kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/15/14 - 6/22/14

Friday, June 20, 2014

The hundred years' war

Ed's reaction to Paul Horton's column on the new CC history standards: "It's the counterrevolution, courtesy of Bill Gates."

This is something I don't think we've ever talked about on ktm: constructivists don't like history.

At all.

In fact, history was I think the first subject to fall to the progressives' school reforms. History was replaced by social studies nearly 100 years ago, in the 1920s and 30s.

Here's Diane Ravitch:
In the latter decades of the 20th century, many social studies professionals disparaged history with open disdain, suggesting that the study of the past was a useless exercise in obsolescence that attracted antiquarians and hopeless conservatives. (In the late 1980s, a president of the National Council for the Social Studies referred derisively to history as “pastology.”)

A Brief History of Social Studies by Diane Ravitch
In the 1990s Ravitch, Gary Nash, Christopher Lasch and others (including Ed) staged a successful counterrevolution against the social studies revolution, and history standards written by historians were adopted in a number of states.

Today Bill Gates is funding social studies (historical thinking for the 21st century!), so we have the counterrevolution to the counterrevolution, with the resulting theme-based, DBQ-mongering, 13-year students-will-examine fest you might expect. e.g.:
Students will examine the atrocities committed under Augusto Pinochet, Deng Xiaoping, and Slobodan Milosevic in light of the principles and articles within the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
That shouldn't take too long.

As far as I can see, there's not a single learning objective in the entire 13-year framework.

Just years and years of students examining this, that, and the other.

Punctuated by students comparing and contrasting this, that, and the other.

Terrence Moore is very funny on the subject of the Common Core's preoccupation with comparison & contrast. Will have to find a passage to post.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Way off-topic, but I'm passing this along

Twenty years ago, a friend of mine, a physician at UCLA, told me that artificial light at night is bad for you -- so bad that she had started turning out the lights in her house at dusk. (I've forgotten, now, what specific concern she had -- it may have been increased cancer risk.)

I've been tracking research on light after nightfall ever since, and just found this, which took me by surprise:
The Relationship Between Obesity and Exposure to Light at Night: Cross-Sectional Analyses of Over 100,000 Women in the Breakthrough Generations Study

Emily McFadden et al.
American Journal of Epidemiology, forthcoming

There has been a worldwide epidemic of obesity in recent decades. In animal studies, there is convincing evidence that light exposure causes weight gain, even when calorie intake and physical activity are held constant. Disruption of sleep and circadian rhythms by exposure to light at night (LAN) might be one mechanism contributing to the rise in obesity, but it has not been well-investigated in humans. Using multinomial logistic regression, we examined the association between exposure to LAN and obesity in questionnaire data from over 100,000 women in the Breakthrough Generations Study, a cohort study of women aged 16 years or older who were living in the United Kingdom and recruited during 2003–2012. The odds of obesity, measured using body mass index, waist:hip ratio, waist:height ratio, and waist circumference, increased with increasing levels of LAN exposure (P < 0.001), even after adjustment for potential confounders such as sleep duration, alcohol intake, physical activity, and current smoking. We found a significant association between LAN exposure and obesity which was not explained by potential confounders we could measure. While the possibility of residual confounding cannot be excluded, the pattern is intriguing, accords with the results of animal experiments, and warrants further investigation.

Dollars to donuts there's going to be some kind of relationship with staring at LED screens all night, too.

I keep thinking I need to go back to (paper) books...then I keep not going back to paper books.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The civilizing mission

I found something funny in my travels yesterday.

From Paul Horton (Ed has now read Horton & says he's completely right), I discovered that the AAAS wrote standards for social studies that are based on social science. I had no idea. Seeing as how the AAAS also endorsed CMP, I question whether its social science standards would be embraced by social scientists, but who knows.

In any event, glancing through the site, I found this standard for teaching social change:
Peaceful efforts at social change are most successful when the affected people are included in the planning, when information is available from all relevant experts, and when the values and power struggles are clearly understood and incorporated into the decision-making process. 7D/H5** (SFAA)
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Common Core as with nearly all reform efforts.

The policy elites who created and funded Common Core did not speak to parents, did not avail themselves of information "from all relevant experts," and did not trouble themselves to clearly understand and incorporate the existing values and power struggles into the "decision-making process."

So now they've got a parent uprising on their hands.

Parent and teacher.

(Which apparently is unnerving even to the richest man in the world.)

This reminds me of one of my favorite war stories. I'm sure I've told it before, but it bears repeating.

Back when the then-administration was trying to implement the "middle school model," Ed was leading the charge to head it off. I say 'leading the charge,' but in fact he was an army of one. (I was manning the Parents Forum.) All the other parents were upset, and rightly so, because the school was drastically shortening lunch break so students could attend "advisory" first thing in the morning.

