kitchen table math, the sequel: 8/5/12 - 8/12/12

Saturday, August 11, 2012

dialect mismatch & the achievement gap

One current [research] focus is on the so-called "achievement gap," which refers to the lower achievement of poor and minority children in school, particularly in areas such as reading. We have begun a project that examines factors that affect African American children's early school achievement, funded by a significant seed grant from the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. This research is being conducted by Julie Washington and Jan Edwards (Comm Dis), David Kaplan (Ed Psych), Maryellen MacDonald, Jenny Saffran, and myself (Psychology), as well as several other faculty. The focus is on ways in which language background affects early school achievement. Most African American children speak the dialect termed African American English, whereas the language in the school is some version of "standard" (also called "mainstream") American English. This dialect mismatch has many effects on the African American child's school experience; it makes tasks such as learning to read literally more difficult than for children for whom there is no dialect mismatch. Our studies focus on young children's knowledge of the alternative dialects, factors that affect ability to switch between dialects, and ways that negative effects of the mismatch can be ameliorated. The idea is to provide supplementary language experiences early, when the child's plasticity for language is high. We can also use our computational models of reading to predict where dialect differences will interfere with progress, and how experience can be structured to improve performance.

Mark S. Seidenberg
Donald O. Hebb Professor
Hilldale Professor
Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience
Overview of Research
Seidenberg's "connectionist" model of language learning and grammar contradicts Chomsky:
[S]ince Chomsky's early work, knowledge of language has been equated with knowing a grammar. Many consequences followed from this initial assumption. For example, if the child's problem is to converge on the grammar of a language, then the problem does seem intractable unless there are innate constraints on the possible forms of grammar. What if we abandon the assumption that knowledge of language is represented as a grammar in favor of, say, neural networks, a more recently developed way of thinking about knowledge representation, learning, and processing? Do the same conclusions about the innateness of linguistic knowledge follow? The answer is: not at all.

Our goal, then, has been to articulate an alternative framework for thinking about the classic questions listed above. This is not easy: traditional grammarians have about a 40 year lead on us, and only a few linguists actually think the alternative approach will succeed. However, it's a very interesting moment in the study of language. For many years the study of language was dominating by theoretical linguistics, particularly syntax. More recently, there have been important insights coming from outside of traditional grammatical theory: from computational modeling, from studies of the brain bases of learning and neurodevelopment, from renewed interest in the statistical properties of language (which were ignored for many years following Chomsky's famous observations about the statistical triviality of sentences such as "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously").

Chomsky and his followers have always had their critics. However, there was never an alternative theory that could explain basic facts, such as how children acquire language under the conditions that they do. I think for the first time we have the major components of such a theory in hand. And they suggest the remarkable possibility that the standard conclusions about the nature of language and how it is acquired are just dead wrong. This would be an incredible turn of events, a major development in the intellectual history of the study of language.

That's why it's an interesting moment to be studying language.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Knowledge of fractions & division predict success in algebra

When I first started writing kitchen table math, with Carolyn Johnston, Carolyn told me that fractions are the math cliff.

Yesterday, Glen left a link to a new study in Psychological Science confirming the critical importance of fractions -- and long division -- to a child's future success in algebra:
Our main hypothesis was that knowledge of fractions at age 10 would predict algebra knowledge and overall mathematics achievement in high school, above and beyond the effects of general intellectual ability, other mathematical knowledge, and family background. The data supported this hypothesis.


Early knowledge of whole-number division also was consistently related to later mathematics proficiency.


The greater predictive power of knowledge of fractions and knowledge of division was not due to their generally predicting intellectual outcomes more accurately.
More from the article:
Identifying the types of mathematics content knowledge that are most predictive of students’ long-term learning is essential for improving both theories of mathematical development and mathematics education. To identify these types of knowledge, we examined long-term predictors of high school students’ knowledge of algebra and overall mathematics achievement. Analyses of large, nationally representative, longitudinal data sets from the United States and the United Kingdom revealed that elementary school students’ knowledge of fractions and of division uniquely predicts those students’ knowledge of algebra and overall mathematics achievement in high school, 5 or 6 years later, even after statistically controlling for other types of mathematical knowledge, general intellectual ability, working memory, and family income and education. Implications of these findings for understanding and improving mathematics learning are discussed.


