kitchen table math, the sequel: 9/16/07 - 9/23/07

Friday, September 21, 2007

6th Grade EM

The fun has begun. My middle child is a 6th grader in a EM program heavily supplemented with random, disconnected state testing prep and confusing "problem of the week" type stuff. I went to open house Tuesday evening. The math teacher used her allotted 10 minutes to lecture us on the importance of behavior, neatness, organization, and more behavior. We got one quick slide listing 5 or 6 topics of math -- but otherwise math content and skills and expectations were not addressed. I left thinking this teacher cares alot about behavioral control and neatness, but not so much on the math.

Then I see the first assignment -- my 6th grade daughter is to watch 1/2 an hour of television and count the number of commercials. This is called the "Great TV Ad-Venture"

I am. . . .well. . . . unimpressed.

I immediately thought of Steve -- then realized you are not dealing with this anymore!!! AHHHH! I'm all alone with a 6th grader in EM dealing with this stupidity!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Can I Record School Board Meetings in New York State?

yep, it's legal.

I'd like to express my gratitude at the opportunity to post here on KTM - as a long-time reader of this site, I'm honored.

So, let's get down to business and address a question that pops up so often that I've decided to cross-post the answer on my own site.

Can an interested party record a school board or school committee meeting in New York State? [NJ and PA are touched upon as well.]

The short answer: Absolutely, provided that the recording process and its devices don't disrupt the proceedings.

Remember, a public meeting constitutes quorum gathering to discuss issues. This means that you're free to record regular school board meetings, budget hearings, committee meetings, etc. - any time there's quorum/over half the official body in attendance with the intent to conduct public business, go ahead.

But school boards aren't always into public records and accountability. When your New York State school district denies that you're allowed to tape a meeting, cite the following precedents:

Then there's Csorny, et al. v. Shoreham-Wading River Central School District, et al. (Index No. 31583/00) which not only upholds the above rulings, but cites supporting precedent in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey:
The overwhelming weight of authority from other states likewise supports our holding herein. In Hain v Board of Directors of Reading School Dist. (163 Pa Commw 479, 641 A2d 661), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania struck a school board rule prohibiting the videotape recording of public meetings as violative of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act. In Maurice River Tp. Bd. of Educ. v Maurice River Tp. Teachers Assn. (193 NJ Super 488, 475 A2d 59, affg 455 A2d 563), the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, similarly held that a school board could not enact a blanket prohibition against videotaping of public meetings, as such a rule violated New Jersey's Open Public Meetings Act (NJSA 10:4-6 et seq; see also Sudol v Borough of North Arlington, 137 NJ Super 149, 348 A2d 216 [NJ Super]).

There ya go, kids. Record at will.

And when the Board members freak out, hand them a sheet of paper citing these precedents and make it very clear that their ignorance of the law in no way supersedes either statute or precedent.

tone change


back from back to school night

tone change

no chicken dance *

no Please exit the building immediately

guidance counselor personally escorting us to ALGEBRA CLASS

I could get used to this.

Maybe tomorrow I'll fire off an email to everybody asking them to get some disadvantaged black kids into Math A.

Also some white kids.

Thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation!

ok, I need to stop

Tonight was a vast improvement over last year and the year before. It was a step in the right direction.

It is not a sea change. But it is a step.

Steps are good.

* good thing, too, 'cause if there'd been a chicken dance this year, Mr. Principal was getting YouTubed

advice from William J. Kerrigan

concerned left this in a Comment:

"You don't go to school to learn to be vague and inaccurate, you know; you could learn that anywhere.

When you go into your other college courses, study before each class; always turn your work in on time; make one statement or ask one serious question in class every day; cooperate with your instructor; and you'll succeed in those classes as you have in this one."

Review: Glenn Matott
College Composition and Communication, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb., 1977), pp. 69-71

This calls to min WJK's exhortation on the subject of learning calligraphy.

It's grand.

how to salvage your child's really, really, really bad writing assignment

What is a really, really, really bad writing assignment, you ask?

This one (grade 8):

We will begin the year with the Quote Project in which each student creates a mobile that illustrates a meaningful quote, writes a short personal narrative, and then shares his/her findings in an oral presentation.

Writing to the Point is the answer.

I'm pretty sure a parent can use Kerrigan's book to turn any writing assignment into an OK assignment or even good one. More on my first afterschool outing with WJK anon.

how to use Writing to the Point without reading the book

First of all, I think you should read the book, if you possibly can. I am studying every word.

But if you can't study every word, you can probably make do with this much.


I've taken to calling Kerrigan's approach the X-1-2-3 method.