In the end, the middle school model was delayed for one year -- Chris's last in the school -- and implemented the year after.

Anyway, during the board meeting at which that particular parent uprising took place, Ed sparred with our now-curriculum directoron the question of teaching all subjects as one, which was the selling point of the middle school model as far as the administrators were concerned. Once we had the middle school model, subjects would no longer be taught in isolation.

At some point, Ed said: "I've been a disciplinary specialist for 25 years.

And RK said: "Have you ever thought maybe that's your problem?"

When Ed got home, he told me the administration was on a civilizing mission.

*That particular story, in our school newsletter, is now inoperative. RK will remain as curriculum director. I'm very fond of RK, btw. I disagree with her on most things educational, but she's smart, determined, and often funny. Plus she's a survivor. I like survivors.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Under the radar: NY Common Core history standards

While I was sleeping, New York wrote and adopted new Common Core-aligned social science standards that appear to replace narrative history with "themes."

Thematic history isn't history. It's social studies. Which is not a discipline.

Social studies has no disciplinary standards, no body of knowledge, no research questions, no formal and agreed-upon method of evaluating evidence or determining what evidence is and is not. The only professors teaching social studies are education professors teaching students how to teach social studies.

If the Chalkboard story is correct, AP courses are now thematic as well.

Pearson shmearson

Ardsley is the district whose Cambridge Pre-U class I visited:
ARDSLEY -- The group of seventh-graders is hunched around a MacBook in English teacher Cameron Brindise’s classroom, calling out rapid-fire directions to the boy wielding the keyboard with the intensity of any tech startup entrepreneur.

Using the video-editing software program iMovie, they’re piecing together a documentary called “Growing Up Digital,” which they will present to their “corporate bosses” at the Pearson Education company in a couple of weeks.


Ardsley is one of five districts in the country that have signed on and pay a per-student fee to participate in a one-year iPad pilot program with Pearson Education Inc. Through the winter and spring, nine teachers at the high school, middle school and elementary level have been using iPads loaded with Pearson’s new app, the Common Core System of Courses.

The idea is to have the schools provide feedback to Pearson before the company makes the final version of the app available to the public. As the pilot year is nearing its end, educators say it’s been, for the most part, a valuable experience.

“What’s it done for the teachers who’ve been part of it, it’s shown how easy it is to push their curriculum outside the four walls of their classroom,” said Layne Hudes, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.

Teachers modified the lesson plans to accommodate their students’ needs and have written their own iPad lessons along the way. They’ve also found new educational apps they can integrate into their teaching.

“I like the idea of grabbing onto what I can connect with and what I think my kids can connect with,” Brindise said.


Pernicone and her group will measure students’ social media use in their favorite apps -- like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter -- and display their findings on the iPhone replica in the “museum exhibit” Brindise has organized as the capstone of the iPad unit.

Class Notes: Ardsley's test drive of new Common Core app delivers mixed results
Mareesa Nicosia, 1:51 p.m. EDT May 5, 2014
My district is joined at the hip with Ardsley (apparently in part because our curriculum director is close with an administrator there, who used to work here -- so I've been told).

In any event, our curriculum director is "passionate" about "technology" (which means iPads & Chromebooks), and the district's goal is to make technology as "ubiquitous as pencil and paper in our classrooms."

So I'm sure our central administrators are plotting to bring Pearson's Common Core app to the district, along with the requisite iPads and Chromebooks.

That said, it's possible parents are sufficiently alerted to the possibility that administrators will think twice. (I need to find out whether the board OK'ed that grant .... )

In fact, I hadn't seen this article until a parent posted it on Facebook this morning, accompanied by the observation that the program sounds like c***.

I second the emotion.

How much rote memorization do students do?

I was chatting-via-email with Allison yesterday re: rote learning .... which I'd been thinking about  again, in the wake of yet another reference to the horrors of brute memorization in the Times:
The Common Core, the most significant change to American public education in a generation, was hailed by the Obama administration as a way of lifting achievement at low-performing schools. After decades of rote learning, children would become nimble thinkers equipped for the modern age, capable of unraveling improper fractions and drawing connections between Lincoln and Pericles.

Common Core, in 9-Year-Old Eyes By JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ | JUNE 14, 2014
There it is again: the problem we don't have (decades of rote learning), being solved by the problem we do have (decades of thinking without knowing). Same old, same old, except they've upped the ante. Nimble thinkers, for pete's sake. At age 9.

For a while now, I've been planning to re-read Dan Willingham's "Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to Expertise."

Haven't done so yet, but I did pull out his definition of rote learning:
In his book Anguished English, Richard Lederer reports that one student provided this definition of "equator": "A managerie lion running around the Earth through Africa." How has the student so grossly misunderstood the definition? And how fragmented and disjointed must the remainder of the student's knowledge of planetary science be if he or she doesn't notice that this "fact" doesn't seem to fit into the other material learned?

