kitchen table math, the sequel: 4/1/12 - 4/8/12

Friday, April 6, 2012

disciplinary specialists in charge of tests ---- ??!!

at Education Week

reading without teaching

in Education Week:
"A federal study has found no learning gains from a summer reading program that provided books to students, but little else.

The report, by the Institute of Education Sciences, explores whether fall reading-comprehension scores could be improved through a summer reading initiative for economically disadvantaged children with below-average reading skills. The randomized, controlled study involved 1,571 students in 112 schools during the summer between 3rd and 4th grades. Students received eight books appropriate to their reading levels and their interests.

Unlike some other summer reading efforts, though, this one offered no interventions beyond six postcard reminders throughout the summer. The aim was to learn if the program could close reading gaps without additional strain on parent and teacher resources."
Summer Reading By Hannah Rose Sacks
As far as I can tell, and contrary to what parents and schools universally believe, "reading a lot" doesn't work particularly well. To get better at something, you have to engage in deliberate practice, and deliberate practice is pretty much the opposite of reading for pleasure. More-reading-less-Facebook isn't the answer to our nation's reading problems.

Btw, I had no idea that more-reading-less-Facebook wasn't the answer to our nation's reading problems until I read Tom Fischgrund's book on students who scored perfect 1600s on their SATs.

I think there's another problem with independent reading as well, but that is for another day.

Yonkers bites the dust

Ed just told me about the Yonkers report. I'd been wondering when that shoe was going to drop.

The unreality around here is .... harrowing. You hear people say that "we" ("we" as in the school district) don't pay pensions (the state does), and the state should begin paying for mandates, too.

Of course, if the state were to begin paying for mandates, we'd be spending more on mandates, not less, because we'd be paying for mandates in Yonkers as well. Yonkers is broke, but they've still got mandates.

Nobody understands retiree benefits, either, including me. The Irvington school district, population roughly 7000, has a liability of $101 million for retiree health care. A friend of mine, an accountant, says that we are "fundamentally bankrupt."

What I don't understand is: when does the shoe drop?

Does it have to drop?

Or can we just go on like this forever, paying health care for all current teachers and all retired teachers as we go?

If we can't go on like this forever, when do we end up like Stockton?

Stockton: 292,000 citizens; $400 million retiree health care liability
Irvington: 7000 citizens; $100 million retiree health care liability for the school district alone
"Stockton officials awarded [retiree health care benefits] to city employees in a series of votes in the 1990s but made no effort to fund them, intending simply to pay costs out of their budget as workers retired. As hundreds did just that over the years, the costs grew. Next year, the city's fiscal documents project, retiree health costs will surpass those of the city's regular work force. At last count the city's unfunded liabilities for retiree health care are above $400 million.

Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston voted for these expensive measures when she served on the city council. "We didn't have projections into the future what the costs might be," she told the Record, a Stockton newspaper, earlier this month. She added, "I learned that you don't make decisions without looking into the future."

Council votes to approve ever-greater benefits were often unanimous, according to Record columnist Michael Fitzgerald. "Nobody gave thought to how it was eventually going to be paid for," says Mr. Deis, the city manager."
How Stockton, California Went Broke in Plain Sight by Steven Malanga
I gather we've got at least one current board member who thinks retiree health care costs are nothing to worry about; that $101 million is a paper liability, not a real one.

I fear we've also got at least one person running for school board who has told parents that 'we don't pay pensions,' and another who told me personally, when she was serving on the board two years ago: "We're parents. We can't deal with unions."

My accountant friend tells me that when he ran the figures he found that Irvington teachers in the first 17 years of their careers receive average 5% raises each year, not counting "grid increases." ("Grid increases" are the across-the-board increases in everyone's pay the union negotiates every 3 years when the contract expires.) Add in the grid increases and teachers have been averaging something in the neighborhood of 7%, I think. Year in, year out. With inflation running at 2% until the crash, below 2% since.

I gather, too, that NY has some kind of law forbidding local school boards from working together with other boards in union negotiations. The union has national backing and expertise to draw upon; the volunteers who serve on local boards are on their own.

David Brooks has a really bad idea

"When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.

The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.