Just so you know.


the six steps

Kerrigan's method has six steps, which he requires his students to commit to memory, word for word. (I have memorized the first two; am halfway there on number 3).

The Six Steps

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

Step 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot. (Chapter 4, pages 43-44.)

STEP 5. In the first sentence of each new paragraph, starting with Paragraph 2, insert a clear reference to the idea of the preceding paragraph. (Chapter 8, page 105).

STEP 6. Make sure every sentence in your theme is connected with, and makes a clear reference to, the preceding sentence (Chapter 11, page 123.)



• A sentence is a paragraph is a chapter is a book.

• A thesis is a sentence. A paper, essay, or book must have a thesis to be good.

• A sentence has a subject and a predicate. A thesis is always a sentence, which means a thesis has a subject and a predicate.

• A topic is a subject without a predicate.

• Almost always, topics come first. Creating, inventing, shaping, and discovering your thesis comes second. There's no law on this; it's just the way things usually go.

• Write a lot about a little, not a little about a lot. This is what people mean when they tell you to “pare your topic down,” “tighten your subject or writing,” etc.



The first step requires you to write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. This is sentence X.

The second step requires you to write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. These are sentences 1-2-3.

for example:

X Studying requires teaching yourself.
1. Studying requires setting a schedule for yourself.
2. Studying requires explaining the lesson to yourself.
3. Studying requires self-testing.

extremely important, and tricky, too:

X-1-2-3 sentences possess parallel thought and grammatical structure

X Studying ] [ requires teaching yourself.
1. It ] [ requires setting a schedule for yourself.
2. It ] [ requires explaining the lesson to yourself.
3. It ] [ requires self-testing.

X Power corrupts.
1. It corrupts the powerful.
2. It corrupts the powerless.
3. It corrupts every relationship between the two.

(source: Kerrigan, Writing to the Point)

Writing to the Point by Kerrigan Table of Contents

Writing to the Point Fourth Edition
William J. Kerrigan
Allan A. Metcalf
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1987
ISBN-10: 015598313X
ISBN-13: 978-0155983137

Writing to the Point intro up

The entire introduction is posted here.

To the Instructor

Writing to the Point Fourth Edition
William J. Kerrigan and Allan A. Metcalf
p. vii

Moreover, the Kerrigan method doesn’t get dull. Each set of sentences X, 1, 2, and 3 is a stimulating intellectual challenge for the instructor as well as the student: a triumph if all the sentences stay on the point, an exercise in revision if they do not. Each theme is a similar exercise in virtuosity. The method is simple, but its application to the actual matter of writing is endlessly challenging, and the visible development of students into sure practitioners is a recurring satisfaction. And Kerrigan’s book itself offers challenges to conventional nostrums about teaching writing, challenges that stimulate thinking anew each time the instructor guides a class through the Kerrigan experience.

He's right.

I've done 10 X-1-2-3 sentence sets, as Kerrigan directs.

Result: I now have a formal thesis statement that captures the whole of Temple's & my new book.

This book is gold.

ISBN numbers and editions

I think there were at least 4 different editions of Writing to the Point, maybe more.

Here are ISBNs for three:

Writing to the Point Fourth Edition
William J. Kerrigan and Allan A. Metcalf
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1987
ISBN-10: 015598313X
ISBN-13: 978-0155983137

Writing to the Point: Six Basic Steps
William J. Kerrigan
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 2d ed edition (1979)
ISBN-10: 0155983113
ISBN-13: 978-0155983113

Writing to the Point: Six Basic Steps
by William J. Kerrigan
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1974)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0155983105
ISBN-13: 978-0155983106

Writing to the Point Fourth Edition Table of Contents
Amazon review Kerrigan & home program
Writing to the Point, first installment
William J. Kerrigan and the sentence
writing and swimming: pp 1 & 2 Kerrigan
To the Instructor

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Parents say math education is just fine

Apparently, a recent report from the research organization Public Agenda has found that parents and students are happy with the current rigor of mathematics instruction in our schools.

It's Important, But Not for Me discusses the results of a survey of about 2,600 parents and students in Kansas and Missouri. Among other findings, they learned that only 25% of parents think that their children should be studying more math and science and that a whopping 70% think things "are fine as they are now."

It seems to reflect the situation in my district where the majority of parents seem to be buying the administration's happy-talk hook, line, and sinker.

Interesting stuff.

Download report here.
Education Week article here.

why do you have to be like this?

That is the subject heading of an email I've just received from my son.

Speaking of offspring, Andrew has decided to regress on his toileting. I don't know why.

The other night Ed figured out that we've spent 27 child years changing poopy diapers and underwear.

