kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/23/14 - 3/30/14

Saturday, March 29, 2014

No, it doesn't work this way

Peter Elbow on the composing process

I remember posting this before (or at least discussing it in Comments -- I think I recall gasstationwithoutpumps saying something about wives copy-editing their husbands' work) but I was just cleaning up some old drafts sitting in the queue and found this one, so here it is.


Still funny after all these years!

Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them

Fundraising flier from Wellesley.

Which pretty much rules out contributions from Wellesley grads who are: a) married to men and/or b) the mothers of boys.

Congratulations Steve H!

Steve had some fabulous news on Thursday!!!

(Has he posted?? In the comments somewhere??)

If he hasn't, I'm not telling!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No more fat versus small envelope surprises

T-minus seven hours and counting. It's like the owls in Harry Potter when the electronic acceptances (or rejections) come in. However, he already has an acceptance, a rejection, and a waitlist (polite rejection), and the acceptance comes with no aid. Thank you out-of-state universities! The scholarships they do give won't come until summer after you have committed. Had I known... So as of now, he isn't going to college next fall. Sooooo many students seem to be rejected or waitlisted so far this year. Students are having trouble getting into "likely" schools (unless they pay full price). Likely and reach school admittances seem to have little to do with academics at all levels, and some schools might reject you because they think they are a safety. If a school can reject you for whatever holistic reason they want, then students can't reliably know what "reach" means. What is the probability of being rejected at all of your schools? My son applied to 10, and I'm thinking that it wasn't enough.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Debbie at Ed Week!

I edited! (So I'm bemoaning a couple of too-long-for-onscreen-reading sentences...

Seeking the Top Score (Part I)
By Helen Yoshida on March 25, 2014 5:34 PM

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From 1992 - David Klein and Jerry Rosen on fuzzy math and why we have it

The 1992 Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools governs, to a considerable extent, the mathematics curriculum in California's public schools. It is a model of mediocrity. The Framework recommends that calculators be issued to kindergartners and used in all K-12 grades; it strongly discourages placing students by ability or achievement; it advocates that teachers do more "facilitating" and less "teaching;" it discourages testing, and promotes portfolios, "authentic assessment," and "holistic scoring rubrics;" it de-emphasizes basic skills and promotes "cooperative work" over individual responsibility. In short, it is the bible of "fuzzy math."


Why is this kind of mediocrity promoted by so many education professors and education experts? We suggest that it is simply good intentions gone awry, resulting in institutionalized "liberal racism." Liberal education experts fear that minority students can't learn real math because of "cultural differences." They recognize that it would be preposterous to lower standards only for those students while maintaining high standards for other groups. Thus, the education experts lower standards for everyone, with "authentic assessment" replacing hard-core, standardized tests, and so-called "higher order thinking" supplanting basic skills.

The clearest refutation of the racism disguised by the Framework comes from the work of Jaime Escalante, the teacher who was immortalized in the movie, "Stand and Deliver." Mr. Escalante proved beyond any doubt that minority students from poor neighborhoods can do as well in mathematics as any other group. His methods were traditional and "non fuzzy."

Los Angeles Daily News
May 31, 1996
by David Klein and Jerry Rosen
Ten years ago, I would have rejected this explanation out of hand.

But today, as a classroom instructor teaching "basic" composition, I wonder.

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: college freshmen whose skills are far below where they need to be can be perfectly intelligent and 'smart' when you stick to spoken language.

They can be and they are.

In fact, it's not necessarily possible to tell which students have better skills and which poorer by listening to classroom discussion.

The Cambridge Pre-U courses are a case in point. I gather Cambridge Pre-U is being sold to districts (and to parents) as a rigorous replacement for AP courses that does not require grouping. All kids, at all levels of skill and ability, can take the same course and it's still advanced.

