kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/16/14 - 11/23/14

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

David Coleman hearts China

I just looked this up for a post on the Parents Forum re: Chinese versus French, and now see that I apparently never posted it here:
The College Board has earned headlines recently for revising the SAT exam and supporting Common Core state education standards. But that's not all the organization does with its outsize influence on American education. This month it announced plans to teach Chinese language and culture in 20 school districts across the U.S.—in partnership with China's state-run Confucius Institutes, which are known to mix cultural exchange with Communist Party propaganda.

The College Board website doesn't mention that Confucius Institutes are Chinese government programs. Nor does it admit to any concerns that Hanban—the Chinese state agency that supervises, funds and provides staff to Confucius Institutes—may bully teachers or censor lessons within American classrooms.

Instead, College Board President David Coleman waxes poetic about the venture: "Hanban is just like the sun. It lights the path to develop Chinese teaching in the U.S.," he said at a conference in Los Angeles on May 8. "The College Board is the moon. I am so honored to reflect the light that we've gotten from Hanban." These remarks, so far reported only by Chinese state media, were confirmed by the College Board.

China's Beachhead in American Schools
by David Feith
May 26, 2014 1:23 p.m. ET
David Coleman is not The One.

Froggiemama on gatekeeping, part 2 (and against zero)

To follow up on the story - we did go the special needs route after my extremely bright kid was gatekeepered out of every honors course for the 9th grade. Our district has cutoffs that range from 90 to 95, which you have to maintain for 3 quarters the year before. The problem is, the 8th grade teachers grade largely on vast reams of homework, which all must be submitted in the exact format mandated. It is all on paper, so everyday is a massive paper shuffle. If anything gets lost, it is a 0. The science teacher would take off points if the pen color was blue instead of black, or the margins were wrong, or there were fraggles left on the paper. So my smart but messy and forgetful kid could never get his average up over the cutoffs even though he aced the tests.

So we had a full neuropsych done to the tune of several thousand dollars, targeted at the school district. We learned, surprise, surprise, that my son scores in one of the higher reaches of the gifted realm (forget the term now for his level), and is also "inattentive ADHD". We did a 504 plan, during which I promised he would see a weekly therapist/coach (to the tune of $195 per week) and would take meds. Those promises finally got him a waiver to get into the honors courses. The last one to capitulate was science (his 8th grade science teacher hated him and refused to help out). And now, guess what? He has the highest average in the class in science, with several 100's on tests that the teacher says "no one gets a 100 on." Bleh to the gatekeepers.
As Susan S used to say, I don't even know where to begin.

Since I don't, and since I don't remember discussing this before, here is Douglas Reeves on "The Case Against Zero."
[T]he common use of the zero today is based not on a four-point scale but on a 100-point scale. This defies logic and mathematical accuracy. On a 100-point scale, the interval between numerical and letter grades is typically 10 points, with the break points at 90, 80, 70, and so on. But when the grade of zero is applied to a 100-point scale, the interval between the D and F is not 10 points but 60 points. Most state standards in mathematics require that fifth-grade students understand the principles of ratios -- for example, A is to B as 4 is to 3; D is to F as 1 is to zero. Yet the persistence of the zero on a 100-point scale indicates that many people with advanced degrees, including those with more background in mathematics than the typical teacher, have not applied the ratio standard to their own professional practices. To insist on the use of a zero on a 100-point scale is to assert that work that is not turned in deserves a penalty that is many times more severe than that assessed for work that is done wretchedly and is worth a D. Readers were asked earlier how many points would be awarded to a student who failed to turn in work on a grading scale of 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, but I'll bet not a single person arrived at the answer "minus 6." Yet that is precisely the logic that is employed when the zero is awarded on a 100- point scale.

There are two issues at hand. The first, and most important, is to determine the appropriate consequence for students who fail to complete an assignment. The most common answer is to punish these students. Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, there is an almost fanatical belief that punishment through grades will motivate students. In contrast, there are at least a few educators experimenting with the notion that the appropriate consequence for failing to complete an assignment is to require the student to complete the assignment. That is, students lose privileges -- free time and unstructured class or study-hall time -- and are required to complete the assignment. The price of freedom is proficiency, and students are motivated not by threats of failure but by the opportunity to earn greater freedom and discretion by completing work accurately and on time. I know my colleagues well enough to understand that this argument will not persuade many of them. Rewards and punishments are part of the psyche of schools, particularly at the secondary level.
Froggiemama on gatekeeping, part 1

Monday, November 17, 2014

Off-topic, Ebola edition

$20 million to treat one patient with Ebola
Around 100 healthcare workers were involved in treating Spencer while he was isolated at Bellevue, Schumer said.

In addition, a 24-hour-a-day operation which employed approximately 500 staffers was established by the city’s Health Department to keep track of the estimated 300 people who arrive each day from Ebola hotspots in West Africa.

Meryl Nass, who writes the fabulous Anthrax Vaccine, on what scientists don't know about Ebola, according the Institute of Medicine:
  • how long the incubation period may last is unknown
  • how long Ebola virus stays viable on surfaces is unknown
  • how to effectively kill it is unclear
  • the best PPE has not been established
  • whether Ebola can be transmitted before symptoms start is unknown (several cites suggest it can)
  • its potential to be aerosolized is uncertain
  • whether livestock or pets can be intermediate hosts is unknown
IOM workshop admits they don't know what we said they don't know
I have zero patience for public officials telling me they know things they don't.

Apparently there's an entire literature on communication with the public that shows everyone else feels the same way.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Terrific discussion of "critical thinking" at Cost of College

Trying to teach the enigmatic and increasingly popular skill of critical thinking 

(I'm posting from my iPad -- will clean this up later.)

Hopscotching through the comments, I was struck by two things:

1. "Critical thinking" probably means different things in different disciplines.

2. Writers are always specialists. I can write about education and the brain; I can't write about sports. 

The reason I can write about education and the brain is that I know a good deal about both. 

As a corollary to that statement, I'm only now beginning to be able to write about Common Core because until now I haven't known enough about it to have any thoughts worth writing down. I've wanted for the obsessive, driven focus it would take to actually read CC documents & follow CC developments -- read CC documents and remember what I've read. (My allotment of obsessive, driven reading focus has been directed to macro and grammar/linguistics/writing instruction.)

When I do write about CC, I write about aspects of CC I know: mostly its implementation in my district, but also the top-down & undemocratic nature of its creation and "roll out." 

Or I post snippets from the work of writers who **are** knowledgeable about it.

Nonfiction writers are the ultimate exemplars of the fact that knowledge comes first.

Critical thinking and writing come second.