kitchen table math, the sequel: 9/23/07 - 9/30/07

Saturday, September 29, 2007

cumulative practice, part 1

Steve's & Lynn's EM exchange has prompted me finally to get something put up about the cumulative practice study I read this summer.

It was life-altering (seriously).

Here's the abstract, more later:

This study compared three different methods of teaching five basic algebra rules to college students. All methods used the same procedures to teach the rules and included four 50- question review sessions interspersed among the training of the individual rules. The differences among methods involved the kinds of practice provided during the four review sessions. Participants who received cumulative practice answered 50 questions covering a mix of the rules learned prior to each review session. Participants who received a simple review answered 50 questions on one previously trained rule. Participants who received extra practice answered 50 extra questions on the rule they had just learned. Tests administered after each review included new questions for applying each rule (application items) and problems that required novel combinations of the rules (problem-solving items). On the final test, the cumulative group outscored the other groups on application and problem-solving items. In addition, the cumulative group solved the problem-solving items significantly faster than the other groups. These results suggest that cumulative practice of component skills is an effective method of training problem solving.

The Effects of Cumulative Practice on Mathematics Problem Solving
Kristin H. Mayfield and Philip Chase
Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis Summer 2002, 35, 105-123

Cumulative practice is different from mixed review and from the embedded practice I see in the Dressler books, which were written in the 1960s. More later.

I'm now basing everything I do on 3 articles. This one, the one Concerned found on overlearning, and the article on "shuffling" math problems.

I have all 3.

I'm thinking of starting a Yahoo list for ktm, so I can post them there and people can download them if they like.

How illegal is that?


Increasing Retention Time Without Increasing Study Time
Doug Rohrer and Harold Pashler
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2007
Volume 16, Number 4

The Effects of Cumulative Practice on Mathematics Problem Solving
Kristin H. Mayfield and Philip Chase
Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis Summer 2002, 35, 105-123

The shuffling of mathematics problems improves learning
Doug Rohrer & Kelli Taylor
Instructional Science 2007

knowledge is good

Ideas are everywhere, but knowledge is rare.

Knowledge and Decisions
Thomas Sowell
p. 3

mini word problems

Tex asked earlier about the component skills involved in solving word problems, which sent me back to the old site searching for the posts we wrote about mini word problems.

I'm not sure these are directly on-point, but they're useful nonetheless.

I'm still enamored by the concept of "out loud" word problems, which I pretty much forgot about after writing the post saying out-loud problems were a good idea.

March 6, 2006 how do you teach your child word problems?
March 7, 2006 mini word problems
Apri 23, 2007 arithmetic to algebra

component skills


We must all re-read exo's posts.

I'm starting a component skill list:

  • underline or circle the values you need to "pull out" of the problem (someone else will need to word this properly)
  • draw a chart

more t/k

Ed just got back from Stew Leonard's/Costco, so the next hour of my life is accounted for...

Steve's blog

from another comment thread:

"Top-down means that students begin with complex problems to solve and then work out or discover (with the teacher's guidance) the basic skills required."

Steve H:
It never happens, unless you redefine what basic skills are required.

["Top-down means that students begin with complex problems to solve and then work out or discover (with the teacher's guidance) the basic skills required."]

Steve H has been talking a lot about "top-down".

I am wondering if he is using the term in the same sense described above?

Steve said...

"I am wondering if he is using the term in the same sense described above?"

I think I am, but one never knows. Ed school definitions are so fluid. It means that mastery of content and skills are never attacked directly, only as a by-product of other learning.

The is the biggest problem with Everyday Math. There is no initial mastery of the material (except for a few kids). They move right along to new material. This is perhaps better described as distributed mastery. Like top-down learning, mastery of basic skills never gets done properly for many kids.

I have the "new improved" edition of sixth grade Everyday Math and I am amazed at how this jumps out at me. They might have a lesson on some subject that takes up 3 or 4 pages. Often, one or two of the pages are "math boxes" that have little or nothing to do with the subject of that lesson. They are simply review problems of material that should have been mastered in previous years. This is not in-context review of skills. This is just practice that should have been finished long ago. I've been meaning to give some examples and show how different it is from Singapore Math. It appears that 40 percent of the material in Everyday Math is review work. This is NOT distributed practice after mastery. This is distributed mastery, spiraling mastery, or perhaps even top-down mastery. The problem with EM is that there are so many review pages that it's almost impossible to get through all of the units.

What are the component skills needed for solving word problems?

Is it even useful to ask this question because there can be so many ways to approach the same problem? How would you describe the process of learning how to solve word problems? Actually, I’m sure there are component skills, and I’m just as sure I have no idea how to describe them.

The reason I’m trying to understand this is that I secured an unenthusiastic agreement that our school would attempt to incorporate shorter-term benchmark objectives into my daughter’s annual IEP goals. One of the goals is word problems, and it seems that the benchmarks should be the component skills involved.

The IEP committee chair remarked at the meeting that the teachers are the “experts”, and therefore they should have a good handle on this. On the other hand, maybe they don’t.