The reason that claim can be made is that the courses -- at least the one I witnessed -- primarily involve Googling (there is no assigned reading), creating group Powerpoints for presentation to the class, and class discussion. (The class I saw required one paper, written at the end of a year and a half of 'study.')

On the day I visited a Cambridge Pre-U class, one of the students strongly challenged a presentation four other students were giving. Every point the challenger made was dead-on.

Afterwards, the principal told us how wonderful the class is because you can't tell the AP kids apart from the non-AP kids.

Then he said proudly that the student who had done all the challenging was a kid who would never have been allowed to take a regular AP course in his school.

Naturally, that got my dander up. A talented student who hadn't been prepared by his school to take an AP course didn't seem like something a principal should be talking about with anything other than embarrassment and regret.

Today I feel a bit differently.

I certainly believe that the student I saw in action should have been prepared by his school to take one Advanced Placement course by graduation. He was headed for college, and that being the case, preparing him for AP was the school's job.

On the other hand, I now know that being smart and capable in speech does not mean being smart and capable in writing. Not even close.

I also know that writing really is thinking in any number of ways. Which means if you can't're not the smartest person in the room.

So, back to Klein and Rosen. It now seems entirely plausible to me that, like me, a large contingent of education reformers has registered the fact that that underprivileged students fare better talking than writing (or doing math).

Education reformers don't have to have decided consciously to tackle the achievement gap by making math into a discussion subject in order to have done just that.

Allison on big data

12 months ago, you could raise funding for your startup overnight if you were doing "big data" for education (even though the data was quite paltry in size). The future hope of a Diamond-Age like mechanism to have kids worked in flipped classrooms at their ZPD ["zone of proximal development"] all without teachers needing to do anything to differentiate instruction was the holy grail.

6 months ago, the perfect storm of Anti-Common Core backlash, NSA domestic spying, and IRS abuse of 501c4 citizen groups meant Bog Data for Ed was in serious jeopardy.
I first realized this at a talk I was giving at a school that had chosen in May of 2013 to improve their math program: a goal of Singapore Primary Math in K-6, Shoseki in 7, Dolciani in 8, complete with real math training for all teachers and a FT BS math degreed teacher for 6-8. Oh, and state standrads-based standardized tests for the first time ever to measure student progress relative to their peers and state requirements.

The parents were on board in May. I gave the same talk in September, and the climate had changed.

Parents were so anti-data that they wanted no standardized test. Never mind that there was no way to measure student progress without a benchmark.

In order to make some basic determination about where these students were mathematically that first May, MSMI had devised a test based on state sample item. In September, I actually had a parent say to me "I know you took data on my child."

Another parent who stood by as I spoke to a family asking for how I could help their child get a bit of higher content in their math class said "I heard you ask that family for their child's name and grade."

The paranoia was rampant. The push to "opt out" was so great that we were in serious jeopardy of having any way of measuring if we'd done any good, let alone if kids had learn a year's math in a year's time.

Parents no longer trust their schools. This is perhaps the biggest legacy of the politicization of civic institutions. It is earned in many cases, but probably is worse in result than even lousy curricula. It will take a long long time to fix.
On the one hand, people habituate: the bad gets normal, as Temple always said. So this may blow over.

On the other, sans habituation almost at the level of mass amnesia, I don't see how this gets fixed.

I remember, very clearly, the moment a few years back when our district was suddenly required to weigh students, record their weights, and report the data to Albany.

I was furious. Chris had always struggled with his weight and was very sensitive about it (he lost 50 pounds last summer and has kept it off since!): it's not as if overweight children don't know they're overweight.

And it's not as if the grown-ups passing these regulations are universally thin themselves.

Needless to say, I protested, as I always do, and, needless to say, the administration and board blew me off, as the administration and board always do. High-school students would be weighed "with sensitivity," they said. And that was that. Everyone seemed to agree that weighing students and reporting the data to Albany was a bad idea, but admin & board follow regulations, good or bad. Except when they don't, of course.

