kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/14/07 - 1/21/07

Saturday, January 20, 2007

more on M.J. McDermott

Mrs McDermott of recent youtube frame is a parent of a child at North Beach Elementary in Seattle. According to this article, McDermott helped lead a math revolution to prevent the schools from adopting TERC or Everyday Math. It seems she is working the PTA as well.

It seems she is involved with "Where's the Math?" a "non-partisan advocacy group of parents, educators, and community members who are working to ensure that Washington State mathematics education standards, curriculum, and assessments are coherent, academically focused, rigorous and comparable to those of top performing nations in the world."

Where's the Math appears to be the originators of the
Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth video.

Another article here.

what one person can do

I mentioned in the Comments thread to Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth that parent and meterologist M.J. McDermott apparently made the video entirely on her own. Which prompted this reaction from Instructivist:

It's inspiring what a determined individual can accomplish. Great technology like the internet now magnifies such efforts thousand-fold and even million-fold if this video goes "viral."
We can all fervently hope that "Inconvenient Truth" will go viral, the sooner the better.

parent uprising (not)

How much political change one person can bring about, if any?

Good question.

I routinely get emails from parents telling me to hang it up. Routinely!

Your basic parent feels, reasonably, that absent a parent uprising Nothing Will Change.

I don't really have an argument for that.

Actually, it's worse than that; as far as I can tell even a parent uprising isn't a sure thing.

After all, 300 parents signed a petition rejecting the adoption of Math TRAILBLAZERS and what did they get for their efforts?

They were thanked for showing up at the Board meeting and participating in a positive discussion of the issue!

And then of course we had the parent uprising back in the winter of '05 concerning Ms. K and the 6th grade Phase 4 class, led by the then-president of the PTSA and a board member of the IEF.

These two women weren't your everyday ticked-off parents.


These were macher parents. Macher enough to organize and lead a parent uprising.

Which led directly to.....the subsequent tenuring of Ms. K and the decision to have last year's 6th graders taught by her two years in a row instead of just the one.

So.....parent uprisings.

Easily quelled here in Irvington, it seems.

Thank you for your ongoing cooperation and support!

wrong model

It suddenly struck me, writing this post, that parent uprisings might be the exact wrong way to effect political change inside a small school district.

A parent uprising is the exact wrong way because the administration holds all the power.

Parents hold none of the power.

So why would a parent uprising have any chance of succeeding?

All the administration has to do to put down a parent uprising is agree to a meeting, attend the meeting, thank everyone for the input he or she has provided at the meeting, and then go off and do whatever it was they were planning to do in the first place.


I've just stopped feeling guilty for not trying to organize a parent uprising.


Awhile back I emailed Barry asking whether he knew any good books on how to change your school district.

He didn't.

I figured that was a ludicrous request, but otoh being a writer I naturally think there's a good book on every subject, so there must be a good book on how to change your school district, too. Or at least a good book on how to change something like your school district.

Well, guess what.

There is a book on how to change something like your school district; there are a bunch of books.

John Hoven (pdf file) has a listmania!

He's got a wish list, too.

I've already bought some of the books.

While I'm at it I'm thinking I should probably read the new Counterinsurgency manual.

Maybe the Small Wars Manual, too.

middle school petition

Christopher just showed me this petition, which is making its way around the middle school.

He doesn't know who wrote it, but he thinks it's a super-smart girl. He signed.

I said, "I love this petition! I want to sign!"

Christopher: "What do you love about it?"

Me: "Doesn't this sound like something I would have written when I was your age?"

Christopher: "Yeah, it does."

Of course, I don't think I would have written it as well.

January 2007
To the administration:
We would like to bring to your attention some concerns regarding The Irvington Middle School environment, on behalf of the students.

The simple problem is the amount of freedom that we, as students, receive. There is no clear resolution for the lack of freedom, but there is a cause that can be worked with. Students who don’t respect their education and make bold statements, such as disturbing classes, conducting bomb threats, and stealing, etc. reduce the respect and trust the administration has for the student body. The entire Middle School should not b punished for the actions of the few troublesome kids. In fact, stricter rules encourage more children to do these things, in their haste and displeasure. It should not be necessary for kids to want to make bomb threats simply because they don’t want to endure a few hours in school. The following are examples of some actions taken by the administration that suggest the distrust of students:

  1. The assignment pad “passport” that limits the amount of times students can use the bathroom
  2. The necessity of a pass for the library during lunch, sending the wrong message to students in suggesting that reading is only important if a teacher is in the act of forcing children to do so.
  3. “Indoor recess” where students are not allowed to stand, let alone go to different tables with friends in the crowded cafeteria.
  4. Restricted time when lockers are accessible.
  5. Never having or suggesting a space inside where students can “hang out” or spend free time at lunch, especially when the weather is unpleasant (similar to the teachers lounge)

Budget and other factors are understood as reasons as to why these rules are in place, but it should also be understood that the environment for middle school students is becoming increasingly unpleasant with these restrictions. The most important part about middle school is said to be to learn about one’s self in a nonacademic way. For this, there must be an environment that is welcoming and enjoyable for that “self” that is to be discovered.

I can't tell you how happy I am to see this petition.

A new friend of mine, who has a son in 6th grade, told me a couple of months ago that her work regularly takes her to federal buildings. None of these buildings, she says, has "security" at the level of our middle school.

The tight security inside the middle school has been hard on her son, who has become demoralized. He feels like he's living inside a prison, and in a way he is. This is the place Ed and I used to call the Green Zone, after all.

As she put it, "Unless the police have advised them to put in security measures at this level, they need to drop them."

And now here is this petition, written by a child. And she nails it.

She's nailed it for me, too. Life as a parent in Irvington Union Free School District is not free.

One parent with long familiarity of the district says Columbine was a turning point; the district used Columbine to write and impose policies and rules for children without writing or imposing policies and rules for itself.

My own perception is that the district used 9/11 as a justification for taking power, or perhaps I mean access, away from parents.

Not long after 9/11 the district began locking all doors to the buildings; began forcing parents to enter only one door without exception (if a mom happened to be carrying a heavy basket filled with presents for the teachers, that mom couldn't use the door close to her car but had to circle the building to reach the Parent Entrance, staggering under her load); began forcing parents to stand outside in the freezing cold waiting for their children to be released to them after school; began punishing parents who dared to pick their children up in person (we are urged to have our children take the bus) by releasing the bus children from the building first, one classroom at a time, while the in-person parents watched and shivered; began imposing ever-increasing restrictions on parking; began posting guards to enforce these ever-increasing restrictions, etc.

I'm told that the K-3 school has actual lock-downs, 20-minute periods during which no one, including parents, is let in or out of the building.

I can barely believe this, and of course nothing is written down - yet another "practice" as opposed to policy. But this is what a close friend was told one day when she was on her way out of the K-3 school. Someone in the building told her to get out fast because they were going into "lock-down." If she didn't get out before they went into lock-down she wouldn't be allowed out for 20 minutes.

