kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/18/15 - 1/25/15

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If you want your children to sit in rows, you have to pay extra

Reading David Cutler's "The Private-School Stigma," I came across this:
In a Washington Post opinion piece last year about their book, the coauthors also wrote that private schools too often use their autonomy from state regulations to teach in such a way that may please parents but isn’t effective for learning. In the piece, the Lubienskis wrote:

For example, private school students are more likely than their public school counterparts to sit in rows, complete math worksheets and believe that mathematics is 'mostly memorizing facts'—a narrow view that captures neither the breadth of the discipline nor the reasoning that is central to it. In contrast, public schools have moved beyond traditional, repetitive exercises, and more often ask students to solve complex, real-world problems and to learn geometry, data analysis, and early algebra ideas, in addition to basic arithmetic.
So it's official.

If you want your children learning inside a teacher-centered classroom, you have to a) make enough money to pay for private or parochial school; b) live in an area that has a decent private or parochial school or two; c) hope your kids get in.

Can you spell 'hegemony,' part 2

The private/parochial school option may not be long for this world.

For one thing, the National Association of Independent Schools seems to come down on the side of progressive education, no surprise given that many private schools were founded as progressive alternatives to public school in the first place, at least here in New York:
The 70-odd private schools in or near Manhattan are a varied lot, but with few exceptions they share one notable quality: age. They have the mystique of wood-paneled privilege that is hard to manufacture anew and that continues to radiate the glamour that makes even pop divas like Madonna aspire to Scottish castles and English nannies. Many of these schools are housed in fine, old Upper East Side buildings or ivy-covered campuses; students often wear uniforms, including blazers or kilts; they honor traditions like teas and Founder's Days; they may even call teachers "Sir." History has given each of these institutions a unique character. Towne and Allen-Stevenson are small, traditional schools with a neighborhood tone; Little Red Schoolhouse and Trevor Day have a staunchly 1920s left-wing feel; Grace Church, Marymount, and Sacred Heart have proud religious affiliations.

But it is what Victoria Goldman, co-author of The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools, calls the Baby Ivies that are the million-dollar prize of this Survivor game. These are the crème de la crème, the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of the K-12 set. Decades ago, these schools could easily be divided into two broad categories. The coed, progressive schools—Dalton, Fieldston, Friends Seminary, Horace Mann, Riverdale, and St. Ann's—appealed to New York's artistic and intellectual elite. The unisex traditional schools—Buckley, Collegiate, St. Bernard's, and Trinity (now coed) for boys or Brearley, Chapin, Nightingale-Bamford, and Spence for girls—educated the children of the Protestant establishment, at least until adolescence, when many of the boys went on to board at Groton and Choate. (St. Bernard's and Buckley still only go up to ninth grade.) These days, all the schools pride themselves on a progressive, multicultural curriculum that counts as today's conventional wisdom; you would be just as likely to find a first-grade "interdisciplinary project" on Eskimos at Collegiate as at Dalton and a tenth-grade African-American literature course at Spence as at Fieldston. All of them "respect different learning styles." Yet despite the trendy veneer, the curricula remain fairly rigorous, and the schools still turn out graduates who know the difference between a Van Gogh and a Vermeer, speak French, and play decent tennis.

Survivor: The Manhattan Kindergarten by Kay Hymowitz
And then there are the forces of hegemony, which are pervasive and powerful, and which explain why every reform is the same non-reform all over again, for the most part. The hegemon never quite wins, so the battle never (quite) ends.

That's one theory.

Hirsch has a different take on the one hundred years' war:
The history of American education since the 1930s has been the stubborn persistence of illusion in the face of reality. Illusion has not been defeated. But since reality cannot be defeated, either, and since it determines what actually happens in the world, the result has been educational decline.
And this:
In a conflict between ideology and reality, reality always trumps.
I think that's true.

"Reality always trumps" explains why our schools grind on and on, innovating and disrupting, disrupting and innovating, adopting open classrooms, flipped classrooms, station classrooms--any permutation they can dream up--but nothing ever sticks, and the conflict never ends.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Station math, part 2

Julie writes:
My 7th grader, who was in an accelerated math class this year (in GA) experienced these same math stations. He said it was like being in elementary school all over again.

This same teacher "flipped" her classroom by making videos of her reading the textbook and examples aloud. He was expected to watch the videos each night before doing homework problems...but he couldn't stand it. He wanted to just read the book to himself and get the homework done.