Marked individual and social-class differences in mathemat- ical knowledge are present even in preschool and kindergarten (Case & Okamoto, 1996; Starkey, Klein, & Wakeley, 2004). These differences are stable at least from kindergarten through fifth grade; children who start ahead in mathematics generally stay ahead, and children who start behind generally stay behind (Duncan et al., 2007; Stevenson & Newman, 1986). There are substantial correlations between early and later knowledge in other academic subjects as well, but differences in children’s mathematics knowledge are even more stable than differences in their reading and other capabilities (Case, Griffin, & Kelly, 1999; Duncan et al., 2007).

These findings suggest a new type of research that can con- tribute both to theoretical understanding of mathematical development and to improving mathematics education. If researchers can identify specific areas of mathematics that consistently predict later mathematics proficiency, after controlling for other types of mathematical knowledge, general intellectual ability, and family background variables, they can then determine why those types of knowledge are uniquely predictive, and society can increase efforts to improve instruction and learning in those areas. The educational payoff is likely to be strongest for areas that are strongly predictive of later achievement and in which many children’s understanding is poor.

In the present study, we examined sources of continuity in mathematical knowledge from fifth grade through high school. We were particularly interested in testing the hypothesis that early knowledge of fractions is uniquely predictive of later knowledge of algebra and overall mathematics achievement.

One source of this hypothesis was Siegler, Thompson, and Schneider’s (2011) integrated theory of numerical development. This theory proposes that numerical development is a process of progressively broadening the class of numbers that are understood to possess magnitudes and of learning the functions that connect those numbers to their magnitudes. In other words, numerical development involves coming to understand that all real numbers have magnitudes that can be assigned specific locations on number lines. This idea resembles Case and Okamoto’s (1996) proposal that during mathematics learning, the central conceptual structure for whole numbers, a mental number line, is eventually extended to rational numbers. The integrated theory of numerical development also proposes that a complementary, and equally crucial, part of numerical development is learning that many properties of whole numbers (e.g., having unique successors, being countable, including a finite number of entities within any given interval, never decreasing with addition and multiplication) are not true of numbers in general.

One implication of this theory is that acquisition of fractions knowledge is crucial to numerical development. For most children, fractions provide the first opportunity to learn that several salient and invariant properties of whole numbers are not true of all numbers (e.g., that multiplication does not necessarily pro- duce answers greater than the multiplicands). This understanding does not come easily; although children receive repeated instruction on fractions starting in third or fourth grade (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2006), even high school and community-college students often confuse properties of fractions and whole numbers (Schneider & Siegler, 2010; Vosniadou, Vamvakoussi, & Skopeliti, 2008).

This view of fractions as occupying a central position within mathematical development differs substantially from other theories in the area, which focus on whole numbers and relegate fractions to secondary status. To the extent that such theories address development of understanding of fractions at all, it is usually to document ways in which learning about them is hindered by whole-number knowledge (e.g., Gelman & Williams, 1998; Wynn, 1995). Nothing in these theories suggests that early knowledge of fractions would uniquely predict later mathematics proficiency.

Consider some reasons, however, why elementary school students’ knowledge of fractions might be crucial for later mathematics—for example, algebra. If students do not under- stand fractions, they cannot estimate answers even to simple algebraic equations. For example, students who do not under- stand fractions will not know that in the equation 1/3X = 2/3Y, X must be twice as large as Y, or that for the equation 3/4X = 6, the value of X must be somewhat, but not greatly, larger than 6. Students who do not understand fraction magnitudes also would not be able to reject flawed equations by reasoning that the answers they yield are impossible. Consistent with this analysis, studies have shown that accurate estimation of fraction magnitudes is closely related to correct use of fractions arithmetic procedures (Hecht & Vagi, 2010; Siegler et al., 2011). Thus, we hypothesized that 10-year-olds’ knowledge of fractions would predict their algebra knowledge and overall mathematics achievement at age 16, even after we statistically controlled for other mathematical knowledge, information-processing skills, general intellectual ability, and family income and education.