Now that is what I call real-world math.

Why go Private?

The decision to send our oldest child to a private high school is, hands down, the most difficult decision we have ever made as a family. It's difficult on so many fronts, not the least of which is financial. But there's also, inconvenience and the whole issue I have in giving up on public education. I believe public education is the best hope we have as a nation, as a civilization, as a community. The problem is, we don't have any more time to waste waiting for public education to get its act together and there is simply too much at stake to risk our son's future.

Our son is starting as a 10th grader, having gone to a science magnet school last year as a freshman. Our local public school is scoring "well" on the mandated state tests and won some kind of improvement award two years ago. It isn't a failing high school by any means. It is a pretty good high school and delivers an adequate education for a reasonably motivated kid.

But our son is not well-motivated, he's skated through for years, making high honors for rather mediocre efforts.

First, we aren't rich by any measure, and this decision is causing lots of financial hardship for us. But, two weeks into the school year, I'm feeling this is absolutely the right decision. So what do we get for the $30,000+? (Which does not include text books or transportation -- time for me to stop complaining about public schools spending $10,000 per kid).

1 -- every time I've called a teacher, administrator, coach, anybody -- my calls were returned the same day. With an answer. With reasonable answers. All concerns are addressed square-on. The same day. This was the biggest shock to me. I rarely get calls returned in the public schools, much less on the same day. Even rarer still is a thoughtful answer that addresses my concern.

2 -- a heavy emphasis on facts. We were told "facts matter" on day one. How can we send kids out into the world to solve world crisis if they don't know facts? How do address the Iraq situation if you don't know the difference between a Sunni, a Shiite, and a Kurd?This is what the told us on day one.

3 -- a tough curriculum where rich white kids are given Fs with no apologies. If a paper deserves an F, it gets an F. You are welcome to talk to the teacher about it, but no grade inflation. This is the biggest problem facing my son. He is working very hard and he's not very confident that he's going to do well.

4 -- no projects. no coloring. no building anything with popcycle sticks.

I am worried though. He's in precalculus and his lousy Algebra II course is starting to show. On Monday he remarked that the class periods are too short and the teacher doesn't cover everything in class that's in the homework. He's expected to READ THE BOOK to do the homework. He is struggling to learn from the reading, rather than the lecture. He's never done this before.

And I am no help. My precalculus skills have waned, as have my husbands.

What really astonishes me is how much we like the school, but for none of the reasons that add to the price tag. There are critically important things that need to happen in public schools to make them better (i.e., reform them), but these are not things that can be solved by throwing money at the problem.

A school should set a high standard, at times a very high standard, and fairly and consistently hold students to it. Give out Ds and Fs for poor quality work, even if the kid made high honors last term. Expect most kids to be able to read for knowledge, to read assigned material before they come to class, don't spend class time simply repeating what was in the text. Put content first -- facts are important. Return your phone calls.

Is this really asking so much?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Spelling Matters

I have in my possession my uncle's spelling book. The book is titled, "Modern-Life Speller--Book Two" and was published by the State of Kansas in 1938. The authors were a professor of Educational Administration at the University of Texas, the Superintendent of Schools of Houston, Texas, and the Director of Educational Reference and Research at the University of Michigan. Here's an excerpt from page vi of the Introduction:

"The disadvantages attached to poor spelling are everywhere apparent. There is, moreover, a significant connection between spelling ability and the general use of English. Correct spelling and improved pronunciation go hand in hand. A knowledge of the correct spelling of words is closely associated with a knowledge of the correct meaning of words. There is a tendency to restrict the use of words in writing to those which the writer has become habituated to spelling correctly. Thus, a limited spelling vocabulary tends to induce a limited writing vocabulary."

Enrichment or deterrent?

My child's school encouraged parents to request math "enrichment" for their second graders if they felt they needed it. I said, "sign my child up" even though I know this means extra homework in addition to whatever else he is already doing. We received the packet today and I'm not sure what to think. I think I'll be sending it back. (How to do this diplomatically is another matter altogether.)

This "enrichment" packet is designed for grades 3-8 (Numbers and Words: A Problem Per Day), which sounds impressive at first glance, but then you open it up and *blech*. There's no rhyme or reason. There is no gradual building of skills, no sequence of topics and it doesn't progressively follow anything they learned in first grade or will learn in second grade. I think the objective is to make my child feel inadequate and for me to think he doesn't really require "enrichment." It's like a subliminal message to parents to back off and be happy with the existing curriculum (Everyday Math).

Here's a sample of a week's worth of enrichment from the very first page:

Monday: Estimate...On the average, how many hours per week is the television set "on" in American homes?