Same teacher wanted parents and students to follow her on Twitter to keep up with daily son has no interest in using Twitter.
Part of what is going on in my district, and I imagine in Julie's district, is that administrators here are focused first and foremost on "infusing technology into the curriculum." This is the prime directive.

Just how to infuse technology into the curriculum remains a mystery, however, so the district has elected to buy a bunch of stuff and have teachers "innovate."

Which reminds me of a funny conversation. (Not funny ha-ha, I'm afraid.)

A fellow dissident here in the district invited me to a meeting she had scheduled with the high school principal re: flipped classrooms. As we sat down, the principal, who is new to the district, told us he "believes in" flipped classrooms.

"I encourage teachers to take risks," he said.

Having spent years of my life chewing over this and related issues, I had a response at the ready: "You're taking risks with other people's children," I said.

"Teachers have tenure and a union, they're not the ones taking the risk. The kids are taking the risk, and they haven't been asked whether they want to take the risk you're forcing them to take."

(I actually said these sentences, out loud. I didn't just think of saying them later on and wish I had. Very satisfying!)

The principal, who seems like a very nice guy, looked horrified. Clearly, it had never crossed his mind that "teachers taking risks" could be construed as anything other than an unalloyed good--let alone a borderline abuse of his authority as head of school, which is pretty much what I was suggesting.

Since then the administration has gotten a bit of an earful on the subject of experimenting with other peoples' children.

But the experiments continue apace.

"Station math" is, I gather, another effort to infuse technology into the curriculum, I guess because one of the stations has movies, and movies are technology.

So....time flies. I'm old enough to remember when SMART Boards were technology.

My district has beaucoup SMART Boards. We had to buy one for every classroom because we had a SMART Board equity gap.

Maybe the problem is presenters....

I've just come across a blog by Raymond Johnson, who writes:
I hold some grudges when it comes to the topic of research to practice in education. A few highlights: A principal who (probably rightly) thought I was struggling to engage my students told me to watch Barbara Streisand's performance as a college professor in The Mirror Has Two Faces and "do what she does, because her students love her." The question, "Which academic journal did she read that in?" sarcastically crossed my mind, and no, I never watched the movie. At a state conference presentation about RtI, a presenter told us to only use research-based intervention strategies. When a teacher at my table asked, "How do we know if a strategy is research-based?" the presenter responded, "I figure if it's something you find in writing, and didn't just make up by yourself, then it's research-based."
Schneider's From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse, Chapter 1: Bloom's Taxonomy
I guess Wikipedia counts.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Kai on teachers writing curriculum

Kai writes:
Wasn't Englemann the same one who said (paraphrased), "Making curriculum and teaching it at the same time is like building the airplane as you try to fly it...".

Curriculum is hard. At one of my schools I spent 30 hours over the summer just making a scope and sequence with four other people. "Making your own curriculum" is just shorthand for non-systematic throw it against the wall and see what sticks.
Building the airplane while you try to fly it---I love that!

I don't remember reading that before.

Let me tell you: 30 hours to write a scope and sequence with four other people sounds fast to me.

That reminds me!

Daniel Kahneman has a fabulous curriculum-writing story in Thinking, Fast and Slow:
A few years after my collaboration with Amos began, I convinced some officials in the Israeli Ministry of Education of the need for a curriculum to teach judgment and decision making in  high schools. The team that I assembled to design the curriculum and write a textbook for it included several experienced teachers, some of my psychology students, and Seymour Fox, then dean of the Hebrew University's School of Education, who was an expert in curriculum development.

After meeting every Friday afternoon for about a year, we had constructed a detailed outline of the syllabus, had written a couple of chapters, and had run a few sample lessons in the classroom. We all felt that we had made good progress. One day, as we were discussing procedures for estimating uncertain quantities, the idea of conducting an exercise occurred to me. I asked everyone to write down an estimate of how long it would take us to submit a finished draft of the textbook to the Ministry of Education. I was following a procedure that we already panned to incorporate into our curriculum: the proper way to elicit information from a group is not by starting with a public discussion but by confidentially collecting each person's judgment. ... I collected the estimates and jotted the results on the blackboard. They were narrowly centered around two years; the low end was one and a half, the high end two and a half years.

Then I had another idea. I turned to Seymour, our curriculum expert, and asked whether he could think of other teams similar to ours that had developed a curriculum from scratch. This was a time when several pedagogical innovations like "new math" ha been introduced, and Seymour said he could think of quite a few.


He fell silent. When he finally spoke, it seemed to me that he was blushing, embarrassed by his own answer: "You know, I never realized this before, but in fact not all the teams at a stage comparable to ours ever did complete their task...."