All teachers occasionally see this sort of answer, and they are probably fairly confident that they know what has happened. The definition of "equator" has been memorized as rote knowledge. An informal definition of rote knowledge might be "memorizing form in the absence of meaning." This student didn't even memorize words: The student took the memorization down to the level of sounds and so "imaginary line" became "managerie lion."
Re-reading this passage today, I feel less clarity than I did the first time around 10 years ago.

If rote learning is "memorizing form in the absence of meaning," then it's not clear to me that the words "menagerie lion" lack meaning, even as a definition of "equator."

"Menagerie lion" is the wrong meaning, of course, but it's a meaning, and if you didn't understand the words "imaginary line" when you heard your teacher speak them, but you did understand the words "running around the Earth through Africa," then "menagerie lion" is not a bad guess for the sound string ih-maj-in-air-ee-line.

Slightly off-topic, Jimmy (for passers-by, Jimmy is my oldest son & has autism) has always been echolalic. You would think that echolalia would be the hr-example of rote learning, but if you listen to him, you'll hear that the particularly phrases he's echoing are often directly related to what's going on. (Can't think of a good example at the moment - sorry.)

Now I'm wondering about the word "parroting" -- do we know for a fact that parrots have memorized form without meaning? Having once spent a day with a parrot who probably spoken English (including conjugated verbs), I don't think we do.

Memorizing pi

It strikes me that memorizing digits of pi is a good example of rote memorization, although the issue with pi isn't precisely that you're focusing on form in the absence of meaning. You can understand pi, or at least know what pi is, and still have to rote-memorize the digits. (Or do math people see this differently?)

Anyway, the point is: memorizing digits of pi is hard. Not easy. It's much easier to memorize material that has meaning.

Which raises the question: how much rote memorization -- memorization of form in the complete absence of meaning -- do students actually do?

How much rote memorization did students do in the past, when memorization was seen as a good thing (or at least an essential thing)?

And how much do students absolutely have to do?

I don't know how to answer that question. New vocabulary words in every subject have to be learned by rote because the link between form and meaning is arbitrary. Second language vocabulary has to be learned by rote.

Math, it seems to me, may actually require less rote memorization than any other subject. (Or is that wrong once you get past the elementary grades?) much does it all add up to?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution" (& the free for all)

The man behind the curtain

Diane Ravitch: Time for Congress to investigate Bill Gates' role in Common Core

And here is William McCallum, lead writer of CC math standards, winning friends and influencing people.

Ed and I were talking about McCallum's post last night. People who know him say he's a nice guy, and I'm sure that's true. But his post is a lollapalooza of name-calling and nitpicking, both of which continue apace in the comments thread.

Which took me aback, because it's not the tone I'm used to hearing college professors take in public. (It's not the tone I'm used to hearing college professors take in private.)

I'm used to college professors know, professorial.

I never hear college professors sounding furiously wronged and internet-y.

For me, this situation is something of a first. I'm accustomed to academic content coming from publishing houses, which have corporate leaders and marketing departments, and which, as a consequence, do not have textbook authors venting in public.

But with Common Core, there's no corporate parent and no marketing department. There's just Bill Gates and the many NGO's, state departments of education, and think tanks he bankrolls, plus the federal Department of Education (whose head was previously bankrolled by Gates), so there's no party discipline. Gates appears to see himself as CEO and absolute ruler of his foundation in the same way he was CEO and absolute ruler of Microsoft, but when push comes to shove, where Common Core is concerned, he can't actually fire anyone.

He can't order Common Core defenders to vet their posts with marketing.

The federal government can't step in, either, mostly because the federal government isn't supposed to be writing national standards in the first place (not mandatory ones), and because Arne Duncan's one foray into enlightening suburban parents as to the non-brilliant state of their schools & their children was a debacle of epic proportion. For months now, we've have silence from the top.

So...the defense of Common Core is turning into a free-for-all, and the story-line is getting lost in a bombardment of "process" stories and op-eds about the tea party (bad) and the Democratic Party's standardized-test-hating base (also bad).*

Op eds about the tea party and the Democratic base are bad for Common Core. I'm pretty sure.

They're bad because nobody likes being told they're an idiot for not agreeing with David Brooks -- especially not being told they're an idiot for not agreeing with David Brooks by David Brooks. Being told that only tea partiers and members of the Democratic Party's standardized-test-hating base don't like Common Core makes me not like Common Core. Also, it makes me want to join the tea party and the Democratic base.

Point is: if the defense of Common Core is to be left to volunteers, then Common Core is going to die an unusually painful death.

Bill Gates "Letter to Our Partners" (the aforementioned NGO's, state departments of education, and think tanks plus the federal Department of Education) is just the start.

I think.

* David Brooks, has yet another bad idea.