kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/1/14 - 6/8/14

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Massachusetts School Law of 1789

From Terrence Moore's The Story-Killers:
Whereas the Constitution of this Commonwealth hath declared it to be the duty of the General Court, to provide for the education of youth: and whereas a general dissemination of knowledge and virtue is necessary to the prosperity of every State, and the very existence of a Commonwealth:

     Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives, in General Court assembled . . . That every town or district within this Commonwealth . . . shall be provided with a School-Master or School-Masters, of good morals, to teach children to read and write, and to instruct them in the English language, as well as in arithmetic, orthography, and decent behavior . . . And every town or district containing two hundred families, or householders, shall be provided with a grammar School-Master, of good morals, well instructed in the Latin, Greek, and English languages . . .

     Section 4. Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That it shall be and it is hereby made the duty of the President, Professors and Tutors of the University at Cambridge [Harvard], Preceptors and Teachers of Academies, and all other instructors of youth, to take diligent care, and to exert their best endeavors, to impress on the minds of children and youth, committed to their career and instruction, the principles of piety, justice, and a sacred regard to truth, love to their country, humanity, and universal benevolence, sobriety, industry and frugality, chastity, moderation and temperance, and those other virtues which are the ornament of human society, and the basis upon which the Republican Constitution is structured. And it shall be the duty of such instructors, to endeavor to lead those under their care (as their ages and capacities will admit) into a particular understanding of the tendency of the before mentioned virtues, to preserve and perfect a Republican Constitution, and to secure the blessings of liberty, as well as to promote their future happiness; and the tendency of the opposite vices to slavery and ruin.
Virtues are the ornament of human society and the basis upon which the Republican Constitution is structured.

Reading comprehension and knowledge and something else

I was finally reading Michael Goldstein's terrific blog when I came across this post:
E.D. Hirsch

If you teach English, or you're a school leader — and I'm particularly looking at you, friends in No Excuses charter schools, with our collective student gains in math that are 4x higher than those in English — I think a bare minimum threshold is that you can:

a. Explain E.D. Hirsch's arguments

b. Describe the degree to which your class/school adheres to or rejects his view

c. Justify why

I got turned onto re-reading Hirsch through Robert Pondiscio, who until recently worked for Hirsch's Core Knowledge Foundation as a blogger.
To the best of my knowledge, students at Morningside Academy make the same gains in reading they do in math: two years' progress in one year's time. That is the guarantee Morningside makes to parents. Their child will make two years' progress in one year's time or tuition is refunded.

More specifically, Morningside guarantees that each child will make two years' progress in one year's time in the child's most difficult subject. Since many of students there have diagnoses of dyslexia, presumably the worst subject is reading, often as not. Morningside's students are middle and upper-middle class, but Kent Johnson and his group have worked with disadvantaged populations, too. As far as I know, two-years-in-one applies to low-income students, too.

For (remedial) reading comprehension, Morningside uses Robert Dixon's Reading Success. Dixon's approach to teaching "main idea" is sui generis: his program teaches students to identify anaphora first. Dixon's definition of anaphora: "a pronoun or other words used to refer to some other word or name." (And here's a simple example of anaphora)

Morningside students become fluent at identifying anaphora and their referents in the text. As I recall, they then identify the main idea by counting the anaphora. The main idea has the most. (Still haven't read my Dixon handout...if I'm wrong about that, I'll correct.)

Once students have completed Dixon's curriculum, they continue to improve their reading within the subject areas.

We've talked about this before, so this is a repeat: the idea that you would teach reading comprehension by focusing very specifically on anaphora was a revelation to me. I've been teaching anaphora to my students ever since.

My experience at Morningside makes me skeptical of the claim that lack of background knowledge is the only meaningful explanation for the decline in reading comprehension in the U.S., or for the failure of the good charter schools to make much headway improving reading comprehension.

I was mulling this over, trying to think how one might separate background knowledge from some kind of 'textual knowledge' students also lack, when I remembered the fact that my students can have difficulty understanding fables.

One of my best students -- a bright, capable young woman -- did not understand this fable, which she had read out loud to the class:
A dispute arose between the North Wind and the Sun, each claiming that he was stronger than the other. At last they agreed to try their powers upon a traveller, to see which could soonest strip him of his cloak.

The North Wind had the first try; and, gathering up all his force for the attack, he came whirling furiously down upon the man, and caught up his cloak as though he would wrest it from him by one single effort: but the harder he blew, the more closely the man wrapped it round himself.

Then came the turn of the Sun. At first he beamed gently upon the traveller, who soon unclasped his cloak and walked on with it hanging loosely about his shoulders: then he shone forth in his full strength, and the man, before he had gone many steps, was glad to throw his cloak right off and complete his journey more lightly clad.

Moral: Persuasion is better than force.
When one of my students has trouble understanding a fable, the problem isn't background knowledge.