[The principal] revitalized one of the most violent junior high schools in the South Bronx and with the strong backing of both Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, he was able to found his brainchild, The New American Academy.


He has a grand theory to transform American education, which he developed with others at the Harvard School of Education. The American education model, he says, was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model* designed to create docile subjects and factory workers. He wants schools to operate more like the networked collaborative world of today.

He talks fervently like a guerrilla leader up in the mountains with plans to take over the whole country."
The Relationship School By DAVID BROOKS
Published: March 22, 2012
Yes, I just bet he does. Other people's children are always a tempting target of world conquest, it seems.

I wish David Brooks would stop writing about public schools. He doesn't seem to know anything about education per se, and what he thinks he knows about "the social animal" appears to have blinded him to seemingly every aspect of school apart from its social and moral elements. Learning, memory, knowledge, curriculum, the importance of deliberate practice: I've never seen David Brooks venture an opinion about the actual knowledge that does or does not get transmitted to the next generation inside a public school, or about the processes by which students do or do not acquire that knowledge.

As to classroom management, which Mary Damer once told me was the single most critical challenge facing any new teacher even if he's a Marine just coming out of the service (I agree), here is Brooks:
The New American Academy takes a different approach than the other exciting new education model, the “No Excuses” schools like Kipp Academy. New American is less structured. That was a problem at first, but Waronker says the academy has learned to get better control over students, and, on the day I visited, the school was well disciplined through the use of a bunch of subtle tricks.

For example, even though students move from one open area to the next, they line up single file, walk through an imaginary doorway, and greet the teacher before entering her domain.
That, my friends, is what you call a red flag.

They put the kids in an open classroom (remember those?), chaos ensued, so they invented imaginary doorways inside the big open classroom: imaginary doorways the kids had to be trained to imagine and use. Instructional time was taken away from reading, writing, and arithmetic and redirected to teaching disadvantaged kids to pretend to walk through a doorway that isn't there -- and all because the folks at Harvard School of Education couldn't be bothered to read up on the history of the open classroom or on anything behaviorists have figured out in the past 50 years.

And Brooks approves.
The New American Academy has two big advantages as a reform model. First, instead of running against the education establishment, it grows out of it and is being embraced by the teachers’ unions and the education schools. If it works, it can spread faster.

Second, it does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student.
Union-slash-Teachers College charter public schools with imaginary doorways and no curriculum! Yes, that should spread like wildfire. Parents have been clamoring for no curriculum and no doorways  for years.

Brooks's own children have all attended Jewish day schools in the D.C. area.

and see:
the founder, chair, and CEO of Netflix has a really bad idea
Larry Summers has a really bad idea
Wash U professor on Reed Hastings' really bad idea

David Brooks has a really bad idea
David Brooks has a really bad idea, part 2
David Brooks has a really good idea

which century is it?

Heard at the "Celebration":

"We have 21st century students, 20th century teachers, and 19th century schools."

This witticism was a special favorite of the empaneled Celebrants, though how exactly a sweeping condemnation of the entire U.S. public school system and its teachers jibes with the theme of Celebration, I don't know. Each time I heard it (we heard it often), I was reminded of Ed's observation, lo these many years ago, that since schools are teaching the 21st century skills, it falls to us, the parents, to teach the 19th century ones. True.

In any event, according to the panelists, the solution to our 3-century mix-up seemed to be, variously, more technology, less content, much less testing, Finnish levels of respect for teachers, accountability for parents, a focus on equity instead of excellence (Finland again), and taxpayer funding of college degrees for teachers. Plus lots and lots of Salman Khan videos for students to watch at home, freeing teachers to do the fun discussions and group projects at school. Whoopee!

I'm sure that will work.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

writing isn't talking, part 1

"[A]ny written language, whether English or Chinese, results from centuries of development and elaboration by a small number of users – clerics, administrators, lawyers and literary people. The process involves the development of complex syntactic constructions and complex vocabulary. In spite of the huge prestige enjoyed by written language in any literate society, spoken language is primary..."

- Miller, Jim. An Introduction to English Syntax. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002. xii-xiv. Print.

Longer excerpt here

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

teach clauses first

A lot of my students have been told never to start a sentence with the word "because."