A basic idea in learning theory is that complex skills can be analyzed to see what the component parts are, so that these components can be taught individually to develop component skills. In reading, for example, a student learns how to decode words (phonics) and that the page is organized from left to right and top to bottom. As these skills become automatic the teacher and student pay less attention to them and a shift is made to more complex reading tasks. Constructivism, Complete Math and Integrated Content all work against the idea that component skills in math can be identified and taught, and that these form building blocks for subsequent learning.
Mathematically Correct

I’m a little afraid of what they’ll come up with, so I want to be prepared.

One annual goal might be: “When presented with grade-level word problems dealing with a variety of curriculum concepts and skills, the student will read and solve the problems.” What would be the component skills (to be used as benchmark objectives) for this?

To use an example:
Tim earned $7 for each of the 4 days he raked leaves in his neighbor’s yard. He spent $10 to buy a new rake. How much did he have left? Explain.

In order to solve this problem, you need to know:
-- Reading comprehension – Seems obvious, but how exactly would you assess? By using standard reading comprehension tests?
-- How to apply an appropriate heuristic – ?? With reform math, anything goes. Including guess & check.
-- Which mathematical operation(s) to use – Seems easy to assess.
-- Plug correct numbers into the selected operations - ??
-- Computation, multiplication and addition – Easy to assess

I’m really completely lost in trying to understand this. Wouldn’t a teacher know the skills, the steps? Maybe not, considering the type of teaching commonly in use today.

Los Angeles Times: The Homeroom Blog : Southern California schools, from the inside out

Check out this post from new TFA physics teacher and L.A. times blogger Lance Chapman.

He has discovered the need for standard algorithms in his first month of teaching.

I knew my students would need remedial work, but I had no idea it would be to this extent. One of the first standards for eighth-grade physical science is manipulating this equation: speed equals distance divided by time (S = D/T). This is a foundation for upper-level skills in physical science. Next come velocity, acceleration, and gravity. I knew that many of my eighth-grade students would have trouble converting fractions into decimals, but I never fathomed that 10 divided by 2 would give so many of them trouble.
That was a week and a half ago. I am thrilled today that almost all of my students can divide and convert fractions to decimals (based on a test). I am scheduling one-on-one tutoring with the other students to ensure that they will be able to do so, too. I realized that what they needed was a recipe, something to follow every time so that it was systematic. [emphasis mine]
What, you mean having the students discover their own methods of doing math won't work?

Brrrrrrr... it's cold

No, I haven't frozen to death here in Alaska.

I am sorry to say that the Anchorage school system is no different from that of the lower 48.

The most disappointing thing is how much lower the standards are here, compared with South Carolina. I skimmed through my kids math books, and the standards aren't very high. I feel like my kids lost a year.

In other news, Alaska is beautiful and we have moose hanging out in our backyard.

Friday, September 28, 2007

On Plagiarism

The Homeroom: Los Angeles Schools from the Inside Out

English & Government teacher, Lauren McCabe, writes:

As I sat at the airport last weekend, grading my students’ summer reading essays and waiting to take off, I was angry. Not because of the tardiness of my flight, but because I was looking at 15 plagiarized essays from my seniors, seniors who knew better. They had all summer to read a book and write this five-paragraph essay on any topic they wanted. After I read over two essays and saw the exact same words, sentences and paragraphs, it wasn't hard to figure out that these papers had been copied.

read the blog

The root cause

(Cross-posted at D-Ed Reckoning)

One persistent problem in education is the ambiguous teacher presentation. A presentation is ambiguous when it can be interpreted in more than one way by a student. Since we know that children differ in their ability to learn, it should not be surprising that some of them will interpret an ambiguous presentation incorrectly. And, more often than not, it will be the less smart kids that will tend to make the most misinterpretations.

Here's an example of the typical ambiguous teacher presentation from Engelmann's book Your Child Can Succeed from 1969.

"Look at what I have," the teacher says, holding up a card that illustrates a red ball. The teacher then points to various cards on the floor in front of six four-year-olds. "who can find a card that is the same color as this card?"

The little boy next to Andy holds up a card with a yellow ball on it. A little girl picks up three cards and puts one of them into her mouth.

Andy looks at the teacher for a moment before returning his attention to his shoelaces.

"Listen, boys and girls. I want you to find a card that is the same color as the card that I have here."

Two of the children hold up the cards that they have selected. A girl shows two cards. None is identical to the teacher's.

Apparently unperturbed, the teacher picks up a card with a picture of a red apple. "This card is the same color as the other card that I have. Andy, look at the cards. Andy . . ."

Andy looks tentatively at the teacher. He doesn't look at the
cards. Instead, he looks intently at her face, trying to figure out her game.

"Andy," she continues, "look at the two cards. They are the same color, aren't they?"

Without removing his stare from her face, Andy nods yes.

The teacher says, "And what color are the ball and the apple?"

"Re . . ." a little girl shouts.

"Re . . ."two other children mimic.

The teacher says, "They are red, aren't they, Andy?"

Andy nods yes.

"Can you find something else that is red?" the teacher asks.

Andy looks at his shoes. He then points cautiously in the direction of three or four cards.

"Is one of these red?" the teacher asks.

Andy nods and says, "Yeh," almost inaudibly.

The teacher picks up a card that displays another red apple.

"This is red, isn't it?" she says. "Were you pointing to this

Andy glances quickly at the card and then back to the teacher's
face. He nods yes.

"Leon," the teacher says, "what color is this?"

"Re . . . " Leon says loudly with his hands over his ears.

