kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/3/12 - 6/10/12

Friday, June 8, 2012

Our schools do ruin Singapore Math

SteveH has said a few times "Our schools would ruin Singapore Math." Well, we can dispense with the "would". Schools routinely ruin Singapore Math, just as they ruin every other initiative brought in. Not all schools do, of course, but badly run schools ruin everything --professional development, curricula, assessment, leadership initiatives. Bringing in good materials to a bad school doesn't work at fixing the school. (Whether it saves an individual student here or there is an open question.)

I have now seen schools ruin Singapore math. They do this by not reading Primary Math's own materials, not understanding or seeking out anything about how Singapore taught using Primary Math, by not getting their staff any professional development at all for using Singapore Math. So their teachers know nothing about how the lessons are supposed to be taught, what "Concrete->Pictorial->Abstract" means, and teach math the same way they taught before. Typically, they don't even get them a full complement of materials. I've seen schools where the teacher NEVER read the teacher's guide, and just assumes that since the textbook looks simple to them, there's nothing more to it.

Then they ruin it some more by teaching it out of order to "match the state standards"(more on this in an upcoming post next week.) Since nearly everything in Primary Math is carefully predicated on what has been taught before, this makes no sense at all.

I've now seen schools ruin Lemov's Teach Like a Champion, too. They do this by using it as a micromanagement tool--lesson plans must look exactly like this, word choice must sound exactly like this,   etc. to beat the teachers into submission. Then they ruin it some more by using the lack of techniques present during a class to penalize a teacher during an evaluation.  Nothing like making the teachers hate the administration, or that their lesson planning is a waste, or that all "teacher improvement" is really just a cover for a method for trying to fire a teacher to make the school function!

I've now seen schools ruin PLCs, too.

What is the common denominator?  cargo cult education.  To shamelessly quote myself:
Unless they understand what's underneath the "lessons of the high performing school" (the high performing parents, the high performing teachers, the high performing students) then it won't matter. Unless the "lessons" they grab are that they need teachers who already know classroom management skills and content, need solid curricula that can be built to mastery, need ability grouping rather than differentiated instruction, need schools that already enforce discipline and control their students' behavior, need raised expectations for all students, and more, then they will be missing something essential."
In each case, these schools have no idea what the actual function of teaching is, what knowledge you're supposed to impart to the students. So they grab PLCS, or TLAC, or Singapore Math, but it's just coconut shell headphones. Their teachers don't know that their students don't know 10/9 is a fraction; their teachers don't know that you can't teach the chapters of a math book in another order; their teachers don't know why place value works. Their principals don't know that their teachers haven't read the Teacher's Guide at all; their principals don't know that "accountable talk" isn't the same thing as explaining your bar model; their principals don't know that their teachers didn't follow any scope and sequence this year; their principals don't know what their teachers and students don't know. And they may test prep their way to better scores, but their students will still not know enough to succeed in high school, let alone college.

The real question is: can you find a school that isn't practicing cargo cult education? How would you know?


I attended a meeting today as an advocate for a student, something I've never done before. It was great. I think the outcome was very good --- I sure hope so.

One of the central issues was projects. The student cannot handle projects. Period. He is a SPED kid, and he can't handle projects. Can't handle projects is plainly stated on the IEP, the help on projects that will be provided is specified, etc., etc ... and the upshot is that his mother has spent the entire school year trying to find out whether there is a project due, what the project is, what the instructions are, where the instructions are, what the instructions mean, and on and on and on. She's been run ragged, and she's extremely stressed juggling middle-school projects and a full-time job (in a business with daily lay-offs and salary cuts and all the anxiety that entails).

On top of all this, the grading of projects is bizarrely harsh, so harsh that a student who has had a string of 100s on tests gets bumped down to a B or a C entirely on the basis of an F- or two on projects. Projects trump tests.

So, in the meeting, we went round and round on the question of projects. (I won't get into anything else because I don't want to give away identities.)

After traveling down a number of blind allies, I asked whether the student could just stop doing so many projects. Could we solve the problem that way? I said I didn't see how failing a project was contributing to his education; if he is failing projects then he isn't actually doing the projects, not really (leaving aside the issue of grade deflation, of course).

No one expected to hear that, and at first no one knew what to say other than "No."

When I persisted, the chair of the meeting explained to me that American schools are moving away from teachers standing at the front of the classroom and teaching content: today classes are interactive. Someone else said that the goal is for students to learn to work collaboratively, and another person said it's important for students to solve problems.

I said I didn't do projects when I was in school, I don't assign projects in my classes at the non-selective college where I teach, my husband doesn't assign projects in the selective college where he teaches, and I just wasn't seeing the value in XXXX being assigned projects he couldn't do and then receiving failing grades when he didn't do them.