Early Predictors of High School Mathematics AchievementRobert S. Siegler1, Greg J. Duncan2, Pamela E. Davis-Kean3,4, Kathryn Duckworth5, Amy Claessens6, Mimi Engel7, Maria Ines Susperreguy3,4, and Meichu Chen4Psychological Science 23(7) 691–697

Thursday, August 9, 2012

reading on auto pilot

Teri leaves this account of 'nonconscious reading':
I have wondered a bit on this topic, particularly because I do a WHOLE LOT of reading aloud to the kids and it's always curious to me what my mind can get away with while I'm reading.

I was a bit spooked one day to realize that ... I could be thinking about something else completely and still be chugging along, and the kids didn't notice a thing. Now, I had no idea what I'd been reading, and I obviously couldn't read with much animation or emphasis or expression, but it was going in the eyes, through the brain and out the mouth without disrupting the any of the other thoughts I was having.

This actually is quite handy, though, because it allows me to read ahead while I am reading so I can edit "on the fly" fairly smoothly.
Basal ganglia strike again...

how many words can readers predict?

re: readers predicting and mis-predicting words, here are Stanovich and Stanovich:
Another problem concerns the assumptions that have been made about the properties of contextual information. It is often incorrectly assumed that predicting upcoming words in sentences is a relatively easy and highly accurate activity. Actually, many different empirical studies have indicated that naturalistic text is not that predictable. Alford (1980) found that for a set of moderately long expository passages of text, subjects needed an average of more than four guesses to correctly anticipate upcoming words in the passage (the method of scoring actually makes this a considerable underestimate). Across a variety of subject populations and texts, a reader’s probability of predicting the next word in a passage is usually between .20 and .35 (Aborn, Rubenstein, and Sterling, 1959; Gough, 1983; Miller and Coleman, 1967; Perfetti, Goldman and Hogaboam, 1979; Rubenstein and Aborn, 1958).

Indeed, as Gough (1983) has shown, this figure is highest for function words, and is often quite low for the very words in the passage that carry the most information content.
How research might inform the debate about early reading acquisition
Keith E. Stanovich, Ontario institute for Studies in Education and Paula J. Stanovich, University of Toronto | Journal of Research in Reading, ISSN 0141-0423
Volume 18, Issue 2, 1995, pp 87-105

Here's the abstract from the NYU study, which is quite fascinating (I need to read it again...):
Research in object recognition has tried to distinguish holistic recognition from recognition by parts. One can also guess an object from its context. Words are objects, and how we recognize them is the core question of reading research. Do fast readers rely most on letter-by-letter decoding (i.e., recognition by parts), whole word shape, or sentence context? We manipulated the text to selectively knock out each source of information while sparing the others. Surprisingly, the effects of the knockouts on reading rate reveal a triple dissociation. Each reading process always contributes the same number of words per minute, regardless of whether the other processes are operating.
and, from the text:
The question is: if parts, wholes, and context all play roles in object recognition, do the mental processes associated with them interact? Does impairing one process impair the others as well? Or, alternatively, if we remove one process, will the others continue working, unaffected? To explore this question, we turn to reading.

We want to know how people quickly and effortlessly recognize an object when there are a vast number of possibilities. Ordinary reading demonstrates this amazing human skill. In studying object recognition, reading is one of the few cases where one knows the composition: letters are parts, words are wholes, and sentences provide context. Using reading, we can attempt to isolate and measure the contributions of parts, wholes, and context to the recognition of words as objects.
Parts, Wholes, and Context in Reading: A Triple Dissociation
Denis G. Pelli*, Katharine A. Tillman
PLOS One | August 2007 | Issue 8 | e680
I'm going to knock off for tonight - will try to get some more up tomorrow.

A couple of quick notes, though:
  • The study looks at decoding -- reading the words accurately out loud -- not comprehension.  
  • "Context" in this study means syntax: the grammatical order of words in the sentence. The authors manipulated context by switching words around. Here's the example they give: contribute others. the of Reading measured - Trying to read this series of words, you have no "context clues" at all, i.e. no syntax to tell you 'a verb has to come next.' 
update 8/9/2012:

from the Eurkalert announcement:
Readers in the study read passages from a Mary Higgins Clark novel. The text was manipulated to selectively knock out each process in turn while retaining the others. Whole word shape was removed by alternating case: “sHe LoOkEd OvEr hEr ShOuLdEr.” To knock out the whole language process, the order of the words was shuffled. To knock out phonics, some of the letters were replaced with others.