That has to be illegal.

Doesn't it?

Parents are regularly apprised of new rules that come down to us from on high, rules that invariably make life more difficult and limit access to teachers, administrators, and other parents.

Then we are thanked for our cooperation.

Now, of course, we have the union making public threats to sue a parent and being provided the name of "the parent leading the committee to oppose the bond."

Things are wildly out of control.

And now we have a middle school child calling it.


Mr. Greenblatt couldn't help but notice that after he heard the sneeze, there were copious amounts of blood on Jose's desk. Jose had somehow bit his tongue while sneezing, and deeply. Fortunately the nurse's office was right across the hall.

"Jose," he ordered, "Go straight to the medical office."

A moment later Jose returned. "She wanth a path, Mithter Greenblatt."

Mr. Greenblatt scoured his bag for the requisite medical pass. He couldn't find one. He quickly scribbled something on a piece of paper and sent Jose back. But a moment later Jose returned, still bleeding.

"She wanth a medical path, Mithter."

Mr. Greenblatt was not happy. He sent Jose across the hall with a note written with his dry erase marker proclaiming the following, in block letters:


Jenny the nurse (who was actually not a nurse but a paraprofessional) found this beyond the pale. She got up from her desk and went over to give that Greenblatt guy a piece of her mind. Since he had no manners, she figured she'd walk right into his classroom, and that's just what she did.

"How dare you address me like that! In all my years in that office, I've never had anyone speak to me like that. Is it my fault if you can't keep a stock of medical room passes? You should be ashamed of yourself!"

She contemptuously tossed a pad full of passes onto Mr. Greenblatt's desk. Mr. Greenblatt filled one out, sent Jose to the medical office, and moments later Jose was in an ambulance, on his way to get that tongue looked at.

Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth Video

Have you seen this video that presents an introduction to the problems with reform math? It includes specific examples from TERC & Everyday Math. I learned about it from Linda Moran’s Beyond TERC Yahoo group. It’s about 15 minutes long.

I would like to share this with some local parents because I want to inform them of what’s in store for them if our school district decides to adopt TERC (currently being evaluated here). In this era of YouTube appreciation I thought it would grab people’s attention in a positive way. (Although I would have preferred another title.)

Any opinions about this?

Video embedded by Rory:

Friday, January 19, 2007

the g Factor curve

The legend reads:
IQ is not destiny, but many studies show that different levels of IQ are highly correlated with certain kinds of real-world outcomes, as suggested in this diagram showing the distribution of IQ in the U.S. population. About 95 percent of the population has IQs between 70 and 130.

The 6 training modes, from left to right, are:
  • slow, simple, supervised
  • very explicit, hands-on
  • mastery learning, hands-on
  • written materials, plus experience
  • college format
  • gathers, infers own information
Schools and the g Factor
(pdf file)
The Wilson Quarterly
Summer 2004, page 38

Linda Gottfredson homepage

The General Intelligence Factor
(pdf file)
by Linda Gottfredson (1998, Winter)
Scientific American Presents
(9)4, 24-29 1998

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 2
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 3
the g Factor curve

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 3

If and when I actually write part 3, I will be talking about this paper:

Heritability Estimates versus Large Environmental Effects: The IQ Paradox Resolved (pdf file here)
by William P. Dickens and James R. Flynn
detailed summary of "Heritability Estimates"



The Flynn Effect Indiana University

Asian Americans: Achievement Beyond IQ
by James R. Flynn

update 2-23-07: done

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 2
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 3
Seth Roberts on IQ

fuzzy math makes you smarter
IQ quiz
school raises IQ
intelligence is verbal, perceptual, and image rotation
math isn't English

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 2

IQ is not a point.

IQ is a range.

I know Charles Murray is aware of this, but I wish he'd make more of it.

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 2
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 3
Seth Roberts on IQ

fuzzy math makes you smarter
IQ quiz
school raises IQ
intelligence is verbal, perceptual, and image rotation
math isn't English

Aztecs versus Greeks, by Charles Murray
What's Wrong with Vocational School? by Charles Murray
Intelligence in the Classroom by Charles Murray

endophenotype concept in psychiatry

Now that I've got everyone's attention, endophenotypes are very cool. (pdf file) This article is by Irving Gottesman, who explained "range of reaction" and IQ to me years ago.

from the Irvington Parents Forum

I'd like to share a great website -- -- that analyzes that content of films so that you can evaluate whether a particular film is appropriate for your child to view.

What I like about the website is that it doesn't make assertions about whether or not films are appropriate. Rather, it offers detailed information in a completely non-moralistic manner so that you can make the evaluation yourself.

[Here] is the entry for The Devil Wears Prada, which I was considering watching with my 8 year-old. (We decided to watch it and it turned out to be fine for her, altho a little over her head.)

Hope you all find this helpful.

Ricky update

Okay, blogger folks. I finished this and published it, but it appeared on the original date. I found no way to change the date of the post. Is this possible? It should print on the date is was published, not the date it was created.

Anyway, here goes.

Wednesday (a couple of weeks ago now), I had a tutoring session with Ricky, the 8th grader. The topic was limits.

I've learned to look at all of his worksheets first, to see what they're really covering, since their idea of covering a topic is very different from mine. He had three worksheets, all of them with odd little exercises on them that went something like this: "Get a bowl of Hershey's Kisses and take half the Kisses out of the bowl. Keep taking half of the Kisses out of the bowl. When you get down to only one Kiss, cut it in half and take out half. Will you ever empty the bowl? Why or why not?"

Uhm, okay. I see where this is supposed to go, but couldn't they at least give a definition? Even if they wanted to use induction, how about a definition at the end of the third worksheet?

Keep in mind that they haven't done Cartesian geometry yet. No y = mx + b. It's kind of hard to talk about limits in terms of math -- particularly to an 8th grader -- without being able to use a graph as an exemplar. Try it.

This is the first time he has questioned the curriculum. Not directly, but he's been remarkably willing to led the course lead him down the garden path, without questioning where the class is headed, until Wednesday. He appropriately asked me what limits were for.

"Trigonometry. Calculus. Engineering."

"What are we doing to do with them?"

"You'll have to ask your teacher."

And indeed, the boy had a point: What is an 8th grade class going to do with limits?

"You don't know?"

"I have no idea."

"Then why are we doing this?"

Well, one may well wonder. And I understand his mystification. Limits, as they were covering them, don't generate numbers, or seem to an 8th grader to have much to do with mathematics.

It was the following week that Ricky told me what had happened in class -- and I had to laugh a little (silently, of course). To demonstrate limits, the teacher had had all of the students stand on one side of the room. She had then had half of them move to the other side of the room, over and over again.

There is a problem with using discrete objects to demonstrate limits (the same problem was in the Hershey Kiss exercise): You eventually get down to one. So when they got down to one student, Ricky said the teacher told them, "Never mind, let's do this example instead."

When you're teaching, you really need to think things out before you run them in the classroom. Been there, done that.