I assume they've been told this because they write so many sentence fragments that start with subordinating conjunctions.

Because the sky is blue.
Because money doesn't grow on trees.
Because I said so.

If you tell students never to begin a sentence with because, you don't get sentence fragments that start with because. That's good.

Unfortunately, if you tell students never to begin a sentence with because, you also don't get any real sentences that start with because, and that's bad:

Because the sky is blue, it makes me cry.
Because money doesn't grow on trees, I am canceling your data plan.
Because I said so is why.

These are all excellent sentences, perfectly legal, and English teachers oughtn't to be ruling them out of bounds. But they have, and it falls to me to enlighten my students as to the acceptability of the word 'because' at the beginning of sentences.

However, trying to explain to a class-full of college freshman that, yes, it is OK to begin a sentence with the word "because," just so long as the because-clause is connected to an independent clause, is hopeless.* They've never heard of clauses, and they've certainly never heard of coordination or subordination. (pdf file) Neither had I when I started teaching the class. Not really.

As far as I can tell, the best way to teach the grammar of writing, which is to say the best way to teach the grammar of the sentence, is to forget about sentences and teach clauses instead. Or, rather, teach the clause first and the sentence second.**

Sentences are made of clauses, so start with clauses!

Starting with clauses works because all clauses have subjects and predicates, which is the essential point you're trying to get across about sentences anyway -- but when you start with clauses you can talk about dependent marker words from the get-go, giving everyone a shot at writing complete sentences that start with because, instead of incomplete sentences that start with because.

P.S. I think the Grumpy Grammarian was Philip Keller's father-in-law. (Unless...I've mixed up Grumpy Grammarian with The Underground Grammarian. Will have to ask Phillip.)

P.P.S. I like Richard Nordquist's way of putting it.

*I'm avoiding the possibility that, in the third example, Because I said so is a dependent clause acting as a noun well as the possibility that Because the sky is blue is also a noun phrase....
Math is much easier than grammar, I think.

**Actually, I think the best approach is probably to start with words-and-phrases. Nouns and noun phrases specifically, I'm thinking.

Allison on Khan-love in Minnesota

I'm seeing the same thing as Catherine: schools love khan.

Khan isn't going to teach k-8 kids anything, but schools love it anyway.

a) now they think they don't have to spend money on textbooks for elementary kids (first hand have heard that directly from a curriculum director)

b) now their teachers don't need to know how to do the math, khan will do it for them. (heard that directly from an instructional coach who champions Teach Like a Champion)

I know 2 other elementary teachers who love it because now they can do fun Terc things.

I only know one person who is anti Khan here in the establishment. Her very sane complaint: the man teaches completing the square without even drawing a square. It's nothing but computational and procedural fluency for him. It's the opposite of actual instruction, but now schools will use it and instruct even less.
I'm surprised nobody said one of Khan’s most significant achievements is that he has enormously expanded the world’s access to a master teacher.

Google is not a curriculum

...But a closer look through the lens of the Common Core standards reveals another challenge to ramping up the quality of high school reading.

[Carrie Heath] Phillips [of CCSSO] says high schools should be pushing students to read long, challenging, college-level texts.

But for their class presentation, Morales and his partner visited a Wikipedia page and a couple of websites. The bulk of the information came from Morales’s recollection of prior reading.

Christopher Meile, the philosophy teacher, is a dedicated and engaging 10-year veteran, but he’s skeptical about using more rigorous texts.

Even if he assigned readings from Plato, says Meile, students “don’t really follow it unless you break it down into a lot of little pieces and say this is exactly what [the author] is talking about.”

That’s precisely what Phillips doesn’t want to hear.
Education Week
New Literacy Standards Could Challenge Even Passionate Readers
By Benjamin Herold, Philadelphia Public School Notebook/NewsWorks
That is precisely what I don't want to hear, either.

Christopher-Meile-the-philosophy-teacher is right: if you're going to have high school students read Socrates, you're going to have to break it down into a lot of little pieces and say this is exactly what [the author] is talking about.

So why isn't he doing that?

and see:
global shmobal
'Technology and Islamophobia in France'