I'm not sure what the problem is, but the fact that Morningside Academy achieves such amazing results using a reading comprehension curriculum that teaches anaphora leads me to believe that, at a minimum, cohesion devices should be directly and explicitly taught in English class.

On that subject, here's Sally Hampton: The Importance of Writing Structures, Coherence, and Cohesion to Writing and Reading.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Liberals and Pearson...(thinking out loud)

After my musings about "real conservatives" versus "real liberals" and their respective (and hypothesized) reactions to Pearson, Hainish's comment  cracked me up:
Liberals hate Pearson. Teachers hate Pearson. Anything that ties Pearson with CC is going to result in those groups of people hating CC.

So, quick follow-up: I have no business talking about "true conservatives" and "true liberals"!

But since I did....

The feeling that political conservatives 'have to leave public schools' came over me so forcefully, as I read Moore's chapter on The American Experience, that I sallied forth.

What I was trying to say but not saying (because I was beating around the bush) was that I think Pearson's American Experience textbook would be offensive to conservatives in an immediate and visceral way that it would not be to liberals -- except for liberals who are much better educated than most Americans, including me.

That is: an American like E.D. Hirsch. E.D. Hirsch, a political liberal, would find The American Experience appalling.

I'm not saying conservatives are better educated than liberals!

I'm saying that the values informing The American Experience (assuming Moore's analysis is accurate, which I do) are pretty much anathema to conservatives but not to liberals.

(A lot of liberals I know would find the values annoying. But annoying is not anathema.)

Liberals are going to dislike the content (Hainish is right on that one!), but conservatives are going to dislike the content and the values -- and at some point people reach a tipping point.

That said, the fact that I had such an intense, visceral reaction reading Moore on Pearson tells you more about the quality of Moore's book than it does about conservatives and liberals. The book is a tour de force.

Disciplinary specalists redux

Public education would be a lot less fraught if disciplinary standards were written by disciplinary specialists.

Here's an example.

Terrence Moore, a political conservative, has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Edinburgh.

My husband, a liberal, is a historian at NYU.

Moore's explanation of why it's wrong to base an entire discussion of the Declaration of Independence on the observation that when Thomas Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" he really meant "all white men are created equal" was pretty much a revelation to me. It was a revelation to me because I know next to nothing about the debates and politics that surrounded the founding of our country.

The next morning I mentioned Moore's chapter to Ed, who proceeded to give me the same reasons why it's wrong to base an entire discussion of the Declaration of Independence on the observation that when Thomas Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" he really meant "all white men are created equal."

History is a discipline. You can be conservative, you can be liberal, doesn't matter. If you're a historian, you're against anachronism and presentism. You also possess -- and remember -- knowledge about the specific circumstances surrounding the finding of our country.

I do realize that politics can affect scholarship. (And I can't tell whether literary studies are or are not a proper discipline at all these days).

Nevertheless, not only do I personally want my disciplinary standards written by disciplinary specialists, I think that if disciplinary specialists wrote disciplinary standards, we'd have less education wrangling than we do now.

Kai Musing on Common Core

Comment left by Kai Musing (I added the passage from CC):
I haven't read the Moore book, but as a teacher in a major metropolitan school district I have had to read the common core.

I also used to teach at a Core Knowledge (E.D. Hirsch) charter. I think the problem is more that educationalists and progressives see what they want in the common core.

Hirsch has actually quoted from the common core and expressed tentative support for it:

Why I'm for the Common Core

He quotes from this part specifically in the common core as well (last paragraph on the page):

English Language Arts Standards » Anchor Standards » College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts. Through extensive reading of stories, dramas, poems, and myths from diverse cultures and different time periods, students gain literary and cultural knowledge as well as familiarity with various text structures and elements. By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades. Students also acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success.

The problem is, in my view, that progressive continue to co-opt whatever standards there are into reinforcing useless progressive pedagogy.

One more for the road:

Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

(Unfortunately, it shows up in the 11-12th grade band. In fourth grade, where I teach, it asks students to:

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).

Hirsch makes the point that the people who made the standards could not dictate content knowledge to be taught, because no one would have adopted the standards.

Take that as you will.

Common Core going well in froggiemama's district

froggiemama writes:
I really like the Common Core standards. My district has dramatically improved instruction since they went to it 2 years ago. They have eliminated many (not enough, IMHO) of the time wasting arts and crafts projects. My youngest did not have to spend first grade math drawing pictures of math facts like 2+3. My oldest, in 8th grade, is now being held to a writing standard far above what my current college students are capable of. I am really hoping that I will see improvements in my college students skills as we move to a generation who has actually been taught to use evidence from the text when writing about it. I am hoping I might finally get students in my CS1 course who actually understand placevalue and have some number sense. We will see.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Terrence Moore on the twenty-first century global economy

To their credit, the authors of the Common Core, while they are not completely clear on their aims of education, certainly repeat the same phrases concerning their ends again and again. The principal phrase they use is "career and college readiness." On the first page of the introduction to the English Standards, they use that phrase or some variant at least six times in what cannot be more than seven hundred words. It appears throughout the rest of the document, too. Some people might say that the repetition of the phrase produces clarity. Others might say it makes the document sound like a broken record, or that the phrase is like a bad cough that won't go away. Either way, these are their end of education: career and college readiness.

