kitchen table math, the sequel: 10/14/12 - 10/21/12

Friday, October 19, 2012

a math revolution too

Barry's in the Atlantic!

why do students have to sit on the floor

I'm watching the Jo Boaler video, which I see was funded by the Educational Advancement Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to imposing its ideology on other people's children (1) the development and implementation of inquiry-based learning at all educational levels in the United States, particularly in the fields of mathematics and science, and (2) the preservation and dissemination of the inquiry-based learning methodology of Dr. R.L. Moore (1882-1974).

Immediately, it struck me: students sitting on the floor. Again. I see this constantly in informational videos about inquiry-based classrooms.


Has no one in our history managed the feat of inquiring while seated at a desk?

re: the "harrassment and persecution" accusations Boaler has posted on a Stanford University website.

I have been married to a university professor for my entire adult life, and I've never seen anything like this. Stanford should direct Boaler to host her complaints on a personal website, and Milgram and Bishop should consult attorneys.

The Bishop/Clopton/Milgram critique of Boaler's research is entirely professional in content and in tone. The following is an excerpt:
Dr. Boaler kept the names of the schools private and asked that everyone trust that she had faithfully recorded the outcomes of her study. We were able to determine the identities of these schools. Then we studied the considerable amount of data in the California data base relating to these schools, as well as data requested through the Freedom of Information act or the California Public Records Act. This data includes things like school rankings, demographic data, SAT I outcomes, AP outcomes and even student level outcomes. Further, the results of the students from each of these schools on the entry level CSU4 math skills test are available. The totality of this data does not support her conclusions.

Indeed, there is only one year in the last five where any of these various measures for any cohort of students gives any advantage to the Railside students - the CST5 Algebra I exams for the ninth grade students in 2003 - and this is the only test data from that California database which is reproduced in Prof. Boaler’s report even though these data cannot represent the cohort that is the focus of the report.

We also found evidence that Dr. Boaler obtained her results by focusing on essentially different populations of students at the three schools. At Railside, her population appeared to consist primarily of the upper two quartiles, while at the other two schools the treatment group was almost entirely contained in the two middle quartiles.

A Close Examination of Jo Boaler’s Railside Report
Wayne Bishop
Dept. of Mathematics Cal. State University, LA
Paul Clopton VAMC
San Diego
R. James Milgram
Dept. of Mathematics Stanford University
Jo Boaler should provide her data to other researchers.

parents v. schools, Victorian edition

Have stumbled upon a brief history of discipline in British schools. Apparently parents have long been held in low regard by the public servants hired to teach their children:
In the early part of 1890 a teachers’ newspaper, The Schoolmistress, complained that its urban readers were under the constant threat of violence. It noted that the ‘rough language and violence heaped on teachers in some of the low and rough neighbourhoods of London and other large towns can hardly be imagined by those who have not witnessed it’. The image that the paper put forward was of a school system in a state of siege, with teachers fearing that they could be attacked at any time by the parents of their pupils. Though the lurid descriptions that appeared in The Schoolmistress were undoubtedly exaggerated for dramatic effect, they reflected a very real problem that afflicted schools at the time, which was a severe and ongoing hostility between parents and teachers.

The underlying issue in these conflicts was school discipline. By 1890 many parents were objecting to what they saw as the cruel and arbitrary use of corporal punishment then endemic within the school system. Children were not only caned but also subjected to many other forms of physical punishment, from being struck across the knuckles with slates, to receiving blows to the head with metal classroom pointers. In one case the disciplinary regime of a particular school involved a teacher stalking round the classroom, threatening children with a large knife. Parents generally thought that such forms of behaviour were inappropriate and that their children should be protected from such treatment.

Any sense of outrage felt by parents was reinforced by the fact that most of the punishment that occurred in schools was unlawful.


The common perception of Victorian schools is that they were primitive and brutal institutions in which children were subjected to violent discipline. Though there is a certain amount of truth in this, it fails to acknowledge the general unpopularity of corporal punishment among parents as well as pupils. Even in the 19th century this type of punishment was seen as an archaic and outmoded disciplinary tool. The negative image was supported by popular literature, such as Charles Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby (1838) and by real-life events, including the infamous Eastbourne Manslaughter of 1860 in which a school boy was beaten to death by his teacher. By this date opposition to corporal punishment was at its height and it was generally believed that the demise of the practice was fast approaching.