The teacher then holds up a card showing a green evergreen tree." And what color is this?"

"Re . . . " Leon says.

"Re . . . " one of the little girls says.

"Re . . . " Andy says.

Has the teacher actually taught anything through this activity? Was it possible for the teacher's presentation to teach all of the children? It seems that the teacher assumed that the children understood the concept of "color" when they did not. This might be an assumption in a middle-class school. But, it probably is not a safe assumption in a "poverty" school. But let's forget about the children's abilities for a moment and focus on the concept of color that the teacher was trying to teach and see if her presentation was capable of teaching it to a very intelligent being who didn't happen to know what red meant. Engelmann continues:

Since red is the same for all people, it is reasonable to begin with a simple analysis of the concept to see what it is that all people must learn about red. Red is a visual property. It is not dependent on the size of the object or on the object's position, shape, or texture. The first requirement of a demonstration designed to teach red, therefore, would be that the demonstration make it clear that red has only to do with that visual property of redness. Andy's teacher did not satisfy this requirement. All of the red objects were round, implying that red may have something to do with shape. Therefore, we could expect that a being with superior intelligence might come away from the teaching demonstration confused about the meaning of red. Specifically, this being might show us through his behavior that he thinks that red is another word for round object or that red is something that only applies to two-dimensional objects on a card.

Since the presentation would not be consistently capable of teaching a naive being with superior intelligence, maybe Andy, Leon, and some of the other children are not completely at fault for not learning from the demonstration. Maybe they would have responded well to a demonstration that carefully showed what red means. We can't make any clean assertions about the problems the children might have had, but it seems presumptuous to declare that the children ... should have been able to extract the appropriate interpretation from the teacher's presentation even if it was not logically possible to do so.

It is difficult to explain the difference between a demonstration that will teach and one that won't. So, Engelmann makes up an example that adults can better relate to since adults understand the concept of color.

Let's say that a teacher presented each of these objects:

The teacher says that each is a "glerm."

Next, the teacher presents this object and asks you if it is a glerm:

The response of virtually any child or adult would be "Yes."

Now the teacher presents this object and asks if it is glerm:

We cannot predict what your response will be. If we present the task to thirty different people, we can predict that over half of them will say, "Yes, it's a glerm." The others will say, "No, it is not a glerm."

In any case, some who respond will fail the task. The response of those that fail, however, is a reasonable response. Both responses are consistent with the presentation of the objects. One person might interpret the presentation this way: "The teacher showed a group of objects. All were rectangles and all were called glerms. Then the teacher presented another rectangle and asked if it was a glerm. I said, 'Yes.'"

Another person might interpret the presentation this way: "All of the initial objects were vertical. It seemed more than accidental that they were all vertical. The teacher then presented a rectangle that was not vertical and asked if it was a glerm. I said, 'No.'"

Now imagine that glerm did in fact mean vertical, but you thought, quite reasonably, that glerm meant rectangle. What happens when the teacher starts teaching more advanced material that relies on the concept of glerm and uses the word "glerm" in later presentations to describe the glerminess of objects? Do you think your ability to learn these advanced concepts might become more difficult because your understanding of glerm is wrong?

What is education but a series ambiguous teacher presentations designed to teach increasingly difficult concepts. Sooner or later someone is going to label an understanding of these advanced concepts "higher order thinking" and your inability to engage in this "higher order thinking" is eventually going to get you labelled a dummy or worse. Is it true that you're incapable of engaging in higher order thinking or is it simply that you lack the understanding of a bunch of prerequisite lower-order concepts, like "glerm," that prevents you from engaging in higher order thinking? We don't know, but that won't stop us from theorizing about your deficiencies.

Some people will notice that you and people like you tend to have lower IQs. People with low IQs tend to have a difficult time engaging in the kind of abstract problem solving that is needed to tease out and synthesize the correct concepts from the thousands of ambiguously presented concepts, both in and out of the classroom, one needs to understand in order to become "educated." Your low IQ will become a severe burden in becoming educated and will ultimately be a brutal predictor of your academic success under such less than ideal learning conditions.

Other people will notice that you and people like you tended not to have the kind of parents that made sure that you entered formal education knowing what the typical middle-class kid is expected to know. This is because teachers base their presentations on the typical middle-class child. That's why the hypothetical teacher's presentation of red in the beginning of the post would tend to convey the concept of redness to a typical middle-class kid who came into school with an understanding of the concept of color and probably already understood the concept of red. It's also why the presentation would almost certainly fail to teach the concept of red to a child who does not understand the concept of color in the first place. This is one reason why balanced literacy/ whole language finds some success with kids who come into school with a good understanding of the alphabetic principle, with good phoneme aware, and some rudimentary phonics skills. Same goes for fuzzy math.

Others will notice that having good parents correlates with academic success. Good parents make sure the child goes to school on a regular basis, well fed and ready to learn. Good parents also tend to monitor their child's academic progress and will ensure that the child understands imperfectly presented concepts and will help the child learn these concepts outside of school (reteaching or hiring a tutor if necessary). In short, good parents will maximize a student's likelihood of academic success and will make sure the student successfully navigates the shoals of choppy academic waters.