The other phrase that is only slightly less important is "twenty-first century globally  competitive society." Anyone who pays attention to what is said about education today has heard this phrase countless times. In fact, it seems to be the only thing that most of the politicians and bureaucrats can say when addressing education. "We have to prepare our young men and women for a twenty-first-century global economy," say all the talking heads. The twenty-first-century global economy, you see, is a very scary thing. It is much carrier than the twentieth-century global economy that we grew up in (though there is no Soviet Union and no Cold War). So we need to do whatever it takes!


Slyly but unmistakably, the phrase "twenty-first-century global society," whatever others may mean by it, is being used by the authors of the Common Core to bring about radical, progressive ends of education, ends that would not be supported by the majority of parents if they knew what was really going on in the schools. Thus the insufficient and radical ends of education pursued by the Common Core Standards will make the nation's public schools both less and more than they should be: inferior schools academically, and officious, overreaching schools politically and socially. The remedy to these shortsighted and radical ends is a traditional, classical, liberal education.

The Story-Killers by Terrence Moore


I had just dipped back into Hirsch's The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them when Lisa J. posted a link to a lecture by Terrence Moore, whose book The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core turns out to be a barn burner: a barn burner and a tour de force, take your pick.

Reading Moore, I have the recurring perception that "real" conservatives, conservatives of the heart, simply have to leave the public schools because the gap between Pearson and a "conservative of the heart" can't be bridged. Not on the ELA side. (I say "Pearson" because the most appalling section of Moore's book is  Chapter 7, a lengthy analysis of Pearson's Common Core literature textbook for high school juniors.)

My sense of "liberals of the heart," at least where Pearson is concerned, is much less clear. Any liberal who is well-educated in history or literature would be appalled by The American Experience Common Core Edition, but how many Americans are well-educated in history and literature these days? Certainly not me. If you don't know anything about the Declaration of Independence, you also don't know why it's so wrong to base an entire discussion of the Declaration of Independence on the breezy assertion that when Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal," he really meant all white men are created equal. (I didn't know.)

So I'm guessing that, for many politically liberal parents, textbooks like Pearson's will seem not-completely-horrible, superficially at least.

Then again, Moore's sobriquet for the powers behind Common Core is "the arch testers." He is no slouch in the anti-testing department, which I had heretofore assumed was the province of parents voting for Democrats. And here in New York, of course, the parents who actually are "opting out" are largely left of center (I assume), if only because the population is largely left of center. The gap between liberal and conservative parents looks pretty small to me.

But who knows? I can't get a clear read on the politics of Common Core. But, more importantly, I can't get a read on what is happening inside the institution of public education. All I can come up with is that someone, at some level of decision making, has messed up very badly. Very badly.

Which brings me to the reason I opened up my Blogger window in the first place, which was to post a quote from sociologist Diane Vaughn in the Times video on the Challenger explosion:
"We can never resolve the problem of complexity, but you have to be sensitive to your organization and how it works. While a lot of us work in complex organizations, we don't really realize the way the organizations that we inhabit completely inhabit us."

Diane Vaunghn (The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA)
Major Malfunction: Revisiting Challenger | New York Times
"The way the organizations we inhabit completely inhabit us": Exactly!

She could be speaking of Hirsch's thoughtworld:
Why do educators persist in advocating the very artifact, anti-rote-learning, antiverbal practices that have led to poor results--persist in urging them, indeed, even more intensively than before?

The basic answer is this: Within the educational community, there is currently no thinkable alternative. Part of essential American educational doctrine has consisted of the disparagement of so-called "traditional" education. The long dominance of antitraditional rhetoric in our teacher-training institutions has ensured that competing, nonprogressive principles are not readily available within their walls. No professor at an American education school is going to advocate pro-rote-learning, profact, or proverbal pedagogy. Since there is only one true belief, expressed in one constantly repeated catechism, the heretical suggestion that the creed itself might be faulty cannot be uttered. To question progressive doctrine would be to put in doubt the identity of the education profession itself. Its foundational premise is that progressive principles are right. Being right, they cannot possibly be the cause of educational ineffectiveness.


In sum, since progressive doctrine cannot be at fault, the only proper cure for our ailing schools is homeopathic "reform," that is, even stronger doses of progressive principles administered even more intensely. E.D. Hirsch 
There it is. There is the explanation for why the Common Core reading standards, in spite of their references to the importance of knowledge, are turning English into social studies.

Review of The Challenger Launch Decision by Samudra Vijay