Yet the use of corporal punishment persisted. Teachers felt it had value as a disciplinary tool, believing that it was a quick and simple means by which order could be imposed on a class. Meanwhile many politicians and judges educated at public schools saw corporal punishment as a normal and natural part of childhood and had little sympathy with the objections of parents. Collectively their efforts helped to preserve its use as an educational tool and to institutionalise it as a standard disciplinary measure within schools. From the early 1890s onwards a number of administrative and legal measures were brought into effect that protected the rights of those teachers who wished to strike children. Classroom teachers were permitted to use corporal punishment and the rights of head teachers to inflict punishment were extended considerably. By the time of the First World War the parental protests against disciplinary excesses had been suppressed and corporal punishment was established as a normal and expected form of discipline. The practice was only banned in British state schools in 1987.

Spare the Rod
By Jacob Milddleton History Today | Volume: 62 Issue: 11 2012 took 150 years, give or take, for parents to drive corporal punishment out of the schools.

Successive generations of U.S. parents have been agitating for phonics and a knowledge-based education in the liberal arts for -- is it 110 years now?

Give it another 40, and maybe we'll see some action.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Notice for parents new to KTM

I thought a post might be good for parents new to KTM and this problem.

Kitchen Table Math exists because many K-8 schools don't ensure mastery of basic skills. Parents have to do the work at home. And, as one can see by other posts, it's not just a problem in math. Everyday Math, a common math curriculum, spirals through the same material each year in the hope that students at all levels will master the skills when they are ready. They assume that this works by definition. They tell teachers to keep moving and to "trust the spiral". It doesn't work.

One night long ago, I told my son to stop fooling around and do his EM math homework (from a workbook, not a textbook). Ten minutes later, I saw him doing other things and told him to do his math. He said it was already done. I looked at the workbook and saw only 4 easy problems. When I asked the teacher about this, she said that they will get a chance for more practice when they spiral back to the same material. They talk about how spiraling builds on previous knowledge and skills, but I saw only repeated partial learning. One parent complained that three of her kids were covering the exact same material and they were in three different grades. Either they knew the material already and were bored, or they were still confused.

Parents learn the hard way that it doesn't work. Many schools know that it doesn't work too because they send home blanket notes to parents asking them to work on "math facts". They must know that that some parents can't or won't. Unfortunately, this problem doesn't just stop at basic arithmetic. It continues with things like fractions, percentages, and solving equations. Parents are left reteaching their kids at home or with tutors. Some parents don't see this problem until 7th grade when their bright child gets placed into the "slow" math track. It's unlikely that the student will recover after that point. It could be an ability issue, but too many students respond well to curricula like Singapore Math (as with my son) at home or with tutors. KTM is loaded with examples of how parents had to help their kids.

When my son was in fifth grade, his teacher found bright students who still didn't know the times table. Some were still adding 7+8 on their fingers. She had to stop trusting the spiral to get students back up to speed. This caused her to skip 35% of the material that year, but the focus on mastery did work. However, she did not try to get the lower grade teachers to improve mastery of the basics.

This is not difficult material if mastery of basic skills is ensured starting in the earliest grades. However, the "trust the spiral" attitude pumps problems along until many gaps have built up and teachers can't possibly diagnose and address each one. That’s why Everyday Math includes things called "Math Boxes" to try to get students to fix themselves. This makes math seem much more complicated than it really is. Schools talk about critical thinking and problem solving, but they don't define them exactly and many students can't show them on state tests designed to match these teaching ideas. Those vague skills don't make up for a lack of mastery of the basics. The best students are the ones with the best mastery of skills.

Unfortunately, the new Common Core Standards won't force K-6 schools to fix the problems of mastery. The use of the word "fluent" in the standard is sparse and the word is undefined. The new tests, like PARCC, are unlikely to put much pressure on schools to achieve a level of mastery that will keep all career doors open in K-8. Kids will still be pumped along, and the onus for keeping kids on track will still rest with parents. My advice to parents is to not trust the spiral. You have to ensure that your kids master the material the first time starting in the earliest grades. You have to ask the school when and how they track in math. You have to ensure that learning gets done to meet this tracking decision. You have to realize that "proficient" is not nearly good enough. Even "exceeding expectations" might not be good enough. Schools will talk about how wonderful it is that they get so many kids over a low cutoff proficiency level, but this is not very meaningful for individual students. Many parents quickly figure out that their standards have to be much higher that the state standards. Schools care about statistics, but parents care about individuals. What’s good for schools is not necessarily what’s good for your child.