kitchen table math, the sequel: 2/26/12 - 3/4/12

Friday, March 2, 2012

Charter School Lotteries

An article in our state paper today talks about how the lottery for a charter school in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood has 1380 applicants for only 68 openings, many of which are reserved for the siblings of existing students. For the whole city, there are 6521 applications for only 679 openings in 15 charter schools. This is in a city where many educators fought tooth and nail against new Achievement First charter schools.

Parents are desperate to get the kids in.

"It's like hitting the lottery," she said. "If he gets in here, it determines his whole future, including where he goes to high school. I'm praying."

This has little to do with pedagogical ideas of critical thinking and discovery. Urban parents clearly see that. What do grand ideas of democracy and public education mean when those on the lowest level are desperate to get out?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Advice Needed for Summer Math Class

My son needs to take Calc Honors next year (sr year of high school).  He took Trig Log Calc Honors as a sophomore, but it was a waste of a year.  Catherine's son had same teacher -- so it was same problems, but then add to that that he was out sick with mono for 6 weeks.

He did not take Calc this year (i.e. Junior Year) because it would have been the same teacher, and we could not live through that again.  Plus, he didn't want to take that risk for  his junior year transcript.

Instead, he took AP Stat - which is fun for him, but not really a math class.

So, I need to get him ready this summer to take Calc in the Fall.  First, I'm not sure if he should take a pre-calc class -- or take a calc class and just audit it, my thought being that he'd  pre-learn the material before school starts.

So that's my first question: Calc class vs Pre-Calc. class

Here are the 3 options I was thinking about:

1) MIT Online math class.  I haven't looked into, but I understand they have High School courses.  He loves this idea.  I wonder whether an online course could work for him.

2) Local community college (Mercy).

3) Local Private school summer course (Horace Man was recommended).  IT needs to be some place he can get to via public transportation, as I can't drive to from every day.

The other thing to add is that he has a summer job lined up (90%) -- so the most time-efficient way for him to do that is a variable too.  i.e MIT sounds appealing because it's on his own schedule.  Horace Mann sounds good because it's only 6 weeks (I think).  I haven't checked into Mercy College schedule.


I would like some advice about college visits. Do colleges like or expect to see rising juniors? Do they offer informal versus formal visits? What should I expect (or not) from a college. I would like to get started early and not wait until the spring or summer of his junior year. I think it will also get him thinking more about how important his junior year is.

What did you do with your kids? What worked and what didn't? I know that some plan trips and go to different parts of the country. It seems that this is best done in the summer, but you don't get to see the college in action, so to speak. What did you like about the visits and what didn't you like?

We were going to go to a couple of colleges last summer (not an official visit), and I contacted two professors directly because my son was interested in their work and background. Unfortunately, nothing worked out. One professor never showed up for the meeting (!) and we couldn't get to the other college.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

no exit

Unless I'm mistaken, and I don't think I am, my school district finds itself in the position of being contractually obligated to fund annual above-inflation salary increases forever.*

And since raises are figured as a percentage of current salary (I think - must fact-check), the 'miracle of compounding' is in play as well.

What's strange about this state of affairs is that:

a) smart, capable people (past school boards) created this situation without understanding that they were creating it
b) smart, capable people (voters) supported the creation of this situation without understanding what was being created
c) virtually no one, today, understands what the situation actually is

I don't understand it well myself, and I know only one person who does. (That would be the person who explained it to me.)

I'm wondering whether there's research on people's ability to comprehend trend lines over the long term. I'm sure there is.

* Well, forever assuming the Fed continues to target 2% inflation.


“I’m definitely a lot more attuned to making my plans,” said Morgan Shinlever, a physical education and health and wellness teacher at Bearden High.
Since Mr. Shinlever knows his fate now depends on math and reading scores, he is making his classes more academic. After watching the documentary “Food, Inc.” recently, his sophomores wrote essays. Similarly, in Chester County, a gym teacher recently spread playing cards around and had students run to find three that added to 14.
States Try to Fix Quirks in Teacher Evaluations By JENNY ANDERSON
Published: February 19, 2012
Stop the multiverse, I want to get off.

why are there so many of these things? (off-topic)

In The Daily today:
The latest mind-bending show to explore the question of how we know what's real, NBC's "Awake" tells the story of LAPD homicide detective Michael Brittan, a man who has no ability or desire to distinguish between his actual life and his extremely detailed dreams.
Dual-Reality TV by Noam S. Cohen The Daily | Wednesday February 29, 2012
Battlestar Galactica, Invasion, American Horror Story, The 4400, V, Source Code, Haven (right?) .... even the theme song to Friday Night Lights, for pete's sake.