Next up that week was quadratic equations. To review, let's look at the preceding list of topics: Division, graphs (pie, bar, column, and area, not Cartesian), fractions, limits, quadratic equations. By the time I started this gig, they had already "done" linear equations -- except that they hadn't really, and we covered it.

For the first time, Ricky had an amnesia attack. I'm used to this. Teaching in a two-semester course sequence, you see lots of students the second semester you had the first who seem to have forgotten nearly everything you did the previous semester. But Ricky had a complete blackout. He couldn't solve 50 = 25 + x.

So I gently nudged him by doing it for him, step by step, then writing down another for him to do. Again, blackout.

I have a son, and I also have three younger brothers (well, had: my youngest brother died a couple of years ago). I know what a frustrated adolescent looks like, and he was getting frustrated. I backed off, and suggested I come back the next evening, and in the meantime, told him I'd email him some stuff he could do before I came back to refresh his memory of linear equations.

That worked pretty well, but he's still frustrated, and I can't blame him. Again, I got, "Why can't my teacher explain it like this?" and I have no (ethical) answer to that question, which doesn't help his frustration. He wants me to validate it, and it really wouldn't be appropriate for me to do so, though he's right. The problem is that he's turning his frustration not on the class or his teacher, but on math in general, and that's not good because he's very sharp, and he picks it up very quickly.

So who knows. Maybe I'll be turning into a therapist next. Sigh.

more shameless self-promotion

Me on Murray. And Ricky part 2 is coming -- I wanted to wait until more had happened, and it has.


(Fixed the typo. That was embarrassing.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1

from Mind Sculpture by Ian Robertson, pages 154-156

Poor schooling lowers intelligence and handicaps children intellectually for life. In schools that give inadequate education, children may learn so little that they steadily fall behind in academic performance and on tests, when compared to all other children of the same age in their country. In other words, their intelligence is steadily eroded because the synapses in their brain are inadequately tuned and shaped by the planned structured experience that good teachers provide.

This is precisely what happened in some rural school systems in the southern states of America during the 1970s. Education was so poor in some of these systems that intelligence was more badly eroded the longer children stayed in the system. As a result, the IQs of the older children in a family who had been in the school system longer were routinely lower than those of their younger brothers and sisters whose brains had not yet suffered the great synaptic hunger which comes from poor education.

In the 1950s, before desegregation in the southern states of America, poor education of this type was the rule rather than the exception. In one study, black children who had moved from the south to Philadelphia had their IQ scores raised more than half a point for every year they spent in this better school system.

Some prominent academics believe that intelligence is very largely genetically determined. Such a view simply does not fit with this evidence that IQ rises and falls depending upon the type of stimulation to which children’s brains are exposed. But the interactions between genes and environment are so complex that this evidence is not quite conclusive in showing that environment has a major effect on intelligence.

A critical test of the importance of experience and environment would be this. You would have to take babies from poor—low socio-economic status (SES)—families and have them adopted into high SES families. Then you would have to take babies born of high SES families and adopt them into low SES families. In fact, just this study has been done in France, giving the critical piece of evidence to show that intelligence is shaped by environment.

People who argue that genes are the main determinant of intelligence think that poverty and socio-economic status are to a very large extent determined by genetically inherited intelligence. Their prediction for the French adoption study would therefore be that biology should win out in the competition with environment. They would predict that the intelligence of babies born with the ‘good’ genes of the high SES parents would be relatively unaffected by the more impoverished environment provided by the low SES parents adopting them. Similarly, those babies with the ‘less intelligent’ genes would not in their view, benefit particularly from the greater opportunities, stimulation and learning offered in the high SES families.

The French researchers studied two groups of children at around the age of fourteen who fell precisely into these two critical categories—namely, poor natural parents and well-off adoptive parents versus well-off natural parents and poor adoptive parents. In support of the geneticists’ view of things, children of well-off natural parents had a higher IQ at the age of fourteen than those of low SES natural parents.

However, in support of the brain-sculpture environmentalist view, an equally large difference appeared between children reared in well-off versus poor adoptive families—a very significant 12 IQ points. In other words, environment had as big an effect on intelligence as did inherited biology.


Think for a moment … about the 10 million words per year spoken to the average middle-class baby for the first three years of life. Contrast this with the 3 million or so words spoken to the average child from the family on welfare. Multiply this number of brain-changing interactions by the number of years of childhood, and you are faced with a staggering shortfall in stimulation to the brain.


According to research on teaching methods, individual tutoring produces hugely better academic performance than does general teaching by standard classroom methods.

In fact, the average individually tutored student performs better than 98 per cent of students who are given standard teaching—and this has little to do with prior ability. In the tutored group, what determined success was practice and training, with the pre-existing academic abilities playing a relatively small part. Only when training was rather poor—as is the case in most standard classroom teaching—did prior abilities play a part in predicting who achieved well and who achieved badly.

It is difficult to underestimate the importance of this fact. Take any school subject—algebra, geography, English, for instance. Put 100 children into the standard classroom and measure their achievement after a course of normal classroom teaching. Now take another 100 children of the same average range of abilities and intelligence and give them individual tutoring in the subject. No matter what their abilities at the beginning of the course, the average individually tutored pupil will be better than ninety-eight of the children in the standard classroom group. [ed.: "I should have homeschooled"]

What then is the importance of pre-existing abilities in this kind of tuition? Trivial, according to the researchers. This isn’t terribly good news for parents who think they can sit back and let their children’s genes lift them to high achievement! [ed.: a core belief in my own district] While good genes help, the type of training and teaching a child gets has a huge impact on the development of mental abilities. So what is one supposed to do to unlock this potential?

Robertson is also the author of Unilateral Neglect: Brain Damage, Behaviour, and Cognition.

A couple of points.

Robertson works in the fields of rehabilitation and brain plasticity. Obviously specialists in brain plasticity, roughly defined as the ability of the brain to change, develop, repair itself and so on, take a far less deteriministic view of genes and IQ than do people working in genetics and twin studies.

In public debates over IQ, we rarely hear from these people. Instead the claim that IQ can be entirely or substantially affected by environment is invariably put forth as a liberal ideological position that leads directly to "liberal" ("liberal" in the ed-school sense of the word "liberal") efforts to define away differences in intellectual ability through appeals to multiple intelligences, the "leveling" of curriculum, and the like.

The fact is, however, that there exist at least two schools of thought and peer-reviewed research* which hold that the brain is plastic and talent and intellect are the result of expert teaching and practice:
  • researchers studying brain injuries, rehabilitation, and brain plasticity
Ericsson is the editor of the 900-page Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, which I have, and which I am, in theory, reading. Wish me luck.

Deliberate Practice and Expert Performance

"Deliberate Practice and Expert Performance," published in 1993, seems to be the central text for the Ericsson school of thought. The paper's abstract makes clear Ericsson's failure to find much role for innate ability in expert performance of any kind:

The theoretical frameworkpresented in this article explains expert performance as the end result of individuals' prolonged efforts to improve performance while negotiating motivational and external constraints. In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimumof 10years. Analysis of expert performance provides unique evidence on the potential and limits of extreme environmental adaptation and learning.