Pelli and Tillman’s results show that letter-by-letter decoding, or phonics, is the dominant reading process, accounting for 62 percent of reading speed. However, both holistic word recognition (16 percent) and whole-language processes (22 percent) do contribute substantially to reading speed. Remarkably, the results show that the contributions of these three processes to reading speed are additive. The contribution of each process to reading speed is the same whether the other processes are working or not.

“The contributions made by phonics, holistic word recognition, and whole-language processes are not redundant,” explained Pelli. “These three processes are not working on the same words and, in fact, make contributions to reading speed exclusive of one another.”

Weekly Reader, RIP

in Education Week:
After more than 80 years of providing student-friendly twists on current events, the classroom magazine Weekly Reader will be folded into Scholastic News, Scholastic Inc. has announced.

The consolidated magazine will be called Scholastic News Weekly Reader and will be published weekly in print during the school year, said Hugh Roome, the president of professional and classroom magazines for the New York City-based Scholastic. Junior Scholastic, the most popular classroom magazine in middle schools, will merge with Current Events, a middle school magazine published by Weekly Reader.

The news late last month, which followed Scholastic’s purchase of Weekly Reader in February, came with conflicting stories on whether the publication was given a fair chance to survive on its own.

Weekly Reader had approximately 60 full-time employees. Mr. Roome said 30 Weekly Reader employees in New Jersey were laid off, some employees based in former parent company Reader’s Digest’s White Plains, N.Y., office would be kept on, and others were offered “preferential treatment” in applying for new jobs.

Weekly Reader was distributed to pre-K-6 classrooms on Friday afternoons in the form of a magazine, with articles about current events catering to different age groups. In its heyday, from the 1970s to early 1990s, the publication reached millions of students nationwide, offered at an annual rate on the cheap, most recently for $4-$5 per student.

Its main competitors were Time for Kids, a newsmagazine for the elementary grades, and Scholastic News. Scholastic News publishes 28 titles, reaches 30 million pre-K-12 students, and also dates back to the early 20th century, according to its website.

At the time of the purchase, Weekly Reader had been on the market for “a little while,” after years of declining circulation and changes to its corporate structure, Mr. Roome said. Scholastic initially had no intention of consolidating Weekly Reader but wanted to see how its brand and content fit with Scholastic’s, Mr. Roome said.

Valuable Subscriber Base

But sources close to Weekly Reader said that Scholastic’s main interest was in Weekly Reader’s subscriber base, and that a decision to consolidate it into Scholastic News was made before the purchase.

“They bought a competitor and essentially put it out of business,” said Neal Goff, a former president of Weekly Reader, who worked there from 2004 to 2010. “They reduced the field from three competitors down to two.”


Circulation for the publications dipped to around 6.5 million in the late 1990s and early 2000s as more competitors entered the market, but Mr. Goff said the publication’s problems didn’t arise until 2007, when Ripplewood merged the company with Reader’s Digest, the general-interest-magazine company the private-equity firm had recently purchased for $1.6 billion.

By 2009, Reader’s Digest went bankrupt, Weekly Reader became “starved for resources,” and circulation dropped, Mr. Goff said. But the magazine moved toward online editions and digital subscriptions relatively early, and profit margins remained positive, though stagnant, he added.


Weekly Reader Folds Into Scholastic News
By Jason Tomassini
Published Online: August 7, 2012
Published in Print: August 8, 2012, as Scholastic Stops Printing Weekly Reader
Vol. 31, Issue 37, Page 12
2007...2009...sometimes I wonder what's going to be left standing when this is over. Whenever it's over.

