and accommodations for classified students
--the differentiation for individual "learning styles"
Etc. Etc.

If SteveH were one of our parents and came in asking for details, he would be buried under a blizzard of documentation. Some of it actually is informative -- I am a firm believe in backward mapping for planning, and "beginning with the end in mind." However, meeting the needs of ALL students in an inclusive setting is, IMO, impossible. On the other hand, segregated SPED has not (according to various meta-analyses of results) delivered the goods, either. Part of the problem, IMO, is our obsession with grouping children exclusively by chronological age rather than skill level. Obviously we don't want hulking teens sitting next to 7-year-olds, but a more flexible approach to grouping would seem to me to be a good start to addressing the real differences among children (heck, even within the SAME child) that plague our instructional efforts.

However, I don't accept that this is all a bureaucratic bad-guy issue. Parents too (and the public at large) have some responsibility here. Many of these changes that we deplore have taken place because of parents' desire for inclusion, equity and so on. Parents on KTM (and other similar sites) are often outliers, as much as the students I described are outliers.

What's the fix for that?

I agree with Allison's take, pretty much. It's a societal issue, not one of addressing individual outliers. But what is the way forward when, clearly, those of us with a vision of better instruction (for everybody, not just the high or low achievers) seem to be a tiny minority?

RMD said...

"bureaucratic bad-guy issue"

I'm not sure what you mean by this, palisadesk, but if you mean it's not just that the schools are at fault, I would agree with you.

Like all big issues, educational progress, or lack of it, is multi-causal: low standards, uniformed parents, lack of vision of what could be, lack of desire to see some kids go achieve more than others (by superior instruction. . . we all seem okay with saying some kids just have it and some don't), dysfunctional models of what works in education (e.g., strong belief in "drill and kill"), lack of knowledge in measuring cause and effect (vs correlation), belief in silver bullets (e.g., class size), outmoded educational model (e.g., school year except during the summer) .. .

. . .and the list goes on. ..

SteveH said...

"..we have details on the curriculum ..."

Are you speaking for your school or in general? No school around here offers curriculum details; private or public. Just because you don't see something going on doesn't mean that it isn't a big problem.


"Many of these changes that we deplore have taken place because of parents' desire for inclusion, equity and so on."

Really!?! We never had a vote on this. This wasn't a parent initiative. Schools do what they want and some parents might agree. Show me an example where full inclusion is driven by the parents. Show me one where it's driven over the wishes of the school.


" maybe it's an Everyday Math thing "

"Trust the spiral" comes from the Everyday Math site. Most schools in our area use either Everyday Math or TERC. This is a fundamental justification for not separating kids by ability.


"However, I don't accept that this is all a bureaucratic bad-guy issue."

I don't even know what this means. I'm not talking about bureaucracy. I'm talking about ed school philosophy and low expectations. I'm talking about how many educators have no clue about math. I'm talking about the inability to discuss details when it comes to what balance means in math.

Everything doesn't fade away into some sort of vague "societal issue". Specific details about specific problems can be identified and solved. Or maybe they can't be solved. But we won't know unless we can define the problems in detail.

If schools can't understand the relationship between understanding and skills, then it's no good talking all around the issue with outliers. This is not a parent or society issue. This is an ed school philosophical issue. The problems in math education are NOT driven by parents.

palisadesk said...

Are you speaking for your school or in general? No school around here offers curriculum details; private or public.

Neither. I am speaking to what is required in my district, which has dozens upon dozens upon dozens of elementary schools, which have the same curricula, curriculum documents, teaching expectations and so forth. We have provided these things to parents, and are advised to have them handy for reference at all report card or curriculum interviews, for more than 15 years now. How closely each school follows the expectations has become much less variable since a systematic review and inspection process for every school was put in place about 6 years ago. There's plenty of information for parents on the curricula, and they can see anchor papers, exemplars, examples of standards and grading, and much more. Some teachers provide parents with a plan for the year, detailing what topics and skills will be taught, month by month, when tests or projects will be done and when they are due, what materials are needed ,and so on. I find the demand for this level of information is low in low-income schools (which are the majority in my district).

Private schools often are very forthcoming with curriculum information, since curricula are major drawing points. I taught in one in the DC area for a time, and we provided parents (again) with detailed curriculum outlines. You can go onto the websites of many of the prominent private schools and get this information. Of course not all private schools do this, but possibly it is a market factor. Could it be that in your area there is not much demand for this? Your own posts over the years have reflected frustration that so many parents appear satisfied with full inclusion and differentiation -- that they even move to the district for these things! Perhaps your desire for rigor is not widely shared in your particular area. I can't say, of course, but I AM saying that practices and critical factors in schooling vary considerably from place to place. Hopefully we can learn from sharing experiences and observations. We should not, however, overgeneralize from our own experience. In some ways we are like the blind men and the elephant; we can't see all the relevant factors everywhere.

We never had a vote on this [full inclusion]. This wasn't a parent initiative. Schools do what they want and some parents might agree. Show me an example where full inclusion is driven by the parents

Not by "THE parents" but by parent groups. Full inclusion in my area was powerfully driven by several lawsuits filed by parents of developmentally disabled children who wanted their child fully included despite numerous safety as well as pedagogical concerns. This went through the courts for several years and many parent and advocacy groups got involved. The end result was significant dismantling of segregated programs and a change from a default special ed placement for disabled kids, to the reverse: a premise of inclusion. Parents now have to fight for a segregated program. When the district introduced full inclusion, it was very public and had lots of parent consultation. Even the advocacy groups for LD kids and other special needs kids supported it.. Some organizations, like the Association for Community Living, get very involved in local politics, so they have quite a bit of influence on school affairs regarding children with developmental disabilities.