Tuesday: How many inches are in five feet? Do you add, subtract, multiply, or divide?

Wednesday: A basketball team has five players. Only three scored in today's game. One player made 16 points, while each of the other two made double that amount. How many points were scored in today's game? Can you solve the problem? If not, what do you need to know?

Thursday: In a parking lot, five cars are parked in a row. If there are seven rows just like this, how many cars are parked in the lot? Draw a diagram to show your answer.

Friday: If one gallon of lemonade will serve __ people, how many people will five gallons serve? Write the equation. Let N stand for the answer. (If one gallon serves 20 people, can you solve the equation?)

My feeling is that if I have him work on this enrichment, I will be explaining topics that are obviously out of sequence and beyond his current level of understanding. I don't see how this will challenge him appropriately. This would surely end in frustration.

At the same time, he will not be learning anything he doesn't already know in Everyday Math this year. I've checked out the year's curriculum and given him a pre-test so I don't say this subjectively. He's ready to master and apply multiplication and division and they won't even get there until the end of the year and only very superficially at that.

My gut tells me this is not enrichment, it's a deterrent. It's a distraction intended to make Everyday Math look like a good alternative and convince me that my child doesn't need anymore challenge than he's already receiving.

Thank goodness for Singapore and Saxon.

March of the pundits, part 2

A new stock figure is abroad in the land of edu-reform: the middle class voter
The political strategy of George Miller and Buck McKeon, respectively the chairman and top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, has now come into focus: to get an NCLB reauthorization bill through Congress, appease the suburbs and those who represent them. This approach is smart and savvy and sometimes leads to good policies--but may also leave lots of kids behind.
We have this on the authority of Mike Petrilli who, I gather, helped create NCLB in the first place, when he worked at the DOE.

Petrilli is knowledgeable on the subject of the suburban parent: the suburbs, bad news about local schools captures the quick attention of politicians (and residents worried about their property values). These districts report to powerful parents who have the money to move to another town or send their children to private schools.
My question: who is living on another planet, Mike Petrilli or me?

I ask, because Mike and I are not enjoying a shared reality.

First things first.

I am a suburban parent. Mike and I see eye to eye on that.

Beyond this, I have no idea what he's talking about.

In the world according to Mike Petrilli, I am apparently the person, or, rather, the person category, who will be responsible for the death of NCLB should such occur.

Which it probably will, because I am powerful and I have to be appeased. Everyone knows this.

OK, fine. Fine. I will just add that, one of these days, I would actually like to meet a powerful suburban parent who has to be appeased. Better yet, I would like to be one. I would like to stop having the power to kill NCLB, a law I support, and start having the power to compel my school district to teach my child math -- and, while they're at it, to teach our black & Hispanic kids algebra in the 8th grade, a subject I have spent the past two years raising publicly with district administrators and board members to no avail.

What is the point of being powerful and appease-worthy if you can't get what you do want, and can get what you do not want?

I ask you.

If you want to hear Mike Petrilli and Frederick Hess's chucklefest on the subject of NCLB and the middle class voter, you can do so here. Click on "To the University of Harvard! - September 6, 2007"

I've always admired both men, but after hearing this tape I'm not going to be able to think of them in quite the same way again.

march of the pundits, part 1
speaking of pundits
march of the pundits, part 2

how to change the system
parents need a union

Independent George on the pundits and their ways
one is a nutjob, twenty five are powerful
first person


Monday, September 17, 2007

Part II of MathNotations Interview

You have to read it to believe it. I thought question 18 was most telling.

"18. Here’s an innocent little question, Prof. Steen! The current conflicts in mathematics education are usually referred to as the Math Wars. In your opinion, what were the major contributing factors in spawning this conflict and how would you resolve it?"

"There are many factors involved. I think I can identify a few, but I have no confidence that I could resolve any of them. One is the natural tendency of parents to want their children to go through the same education that they received—even when, as often is the case with mathematics, they admit that it was a painful and unsuccessful ordeal. This makes many parents critical of any change, most especially if it introduces approaches that they do not understand and which therefore leaves them unable to help their children with homework."

[Number one: Parents are stupid.]

"Another source were scientists and mathematicians who pretty much breezed through school mathematics and who were increasingly frustrated with graduates (often their own children) who did not seem to know what these scientists knew (or thought they knew) when they had graduated from high school. Our weak performance on international tests appeared to provide objective confirmation of these concerns, and they came to pubic notice just as the NCTM standards became widely known in the early to mid-1990s. Even though very few students had gone through an education influenced by these standards, the confluence of events led many to believe that the standards contributed to the decline."