Horace Mann on letters and spelling

I came across the original source of Horace Mann's characterization of letters (and words!) as "skeleton-shaped, bloodless, ghostly apparitions":

Delivered before the American Institute of Instruction, August, 1841
by Horace Mann, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education
Common School Journal, Volumes 3-4 | p. 9-16; 25-32
My subject is Spelling-Books, and the manner in which they should be prepared and used for teaching the Alphabet, Orthography, and Pronunciation of the English language. I ought to say, of the English languages, for we have two English languages; one according to which we write, another according to which we speak.
I need not occupy any time, to prove that the ability to spell with uniform correctness, is a rare possession amongst our people. It has not unfrequently been suggested that intelligence in the people is so necessary for the preservation of a republican government, that no person should be allowed to vote who could not both read and write. If, however, the suggestion means that no person should be allowed to vote, but such as could write without failures in spelling, I tremble at the almost universal disfranchisement. Our republic would be changed to an oligarchy at once.


The advantages of teaching children, by beginning with whole words, are many. Nothing has to be untaught which has been once well taught. What is to be learned is affiliated to what is already known. The course of the pupil is constantly progressive. The acquisition of the language, even from its elements, becomes an intelligible process. The knowledge of new things is introduced through the knowledge of familiar things. At the age of three or four years, every child has command of a considerable vocabulary consisting of the names of persons, of animals, articles of dress, food, furniture, & c. The sounds of these names are familiar to the ear and to the organs of speech, and the ideas they represent are familiar to the mind. All that remains to be done, therefore, is to lead the eye to a like familiarity with their printed signs. But the alphabet, on the other hand, is wholly foreign to a child's existing knowledge. Having no relation to any thing known, it must be acquired entirely without collateral aids. In learning words, too, the child becomes accustomed to the form of the letters, and this acquaintance will assist him greatly in acquiring the alphabet, when the time for learning that shall arrive. I do not see, indeed, why a child should not learn to read as easily as he learns to talk, if taught in a similar manner.


If we would know how to please children, we must know the sources of their pleasure. ... The principal sources are brilliant and variegated colrs, impressive forms, diversified motions, substances that can be lifted and weighed, and all whose dimensions, therefore, can be examined.


In regard to all the other sources of pleasure, -- beauty, motion, music, memory, -- the alphabetic column presents an utter blank. There stands in silence and death, the stiff, perpendicular row of characters, lank, stark, immovable, without form or comeliness, and, as to signification, wholly void. They are skelton-shaped, bloodless, ghostly apparitions; and hence it is no wonder that the children look and feel so deathlike when compelled to face them. .... Now, it is upon this emptiness, blankness, silence, and death, that we compel children to fasten their eyes. To say nothing of the odor and fungousness of spelling-book paper, who can wonder at the energy of repulsion exerted upon quick-minded children by this exercise?
Apparently mimeograph paper sniffing was after Mann's time.

welcome to Kindergarten

CT's experience meeting her daughter's Kindergarten teachers:
Recent anecdote. My daughter is starting kindergarten (part-time) this year, and she and I just met with the kindergarten teachers. When I was talking with one teacher about something, the other quietly (without telling me she was about to do it) tested my child on the kindergarten sight words, which she read off quickly, having been taught to read already with Engelmann's Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

It was funny to see the teachers' faces change when I told them that my child had never done sight words. You'd think sight words were some sort of absolutely indispensable part of learning to read. A good phonetic reader can read most sight words without ever seeing a sight word flashcard; the rest can be taught as they come up in other reading instruction.

Training versus education, or Why don't constructivists like phonics?

Why don't constructivists like phonics?

I had always assumed E.D. Hirsch's account explained it: constructivists are the philosophical descendants of Romantics, and Romantics believed that nature is a whole and should not be dissected, analyzed, broken down into component parts, etc. Wholeism, in other words. Romantics extended this belief to teaching and learning.

Constructivists are Romantics, and Romantics are Whole-ists, so: whole child, whole language, whole math, histogeomegraph....