Others will notice that having a good teacher, say a hero teacher, also correlates highly with academic success. Maybe the hero teacher is able to present a better academic presentation that is less likely to induce wrong interpretations. Perhaps the hero teacher is better at monitoring student progress and ensuring that students are understanding the right concepts. Maybe the hero teacher is a good motivator of students and is able to keep the student motivated while he struggles to learn the concepts he is expected to learn. Maybe the hero teacher is able to act as a substitute for bad, uncaring, or incapable parents. Hero teachers tend to have some or all of these skills which correlate highly with academic success.

Lastly, others will focus on your motivation. More specifically, they will notice your lack of motivation to learn. It is the rare child that enters kindergarten unmotivated to learn and it is the rare child that leaves fifth grade motivated to learn unless that child has experienced academic success in the ensuing six years. Clearly, something inside the school environment went horribly wrong from a motivation standpoint during this time, yet for some reason motivational problems rarely get blamed on schools. Perhaps it's because elementary schools are quite adept at labelling students to excuse their inability to learn from the ambiguous teacher presentations. You didn't learn because you are learning disabled, brain damaged, not ready to learn, have a different learning style, and the like. Eventually, however, middle school and high school teachers will notice this lack of motivation to learn. They didn't see the six years of academic abuse that was experienced in elementary school. But, they do see that the students are unmotivated in their class. These students lack the gumption and drive needed to not only remedy all their past academic deficiencies but to also engage in the same punishing presentations that have failed them in the past. Should the student have the Sisyphean motivation to do the work now, the student's likely reward will be to graduate at the bottom of the class with real skills far below grade level. That's quite the plum. Some students may be dull, but you're not stupid.

Here are a few recent posts from some teacher blogs venting because their classrooms are full of unmotivated and/or disruptive students. (Make sure you read the comments.) I do sympathize with these teachers. They find themselves in an impossible situation, the direct result of bad school policies enacted to deal with students their schools have been unable to successfully teach. I'm not quite sure any tenth grade teacher is capable of teaching tenth grade material to a classroom full of students with skills ranging from 3rd to 12th grade, to give but one example.

But do notice the reasons these teachers are giving as to why some students aren't learning in their classrooms. It's usually one of the following: it's the students fault, the student's parents' fault, society's fault, or some other excuse external to the school environment. Sometimes, it'll be a school specific factor that is other than an instructional factor. More funding and smaller classrooms are the usual recommended cures despite the fact that both of these panaceas have a long history of not living up to the research base they supposedly have. At least not in the real world. Occasionally, a teacher will question his teaching ability and the ability of the string of teachers that have profoundly affected the students before they got to his classroom. But that questioning is usually fleeting and generally doesn't result in any teacher changing what they are doing instructionally. At least not in a way that improves instruction except in the most superficial of ways. Things have not really changed on an instructional level since Engelmann penned his passage on glerms nearly 40 years ago.

While the "glerm" example may seem far removed from the classroom situation, the "glerm" format is perfectly analogous to the one that the naive child encounters in the classroom. The teacher says a strange or unfamiliar word. She then gives an example that illustrates the word. She may say the word red and present an object that is an example for red, perhaps a picture of a red apple. "See? It's red," she says. And from this kind of demonstration the child is supposed to figure out what red means, just as you had to figure out what glerm means. The child must try to figure out whether the word red means an apple, something shiny, something the teacher is holding, the color of the object, or the position, or whether simply a word that the teacher uses arbitrarily.

Since any of these interpretations is consistent with the teacher's presentation, we shouldn't conclude that the child is "slow" for selecting a wrong interpretation. The labeling should be deferred until the teacher has provided a presentation that is far less ambiguous.

It does not follow from:

bad instruction + one or more external factors = academic failure


academic failure is caused by the one or more external factors.

especially since

good instruction + one or more external factors = academic success (at least in some cases)

As Engelmann suggests, let's save the excuse making until we clean up our instructional act.

Summer School Math

Last Wednesday night, two teachers gave a presentation to our local board of ed about the summer school program. I'll spare you the details (unless you like hyperbole and don't mind if there's little data to support your rosy conclusions). One board member asked if the program should be expanded and how many kids could benefit (again, you have to assume that there is a benefit, because they never demonstrated one).

Here's the numbers, 85 kids attended summer school.
Teacher One: About 20% of elementary students could benefit from additional help over the summer.
The superintendent: There's roughly 800 kids in the elementary school.
Teacher Two: That means about 100 kids could use the program.
Teacher One shouts from the back: "96! 20% of the students would be 96!"
The superintendent smiling broadly: Did you use Everyday Math to figure that?
The Board Chair: I guess we need to triple the size of summer school.

I just sat there dumbfounded.

Yes, she used Everyday Math and got a wildly inaccurate number. 20% of 800 is 160, not 96.
which is just under doubling the current size of summer school.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

homework log #2

TIME: 1/2 hour
8:30 pm start
9:00 pm finish
HOME SCENE: both dogs have been skunked; I need to mix up skunk solution and bathe them but can’t because I must help C. with test; Andrew is tantruming upstairs; Ed has evening meeting; etc.

C. is still stacking equations vertically in order to solve; says it’s easier; says the other 8th graders do it this way, too

I tell him grownups don’t do it this way; he insists he must do it this way; yes-no, yes-no, yes-no

I attempt to demonstrate to him, a la Mathematics 6 by Nurk and Telgmaa, that when you “move” a term from one side to the other you switch signs, but he is resistant - will leave this 'til weekend & then insist

life would be far easier around here if his (male) teachers would encourage him to adopt and practice the classic, efficient mode of solving a simple linear equation, as opposed to having me do it

“Your father doesn’t stack equations vertically” etc.