And here, from an update published in 2000:
When experts exhibit their superior performance in public their behavior looks so effortless and natural that we are tempted to attribute it to special talents. Although a certain amount of knowledge and training seems necessary, the role of acquired skill for the highest levels of achievement has traditionally been minimized. However, when scientists began measuring the experts' supposedly superior powers of speed, memory and intelligence with psychometric tests, no general superiority was found -- the demonstrated superiority was domain specific. For example, the superiority of the chess experts' memory was constrained to regular chess positions and did not generalize to other types of materials (Djakow, Petrowski & Rudik, 1927). Not even IQ could distinguish the best among chessplayers (Doll & Mayr, 1987) nor the most successful and creative among artists and scientists (Taylor, 1975). In a recent review, Ericsson and Lehmann (1996) found that (1) measures of general basic capacities do not predict success in a domain, (2) the superior performance of experts is often very domain specific and transfer outside their narrow area of expertise is surprisingly limited and (3) systematic differences between experts and less proficient individuals nearly always reflect attributes acquired by the experts during their lengthy training.
(quoted by Rebecca Blood on her weblog)

And, finally, here is the freakonomics version:
Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

Cambridge Handbooks of Expertise and Expert Performance - TOC & introduction

Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance at Cambridge University Press.

Table of Contents (pdf file)

Part 1: Introduction and Perspective by K. Anders Ericsson
(as pdf file)

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 2
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 3
Seth Roberts on IQ

fuzzy math makes you smarter
IQ quiz
school raises IQ
intelligence is verbal, perceptual, and image rotation
math isn't English

Aztecs versus Greeks, by Charles Murray
What's Wrong with Vocational School? by Charles Murray
Intelligence in the Classroom by Charles Murray


* there may be others, of course; these are the fields of which I'm aware

D-Ed Reckoning on Murray

fantastic job

Updated by Rory to fix link.

wit and wisdom

We can't trust parents to make decisions about educating their kids. They might screw it up. We need ed schools to really screw it up properly.

math panel update

The National Math Panel just posted a bunch of stuff on their website. Transcripts are now available for the November 5th and 6th meeting in Palo Alto, here and here.

Also, there are Progress Reports for task groups from the January meeting in New Orleans. Here are the reports for Conceptual Knowledge and Skills, Learning Processes, Instructional Practices, and Teachers.

CT gets new Commissioner of Education

The big news here in Connecticut is that we finally got a Commissioner -- Mark McQuillan was named our new leader. The local papers are all carrying pretty much the same story, which you can find at the Courant, or the Advocate. So far, the big question seems to be, will there be a required exit exam for HS (like they do in Mass). The new Commissioner is from Massachusetts.

Mass recently revised their elementary math standards. Now they get an A for their math standards, according to the Fordham Foundation. In a recent decision, Mass. will be requiring more math from their teachers before they get an elementary license. Starting in 2008, teachers will have to pass a broader sub-test in math. Sandra Stotsky (on the National Math Panel, and member of the MA Bd of Ed), is quoted as saying "Teachers can't teach what they don't know." This was in a recent Boston article you can find here.

So I wonder whether Mr. McQuillan can bring some of that magic to Connecticut. Any thoughts? I'd love to see new leadership that really addresses the shortfalls in Connecticut's math curriculum standards and CMT tests.

the conspiracy theory

Opinion Journal - Aztecs vs. Greeks: Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise, by Charles Murray

Is it just me, or has Charles Murray gone off the deep end?

He starts off innocently enough by stating the obvious.
Combine these groups, and the top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence.

It might be unpopular, but it's probably true. Not only does our system suck at educating the lowest performers, they also undereducate our average and top performers as well.

But he should have stopped here. Instead he rambles on a bit about how being gifted is a "gift", like high IQ people are some sort of superheros, the saviors of the world. They must acknowledge their awesomeness and use it to guide the lesser mortals.

What really took the cake though is when he started talking about some sort of high IQ cabal that runs our government.
In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. But we have that option only in the choice of our elected officials. In all other respects, the government, economy and culture are run by a cognitive elite that we do not choose. That is the reality, and we are powerless to change it. All we can do is try to educate the elite to be conscious of, and prepared to meet, its obligations. For years, we have not even thought about the nature of that task. It is time we did. (emphasis mine)

It reminded me of some Orwellian novel. If the average would just accept the leadership of the chosen ones, all would be well in the world.

(Cross posted at the usual place)

paraprofessionals behaving badly

today, at NYC Educator

(make that paraprofessionals behaving badly)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

vocational schools

Opinion Journal - Extra What's Wrong With Vocational School? by Charles Murray

Murray's article was rather lame. It read like an exam paper, hastily done at the the night before it was due.

Having said that, he does hit on one important point. There should be other options for people besides University. College is a ridiculously poor at training people for most jobs in the real world. As Murray points out, college has become little more than a litmus test for employers. My brother who is an electrical engineer for Boeing even admits that he maybe uses 10% of what he learned in college, and he has a Masters degree.

For many many jobs, specific technical schools would probably be a much more cost effective and efficient way to train new employees. Witness the U.S.A.F., that manages to train 18 -21 year old kids to work on multi-million dollar aircraft, with only a few months of formal schooling, and a year of on the job training. In my field, nondestructive inspection, 22 year olds are able to leave the Air Force after four years and get a job in the civilian sector earning $40,000 a year.

Having lived in Europe for 12 years, I think that many European countries take a much more pragmatic approach to post secondary education. For example, the German model has industries working in partnership with government to create Berufsschule's (vocational schools) that provide government certified certificates in over 400 different careers.

Moving to a system like this, or similar, would serve several purposes. Employers would get employee's with specific job knowledge, our college graduation rate should improve, and students without the desire to sit through four year's of irrelevant classes would be able to quickly move into the workforce.

Murray though doesn't do the idea much justice. It's as if he adopted it to make up for the political incorrectness of his research into the IQ gap. Of course, because of Murray's perceived political leanings, his suggestions will be ignored... but good ideas being ignored has become the norm in education policy these days, so why should this idea be any different.

(Cross posted at parentalcation)

Hat Tip: Joanne Jacobs

teachers behaving badly

I've just discovered it's possible to post links on the Irvington Parents Forum (I think you have to join the Forum to get to the links...)

Which presents a golden opportunity to post links about Math Trailblazers.

As I was scouring the web, looking for the now-classic Trailblazers How to Public-Relation Parents support document, I discovered that The ARC Center has composed "Implementation Stories" for a number of the constructivist books.

These narratives conclude with "The Ups and Downs of this Story."

"Ups" are called "strengths."

"Downs" are called "challenges."

