kitchen table math, the sequel: 5/15/11 - 5/22/11

Saturday, May 21, 2011

fuzzy charters

My email correspondent gave me permission to post this email response to "Building a Better Edsel":
This is an important issue, and I'm glad Pondiscio and Joanne Jacobs have put it out there. Many, even most, of the charter (and private) schools offer the same "all fuzzery, all the time" curricula and instruction as your neighbourhood Everyday Math Academy.  They can and do get better results (in some cases, but not in most) by creating an achievement-focused school climate, hiring young people with loads of energy (who rarely stay for long), having a certain selection bias -- not necessarily the accused "creaming" of high performers, but simply the ability to select students whose families support the "mission" of the school -- and the ability to remove students who are clearly dysfunctional or misplaced.

Nevertheless, schools like KIPP and HSA* (who are firmly committed to fuzzery) could and should do much, much better and probably would do so with a better-constructed curriculum. They need to start out with an intensive compensatory model (DI or DI-like) that gradually morphs into more student-led investigative and project-based work. Morningside does this (Catherine, you may not see that so much at the summer session, because the summer school is not organized like the full-time school) with empirical evidence of success. The students need to develop the critical foundation skills early and fluently and then there can be more balance between teacher-directed instruction and student investigation (still pretty teacher-directed).

All the hoopla about teacher accountability, incentive schemes etc. is missing the mark.  It's like saying we're going to hire the top doctors and forbid them to use antibiotics, effective surgical techniques or diagnostics and simply command them to "heal the sick." 


What I see is few to NO "bad teachers" in the last 15 years -- the demands of the job are such that those who can't, quit or are pushed out. Not publicly "fired" but counseled out.  There are incredibly talented and hard-working (and smart and well-educated) people in the ranks now, but weak curricula and demands for "all fuzzery all the time" seriously handicap them -- and the students.
In a follow-up, my email correspondent suggested I point out that not all charter schools are fuzzy:

The Charter Day School has a significant precision teaching component.

The Arthur Academy has strong Direct Instruction and Core Knowledge elements.

* Harlem Success Academy

Robert Pondiscio on building a better Edsel

Robert writes:
A fascinating email found its way into my inbox last week describing a visit to a high profile, “no excuses” charter school.  The email was written by someone who is solidly pro-reform and strongly pro-charter.   She spent the morning visiting Big Name Charter and pronounced herself aghast.  “The school is fantastically well run, and the kids are on task —- and it is all fuzzery all the time. The reading curriculum is Fountas and Pinnell; the math curriculum is so bad it has sparked parent uprisings across the country,” she writes.
I've had an email from a person involved in public education who says KIPP is firmly committed to constructivist curricula. I'll post if the person who wrote gives me permission.

For now, I'll share my correspondent's analogy: giving excellent teachers bad curricula and expecting them to perform miracles (which they do) is similar to depriving the best doctors of antibiotics, diagnostic tests, and effective surgical techniques and telling them to "heal the sick."

From my perspective as a parent who values a traditional liberal education taught via direct instruction and deliberate practice, I find myself asking once again: why is it parents in my group can't have what we want?

Why do we have to have what other people want?

And why do we have to pay for it?

Speaking of what other people want, our board of education election was held last Tuesday. The candidate we supported lost.

The candidate who won pledged to keep Math Trailblazers and said we would not be replacing Trailblazers with Singapore Math.

One of the candidates who won last year made the same promise.

Meanwhile we've got parents in town who are paying to have their children take private classes that use Primary Mathematics.

Are there any parents anywhere in the country paying out of pocket to provide their children private lessons in Math Trailblazers?

More and more, I'm thinking micro-schools could be an answer for parents like me.

update: my correspondent's email is up

Michael Goldstein on teacher choice

Friday, May 20, 2011

Vocational Education on Throwing Curves

Finland has done an amazing thing -- embraced vocational ed rather than treat it with disdain (as we do in the U.S.). A new post on Throwing Curves gives some reasons to rethink our national strategy of college for all when we know most won't finish with a degree.

Can't Believe It Took Me this Long to Discover Willingham

I've just discovered the work of Daniel Willingham and am finding it to be so relevant and helpful, not to mention seeing examples of "inflexible knowledge" everywhere I look.

Check out the comments in this post for real life examples of "inflexible knowledge" from an SAT tutor.

And Catherine's post about the woman who calls 911 because she can't figure out how to open her car door is worth reposting.

help desk - online tech

Does anyone know what technology they're using? I would love to be able to write out a problem and post.

The ShowMe SAT videos seem to be terrific, by the way. I've only looked at one or two, but they were very helpful.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Paying for college is top priority for parents

In the eyes of parents, being able to pay for their children’s college education is just as important as being able to own a home or live comfortably in retirement. And it’s more important than being able to leave an inheritance to their children....
A parent’s own educational background does not have a significant impact on the importance they place on being able to provide for their children’s educational needs. Parents who never attended college are just as likely as those who earned a four-year college degree to say being able to pay for their children’s college education is extremely important.
The vast majority of parents expect that their children will pursue a college education. Among those with one or more children under age 18, 94% expect at least one of their children will go to college. There are no significant differences across racial or ethnic groups—white, black and Hispanic parents are equally likely to think their children will go to college. In addition, there is very little variance across income groups. While 99% of parents with annual household incomes of $75,000 or higher think their children will go to college, 93% of those with incomes between $30,000 and $74,999 say the same, as do 91% of those making less than $30,000 a year. Again, parents’ own educational experience does not seem to influence the aspirations they have for their children. Parents who did not graduate from college (93%) are just as likely as college graduates (97%) to say their children will go to college.
The most surprising part of these results was that parents across the board have high expectations that their children will attend college.  However, these expectations are unrealistic according to the ACT study that found only 24% of high school graduates are prepared to do college-level work.  Colleges are adjusting, with 36% of first-year students taking at least one remedial class.  Meanwhile, high student loan default rates and graduation rates of under 50% suggest going to college is not the right path for everyone.

In a future post I'll address the issue of how many parents have actually started saving for college. 

(Cross-posted at Education Quick Takes)