[Number two: Lower expectations started long ago. The standards just codified them and gave them a pedagogical foundation.]

"A third source can be traced to the way in which the NCTM Standards upset the caste system in mathematics education. Mathematicians are accustomed to a hierarchy of status and influence with internationally recognized researchers at the top, ordinary college teachers in the middle, below them high school teachers, and at the very bottom teachers in elementary grades. The gradient is determined by level of mathematics education and research. So it came as somewhat of a shock to research mathematicians when the organization representing elementary and secondary school teachers, seemingly without notice or permission, deigned to issue "standards" for mathematics. Mathematicians would say, and did say, "we define mathematics, not you."

[Number three: College professors are stupid.]

[Screw the professors. Screw the kids. Full steam ahead. It doesn't matter if kids aren't prepared for college.]

"I could go on, but won't. But I do want to add that, as with any contentious issue, face-to-face dialog helps bridge differences. With some exceptions, I believe that has happened with protagonists of the math wars. Achieve was one of the first organizations to bring to one table people from all these different perspectives. Subsequently, other groups have made similar efforts, generally with good results. As mathematicians and educators roll up their sleeves to work together on common projects, each learns from the other and the frictions that led to the math wars begin to reduce."

[They do what they want without asking the people who have to teach the product of their actions, and then claim that the solution is to work together. Incredible. I've said before that this is about academic turf and here it is, plain as day.]

wrong, again

I'm reading part two of Dave Marain's interview with Lynn Arthur Steen.

It's terrifically interesting, and, to me, helpful (more later).

But first I have to object:

Here’s an innocent little question, Prof. Steen! The current conflicts in mathematics education are usually referred to as the Math Wars. In your opinion, what were the major contributing factors in spawning this conflict and how would you resolve it?

There are many factors involved. I think I can identify a few, but I have no confidence that I could resolve any of them.

One is the natural tendency of parents to want their children to go through the same education that they received—even when, as often is the case with mathematics, they admit that it was a painful and unsuccessful ordeal. This makes many parents critical of any change, most especially if it introduces approaches that they do not understand and which therefore leaves them unable to help their children with homework.

When, oh when, will experts take an oath to offer expert opinion only on subjects in which they actually possess expertise?

A rhetorical question, I know; the answer is never.

number one: I have never, in my life, ever, heard a parent say, "I want my child to have the same superb math education I had as a kid." Not unless that parent attended Dalton or the public schools of Levittown, PA. And even in the case of the public schools of Levittown, PA, I haven't heard it.*

I personally had a lousy math education, though I did master the basics of arithmetic, including fractions, decimals, and percent, which is more than I can say for the results of my son's lousy math education. Here in middle age I am spending countless hours attempting to remediate my own lousy math education at the same time I'm attempting to remediate the train wreck that is math ed in a 21st century U.S. public middle school.

I would hazard a guess that, within living memory, U.S. public school math education has been one, long, drawn-out, multi-generational saga of lousiness, generally speaking.

number two: Lynn Arthur Steen is not, to my knowledge, a Trained Psychologist.

Nor am I, but I am a Trained Psychology Writer, and as such I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as a "natural tendency of parents to want their children to go through the same education that they received."

There is especially no such thing as a natural tendency for parents to want their kids to go through they same "painful and unsuccessful ordeal" they went through themselves.

If there is a natural tendency at work, it would be a natural tendency of parents to want to protect their children from the painful and unsuccessful ordeals of their own childhoods.

Take me, for example.

I took three years of "high school math."

Now that I'm teaching myself high school algebra, I discover that those 3 years of math were equivalent to perhaps 1 1/2 years of Saxon Math.

That royally ticks me off, lo these many years down the line. Which may have something to do with the betrayal I continue to feel over the fact that my child's "high performing" school tracked my kid out of calculus in high school when he was age 8 without bothering to inform his father and me.

number three: I'm ready for some hard data on the painful and unsuccessful math ordeal we parents are supposed to have suffered as young'uns. How many of us are we talking about here?

How painful?

How unsuccessful?

In 13 years of public schooling, I learned arithmetic, a bit of algebra, and some geometry.

Maybe I'm an outlier, but my school would have had to throw a couple of conic sections and some calculus in there to make it hurt.

* If Lynn Arthur Steen is interested in what actual living, breathing parents have to say about their own math education, it can be summed up in the oft-repeated observation that, "My parents never helped with homework." NOTE: Let me add that Barry Garelick is, even now, developing a far more interesting -- and more nuanced! -- take on this question than anything I've got.