[thought balloon: not fun, taxes too high....]

still mixes up and omits negative signs constantly; handwriting wasn’t taught to proficiency in IUFSD, & continues to be illegible & an obstacle to doing math problems and calculations correctly

has trouble distributing a negative [e.g. -5(x+2) ]

C. is confused by this problem, but solves it correctly:
P. 182: 35
3 - 5/6y = 2 + 16y

Needs substantial help with this one:
P. 187: 15
Solve 7(x+2) + 4(2x-3) = 47 for x.

Doesn't realize that “solve for x,” in this context, simply means “solve the equation.” Has only seen the phrase “solve for x” in the context of literal equations; his knowlege is inflexible and does not transfer.

I will need to monitor this, as the school will not.

I point out that there is only one variable in this equation; therefore it is solveable; he can find a numeric value for x. He does not know that if you have 2 variables you need 2 equations; if you have 3 variables you need 3 equations, etc. Has no sense why some equations have one number as a solution, while others have “no solution” or a “variable” as a solution.

Ed says C. doesn’t really know what a variable is (based on last night’s work).

C. can now set up and solve a simple distance problem in one variable (below). He has learned this in approximately one week’s time.

tonight’s problem:
A cargo plane left an airport at noon and flew toward New York at the average rate of 400 miles per hour. At 2 P.M. a passenger plane left the same airport for New York and flew the same route as the cargo plane at the average rate of 560 miles per hour. How many miles did the passenger plane fly before it overtook the cargo plane?

cargo plane
rate 400 mph
time x
distance 400x

passenger plane
rate 560 mph
time x-2
distance 560(x-2)

Chris sets up chart correctly, then writes equation correctly:
400x = 560(x-2)

He solves the equation correctly, coming up with:
x = 7
400x = 2800 miles

However, he does not then realize that 560(x-2) must equal 2800, too, nor does he realize that solving 400x and 560(x-2) and making sure the values are equal is the way to check his answer. Lacks conceptual understanding of what the equations he has set up actually mean in terms of the story problem.

Also, he doesn’t seem to have heard about the concept of checking one’s answer.

homework log #2

Doug on malice, etc.

How do you guys acquire so much knowledge??

First, IANAL; this is not legal advice; see a 1st amendment lawyer that you are paying for advice for real advice.

That said, on the defamation issue, the issue was commentary on public employees' performance of their duties. As I understand the law, that would put this firmly within the ambit of Sullivan v. NY Times, and they would have to prove "actual malice" to recover anything.

Actual malice requires a statement made with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for its truth or falsity. (Note that statements that are clearly opinions are protected.) In practice, that means that it would be kicked on a pretrial motion. You might be even able to get sanctions against any lawyer that would seriously try to press this, since it's pretty clearly a frivolous claim.

Let's just say that I'm not even slightly worried about the statements that a posted in those threads, and I got a bit heated at times.

Mixed messages

I was pondering the disconnect between two very recent "news items".

On the one hand, everyone is gushing about the improvements in math scores on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress. I'm reading about it everywhere, it seems. On the other hand, the U.S. is sitting out the Advanced TIMSS which is designed to show how our advanced students compare to those in other countries. Strangely enough, I'm NOT reading about that everywhere.

It seems we've managed to raise the floor (every so slightly) while letting the ceiling come crashing down. I guess that puts "good enough" somewhere in the middle.

Apparently, the goal is mediocrity. Based on those parameters, I'd say we're right on track.

Cross-posted at Mindless Math Mutterings.

Linda Seebach has a blog!!!


The Eclectic Linda

I wonder if I can finally get her to join ktm? (She couldn't do so until she retires from her newspaper work.)

But look at black students separately, and Minnesota is dull yellow average on all four tests. Likewise, it is average for Hispanic students on all four tests. For white students, it is above average statistically on three of the four, but by only a few points. The state owes its high ranking primarily to the fact that it draws a larger proportion of its students from groups that on average score higher.

The preening of officials notwithstanding, the weather probably deserves more credit for state outcomes than they do.

I love Linda.

Confessions of a University Teaching Assistant

In the margins of one paper I was grading I wrote, “The plural of ‘woman’ is ‘women’.” In another I underlined “lead” and wrote, “The past tense of the verb ‘to lead’ is ‘led’.” On almost every paper I wrote, “Weak thesis”, “Unclear organization”, or “Needs topic sentence”. I was not grading papers from fifth graders, as one might expect from a lesson on proper plurals of common nouns. I was not grading junior high, or even high school papers. Rather, I was grading college papers as a teaching assistant at a top California university.

After three years as a high school teacher, I was eager to experience teaching at the university level. As a doctoral student, I was responsible for leading discussion sections and determining grades for thirty to forty-five students each quarter. I looked forward to teaching the best and brightest students in California. After all, I was at the University of California, and according to the California Master Plan for Education, the UC system was “to select its freshmen students from the top one-eighth (12.5%) of the high school graduating class.” The average high school GPA for students entering the nine UC campuses in fall 2006 ranged between 3.58 for UC Merced to 4.17 for UC Berkeley. These are students used to succeeding in school.