Here's Hirsch:
The romantic poet William Wordsworth said, “We murder to dissect”; the progressivist says that phonemics and place value should not be dissected in isolation from their natural use, nor imposed before the child is naturally ready. Instead of explicit, analytical instruction, the romantic wants implicit, natural instruction through projects and discovery. This explains the romantic preference for “integrated learning” and “developmental appropriateness.” Education that places subject matter in its natural setting and presents it in a natural way is superior to the artificial analysis and abstractions of language. Hands-on learning is superior to verbal learning. Real-world applications of mathematics provide a truer understanding of math than empty mastery of formal relationships.
Reading Matthew Hunter's article on constructivism in British schools, though, I saw the constructivist antipathy to phonics in a new light:
The much publicised debate over "phonics" versus "whole word" methods sounds arcane, but it is really quite simple. "Phonics" involves teaching pupils to match individual letters to sounds, so that they can combine these sounds to make words. The teaching of phonics requires an orderly, teacher-led classroom, and in its technical approach is often characterised as boring and off-putting for young children.

For that reason, "whole-word" methods have been promoted for the last half-century as a more child-centred alternative. Instead of didactically instilling an understanding of which letters make which sounds, whole-word teaching encourages pupils to "discover" how to read by first matching words with meanings, then slowly building an understanding of letter-sounds. This method promises that pupils, to a large degree, will teach themselves. As one whole-word apostle claimed, it will lead to the "withering away of the teacher".

The most important distinction between the two methods is that one works, and one does not. This has not stopped generations of "progressive educators" from eschewing the teaching of phonics, not because of any perceived ineffectiveness but because its didactic methods are repugnant to their ideology. As a result of these teachers indulging their romantic ideals, 11-year olds arrive at secondary school unable to read and write.
Child-Centered Learning Has Let My Pupils Down
I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I had never thought of this.

During the Summer School Institute at Morningside Academy, Kent Johnson talked about the difference between training and education. Most of what he was teaching us was how to train students, not how to educate them. Training comes before education.

from my notes:
[The] test for training [is]: “I’m teaching them something I know & they don't know. I want them to be as smart as I am.”
That's training, and for Kent training is (generally) not about discovery, while education may be.

For some time now, I've been frustrated that schools aren't giving students the practice they need.

But now, reading Hunter in the wake of attending the Institute, I think it's probably more accurate to say students aren't getting the training they need.

The reason they aren't getting the training they need is likely to be the fact that the concept of training seems almost intrinsically to require, or at a minimum suggest, an "orderly, teacher-led classroom" and a "technical approach."

and see:
balanced literacy - the video
histogeomegraph: preventing the tragedy of content isolation

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

question for reading teachers

I've emailed palisadesk & now am posting.

Here is a reading issue I've seen before: a student who, reading out loud, replaces prepositions with other prepositions, sometimes reads verbs incorrectly (e.g. "walk" for "walking" or vice versa), and sometimes reads the wrong pronoun (e.g. "she" instead of "he" or vice versa).

It's as if the student is predicting the next word he or she expects to read, reading that word out loud, and not noticing that the prediction was wrong.

What is going on in cases like these?

And what does one do about it?

the chart I'd like newspapers to use from now on

re: "writing is rewriting" at the New York Times

the chart:

the data:

how to find the chart (it's not easy):
  1. GO TO Bureau of Labor Statistics
  2. MOUSE OVER Data Bases & Tools
  3. Under "Customized Tables," CLICK on News Release Tables: link takes you to Historical News Release Tables
  4. Under "Access to Historical Data Series by Subject: Previous years and months," CLICK wizard to right of "Browse labor force, employment, unemployment, and other data by subject": link takes you to Access to historical data series by subject
  5. SCROLL DOWN to Employed Persons & CLICK Most Requested Series
  6. CHECK Civilian Employment-Population Ratio - LNS12300000
  7. CLICK Retrieve Data et voilĂ :
  8. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
  9. CLICK "Include graphs" if you want to include graphs

64.6% of the population employed in 2000
58.4% employed today

update 8/8/2012:
unemployment rate has been decoupled from the employment-population ratio

update update 8/8/2012:
Here is Scott Sumner explaining why level NGDP-targeting is not inflationary. (I don't entirely follow, but am passing this along.)

And here is Boston Federal Reserve president Eric Rosengren endorsing NGDP targeting. Sumner writes: "Two down, 17 to go."


re: "writing is rewriting" at the NY Times, Anonymous tells us that the story changed 9 times (!) and leaves a link to NewsDiffs.