These things don't get put to a vote, per se, but the people who make the decisions ARE elected. Is your district's turnout for school board elections anything like ours? We get 20% on a good day. When parents get polled on something (like they did at my school last year, on changing the lunch hour), fewer than 25% reply. There is a lot of passivity out there. Many "bureaucratic" decisions get made by default, because too many of us (all citizens, not just parents) pass the buck.

palisadesk said...

if you mean it's not just that the schools are at fault, I would agree with you

RMD:Yes, that's the gist of what I mean. That observation is not directed at KTMers in particular, but I come in to contact with all too many who consider themselves reformers who seem unable to get past blaming unions, the government, the bureaucrats, the school board, whoever. Always some faceless group, and always with a sense of, poor us, what can we do? They never even invite us to meetings!

You want to make change , you have you organize, know your stuff, and have a workable plan. You don't wait for things to happen, you make them happen. I've been able to do this, but only on a small scale. For bigger change, you need more people.

We have to look at ourselves, as well the "usual suspects," individually and collectively. Education reform in my experience is heavily characterized by velleity (great word -- do look it up and add it to your vocabulary if it isn't already, as it describes an all-too-human failing we all see and likely practise). But translating the realization, I (We) am (are) part of the problem -- how do I (or we) set about taking effective, even if small, steps towards a solution?" into useful action is not self-evident.

Catherine seems to be onto something in her district by mobilizing people. My district is so big that her kind of grass-roots activism doesn't seem to me to be the answer here. But I don't have an alternative, either.

My personal solution is:
-- keep myself informed about multiple aspects of the situation, including the views and arguments of those I disagree with (in order to understand the issues better)
-- concentrate on my responsibilities -- teaching my own students as well as possible, and sharing knowledge, practices, insights with co-workers and parents
-- continually expanding professional knowledge by extensive reading, networking on sites like this, visiting islands of excellence like Morningside, etc.
--be selectively active in local initiatives (political, professional, community)

Not a lot, I agree, but maybe all I personally can do.

Asvocacy groups and lobbyists can have huge impact, as we've all seen in other areas. But it seems like those who want certain changes to education are widely scattered geographically and lack needed critical mass.

Anonymous said...

I'm no special education expert, but it is my impression that in Pennsylvania, the trend toward full inclusion is strongly related to litigation by parents and advocacy groups (for example, the Gaskin case). keystoneeducational.com/Gaskin%20v.doc
Someone just mentioned to me that my children's district is now on some state watch list for not doing enough inclusion.

SteveH said...

"Your own posts over the years have reflected frustration that so many parents appear satisfied with full inclusion and differentiation .."

"so many"?

I never said that. A few have moved to our town for that reason, but that is a reflection of what the school wanted to do. It's not based on general parental demand.

Our schools are not a mirror of parents or the community. The schools do what they want and that may happen to mirror what some want. The rest leave or keep quiet because they know that it won't change. This is not an issue of velleity. There is no process and our schools keep it that way. This is their turf.


"Perhaps your desire for rigor is not widely shared in your particular area. I can't say, of course, ..."

You just did, and it's wrong, of course.



"We should not, however, overgeneralize from our own experience."

Who says I'm doing that? How do you calibrate that? My arguments are not valid because I crossed some over-generalizing limit? I'm talking about an issue that is not just local to our area. Education is not just a reflection of our community and it's not just something that administrations do to teachers. I assume that I can talk about these things without being patronized and the issue deprecated because it's not what is happening in your area.

This isn't just about full inclusion. The thread is about math. It's about how K-8 math educators do not know the relationship between mastery of skills and understanding in math. We don't have parents who demand Everyday Math. We don't have parents who take this issue to court. We don't have parents who are happy that their kids don't learn math at school. The schools chose this curriculum. All of our teachers were involved with the selection.


"Full inclusion in my area was powerfully driven by several lawsuits filed by parents of developmentally disabled children who wanted their child fully included despite numerous safety as well as pedagogical concerns."

That was not the driving force here and I haven't seen that anywhere near here. Most all of the K-6 teachers I talked to are on-board, and that's not just because they are saying what they are supposed to say. Some teachers have finally realized that multiple levels of differentiation are not possible, but they are not about to argue for separation by ability or results, even for math.


"...all too many who consider themselves reformers who seem unable to get past blaming unions, the government, the bureaucrats, the school board, whoever. Always some faceless group, and always with a sense of, poor us, what can we do? They never even invite us to meetings!"

So this is really what it's all about?

"That observation is not directed at KTMers in particular, ..."

Really?

Catherine Johnson said...

Catherine seems to be onto something in her district by mobilizing people.

Well, 2 months ago I would have flatly disagreed with that -- but suddenly things have changed. The superintendent has abruptly left, and it appears to me that all 5 school board members have a basic perception that schools should set measurable goals, should use data to analyze whether programs and teaching methods are working, and should try to do a bit better each year on principle, no matter how high-scoring their kids.

At least, that's the way things look to me.

It seems as if a lot of the core 'reform' concepts have ... seeped into consciousness -- ?

Is that the way to put it?

We'll see how things go. There are tensions on the board -- and between supporters of board members -- and budget problems that will focus everyone's attention....

Nevertheless, I have spoken with all 5 board members, and all 5 seem to share a basic assumption that a school should have measurable goals -- and that those measurable goals should be about student learning.

In an affluent suburban school where the kids always pass the state tests no matter what, that's pretty radical.

knock on wood

TerriW said...

(OT, kinda: velleity -- what an awesome word! I swear, I didn't realize I needed a word to express that concept until I just read it here.)