This was worrisome; we had never considered the possibility that we mint fail. My anxiety rising, I asked how large he estimated that fraction was. "About 40%," he answered. By now, a pall of gloom was falling over the room. The next question was obvious: "Those who finished," I asked. "How long did it take them?" "I cannot think of any grow that finished in less than seven years," he replied, "nor any that took more than ten."


Our state of mind when we heard Seymour is not well described by stating what we "knew." Surely all of us "knew" that a minimum of seven years and a 40% chance of failure was a more plausible forecast of the fate of our project than the numbers we had written on our slips of paper a few minutes earlier. But we did not acknowledge what we knew. The new forecast still seemed unreal, because we could not imagine how it could take so long to finish a project that looked so manageable. ... All we could see was a reasonable plan that should produce a book in about two years....


We should have quit that day. None of us was willing to invest six more years of work in a project with a 40% chance of failure. Although we must have ended that persevering was not reasonable, the warning did not provide an immediately compelling reason to quit. After a few minutes of desultory debate, we gathered ourselves together and carried on as if nothing had happened. The book was eventually completed eight(!) years later. By that time I was no longer living in Israel and had long since ceased to be part of the tam, which completed the task after many unpredictable vicissitudes. The initial enthusiasm for the idea in the Ministry of Education had waned by the time the text was delivered and it was never used.

This embarrassing episode remains one of the most instructive experiences of my professional life.
Planning fallacy

Auntie Anne and Anonymous on teachers writing their own curriculum

Anonymous writes:
When I was a new teacher I would have croaked if I had had to write curriculum. And it would have failed miserably. What I did develop over time was the ability to extend curriculum in some realms. But I was glad to have a logical, tested curriculum for Grade 1 Reading. It's too important to be left to multiple teachers winging it.

My ideal writing team, where curriculum is concerned, is a classroom teacher working with a disciplinary specialist. Classroom teachers have pedagogical content knowledge, mathematicians have the curse of knowledge, et voilà, at least potentially: real math kids can actually learn and comprehend.

(I'd always heard that the Singapore Math series was written by math teachers partnered with mathematicians, but Barry tells me that story is apocryphal.)

The only reason teachers can't write curriculum is that they already have a job teaching.

Auntie Anne:
But these days, "our own curriculum" is often the teacher spending 5 or 10 minutes googling for a worksheet--this was our kids' 6th grade math from start to finish.

Our school likes to say that the curriculum they buy (formerly EM, now moving over to SM) isn't their "curriculum," they just use that as the basic outline and go from there.

Now, there are some websites I love for worksheets ( is my favorite,) and good sites for information and explanations ( for example), but nothing compares to a carefully constructed, brick-by-brick textbook for completeness, coherence, and consistency.

Here in these parts, the curriculum is becoming Google.

Onward and upward: Station math

I learned this week that our 6th-grade math teachers have adopted a new way of teaching math.

One day a week, they teach the whole class.

On the other four days of the week, students are given a menu of options, each one of which corresponds to a station in the classroom. Some stations have videos.

Children select a station and spend the class doing whatever it is they do at math stations while the teacher circulates the room "working one on one." 

In the beginning, students were told they couldn't ask the teacher questions because she would be too busy to answer. That's: no questions at all. Not even three before me

That rule has now been rescinded, it seems.

So parents are hiring tutors, and some parents have asked that their children be switched to "Academic Intervention Services" so they can have a teacher who actually teaches. 

The board wasn't alerted to the change, and it's not clear how much parents even know that their children are now receiving only one day of direct instruction per week. The parent I spoke to knew about it because she picked up on a line in a Back to School Night handout and put two and two together.

None of the administrators admits to having anything to do with it. 

Somehow, the entire 6th grade math program turned into a writers workshop for math without anyone's being the wiser. 

Another wrinkle: accelerated math placements aren't made until January of grade 6. Since mine is a nominally high-performing district, the goal in placement decisions is to keep as many kids out of accelerated classes as possible -- which, according to my source, has meant that parents of the mathematically talented kids have had to suck it up, hire tutors, and keep their opinions to themselves. 

A child who is having trouble learning math at stations is a child who's not getting the nod.

Vanishing act....

My book is due May 1 and Katie's and my writing curriculum, which accompanies Ed's textbook, is due now, plus I made ONE New Year's resolution, which is to completely and totally de-clutter my office ....

Not exactly sure how blogging fits in there -- !

Miss you guys!