kitchen table math, the sequel: non-poor students doing fine in Princeton

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

non-poor students doing fine in Princeton

From the Princeton Alumni Weekly, an interview with Earl Kim, Class of '93, now superintendent of Montgomery Township Schools:
When, exactly, did public education become a blood sport? Granted, there were vicious battles over busing in the 1970s. But now the whole American system of public education, which once made us so proud, seems to have become suspect. Perhaps it’s all those reports that show how far our students now lag behind their peers in places like Finland and Singapore — though Kim points out that once you adjust for poverty, we are still doing fine...
Affluent suburban schools, in my experience, don't have much truck with data. My own affluent suburban school district, for instance, grades itself on a strictly pass-fail basis. Percent passing the state tests, percent failing the state tests. Percent passing AP exams, percent failing AP exams. We have many more passes than fails, and we are doing fine.

The question is: what does "doing fine" actually mean in the larger scheme of things?

The Global Report Card, which ranks US schools against schools in 25 developed countries, puts Montgomery Township schools at the 76th percentile in math, 83rd in reading.

As to Finland and Singapore, here are the numbers for Montgomery Township:

Mind you, these aren't apples-to-apples comparisons. Montgomery Township is affluent and well-educated; assuming I understand the website, affluent children with well-educated parents in Montgomery Township are not being compared to affluent children with well-educated parents in Finland, Singapore, and Canada. Affluent children with well-educated parents in Montgomery Township are being compared to all students in Finland, Singapore, and Canada.

If Montgomery Township students are in, say, the 90th percentile of US students in math (they may be higher), is it "fine" for them to be in the 56th percentile in math in Singapore?

Maybe so.

Princeton trivia: Ben Bernanke served on the Montgomery Township Board of Education.


SteveH said...

"The question is: what does "doing fine" actually mean in the larger scheme of things?"

Yes, and what does "adjust for poverty" mean? Is he talking about Montgomery or inner city schools?

Few ever get down to the details. They either don't want to or they can't.

“I can’t understand why politicians don’t cast this in a larger light,” says Walsh, meaning that the problems of education are reflections of larger problems in society, including great challenges tied to poverty. “Perhaps because the problems are too big and they don’t want to deal with them.”"

How do you calibrate the effect of poverty? How do you separate the variables? Do they look at individual students or at statistics? Do they allow parents to find their own solution or do the prevent everyone (non affluent) from getting off of the ship?

"Unfortu­­nately, says Kim, “our test-making has not caught up with our thinking about what makes for a good assessment.” First, he argues, existing standardized tests don’t measure the ­higher-order reasoning and critical-thinking skills that are so important. He believes that a large number of teachers — about one-quarter — are assessed incorrectly by commonly used tests. “It’s literally, to my mind, malpractice to base anything important on them. I don’t know how these people are going to do it in good conscience.” "

What is 6*7?

How much can you tell from that? Look at the state test questions and the percent correct on very simple problems. Is poverty an excuse for everything? Everyone believes in balance, and many kids still fail the simple skill portion of that balance. Why would it be "malpractice" to base anything important on these results?

If kids are sent along in a trust the spiral full-inclusion process, then judge the school rather than the teachers. In our state, schools are judged by state test scores and not individual teachers.

"A far better predictor of success in life, Kim says, are non-cognitive skills, those hard-to-describe qualities we all got from that small handful of teachers who excited us about a subject and whom we still recall fondly decades later."

What is 6*7?

What are we talking about here? Show me proof that the schools even come close to dealing with the basics of the skill portion of the balance equation. Is understanding and critical thinking even possible without basic skill mastery?

I went out to the Montgomery school district web site and looked at their math sequence. It appears that they use Everyday Math and that testing is done to see if some kids can get started with pre-algebra in 6th grade. An option is to get to honors geometry in 8th grade, and that can lead to AP calculus BC in 12th grade. This might work in an afflunt community where mastery of the basics are ensured at home, but it won't work in urban areas.

So what is the problem? Is Mr. Kim talking about the education issues of Montgomery, or of all schools in general? Are the issues based on Kim's views of education at the state level or at the local level. Montgomery should be laughing at all of the state tests. That's what our town does. You can afford to look down your nose at the seemingly rote basics on the tests. Parents help them do that. But why would anyone extend those views to urban schools?

Why does Mr. Kim care about what's on the state tests for Montgomery? What's stopping Montgomery from trying to teach and test his "non-cognitive skills"? Does the state test define the limit of what schools can or should do?

They just don't value mastery of basic content and skills. Apparently there are other non-cognitive skills that make that OK. Educators can get away with that in affluent communities.

Jen said...

*Is understanding and critical thinking even possible without basic skill mastery?*

No. But current reform seems to think yes. All you need is high expectations and a new curriculum (one that is spiraling, of course, because you should be able to not master skills for years on end).

Catherine Johnson said...

This might work in an afflunt community where mastery of the basics are ensured at home, but it won't work in urban areas.

Right- and this is a town that has lots of Princeton professor parents. I'd love to check out which kids are in the advanced math classes.

Here in Irvington, one back to parent night, Ed looked around the accelerated math class and said later that every parent there save one, I think, was a 'professional.'