The obstacle to habituation this time, as I see it: Americans believe that American schools are locally run.

Schools haven't been locally run in a very long time; superintendents speak in tongues, and bamboozled boards rubber stamp. The people vote, but the people don't get the schools they vote for.

Until now, though, parents busy with kids and jobs and volunteer work for the PTSA could lead their lives without knowing the schools aren't run by them, or that our overlords in Albany (or, even worse, Washington) don't give two figs for what we think, want, or hope.

With the constant, visible presence of Bill Gates and David Coleman and Arne Duncan and "Albany" and Washington D.C. in our lives, not-knowing has become a great deal more challenging.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Death by data, Part I've-lost-count

A compelling vision of the data-driven future of K-12 schooling? Or a chilling description of a brave new educational world in which even students' smallest actions are converted to digital data and used to build permanent "learner profiles"?

A new report from London- and New York City-based educational publishing powerhouse Pearson is likely to generate both reactions, depending on whom you ask.

Released this week, "Impacts of the Digital Ocean on Education" is intended as "an aspirational vision of what success might look like" in the rapidly changing world of "big" educational data and personalized learning.

Report authors Kristen DiCerbo and John Behrens of Pearson's Center for Digital Data, Analytics, and Adaptive Learning sketch out a vision in which end-of-year, summative tests of narrowly defined skills and content knowledge are replaced by a constant stream of digital data generated by "in vivo naturalistic tasks" that thoroughly blur the line between assessment and instruction.

Such data—generated from a variety of sources and activities, and focusing on students' social connections and interactions, rather than just their isolated individual experiences—would be constantly tracked and used to update profiles that follow each student across classrooms, grades, and schools, helping facilitate more customized learning experiences for each.

"The devices and digital environments with which we interact are designed to record and store experiences, thereby creating a slowly rising ocean of digital data," DiCerbo and Behrens write in the report. "We believe the ability to capture data from everyday formal and informal learning activity should fundamentally change how we think about education."

Just as big data and analytics have transformed finance, insurance, retail, and professional sports, the report says, they will change education. Until recently, the authors write, data collection and storage was expensive, limited, and isolated, and students' educational records were not portable, easy to share, or able to be quickly analyzed.

But the digital revolution has changed that reality, DiCerbo and Behrens contend. They argue that the abundance of increasingly fine-grained data available to educators "can help pinpoint the moments when learning occurs or a learner's approach to a problem changes" and then be used to help tailor suggestions or recommendations to help each student's learning continue.

'Ocean' of Digital Data to Reshape Education, Pearson Report Predicts
By Benjamin Herold on March 19, 2014 11:24 AM
A tidal wave of data could personalize learning

Jen on testing the "scaffolding"

The distinction being made here between the content standard and a strategy for showing that standard IS the crux of the problem for CC.

The tests could be made to test only for the concept, but are much more likely to be made in such a way that you have to know the specific strategy meant to "scaffold" you to the concept, rather than be secure in the concept itself.

It reminds me of a district level math supervisor when my oldest kids were in elementary. The district was using EDM (I know, I know, it was actually great for my kids and did what it was supposed to do, but I did realize as the years went on that it really didn't work for 50+% of their classmates).

The supervisor was explaining how they were trying to make sure that every teacher was really using the curriculum in exactly the way prescribed. It had clearly come to their attention that some teachers found the program lacking and were modifying it.

Their solution? They were making up district-wide unit tests for the lower grades that would ask the students specific questions about the games and activities that were to be included. That is, besides some questions that actually tested the concepts the kids were to be learning, they'd also have questions that tested whether they knew how the games were played, or what the rules were for playing them.

So, now the students were being tested that the district could ding the teachers/school for it. And that, in a nutshell, is also the big problem for CC. Instead of asking questions that determine if they know and are fluent with their facts to 20, they are instead going to design questions that try to tease out HOW they were taught them and ding those who didn't use the specified "strategies."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

If you don't live in New York

Our airwaves are saturated with unbelievably effective pro-charter ads (from Charters Work).