Scarsdale is there:
  • This implementation was aided by the widespread interest and involvement of all teachers.
  • Another strength is that the administration and parent community were supportive because they were continually informed and involved.
  • Teachers had to adjust to the spiraling nature of the curriculum. Concepts were introduced, but mastery wasn't necessarily expected until they were revisited. This meant they had to look for new ways to assess student growth.
  • Teachers are continuing to shift their emphasis from teaching material to focusing on children's thinking and learning.

Back up.

Did they just say Scarsdale teachers are continuing to shift their emphasis from teaching material to focusing on children's thinking and learning?

I believe they did.

District 2 in Manhattan (birthplace of NYC HOLD) has clearly been a thorn in everyone's side:
  • The change was more difficult for schools that had been successful with traditional curricula. [ed.: argh!!]
  • Principals had to learn different ways of looking at mathematics classrooms. [ed.: argh!!]
  • It takes time for both teachers and administrators to internalize the changes well enough to clearly articulate them to parents. [ed.: argh!!]
  • The volunteer model has positive and negative aspects. One of the negatives is that students at the same school could be getting different curricula. Parent concerns are an ongoing challenge. [ed.: profiles in euphemism]
  • Any new program that requires new materials and significant staff development presents funding challenges. [ed.: especially when you already had a traditional curriculum that was "successful"]

Indian River in Delaware may have accumulated my favorite list of Challenges thus far:
  • When Math Trailblazers was implemented, the district reacted to parent questions and concerns. Subsequently the district took a proactive stand and schools are now making a strong effort to inform parents. [ed.: inform=pacify]
  • Teachers' concerns about the state test and its alignment with Trailblazers must be addressed by the district
  • Principals are not active participants in on-going training.
  • Teachers' beliefs about reform mathematics are stronger than their practices. Many teachers don't see the need to follow the curriculum as written, supplementing with practice instead of moving forward and giving students more opportunities in mathematics. [ed.: teachers behaving badly]
  • Professional development is voluntary and it is a challenge to reach those who choose not to attend.

So what do we see here in Indian River?

We see teachers on strike, that's what we see.

Teachers and possibly principals, too.'s sounding like parents could be a whole lot better informed than they are at the present time.

Things are not copacetic in Indian River.


NYC Educator leaves this observation:
I want a job at that district where professional development is voluntary. If you've never sat through hours of some clueless educrat pontificating about why this new program is the only one in the world that will ever work, precisely what the same person said about another program last year (now discarded), you are lucky indeed.

This is why I say teachers in Indian River are on strike.

I've never heard of teachers getting to choose whether or not to spend hours of their lives listening to edu-blah blah.

shameless self-promotion

on my blog: Let's talk "higher-order thinking"

multiplying fractions


So last night my 6th grader was doing multiplication of mixed numbers. For example:

1 5/10 x 2 3/6 = ?

Based on what she was shown we tackled it the long way.

1 5/10 x 2 3/6 = ? (First change to mix fractions) (Note: I know you can reduce, but ignore that for now)

15/10 x 15/6 = ? (multiply out) >>> Insert multiplication problem here

225/60 = ? Reduce >>> Insert long division problem here.

15/4 = Final Answer

Of course, after she finished I noted a few wrong answers, mostly attributed to multiplication errors. She also was very resistant to showing her work in an organized manner on a separate sheet, but that's a different matter. I tried to show her how to factor first and then cancel out, but by this time she had shut down out of frustration.

1 5/10 x 2 3/6 = ? (First change to mix fractions)

15/10 x 15/6 = ? (factor all components)

(5 x 3) x (5 x 3)
----------------- = ? (cancel out)
(2 x 5) x (2 x 3)

(3 x 5)
------- = ?
(2 x 2)

15 / 4 = Final Answer

What I really want to know, is which is the appropriate order in which to teach fractions and factoring. Factoring and cancelling seems to me to be a lot easier and allows me to do the arithmetic in my head, but perhaps students need to learn the long way first, to make sense of the short way.

What do you guys think? How does Singapore math do it? Help me, because I am sure there are going to be more problems tonight.

Glencoe Parent and Student Study Guide

cross-posted at Irvington Parents Forum:

Hi all---

We had a meeting with the chair of the math department a couple of weeks back.

She told us that “if students need distributed practice parents can find worksheets online.”

Having spent many an hour finding worksheets online, not to mention a small fortune purchasing math textbooks and workbooks from Rainbow Resource Center, I had thought those days were behind me.

Wrong again! Last night I spent a couple of hours pulling worksheets from the web; I’ll be spending some time today scouting commercially available resources for teaching geometry.

So, to prevent other parents having to duplicate my efforts, I’m going to try to post my online sources, assuming I can locate the original URLs.

For today, I’m posting the single most useful resource I’ve found for reteaching math to your kids and providing the distributed practice they need to master the material:

Glencoe’s Parent and Student Study Guides

Glencoe has published every page of its 5 guides online in English and Spanish editions.

The Glencoe Parent and Student Study Guide is designed to help you support, monitor, and improve your child's math performance. These worksheets are written so that you do not have to be a mathematician to help your child.

Each book contains:
A 1-page worksheet for every lesson in the Student Edition. Completing a worksheet with your child will reinforce the concepts and skills your child is learning in math class. Upside-down answers are provided right on the page.

These worksheets are fantastic, built to help parents help their kids while also earning a living and running a household. Wonderful.


Glencoe has all kinds of other useful materials available online, too

Glencoe’s math page

Enter your state, check “parent,” hit enter.

That takes you to Glencoe’s “Online Learning Centers” where you can click on all of Glencoe’s math texts and survey the offerings.

Catherine J.

evolution of dance

This guy spoke and performed at my niece's middle school in Chatham, IL.


Way better than middle-aged ladies speaking about cyberbullying and middle-aged former teachers speaking about getting run over in bed.

Just my opinion.

Which I realize no one is asking.


Apparently the cyberbullying lady was booed off the stage at the high school. Principal sent home a letter apologizing.

The run-over-in-bed guy told the kids teachers are underpaid. Every person in America owes his life to a teacher, he said. Something like that.

Ed said, "What about the guy who ran over him in bed? Didn't he have a teacher?"

online books

Courtesy of The Plummet of Onions:

Online Books


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Random John reloaded

Anne Dwyer just sent me to Random John reloaded, a biostatistician who writes a blog that does NOT require readers to sign up for a Google account in order to comment.

Speaking of which, Susan says she's having problems logging in.

Is anyone else having trouble?

Everyone else?

I'm starting to think I should have actually looked into Blogger versus every other option before setting up ktm-II.

Apparently snap decisions aren't such a hot idea on the web.

I may have to change my entire personality and character structure if I'm going to keep writing blogs.

NCLB - not


Mike Petrilli's off the boat for NCLB:

For almost five years now, I've considered myself a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act. And not just the casual flag-waver variety. Much of that time I spent inside the Bush Administration, trying to make the law work, explaining its vision to hundreds of audiences, even wearing an NCLB pin on my lapel. I was a True Believer.