There've been so many of these stories that new shows with the same premise aren't new any more but merely "the latest" variant. Characters who are dead and don't know it, or they're aliens and don't know it, or they're pregnant with aliens and don't know it, or they're asleep (or awake) and don't know it -- the possibilities are endless.

I date this meme to 9/11, but I don't know whether that's right.

Monday, February 27, 2012

B.F. Skinner and the magic writing room

habit, part 1

Shortly after writing habit, part 1, I realized I have no business writing posts about habit. I'm supposed to be writing something else about habit, not blog posts.

So, for the time being, I'm going to re-recommend Piers Steel's The Procrastination Equation, which is revelatory, and post a passage I tracked down on the subject of B.F. Skinner's magic writing room:
Meanwhile I had set up a pigeon laboratory in which Charles Ferster and I worked very happily together for more than five years. It was the high point in my research history. Scarcely a week went by without some exciting discovery. Perhaps the behavior we dealt with most effectively was our own. Near the end of our collaboration we found ourselves with a vast quantity of unanalyzed and unpublished data, and we proceeded to design an environment in which we could scarcely help writing a book. In it we both worked as we had never worked before. In one spring term and one long hot summer we wrote a text and a glossary and prepared over a thousand figures, more than 900 of which were published.
B.F. Skinner: An Autobiography (in Festschrift)
p. 15

We worked slowly at first, but the need to finish before my scheduled departure in June 1955 led us to organize our environment and to develop several ways of self-management. All our work was done in a room dedicated to writing and not used at other times. Interruptions were the first problem, which we handled by a decision not to take phone calls. When visitors appeared at the door, we routinely stepped in the corridor to speak with them briefly. The frequency of interruptions became very low and the writing room came to control our behavior. Usually we began before nine and stopped by lunch time. There was frequently a temptation to continue in the afternoon when we were working especially well or when the data was especially interesting, but our recently acquired data on fixed-ratio performances convinced us to seek a work schedule that kept our performance at maximum frequency for the period we were actually writing. The procedure worked very well. There were no warm-up or inactive periods in the writing room. Naturally we did not write elsewhere nor did we converse about outside matters nor do anything but work on schedules of reinforcement so long as we were in the writing room. At times the pace of the writing was so intense, and rewarding, that we began to control our outside activities in the fear that they might compete with or decrease the frequency of writing and graph-making. Bridge, chess and late social evenings were out.
Festschrift for B.F. Skinner by P.B. Dews
p. 45
Ardent Media 1970
“Schedules of Reinforcement with Skinner” by C.B. Ferster American University
The way I heard this story, back in college, was different.

The way I heard it, Skinner was alone in his magic writing room, and he systematically left the room any time so much as a stray thought crossed his mind. Eventually, by dint of heroic self-discipline and his rigidly adhered to exit strategy, he worked his way up to -- and maxed out at -- 45 minutes of sustained concentration without extraneous thoughts.

Forty five minutes was the outer limit, we psych students were told, the pinnacle of human attentional capacity: 45 minutes was to concentration what 120 years was to lifespan.I have believed this to be true for my entire adult life.

Come to find out it wasn't 45 minutes, and making a magic writing room wasn't hard. It was 3 hours, or possibly 4, and when the 3 or 4 hours were up, Skinner and Ferster had to force themselves to stop.

So .... number one.... damn. Sure wish I'd gotten the straight story the first time around.

And, number two, I'm putting myself under stimulus control.

Actually, I think I already did.

more anon

*Possible but not bloody likely. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Question about teacher seniority

I was talking with a girl who is finishing up her education degree (music) and asking her whether she will have to look out-of-state for a job. She said yes, but she was not sure what school level she wanted. I asked her about trying to find the best location right away because I heard that seniority doesn't transfer between states. She said that seniority doesn't transfer between school districts! Is this true everywhere? I know that we lost a good math teacher because he didn't want to lose his seniority moving from one state to another. Why would unions agree to that? Is it because the contracts are by district? Is tenure transferred, but not seniority? What happens with pay? Isn't it tied to seniority, or is pay step separate from seniority?

In our lower schools, if there is a reduction in force, teachers with higher seniority who have lost their class can bump a teacher out of any other class if they have lower seniority. This isn't true for 7th and 8th grades where you have to be certified in the area you teach. This bumping has been a big problem for us. A reduction of one class can cause a chain reaction of bumping. The school has no say over whether they think the teacher would be appropriate for that grade. Parents are angry because of the wholesale change and how many kids will have a teacher just getting up to speed for that grade. I think we now have a back-room battle between the administration and the union over this one.

She also said that the biggest demand is for teachers who teach material that is tested. She was resigned to the fact that music is the first to be cut. We then talked about finding towns that have a history of support of music. However, that's probably not where the job openings are.