The students I taught were bright, some of them exceptionally so. They worked hard, attended class, and came to office hours for help. They grasped complicated ideas and asked good questions in section. But they could not write. Somewhere, at some point, California’s public education system has failed these bright and motivated students.

I should not have had to teach college students basic plural forms, or the past tense of commonly used verbs. They should have had rigorous writing instruction in junior high and high school, so that such mistakes would be the exception rather than the rule. But in class after class for which I have served as teaching assistant, the students have lacked important writing skills. From the level of organization to the execution of individual sentences, students have required long hours of class work and individual coaching in office hours. And despite my most valiant efforts combined with dedication and hard work by students, their writing still needed work by the end of the quarter. Quarters last only ten to twelve weeks. Writing should be taught and refined over the course of years. By the time students reach college, they should have a basic command of grammar, syntax, and style.

I’m not arguing that all students should write perfectly. After all, graduate students and professors still work on their own writing. But the ability to organize thoughts coherently and to communicate effectively does not require literary genius.

As a high school teacher I also noticed this problem. But I taught at an urban school in a district with a notoriously bad track record. I wasn’t surprised to get high school students who had not been familiarized with thesis statements. Then, at least, I was able to work with students for an entire year. By the end, they could all develop a thesis and a well-organized supporting argument. There were still many gaps, but I hoped as they moved on through high school these would be filled in.

I assumed that by the time California’s best students reached college, they would be able to write. So I was stunned by my first round of paper grading, where I saw the same mistakes my high school freshmen made, and sometimes even more egregious errors. For this, there can be no excuse.

These students are bright, and most are highly motivated and hardworking. They can’t know what they haven’t been taught. They have been getting As and accolades throughout their high school careers without being held accountable for the knowledge and skills necessary for success. It is not that these students are incapable of possessing these skills. It is not a matter of ability or desire. It is a matter of education.

I’m not blaming individual high school teachers. I was one myself, and I know how hard that job is. I’m blaming a system that has encouraged mediocrity in the name of self-esteem and allowed for grade inflation that masks serious holes in knowledge. That system serves no one but the bureaucrats and politicians who depend on it. It certainly doesn’t serve the bright and capable students who it has failed to educate.

Source: Not as Good as Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice

Everyday Math introduces new web site for parents

For fans of Everyday Math, you may be interested in the new website for parents that the Wright Group just put up. It's located here and it even has a handy link to NCTM in case you want to enhance the experience.

They've thought of everything including a PowerPoint presentation for parents.

If you download it, please view it in "notes" view because they have extensive commentary in the notes section that is worth the price of admission. For example, on the first slide they come up with some interesting factoids such as "40% of adults hated math in school" and "84% of middle schoolers would rather do “anything” other than math homework". For those of us who may be critical thinkers and actually question such statements and where they were derived, the Wright Group is thinking of YOU. If you look at the "notes" page for this slide you will see that they give references and even explain what they mean:

Some of us love math. Many of us just hate it. According to an AP-AOL News poll of 1,000 adults, almost four in 10 of those surveyed said they hated math in school. That's twice as many as felt that strongly about any other school subject. And the dislike of math often trickles down to our children. A survey by Raytheon Co. found the vast majority of middle-school students would rather eat their vegetables, take out the garbage, clean their rooms or go to the dentist than study math. In fact, about 84 percent of students between the ages of 11 and 13 said they would rather do ``anything'' other than math homework, the survey showed. But, students CAN learn to love and appreciate math! To achieve this, the University of Chicago discovered that you have to teach math in a different way from they way most of us were taught.

My gosh, you just can't refute verifiable data like that! I wonder what the stats would look like in other nations. Well, of course, we can't count other nations because of cultural differences and norms and stuff like that. Plus foreigners are way different than us. 84% of students between 11 and 13 would rather do anything than math homework. How about history homework, or English? Or going to school in general? And of course the survey probably excluded those students in schools using EM; these people are not sloppy in their research. Well, why bother with these picky details when the conclusion is so obvious! Math has to be taught differently than from how WE were taught. And we all know how we were taught. With direct instruction, desks in a row, teacher in the front, and we actually had textbooks and those textbooks actually had real math in it. And everyone unanimously agrees that this approach simply does NOT work. Never mind about Project Follow Through. Alan Schoenfield quite effectively addressed that in his paper "The Math Wars":

"Carnine advocates direct instruction, and he is an author of two direct instruction programs currently being marketed in California: DISTAR and Connecting Math Concepts, produced by Science Research Associates (SRA)/McGraw-Hill. Thus, Carnine stood to profit financially from a state board endorsement of direct instruction. That would appear to be a conflict of interest, but the state board proceeded in any case—with Carnine being the sole purveyor of research on effective instruction to the board. Not to put too fine a point on it, the report was shoddy at best. The methodology was questionable, so much so that the American Educational Research Association’s Special Interest Group for Research in Mathematics Education, a collection of specialists in the area, wrote a public letter to the state board disputing Carnine’s methods. Summaries of many of the papers reviewed were inaccurate, and some of the report’s conclusions were not clearly related to the research summary. Nonetheless, Carnine’s report went on to serve as the basis for the section on instructional strategies in the board-approved 1999 Frameworks."