This one in particular is riveting; I watch it all the way through every time it comes on. It's like a little mini-narrative -- not so much on first viewing, but on repeats. You get to know the kids; you know the sequence you're going to see them in; and pretty soon you start to feel a build-up of dread each time you watch, knowing what's coming next, which is that the beautiful children will disappear one-by-one, and the little boy looking at you over the top of his spectacles will be the first to go.

It's like a terrifying work of dystopian sci fi, for pete's sake.

Or one of those horrifying news clips like the Challenger explosion that you watch every time it's shown, hoping the ending will be different this time.

Watch this ad ten times in ten days and you'll see what I mean.

Ze'ev Wurman on Bill Gates on Common Core

Bill Gates: OK. So what is the Common Core? It’s a very simple thing. It’s a written explanation of what knowledge kids should achieve at very various milestones in their educational career. So it’s writing down in sixth grade which math things should you know, in ninth grade which math things should you know, in twelfth grade which math things should you know.

Ze’ev Wurman: That, indeed, is what content standards are supposed to be.

BG: And you might be surprised to learn how poor those I’ll call those standards, but to be clear, it’s not curriculum. It’s not a textbook. It’s not a way of teaching. It’s just writing down should you know this part of algebra? Should you know trigonometric functions? Should you know be able to recognize a graph of this type?

ZW: Wrong. I wish Mr. Gates would actually read the standards rather than rely on what others tell him. Common Core standards are more than just content standards, they also dictate pedagogy and hence curriculum. Here are a couple of obvious examples.

“Grade 1 standard 1.OA.6: Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).”

This standard does not require only knowing addition and subtraction within 20, as a content standard should. It insists on knowing four specific ways to add and subtract. In other words, it dictates pedagogy and curriculum.

Bill Gates Needs an Education on Common Core
I haven't read the math standards start to finish, and I probably won't. (I'm working on the ELA standards, Appendix A in particular.)

Nevertheless, I think it's fair to observe that a "standard" instructing teachers to "use strategies such as counting on..." is more than just a content standard. Quite a bit more.

Unfortunately, in the context of American public schools, the word "strategies" means something quite different from what it does outside of public education.

Within public education strategies is a formal term for guide-on-the-sidery.

I remember being semi-gobsmacked, a decade ago, sitting in on a CSE meeting and hearing the word "strategies" repeatedly used to describe the district's approach to educating children with behavioral and/or learning difficulties. The student in question that day, a 5th grader with emotional and behavioral problems, was going to be given "strategies" he could use to stop acting the way he was acting and start acting the way the other kids were acting.

In another meeting, the same psychologist said a child with dyslexia would be given "strategies" she could use to read.

She wouldn't be taught to read; at least, that wasn't the focus.

Instead, she would be given strategies she could deploy, as needed (the child was to be the judge of that), to help herself read better than she was reading now.

Even then, before I'd delved into all these things, I knew it was all rubbish.

A 10-year old with emotional and behavior problems isn't going to use "strategies" to stop having outbursts, and a 10-year old with dyslexia isn't going to use "strategies" to read at grade level.

What century is it again?

"You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text," Kerry told the CBS program "Face the Nation."
Kerry condemns Russia's 'incredible act of aggression' in Ukraine
WASHINGTON Sun Mar 2, 2014 10:40am EST
I read this out loud to Ed over breakfast the other day and we both burst out laughing.

We've spent a lot of time stewing over our district's obsession with 21st century skills. Ed's line: "The schools are teaching 21st century skills, so we have to teach the 19th-century ones."

Here's our new fantastically well-compensated superintendent telling the board how warmed-over, pre-crash Tony Wagner is "being used district-wide":

The super is a Common Core enthusiast, too.

Pop quiz: how many times do the words "21st-century skills" appear in Common Core?