kitchen table math, the sequel: 5/4/14 - 5/11/14

Friday, May 9, 2014

David Daniel & Daniel Willingham on electronic textbooks

I missed this when it came out: Electronic Textbooks: Why the Rush?


Needless to say, my district, which intends to make technology "as ubiquitous in the classroom as paper and pencil" (paper and pencil are not technology, apparently) is on the fast track to all things electronic.

Thesis statements are really, really, really hard & you're-not-special (& Facebook)

oh, man!

Finally finished my semester (grading still to do, but classes & exit exams are done...) and am immersed, with Katie B, in a now-nearly-desperate attempt to finish the exercises for Chapter 3 of Ed's European history textbook.

Subject: the thesis statement.

We've been trying to create a thesis-statement algorithm. And not just an algorithm, but a foolproof algorithm. I'm the guinea pig.

I thought we had it nailed -- finally! -- and......

We don't.

So: starting over.


It's a good thing I went to school in the days before commencement speakers telling students they're not special and classroom teachers creating opportunities for students to fail against an exemplar of excellence (an actual comment I saw an actual teacher actually make on a Facebook thread concerning the you're-not-special commencement speaker, who is also a teacher.)

I would be in big trouble if my high school teachers had spent a lot of time creating opportunities for me to fail against exemplars of excellence.

That would be way too much failure for one person to surmount.

Take this afternoon. (Please.)

Ed and Katie and I were dealing with the failure of our algorithm (actually, the failure of my algorithm, which I'd come up with while dealing with the failure of the previous algorithm the 3 of us had hammered out just a couple of days ago).

Today's algorithm involved telling the student to start by picking a sentence in the textbook and turning it into a who-, which-, why-, or how- question.

Sounds simple, right?

So, the sentence we tested (on me) was:

It is difficult to determine which country was most responsible for WWI.

Which I instantly turned into the following question, while exclaiming 'This is easy!:

Which country was most responsible for WWI?


The question I was supposed to turn it into:

Why is it difficult to determine which country was most responsible for WWI?

So then Ed and I got into a whole long argument about whether a college student would or would not make the same boneheaded mistake I had just made, since any fool (we're foolproofing, remember?) could plainly see that "which country was most responsible for WWI" was not the whole sentence.

The whole sentence was "Why is it difficult to determine which country was most responsible for WWI?"

So there I was, the progenitor of an algorithm I myself could not use, having to argue, at length, that 18-year olds who are taking their first college-level history course are as dumb as I am.

Which I successfully did.


Change of topic: I've become a Facebook person, heaven help me. Mostly because Debbie S. said I should: that's where the moms are, she said.

Facebook is pretty fun -- and it's different from a blog, somehow. Different in a good way.

I'm thinking of putting up a ktm Facebook page, but I want to keep it relatively separate from my Irvington life & have to figure out exactly how that works.

I think ktm readers would actually have to join the FB page (which is fine with me but possibly annoying for you --- ?)

Back to work.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Frederick Hess on the stealth approach

Terrific op-ed by Fred Hess (just saw Barry post it to Facebook).
In 2013, Gallup reported that 62% of Americans had never heard of the Common Core. The anti-Common Core documentary “Building the Machine,” released a few weeks ago, begins with a narrator intoning, “Before the fall of 2012, very little was known about the Common Core. The media wasn’t covering it. It wasn’t part of the national discourse. It wasn’t even on parents’ radar.”

If true, that’s a significant claim. The Common Core state standards are no small change. Forty-five states and D.C. adopted the K-12 reading and math standards, and promised to modify their tests, textbooks and teaching accordingly. In hot pursuit of federal Race to the Top funds, states hurriedly agreed to what proponents celebrated as a landmark change. The New York Times termed the Common Core “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” and Duncan said it “may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown vs. Board of Education.”

Change of this magnitude are typically hashed out in robust public debate. The Common Core was not.

In a recent study, we used the news search engine Lexis-Nexis to track media coverage of the Common Core during its five-year history. The results show just how little attention the Common Core received when it was being unveiled and adopted. In 2009, the year the draft standards were first released, there were 453 mentions of the “Common Core.” For comparison’s sake, that year, there were 2,185 mentions of Disney actor Zac Efron. Not a single reference to the Common Core mentioned “controversy,” “critic,” “opponent,” “supporter” or “defender.”


By 2013, the issue exploded into the national consciousness, with 26,401 mentions. Of course, by that point, most states had been implementing the standards for years. Some criticism of the Common Core has been hyperbolic and rife with dubious claims. But today’s seemingly “misinformed” pushback may be mostly a case of frustrated citizens waking up to a fait accompli.
What does this all mean?

First, it’s hard to look at these numbers and not conclude that the mainstream media dropped the ball. The standards were rarely covered even as states planned to alter instruction for tens of millions of students.

Second, these results reflect a strategy of supporters seeking to stay below the radar in 2009, 2010, and 2011, while relying on the helping hand of the federal Race to the Top program. The thing is, stealth is a dubious strategy for pursuing fundamental change in 100,000 schools educating 50 million children.

Third, the democratic process relies on information. A lack of familiarity has proven to be fertile ground for all manner of rumor and uncertainty. Ultimately, informed consent is the key to policy durability.

The Common Core was foisted on students, parents and teachers with precious little open debate
Democracy deficit.

The profound indifference to parents and taxpayers on the part of the people who run public schools has always amazed me. Their indifference amazes me so much so that in the last couple of years I've taken to saying I'm amazed by my capacity to still be amazed.

This go-round our policy elites here in New York state decided -- consciously decided -- to give kids hard tests most of them would fail. Intentionally giving kids tests you know they will fail is an appalling idea, but our policy elites were free to make and execute that decision on their own recognizance. They didn't have to check in with John Q. Public first.

And when John Q. Public checked in with them, they didn't have to say they were sorry.

My favorite moment here in my own district -- this was pretty funny, actually -- was the standing-room-only Common Core confab at which the curriculum director told us that parents "watch TV" and "read the internet" so they don't understand Common Core.

Then she showed us a TV show about Common Core. A TV show that's on the internet.

After we watched the TV show, one of the building principals stood up and told us that her sister doesn't understand Common Core because her sister watches TV and reads the internet.

I was amazed.