Never heard of NewsDiffs, and obviously it's something I need to have heard of.

I love ktm Commenters.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"writing is rewriting" at the New York Times

I'm not sure how journalism works these days.

Last Friday, shortly after the BLS released payroll data showing 163,000 jobs created in July, the Times posted its story. The American economy, it said, had "continued" its "long slog upward from the depths of the recession." That was the lede.

The next paragraph reported that the economy was "just barely treading water."

I found this exasperating. Where jobs are concerned, the economy has not "continued" a long slog "upward." Employment crashed in 2008 and never came back, and there's an end to it. The economy is slogging sideways.

But even more annoying in some ways, to me at least, the metaphors are mixed. Barely treading water is not compatible with continuing a long slog upward. One is up, the other is down, or down as much as up. A person who is just barely treading water is not gaining altitude, and I'm pretty sure I remember a time when anyone working for the New York Times would have known this without having to think about it.

A half hour or so later, the story changed. Someone had cleaned up the mixed metaphor, which was good, but the story itself had gotten worse.

The lede was the same--the economy was still slogging upward (not true for jobs!)--but now the 2nd paragraph opened with the observation that while the payroll survey was better than economists had expected, "no one is yet popping champagne corks."


I saw one estimate showing that if the economy continued to produce 163,000 new jobs every month from now on it would take 8 years -- 'til 2020 -- to return to the employment level we had in 2007. Eight years to produce a jobs recovery for a 4-year 5-year slump (to date): nobody uses 'yet' in a context like this.

And nobody pops champagne corks at the end of an 8-year slog.

So Take 2 was even more exasperating, and then finally a third version of the story cropped up:
America added more jobs than expected last month, offering a pleasant surprise after many months of disappointing economic news. Even so, hiring was not strong enough to shrink the army of the unemployed in the slightest.
Hiring Picks Up in July, but Data Gives No Clear Signal
By CATHERINE RAMPELL | Published: August 3, 2012
This is the same story! We've gone from the economy slogging upward to economists not popping champagne corks to an army of the unemployed not having been shrunk in the slightest, and all of this in just a couple of hours.

How does this happen?

How do mixed metaphors and bad metaphors get through copy editors at the Times, and how does a story completely change meaning within just a few hours?

I'm wondering whether, these days, news organizations post stories as soon as they possibly can, knowing they can clean things up later.

Do newspapers deliberately post first drafts these days?

update 8/8/2012: Anonymous leaves word that the story changed 9 times.

(click on the images to enlarge)


I heard a lot about Terry while I was at Morningside Academy's Summer School Institute.
Eric [Haugton, one of the creators of precision teaching] helped his wife Elizabeth plan for a kindergarten student named Terry Harris. Terry had cerebral palsy, and walked with crutches. Elizabeth was teaching him to write his name. It had taken from September to Christmas vacation to teach Terry how to write his first name. Elizabeth wondered if there wasn’t a better way to teach him to write his last name. Even though there were only four new letters to teach, it still seemed like a daunting task. Eric asked her if Terry could write 250 to 200 vertical stokes in a minute. Elizabeth mentioned that Terry was quadriplegic — Eric replied, “I didn’t ask what he looks like, Elizabeth — can he do 250 to 200 vertical strokes per minute or not?” Elizabeth admitted that she didn’t think so. “Can he do 140 to 120 zero’s in a minute?” Again Elizabeth said he probably could not. “Those are the elements that make up the compounds for every letter or number we write. If they are not fluent, then learning to write numbers and letters will fail.”

Returning to school Elizabeth and Terry spent the next three weeks working on strokes and 00s. Terry went from about 50 vertical strokes to over 175, and from 25 zero’s to over 90. “But Terry and I were getting tired of this drill, and we were ready to try going back to writing his name.” So they did; how long did it take for Terry to learn to write Harris?

Terry learned it in five minutes.

LESSONS LEARNED: Eric Haughton and the importance of fluency
Wicked Local Hingham | January 22, 2012
Autistic children often spend years learning the same things over and over and over again in school.

What would happen if all of these students were moved from "discrete trial"/80% mastery criteria to precision teaching/fluency training?