In a way, I still am. After all, in the 21st Century, saying you "support" NCLB is shorthand for affirming a set of ideas, values, and hopes for the country as much as an expression about a particular statute....a set of powerful--and controversial--ideas that provide the subtext for all the big NCLB battles.


Speaking personally, I've gradually and reluctantly come to the conclusion that NCLB as enacted is fundamentally flawed and probably beyond repair.

Now he tells me.

(Just kidding.)

His description of NCLB failings he did and did not anticipate is interesting:

Of course, I harbored doubts about certain specifics from the beginning. You didn't have to be a genius to see the "highly qualified teachers" mandate as a huge overreach and a probable failure, as it took a reasonable notion (teachers should know their stuff) and tried to enforce it through a rigid rule-based mechanism (second guessing principals who, for instance, hired engineers as math teachers). Nor was it hard to determine that asking all states to reach universal "proficiency" by 2014 but allowing them to define "proficiency" as they saw fit would create a race to the bottom.

Other flaws took me longer to appreciate. For example:

Surely schools would respond thoughtfully to the law's incentives to boost achievement in reading and math, and would understand that providing a broad, content-rich education would give them the best shot at boosting test scores, right? [ed: wrong. even I saw that one coming] Yet the anecdotes (and increasingly, evidence) keep rolling in of schools turning into test-prep factories and narrowing the curriculum. (See here, for example.)

Surely if those of us at the Department of Education pushed hard enough we could get districts to inform parents of their school choice options under the law, and ensure that kids trapped in failing schools have better places to go, right? Yet (as I conclude in this paper presented in December at the American Enterprise Institute), hard experience has shown that "stronger implementation" would only make a difference at the margin. It cannot solve the fundamental problem: in most of our big cities, there are too few good schools to go around. Uncle Sam can't snap his fingers and make it otherwise. Furthermore, while it's hard enough to force recalcitrant states and districts to do things they don't want to do, it's impossible to force them to do those things well. And when it comes to informing parents, creating new schools, or implementing almost any of NCLB's many pieces, it's not enough for states or districts to go through the motions. They have to want to make it succeed. If they don't, Washington is out of luck. It has no tools or levers to alter the situation. That's why I've called much of the law "un-implementable."

still flogging that Washington consensus!
I can't pretend any longer that the law is "working," or that a tweak and a tuck would make it "work." Yet I still like its zeitgeist. As Kati Haycock argued at the AEI confab, NCLB has "changed the conversation" in education. Results are now the coin of the realm; the "soft bigotry of low expectations" is taboo; closing the achievement gap is at the top of everyone's to-do list. All for the good.

Wrong again.

The Washington consensus, I've come to feel, reinforces race- and ethnicity-based views of IQ and achievement while at the same time depressing school accountability for individual student learning in all schools, rich, poor, and in between.

Not that there was a lot of accountability there to depress, but still.

To define white schools as good -- or at least good enough -- while defining black & Hispanic schools as catastrophically bad leads directly to the result Ed and I routinely experience here in Irvingtonland.

We go to meeting after meeting in which administrators look us straight in the eye, flash us a friendly smile, and say things like, "Student achievement correlates directly with number of books in the parent's home," or, "You can judge how good your school is by four criteria: the school, the students, the parents, and the community."

translation: We're off the hook, so party on!

There is no sense of urgency in the administration here. None. No sense that any of our kids might be at risk in any way if they're in 8th grade and can't figure a 10% tip while the most challenging book they've read this year is The Chocolate War (reading level 5.4). *

No one's worried.

No one's worried because our kids can't be at risk. By definition. The Washington consensus says so.

Thanks in part to NCLB, everyone "knows" that rich white schools are good, poor black and Hispanic schools are bad.

Everyone "knows" that "it's the parents that make the school."

And: everyone "knows" that Westchester parents hire tutors because we're a bunch of grasping, status-seeking jerks, not because our kids aren't learning inside our rich white schools.

The Washington consensus got it wrong, and apparently the people who brought us the Washington consensus plan to carry on getting it wrong.

Public schools are the problem.

Not public schools with disadvantaged students.

I can't do policy, but I've lived the Washington consensus inside an affluent white school district where "everyone is above average" and the "gene pool is good." (direct quotes)

It's time to stop focusing on the Achievement Gap between blacks and whites.

If we're going to focus on achievement gaps, and I'm beginning to think that's a non-starter, it's time to focus on the achievement gap between each individual child and himself.

Or between each individual child and his same-SES peer in Europe and Asia.

real information about schools? provided to parents?

Surely not. important bullet waits to be bitten: collect and publish swift, reliable, and comparable data on the performance of the nation's schools via clear national standards, a rigorous national test, and a common approach to school ratings (e.g., a single definition of "adequate yearly progress"). Then everyone would have a consistent and fair way to distinguish good schools from bad. We would have consistently high expectations for all students and all schools, and would end the federal/state cat-and-mouse games being played over accountability. The federal government should also make school-level financial information transparent (a necessity to achieve the funding reforms mentioned above) and continue to pay for high-quality research and make its results transparent and accessible to all.

Given the fact that I'm going to have to file a FOIL request just to pry 6th grade gender subscores out of my own district, good luck implementing that one.


* A friend's child recently defended the book to his mom, telling her that yes, it was too easy for the kids in his 8th grade class, but that was OK because "it's a classic."

3rd time's the charm

Hi Joe---

Now that this year's ELA tests are upon us, I thought it would be a good time to lodge my third request for student subgroup scores on the 2006 ELA. How did boys fare in comparison to girls in last year's 6th grade class?

Ed and I would like to know:

  • how many 6th grade boys received scores of 4 on the 2006 ELA examination?
  • how many 6th grade boys received scores of 3 on the 2006 ELA examination?
  • how many 6th grade girls received scores of 4 on the 2006 ELA examination?
  • how many 6th grade girls received scores of 3 on the 2006 ELA examination?
Thanks very much!

Catherine Johnson

kausfiles to the rescue

I hadn't read Kaus in awhile (I realize kausfiles isn't to everyone's taste around here), and had just checked in when I found this:

P.P.S.: As a non-eduwonk, I would think if the NCLB were working we'd see the results by now in positive test scores--and if it isn't working, we should abandon the perestroika-like attempt to whip the education bureaucracy into shape with testing and "sanctions"--and move on to the dissolution of that bureaucracy through a proliferation of charter schools. But Eduwonk says, via email, that it's too soon to tell whether the NCLB will improve test scores, since the " law was passed in January of '02, states only had the testing really implemented last year and this year ..."

As I've said on innumerable occasions, policy is beyond me.

Nevertheless, there's something about the idea of moving to the dissolution of the edu-bureaucracy through a proliferation of charter schools that instantly and without further ado wins my vote.

two questions

What is the timeline on NCLB results?

Do we know?

And does anyone know whether we are or are not seeing significant improvement in 4th grade reading (largely "decoding") scores?

Hirsch thinks so.