Steve H's comments on Math Notations interview

excerpts I'm copying here, for safekeeping:

Educators are bound and determined to redefine math, but if they want to open career doors, they really need to take a good look at the Math SAT and work backwards.

I had never heard Steve say this before!

I find this extremely useful, not least because of the brevity.

I can remember this, and I can, quite possibly, do this.

Moving right along....

Mastery of skills is paramount. Spelling ... to writers is NOT like math skills is to mathematicians. This is an ignorant analogy.


Affluent kids get private schools, tutors, and help at home. They get high expectations from their parents.

No kidding.

This pretty much captures the reason a lot of us are here.

I seriously doubt that there can be a meeting of the minds when it comes to basic assumptions and expectations. Mastery is a major issue. You can set all of the standards you want. You can force a school to use Singapore Math. If they don't believe in specific grade-level goals of mastery, then even that will fail. Mastery in math is not like spelling. This is not about middle ground.

Being able to spell is not analogous to being able to do long division.

Everyone knows this. The fact that we do have a math war and do not have a spelling war may be all the evidence you need that bad math education is devastating, while bad (or no) spelling education is merely annoying. If I were to spend the next hour Googling survey data, I'm sure I could show that parents universally want their children to be able to spell. Nevertheless, you will have to search far and wide to find a parent setting up web sites and parent advocacy groups to address his schools' failure to provide systemic instruction in spelling.

What about the kids who don't "blossom"? Is a "math brain" or a "spark" required to get an education in math? When my son goes to school, I expect him to pay attention and work hard even if he doesn't like the material. I check his homework daily and set much higher expectations than the school (that's not saying much). I don't tell him that he doesn't have to finish a writing assignment because he isn't motivated. I will try to motivate him and "spark" his interest, but failing that, I will apply (and the school should too) external motivation, like grades and flunking.

Self-motivation is a nice goal, but if it doesn't happen, then schools darn well better do something else.....If schools want math to be a "pump" and not a "filter", then they need to do some hard pumping. Affluent parents do a lot of pumping. Unfortunately, poor kids have to wait for a "spark".

Wonderful stuff!

Which, of course, goes straight to the heart of the problems I've come to realize parents in "high-performing" districts experience:

Schools aren't happy when parents push their kids.

I've been told, directly, "Don't push him." Other parents have been told the same; entire roomfuls of parents here have been told, "Don't push your kids; everyone has his place."

That's close to a direct quote.

Everyone has his place. Don't push.

Affluent schools, in my experience thus far, do what they can to discourage and delegitimize parent pushing.

Speaking of which, C's first writing assignment in ELA is to be a "Personal Motivation Letter":

Now that you are rapidly growing up, changing, and becoming more independent, your future as a life-long learner will become more and more your own choice and your own responsibility. This is a good thing.


2) Write a letter to your English teacher discussing what motivates you and/or when, where or how you become motivated to learn something. Provide at least two or three self-motivating methods.

3) Since this is about self-motivation, do not write about adults you depend upon for motivation.

I'm sure C. will learn from this teacher, but this assignment, as the very first piece of writing the kids are asked to do, is revealing.

For one thing, this teacher (this may be a department assignment - I don't know) is assuming, without having met these kids, that they aren't naturally self-motivated already -- that parents nagging and pushing their kids is a universal in this district:

If you get tired of a parent asking you about your schoolwork, the only way to make it stop is by taking the responsibility yourself on a regular basis. Once a parent sees you have this part of your life under control, everyone in the house will be less “stressed out”.

In fact, Christopher is highly motivated to do his schoolwork, and always has been. This is true of a number of the kids in the class, perhaps a large number. (I don't know them all.)

The nagging and pushing that take place around here are always about our requirement that Christopher do "homework" for us, too.

I'm not sure what he can say to fulfill this assignment. He's not old enough, yet, to have reached the point where he needs self-motivation and anti-procrastination tricks in order to learn something he wants to know. That's because the things he wants to know are pretty simple to learn (cheats for videogames come to mind).

It's not like he's sitting around thinking, "I really want to learn calculus."

That day will come (let us hope), but a desire to learn a demanding and difficult subject is not a feature of most 8th graders' lives.

The fact that this assignment was given to students this teacher has just met tells you something important about how my district perceives parents (and kids). The universal assumption, sometimes explicit, sometimes implied, is that pushy parents are a problem.

Kids need to separate from pushy parents; schools need to help kids separate.

My sense is that affluent schools see pushy parents the same way all schools seem to see state tests.

The truth is that pushy parents and state tests are a problem for the school, not the kids.

One could argue that all education is a spiral.


pissed off teacher

Terrific blog written by a NYC math teacher.

I'm going to read the whole thing.