The 1999 Frameworks are part of California's standards for math. And of course we all know how bad they are. I'm so grateful to Shoenfeld for clarifying Carnine's conflict of interest. He doesn't mention all the other people on the project, I notice. Not to mention that Everyday Math's research base has lots of stuff by William Carrol who's on U of Chicago's payroll and I think there's some stuff by Andy Isaacs too. But that's different. Those guys know what they're talking about.

Let's go on in the fabulous PowerPoint. The next slide "Everyday Mathematics in the classroom" also has some interesting notes in the "notes" view:

"The researchers [oh, that would be William Carrol and Andy Isaacs I betcha. Maybe Fenema too. No Kamii, though. These guys are picky!] found that children learn math best through hands-on activities that build on their interests and connect to their experiences. Young children can grasp math concepts traditionally saved for older students (for example, algebra) when concepts are explored with concrete materials and pictures. All this is so important because these children will live in a world where careers require the ability to access, evaluate, and use information to solve problems. Rote memorization and basic arithmetic computation) are not enough. "

I'm glad they said what they did about rote memorization and basic computation not being enough. We all know that that's what ALL textbooks ever did. There were never any explanations about how things worked, no explanations about place value, no explanations about how the algorithm for two digit multiplication worked. And of course, Everyday Math doesn't require any memorization. Except for the lattice method. And the trade first method. And partial products. And partial quotients. But that's different. Those alternatives allow the students to see how everything works. Just ask a student in a class that uses EM to explain how these algorithms work. You'll really be surprised!

Well, you can explore the rest on your own. And I'm sure you'll now give the school administrators and Boards of Education the kudos they deserve for exercising their finely honed critical thinking skills in making their purchasing decisions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I don't know why I didn't think of this before.

Ed just came up from the basement to brief me on tonight's reteaching efforts.

And I realized: I need to write this stuff down, date it, and send it to the district.

I don't need to argue with the district. (Well, I do, and I will, but that's another story.)

I don't need to demand, request, or plead for remediation.

Remediation is not going to happen.

I just need to write up what we're doing, put it in an email, and send it in.

Then do it again tomorrow.

Schools are required to save emails; I'll be saving my emails in any event. Also, I'm a journalist, and thus have some knowledge of the law pertaining to journalism and notes made by journalists (or by anyone, I presume).

As I understand the law, contemporaneous notes are strong evidence that what you say happened, happened.

So: notes. Contemporaneous notes.

Ed says to send these notes straight to the administration & not bother the teacher with them, and I think he's right. This teacher is obviously pretty good (or better than pretty good - don't know enough to say), is widely viewed to be good, and has inherited the class he's inherited.

If I were in his place, I would, I hope, be doing diagnostic assessment and remediation, but I'm not in his place, and he works in the department he works in.

The IUFSD math department does not do diagnostic assessment or remediation.

They do extra help.

If extra help doesn't help, kid gets demoted to next level down.

That's it; it's not going to change.

Not now, anyway.

So, tonight's homework log:

These are contemporaneous notes, the notes I took listening to Ed. Notes are not edited, revised, or polished.

Ed holds a Ph.D., is a professor of history at NYU, heads the Institute of French Studies there, took engineering calculus in his freshman year at Princeton, and is an expert teacher (Distinguished Teaching Awards, UCLA & Eugene Asher Award)
His first job, out of college, was teaching algebra to GED students in Newark, NJ*

homework log 9/26/2007 (Ed B. - Catherine notes on Ed's description of the night)

Chris was confused between solving an equation and simplifying an expression.

Ed told him: it has to have an equal sign to be an equation

if you’re simplifying, you don’t have to do the same thing to the other side - because you haven’t changed the value

because he’s got purely procedural learning, he doesn’t have conceptual understanding of what an equation is versus what an expression is

in his two years with ________ , he has not learned what an equation is

the reason you have to do the same thing to each side is that you’ve changed the value, so it’s no longer equal until you do to the right side what you’ve done to the left - when you’re simplifying you’re not changing the value

simple, classic problem; the guy saved in two months $100; in the second month he saved $20 more than the first month

classic bar model problem [Ed's observation]

Ed to C.: this problem tells you what’s on the right side of the equation, because you have a total

Ed: “Then I said, ‘what is your let x = statement’

if he had been doing it on his own, he would have said x + 20 = 100

he wouldn’t have said x + x + 20 = 100 (bar models show the second x clearly)

when I took him back through the let statement I said, “What is your first month?”

C.: “x

“What is your second month?”

“Oh! It’s x + 20; there are 2 x’s.”

It helped to put the second variable in parens

he’s still having trouble with distributive property

he has never taught to set up an algebra problem formally

he has never been taught to write, “let x be _____ "

he doesn’t really know what a variable is; he doesn’t understand it

once Ed showed this to him, he said, “Oh, I get it!” and is now solving simple algebra problems easily

he’s doing distance problems very well; he learned these for the first time 2 days ago

Catherine retaught the distance problems last night (9/25/07). Chris came home from school saying, “I understand them a lot better now,” but in fact couldn’t do any distance problems at all.

He’s doing them well tonight, after Ed retaught distance problems again.

homework log #2

* Reading through Ed's CV, I have to say that I find it staggering, all over again, that the math chair told him, and me, "I will not discuss curriculum and pedagogy with parents." December 13, 2006

tour de force, part 2

I mentioned the DI whole language lollapalooza I was dying to quote -- and Ken's got it!