Hirsch's take is that NCLB's Reading First Initiative has improved the teaching of reading, but reading comprehension scores aren't budging because schools are drilling a formalistic, how-to approach to understanding what you read.

That's what kids here in Irvingtonland have been doing for the past week. They've been taking sample ELA tests. The 7th graders have all finished the one book they were assigned to read this year (The Outsiders, reading level 5.1),* and now they're taking practice reading tests.

Today they're taking the real one.

Which makes it an excellent time to lodge my third request for gender subscores on last year's ELA!

Hirsch on NCLB & Reading First

Gary Ratner [audience member]: Gary Ratner, Citizens for Effective Schools.... Professor Hirsch, you noted that No Child Left Behind and the Standards Movement, both fairly recent policy initiatives have produced I think what you call “meager results.”


....what would the panel think of a federal policy that would come in as an amendment to the elementary and secondary education at No Child Left Behind [indiscernible] just coming up with a re- authorization in which the federal government would say, would go beyond just saying the goal is academic efficiency? Would go beyond just talking about saying there should be a challenging curriculum


Frederick M. Hess [moderator]: [Audio glitch] arguably actually, NCLB does require that, of course, that states in submitting their compliance materials for No Child left Behind law are actually required to submit both assessments they use and standards that underlie them.

Gary Ratner [audience member]: But it is not being implemented. That is so far from the reality right now. There is no enforcement.


Eric Donald Hirsch: ....the one place where No Child Left Behind has succeeded, it seems to me, is fourth grade reading scores; those have benefited from the No Child Left Behind Act.


...what it illustrates is that you have to pay attention to the nitty-gritty, and not just do some structural thing if you want the law actually to have some effect; and that was the area where they actually paid attention to the nitty-gritty. They said, “This program is phonics oriented and it is okay. This program is not and we are not going to fund it.” They were actually paying attention to a specific elementary reading or decoding program. Those programs themselves have flaws but they do very well in getting you up to speed in decoding which is why fourth-grade reading scores, by the way, are primarily fluency and accuracy of decoding. Later scores involved comprehension. That basically is one of the subjects of the book.

Abigail Thernstrom: Maybe Lynne will not agree with me on this, but the Feds have a really hard time monitoring quality. And let me tell you a story very briefly, a Massachusetts story. Somebody I know raises, gets from the federal DOE a pile of money for the instruction of teachers in better math education. These teachers are teaching math; they do not know math. They need to have math workshops and so forth. Raises federal money; raises some local corporate money. The superintendent of the district -- it is four specific districts – the superintendent in this district got this money in his hands. His staff goes to work in using it, and at the end of the day, forget it.

The money is just going down the drain. It makes you want to cry what is happening with this money, because it is nothing good. And the Federal Department of Education will never understand that this money has not gone to anything useful.

If makes you want to cry or, alternatively, it makes you want to make other people cry.

Like this superintendent, for instance.

He could cry.

Crying would be a fine thing in his case.


* Lexile puts The Outsiders at 7th grade, but seeing as how Christopher read the book last year for fun, I feel I'm on solid ground going with 5.1. Then there's this from K-8 resources for Struggling Readers, "The Outsiders," by S.E. one of many books written by Hinton with high interest but lower reading level."

interview with Willingham

(Cross-posted at D-Ed Reckoning)

EdNews has a good interview with Daniel Willingham posted today on "reading comprehension:
6) What are your three main factors that you see as important in reading comprehension?

Decoding, fluency, and background knowledge. Obviously, if you can't decode, it's pretty much "game over." And if you don't have some degree of fluency, you're so occupied with decoding, that you can't pay attention to the meaning of the text. Finally, if you don't have some background knowledge to which you can relate the text, you may comprehend it, but your understanding will be pretty shallow—it will be closely tied to the text itself, and you won't be able to generalize the message of the text
There you go: decoding, fluency, and background knowledge. Three things that don't get systematicallt taught in your typical balanced literacy classroom.
Here's a question: "To what extent have educators and policy-makes recognized the importance of background knowledge to reading comprehension?" My answer would be "not enough!" I'm specifically concerned about the role of the National Reading Panel report. That Report is becoming crystallized in state and federal legislation as the final word on reading, and the report is great. . . but it's incomplete because it doesn't say anything about the role of background knowledge in reading comprehension. If we're concerned about having students who are good readers we have to recognize that reading is an interaction between the words on the page and the knowledge in the reader's head. Without background knowledge, you can't comprehend a text to a level we would call "understanding." We need to pay attention to developing background knowledge in students from the first day that they are in school, and encouraging parents to do so even before then. It's not a trivial matter to decide what that content should be and how to deliver it. But if we want all children to be excellent readers it has to be done.
Background knowledge: the untaught subject. Read the whole thing.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bernie Rimland, rest in peace

While I was home visiting my mom, she gave me a clipping she'd saved for me -- saved and managed to transport with her to the hospital and from there to her nursing home.

The clipping was a news item saying that Bernie Rimland has died.

I loved Bernie.

We were on different tracks, but it didn't matter. Though we saw eye to eye on behaviorism (both pro), he was a vitamin and supplements guy while I was pharmaceuticals and the NIH -- the guys in white coats as I think Bernie used to call them.

Bernie scorned the men in white coats!

I only had to get to know him a bit to see his brilliance; Bernie was probably the first Bayesian genius I ever met. After knowing him for a time I adopted a rule of thumb that anything Bernie believed in, no matter how much disdain it elicited from his foes in mainstream medicine, stood an excellent chance of being true in some fashion. He was way smart and, like a lot of parents of autistic people, marched to the beat of a different drummer.

Bernie once told me that when his son Mark was a baby, he would scream at the sight of his mother wearing anything but one particular housedress printed in one particular pattern. So Mrs. Rimland wore that same dress day-in and day-out.

Bernie also told me he cured his daughter of cancer using megavitamin therapy.* I don't put it past him. If anyone could cure his child of cancer using megavitamins, it was Bernie.

Bernie was a kind and good man. His son Mark grew up to become an artist, and Bernie printed up his paintings on notecards and sold them to raise money for his Autism Research Institute. These days you get Mark's notecards as a gift when you make a donation.

Bernie never cured autism, though it's entirely possible he helped some autistic children emerge.

But he probably saved lives back in the day when Bruno Bettelheim was telling mothers they had made their children the way they were. I once talked to a woman who had her children in that era. She was so grief-stricken over the certain knowledge that she had caused her child's autism that for years she never drove a car with her children inside. She was chronically suicidal, and if one day the impulse to drive her car into a tree or a wall overwhelmed her she didn't want her children to die, too.

Dr Rimland, who was 78, "will go down in history as the person who ended the 'dark ages' of autism and spearheaded the fight to bring hope and help to autistic children," said Dr Stephen M. Edelson, his successor at the Autism Research Institute founded by Dr Rimland.

Dr Rimland began researching autism after his son, Mark, was diagnosed with the disorder. The result was the landmark book, "Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behaviour."