Her posts on math teaching are here.

we have comments


That was easy.

Thank you, Hackosphere.

bloggers can implement stuff, too

Brace yourselves.

I am going to attempt to install the Hackosphere Recent Comments widget on kitchen table math, the sequel.

The words "If Ken can do it, I can do it" are ringing in my head.

I acknowledge that, in taking this action, I have chosen to ignore a core tenet of common sense: never listen to words ringing in your head.


Speaking of Ken, "Miller is a whiny bitch"?


Can I say "Miller is a whiny bitch" on ktm-2?

I don't think I can.

Ken has all the fun.

back by popular demand

Catching Sparrows

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Trailblazers kids hit the Middle School

I mentioned in a comment that our first class of Trailblazers kids entered 6th grade this fall.

Our new principal geared up for them by spending much of last year attempting to get rid of the 6th grade accelerated math class altogether. This was justified to furious parents by references to middle school teachers not knowing how to teach Trailblazers kids, needing time for training in the ways of Trailblazers (skinnies, bits, etc.), or some such. I think the idea was to keep all the kids in the same class in 6th grade, then create an accelerated track in 7th.

He didn't manage to make this happen. We still have an accelerated math class in 6th grade, now populated by Trailblazers kids who have come to middle school further behind than kids in previous years.

Students in Susan's district weren't so lucky:

Our little Trailblazer First Wavers hit the middle school [this year], also. The district responded by restructuring the math department to better "align" with the grade schools. Accelerated 6th grade pre-algebra has gone missing. Can't imagine why.

dept of greatest hits: how to spell part 2

I don't know if I knew what constructivism was when I wrote this post about the Mapleton Teacher-Research Group in June 2005. (hit refresh a couple of times if the post doesn't come up) I'd heard of "fuzzy math," obviously, but I don't think I realized that the entire country, including my own district, was undergoing sweeping constructivist "reform," and had been for some time.

I certainly didn't know that ed schools had been teaching nothing but constructivism since the 1980s.

I found out about the Mapleton Teacher-Researcher group when I picked up a copy of their book, Spelling Inquiry, at the K-3 school here in Irvington and started leafing through it.

That should have been a sign.

does good spelling help reading?

As far as I can tell, no one knows the answer to this question for sure.

My sense is that people who research spelling expect the answer will be 'yes,' which is what I expect, too.

Much about spelling is puzzling. Our society expects that any educated person can spell, yet literate adults commonly characterize themselves as poor spellers and make spelling mistakes. Many children have trouble spelling, but we do not know how many, or in relation to what standard, because state accountability assessments seldom include a direct measure of spelling competence. Few state standards specify what, exactly, a student at each grade level should be able to spell, and most subsume spelling under broad topics such as written composition and language proficiency. State writing tests may not even score children on spelling accuracy, as they prefer to lump it in with other “mechanical” skills in the scoring rubrics.

Nevertheless, research has shown that learning to spell and learning to read rely on much of the same underlying knowledge — such as the relationships between letters and sounds — and, not surprisingly, that spelling instruction can be designed to help children better understand that key knowledge, resulting in better reading. Catherine Snow et al. summarize the real importance of spelling for reading as follows: “Spelling and reading build and rely on the same mental representation of a word. Knowing the spelling of a word makes the representation of it sturdy and accessible for fluent reading.” In fact, Ehri and Snowling found that the ability to read words “by sight” (i.e. automatically) rests on the ability to map letters and letter combinations to sounds. Because words are not very visually distinctive (for example, car, can, cane), it is impossible for children to memorize more than a few dozen words unless they have developed insights into how letters and sounds correspond. Learning to spell requires instruction and gradual integration of information about print, speech sounds, and meaning — these, in turn, support memory for whole words, which is used in both spelling and sight reading.
How Spelling Supports Reading by Louisa Moats (pdf file)

I briefly told my own story of C. beginning to read again after starting Megawords. Until 4th grade, C. had been a terrific early reader, years ahead of grade level. He was one of those kids who more or less taught himself to read.

Then, going into 5th grade (I think), he had stopped reading, right on schedule. Apparently it's not uncommon for good readers to "lose interest" around that age, or so I had read. Google isn't giving me a reference to good readers experiencing a 4th grade slump, so memory will have to serve; I think I'd read about a "good reader slump" in a book on the subject of making your child into a lifelong reader, or some such.

C. was also, and I don't think this is a coincidence, a terrible speller. Excellent reader, terrible speller.

That is an interesting thing about spelling, btw.

It is possible to be an excellent reader and a poor speller.