The chair got hot under the collar. "You come in here and you question our philosophy ----- !"

We got past that, and continued to go round and round on the project issue .... and quite a bit later I asked a teacher in the room, who had taught in the high school, how many projects students actually do in grades 9-12, which is where XXXX is headed. It had suddenly occurred to me that the high school kids probably weren't doing nearly the number of projects the middle school kids are doing.

This turned out to be the case. The middle school kids do many projects; the high school kids do far fewer.

The chair explained that, in the high school, students have to pass Regents exams, so, unfortunately, teachers must spend a fair amount of time preparing students to pass the test.

The flipped classroom is going to sweep.

That's what I'm thinking at the moment.

Has Constructivism Increased Special Education Enrollment in Public Schools? By Nakonia (Niki) Hayes
Mathematics Education: Outwitted by Stupidity by Barry Garelick
Growth of Special Education Spending and Enrollment in New York since 2000-01

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Last week’s speech by Mitt Romney, in which he presented his education reform plan to a group of Latino leaders in Washington, drew attention mainly because he criticized teachers’ unions and endorsed private school vouchers. But those points were perfectly predictable for a Republican candidate and not especially newsworthy.

But another part of his plan that potentially veers far from the usual conservative talking points received almost no attention: Mr. Romney would give poor students and those with disabilities the right to attend any public or charter school in their state.

Romney's School Surprise
So, first of all, this is a NONPARTISAN BLOG. (I mean it!)

Second: given what I've been dealing with here in the leafy suburbs, I experienced a moment of glee, reading this. A couple of them. No one's gonna be happy to hear that out here in the leafy suburbs---

Ed, on the other hand, was grumpy: "Obama could never get away with that!"

... Mr. Romney’s proposal would target the real source of educational inequality in this country: school district boundaries, which wall off good school systems from failing ones. The grossest inequalities in educational opportunity today exist between school districts, not inside them.
White schools good, black schools bad: people take this as a given, and talk of busing is back. (Folks are really not gonna like talk of busing out here in the leafy suburbs, and, by the way, I agree.)

No one seems to understand what is actually happening inside suburban schools. Certainly no one seems to have absorbed the evidence that good teachers are everywhere:
...there was no relationship between a school’s demographics and its number of high- or low-performing teachers: 26 percent of math teachers serving the poorest of students had high scores, as did 27 percent of teachers of the wealthiest.
Teacher Quality Widely Diffused, Ratings Indicate By Fernanda Santos and Robert Gebeloff February 24, 2012
Mitt Romney can send urban kids to the suburbs; I hope he does.

But he better make sure they've got money for tutors.

News flash: my own extremely well-funded suburban school district is going to be implementing a rigorous and enriching 21st century curriculum.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jen on not teaching in her district

"Teachers CAN'T assign whole-class books, but CAN be held accountability for reading scores?"

That sums up why I won't teach in my district now. I can either teach the kids the concepts needed for their grade OR I can follow your curriculum script in the way you want it followed.

They do not lead to the same outcomes, however. And to require the script and then say it must not have been followed assiduously enough if your scores don't go up is a no-win situation for a teacher, especially a newer teacher who hasn't had years of experience in subverting the requirements!

I'd be careful though of referring to yourself as "reform-minded" -- the word reform itself has been co-opted by larger forces than yourself (not in suburbia, but in urban areas) -- and they too are pushing policies like you want to change. Content free understanding, knowledge not something you need to impart, they can google it, etc.
Teachers should run schools. Or else we should forget about schools, and just have teachers.

vouchers boo hiss


In just the past couple of days I've come across two Bad Things about vouchers ....

From 2003, this is one; and there's something going on in Indiana re: Catholic schools, vouchers, and state accreditation of Catholic schools receiving vouchers....

I have to say, there are times when I simply think that schools, as in schools per se, are unworkable, with notable exceptions of course. Around these parts I'm hearing stories about the two local private schools ... hedge fund owners joining boards, athletic directors being fired because hedge fund owners have joined the board -- and this in a school that until recently was a) a girls school; b) an arts school; and c) the safe and nurturing school where kids who were getting bullied in their public schools went for middle school....

Now it's got hedge fund owners on the board firing the athletic director because hedge fund owners on the board want a sports school, not the art school that used to be a girls school they've got.

(Have I mentioned I don't like boards?)

Back on topic. I remember, years ago, when a friend of mine was getting married, talking to her fiance's best friend about the blessed event. He was a semi-confirmed bachelor, and he said to me: "Marriage is a great institution, if you like living in an institution."

As it turns out, marriage is a great institution (marriages don't have boards!), but I think the quasi-bachelor's 'living in an institution' observation applies to and awful lot of schools.

Schools are a great institution if you like living in an institution.

They all do what they do, it's just that some of them do it well.