After marshalling extensive evidence and argument that showed the disorder had a biological basis, Dr Rimland wrote: "To add a heavy burden of shame and guilt to the distress of people whose hopes, social life, finances, well-being and feelings of worth have been all but destroyed seems heartless and inconsiderate in the extreme."

In recent years, Dr Rimland helped to introduce medical treatments for autism that some parents say have significantly improved, or even cured, their child's condition.

Mainstream medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics reject such approaches and say there is no evidence they are effective.

Dr Rimland attributed the rise of autism diagnoses in the 1980s and 1990s to increasing use of vaccines - another idea embraced by some parents and a minority of researchers but rejected by public-health officials.

Dr Rimland was also one of the founders of the National Society for Autistic Children (NSAC), now known as the Autism Society of America (ASA).

He will be missed.

* I hope I remember the story right. Can't find it on Google, so take it with a grain of salt.

thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation

Last week we all received a TRAILBLAZERS- & middle school math-related email from our superintendent thanking us for our ongoing support and cooperation.

That was a strange way of putting it, I thought. Ongoing support and cooperation where Math TRAILBLAZERS & the middle school math track are concerned have been noticeably absent here in Irvingtonland.

So I wrote an email. Because that's my job.

Today I find an even more egregious use of preemptive gratitude in this letter home to parents in Virginia:

Dear Families:

To honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s noble ideas and courageous acts, we worked together on a sensitizing experiment. They were all led to believe that one is inferior than the other. We initially divided the class into 2 groups –the blue and the green people. In the early part of the day, the green group was given preferential treatment. They were given privileges such as play centers, an extra special snack, and getting paid for performing a job. The switch occurred after an hour of receiving the special treatment.

At the end of our experiment, we talked about how they felt to be the preferred group and how it felt to be the group that was not favored. After which, we read a story on Martin Luther King Jr. (Martin’s Big Words) and talked about MLK’s vision and dream.

The purpose of this exercise is to educate and increase children’s sensitivity towards people and our differences. Furthermore, to treat others the way we want to be treated.

I encourage you to talk with your child about the events of the day as some of them ended up in tears for being treated "differently" based on the color of their shirt. I fervently wish that this exercise will impact your child’s life and that they learn to embrace their differences and celebrate their uniqueness.

Thank you for your cooperation and support in this endeavor.


I don't mean to be a killjoy here, but I'd say it's a safe bet this school is going to be receiving some distinctly uncooperative and unsupportive calls and emails in the days to come.

thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation
thank you for your cooperation and support in this endeavor
today's form letter from the school

double - oh - two

This may be a purchase. (Verizon Math, part 1)

what is .002 cents x 35,896?

Drop everything and go immediately to YouTube to listen to this protracted conversation between a customer who has been quoted a price of .002 cents per kilobyte usage and two different reps who can't tell the difference between .002 cents and .002 dollars.

Here's Instructivist's take. Credit to Katie, a commenter on his blog, for finding the link.

More fun with decimals: the guy's got a blog and a t-shirt!

I'm going to have to get that t-shirt before Verizon makes it go away.

My favorite line thus far: "[.002 cents] is very much less than .002 dollars."

Second favorite:

"How do you write 1 cent?"


"How do you write 1/2 cent?"

"Ahhh that would be .005 I think...I don't know, I'm not a mathematician!"

Third favorite:

"It's obviously a difference of opinion."

"It's not opinion!"


I wonder whether it would have helped if the customer had dropped the approach he was taking, which was correct but wasn't working, and started focusing repetitively - make that perseveratively - on units.

Over and over again the two customer service reps do the calculation on their calculators (.002 cents x 35,896 kilobytes), come up with an answer of 71.792, and then change the unit from cents to dollars.

If he'd pointed out that they'd just switched the unit, would that have helped?

What I assume is happening in this exchange is that the reps are reading decimal figures in terms of the everyday decimal figures they're used to seeing.

When they have a figure like ".002" they attach the unit "cents" because .002 is more similar to the way we write cents than to the way we write dollars.

Then when they suddenly have a figure like 71.792 they switch to dollars, because 71.792 more closely resembles the way we write dollars than the way we write cents.

That's my guess.

Apparently this customer was originally quoted a rate of .002 cents per kilobyte, which in fact was incorrect; the correct rate was .002 dollars.

The original reps must have looked at something like .002/kilobyte and read it as .002 cents.

I say we start teaching the entire Western World unit multipliers today.

Verizon Math, the t-shirt

Japanese math textbooks

Instructivist links to a video of a presentation on constructivist math by David Klein and James Milgram hosted by Where's the Math.

I haven't seen it yet, but apparently Klein mentions a translated Japanese middle school curriculum he likes.

Instructivist thinks Klein is referring to these books:

[14] Mathematics 2: Japanese Grade 11 - Kunihiko Kodaira, Editor - AMS, 1997, 262 pp., Softcover, ISBN-10: 0-8218-0582-7, ISBN-13: 978-0-8218-0582-4, List: US$32, All AMS Members: US$26, MAWRLD/9

[15] Basic Analysis: Japanese Grade 11 - Kunihiko Kodaira, Editor - AMS, 1996, 184 pp., Softcover, ISBN-10: 0-8218-0580-0, ISBN-13: 978-0-8218-0580-0, List: US$26, All AMS Members: US$21, MAWRLD/11

[16] Algebra and Geometry: Japanese Grade 11 - Kunihiko Kodaira, Editor - AMS, 1996, 174 pp., Softcover, ISBN-10: 0-8218-0581-9, ISBN-13: 978-0-8218-0581-7, List: US$26, All AMS Members: US$21, MAWRLD/10

[17] Mathematics 1: Japanese Grade 10 - Kunihiko Kodaira, Editor - AMS, 1996, 247 pp., Softcover, ISBN-10: 0-8218-0583-5, ISBN-13: 978-0-8218-0583-1, List: US$32, All AMS Members: US$26, MAWRLD/8

I have in my own files this list, which may be the same as Instructivist's books:
Resource Materials available from the UCSMP Director's Office

• Soviet Studies in Mathematics Education, vols. 7-8
• Japanese Grade 7 Mathematics
• Japanese Grade 8 Mathematics
• Japanese Grade 9 Mathematics
• Russian Grade 1 Mathematics
• Russian Grade 2 Mathematics
• Russian Grade 3 Mathematics
• Developments in School Mathematics Education around the World, vols. 1-3

About UCSMP's Translation Series
Translations of Japanese Elementary textbooks are sold here: Global Resources. (Klein didn't mention these, I gather. I have no idea whether he's seen them.)

You can look at sample pages here

Myrtle (hi, Myrtle!) found this link: Japan: A Different Model of Mathematics Education (pdf file)

I still can't do these middle school entrance problems. At least, not the first one. Not in two minutes.


UPDATE: Yes, I can.

In fact, I may even be able to do this problem in 2 minutes.

Saxon Math to the rescue.