It is not possible to be an excellent speller and a poor reader. (I think I have this on the authority of Moats; will have to check.)

Not long after we started work with Megawords, he began to read again.

My guess is that perhaps Megawords helped him focus on decoding syllables instead of letters. He'd just started the series, so he hadn't learned the various syllables, suffixes, prefixes, that Megawords teaches.....which is why I think Megawords may simply have pushed him to start focusing on natural breaks in words. I'm guessing, too, that he was such a good "natural" reader (I feel pretty confident making that statement) that once he'd been told, by Megawords, to look at syllables instead of letters, he picked this skill up quickly.

Fifth grade was also the year he had the brilliant Ms. Duque as his teacher. In class, she had the kids read out loud by syllables. They used their fingers to cover up each syllable in a word as they went along.

So he had Megawords at home, and "syllabic reading" at school..... and he is today, in 8th grade, a good reader.

My feeling about spelling and reading is: better safe than sorry.

If it's even possible spelling may support reading, it's irresponsible of schools not to teach it.

spelling & writing blog

Daily Writing Tips

The most efficient way to learn to spell a word is to approach it phonogram by phonogram, and not letter by letter.

A phonogram is a written symbol that stands for a sound.

The word pal, for example, contains three letters, each of which is also a phonogram: /p-a-l/. The word church , on the other hand, contains six letters, but only three phonograms: /ch-ur-ch/.

Learn to spell by Phonograms, not Letters

Here is How Do I Become a Better Speller:
A college freshman asked me how to spell “valiant” and when I did, he wondered why it was not “-ent”. He asked how I knew that and I had no idea how to respond! All along, I’ve been a terrific speller, even winning some spelling bees in my younger years. But after some thoughtful consideration and reference to my classes on teaching English, I have come up with a few helpful tips:

1. The number one thing that bolsters your spelling ability is reading. The two are so inherently linked that it is almost impossible to be a good speller without being a good reader.

Without knowing anything about this blogger, I'll go ahead and say that I'm sure this is true.

This probably explains why it's possible to teach your own child to spell with nothing beyond Megawords and a child who is able to read fluently.

This makes sense, too:

4. Writing frequently also helps you to spell with more precision. You will quickly learn which words “look right” and if not, never hesitate to consult a dictionary. Once you’ve written a word correctly a few times, you will start to remember this.

Numbers 1 and 4 probably explain me. I've always been good at spelling. I was the kind of kid who won spelling bees, back when teachers were allowed to have spelling bees.

I was also a bookworm, and, as I grew older, I started to write a lot, too.

I didn't write papers; when I went to Wellesley I hadn't written a single paper for a high school class.

I wrote letters.

Alan Greenspan says we should pay math teachers more

Alan Greenspan served as Federal Reserve Chairman for six presidents. In yesterday’s WSJ article about his new book, I found this interesting tidbit.

Rising income inequality could undo "the cultural ties that bind our society" and even lead to "large-scale violence." The remedy, he says, is not higher taxes on the rich but improved education, which can be helped by paying math teachers more.
I do not disagree. It’s part of the solution, along with other education and government reforms. I wonder what Greenspan thinks of school choice? That’s a sure way to bring math teachers’ salaries closer to market level.

Also, I think this is somewhat unfortunate, but true.

From serving under so many presidents, Mr. Greenspan concludes that there's something abnormal about anyone willing to do what it takes to get the job. Mr. Ford, he writes, "was as close to normal as you get in a president, but he was never elected."
Greenspan Book Criticizes Bush And Republicans

update: from Catherine

Diving into Tex's post, this passage from the Greenspan article caught my attention:

In coming years, as the globalization process winds down, he predicts inflation will become harder to contain. Recent increases in the price of imports from China and a rise in long-term interest rates suggest "the turn may be upon us sooner rather than later."

I'm old enough to be continually astonished at how well Americans live these days. The sheer amount of stuff Americans of modest means own is incredible compared to what I had as a child and a young adult.

I don't understand economics, but I gather the "gadget bounty" we enjoy is due to our ability to buy inexpensive consumer goods from Asia. (pls correct me -- )

Ed says that, historically, rising inequality is a bad thing.

Of course, I think it's correct to say that Americans have a high tolerance for income inequality. I know I do, and I'm speaking of my many days living on the relative have-not side of things.* But if history is a guide, and I presume that history is a guide, there are limits.

I guess what I'm saying is, if DVRs and flat-screen TVs and Blackberries start costing an arm and a leg -- as such things used to do -- we may hit that limit sooner rather than later.

* I still live on the relative have-not side of things here in Irvington....for pretty much my entire adult life I've lived in communities filled with people far wealthier than I.