That's Ken, the guy who wrote the first tour de force.

When Phonics Isn't

I'm going to quote the entire passage here, because it may be the single best statement I've ever encountered of what is wrong in "balanced literacy" programs. Author is Mary Damer:

When a district buys a phonics program like Open Court or Hougthon Mifflin and continues to do "4 Blocks" or any other variation of balanced literacy in the early grade classrooms, one can observe for days without seeing a legitimate phonics activity where children are orally connecting letter sounds with graphemes and receiving feedback. The teachers simply avoid those activities in the teachers guides and often do not know how to do them. Often the teachers skip all of the separate decodable reading and instead only select the leveled books that are always suggested in the "so called" phonics programs. I've talked to many people from California who have reported this same thing going on out there. When the The Whole Language Umbrella Organization hosted its conference just before Reading First started and had the lead discussion group titled something like "Surrender and Win" I wondered what would be coming down the corner. I didn't anticipate that the name for "whole language" would simply be replaced by "balanced literacy" and five to ten minutes of unrelated phonics practice or something where letter sounds are mentioned would be touted as a phonics.

When I go observe in districts (often RF schools) which claim to be doing phonics in kindergarten and first grade but where they also admit that they are combining phonics with balanced
literacy what do I see:

1. word sorts (sight word based activity)

2. whisper reading (teacher doesn't hear all of the student errors like the observers sitting behind the students do -- no corrections given)

3. partner reading (partners don't know how or can't correct errors which can number up to 3 or 4 per sentence -- no corrections given)

4. Complete lack of "cold reads." All stories and books are first listened to on tape or read aloud to the children sometimes several times -- sight word approach.

5. Word walls with all words high frequency words that students learn by sight (sight word based activity)

6. Silent reading (still can't show an improvement in reading achievement this way)

7. Lots of discussion and some student writing about what they would like to read (but no direct instruction leading to students having the skills to read what they would like to read.)

8. Teachers having students complete worksheets circling the first sound of pictures (no oral connection between letter sound and grapheme so it's simply a review activity unless the students are unable to do it in which case it's a frustration level activity.)

9. Teachers saying a sound and having children hold up the letter sound on one of five colored cards on their desk. Only problem is that some of the children hold up the card that is the same color held up by the child in front of them....they are matching cards not connecting the letter sound with the grapheme. Some children hold up two cards at the same time. There is usually little error correction as the inaccuracy abounds.

10. Teachers unable to clearly articulate the letter sounds adding schwas (saying /buh/ instead of /b/ or /muh/ instead of /m/ thus forcing children to delete phonemes instead of simply blending phonemes into words.

adjacency, food matrix, snails, frogs, and so much more

This is the kind of thing that makes me glad I didn't major in math.

Just having a global understanding that these books stink is pain and suffering enough.

Would Jim be considered to have mental retardation?
food matrix

Would Jim be considered to have mild mental retardation?

Would Jim be considered to have mental retardation?
food matrix

best song ever written

oh, boy

the DI list has a rip-roaring discussion of whole language going on - it is wild. I'm going to get down on my hands and knees and beg permission to re-post the whole damn thing, but until somebody tells me I can, here's the best song ever written, according to Martin Kozloff, who is evidently the Dr. House of the list, according to one of the other members.

I'd never heard this before.

Also, I didn't know there was a best song ever written.

Live and learn.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


"You know what research-based means, is if the world didn't implode, it succeeded."

Would Jim be considered to have mental retardation?
food matrix

Cr**-Plus, 1 & 2

At YouTube.

Would Jim be considered to have mental retardation?
food matrix

where is the Photoshop comment?

Where is the Photoshop comment?

Which thread?

I need it!

(This was the mom who was so ticked off at her child's TERC homework that she wrote nasty stuff all over it, then had to Photoshop the damn thing to give her kid a clean copy to turn in to the teacher.)

Where is it????

got it

my kids home work tonight (which I wrote nasty things on - then scanned it in and use photoshop to remove - to reprint it so my kid can hand it in) entailed ...

drum roll ...


(ok some comment here - my kid will LITERALLY follow the directions - earnest to do so too)

2. Skip count 87 times by tens.There are 5 ones. The number is _________.

4. Skip count 99 times by tens. There are 9 ones. The number is _______.

I've given my kid 3 pages of Singapore 2b review to do and those are stapled to her original homework with the aforementioned questions crossed off in red permanent marker.

My kid does well with Kumon too and did well with Saxon / Singapore blend over the summer.

Now if only during the school day her time wasn't being wasted (then again, maybe its not - maybe they are doing Addison Wesley in the classroom and sending home the TERC 2).

I would love for a reformist to explain the logic of the above problems given that the other 4 problems were :

Skip count 3 times by hundreds. Skip count 2 times by tens. There is a 9 in the ones place. The Number is ___________.

I've considered going to the Board of Ed and skip counting 87 times by tens, because THATS WHAT FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS means to a child.*

It would make a great YouTube video, because when I was still counting and the timer was up on my public comment allotment I am sure the BOE president would say, could you hurry up or get to the point ...

which would be the point.

* Actually, that's what it means to me, too.

Comments threads I have known and love

Everyday Math Lovefest

Kathy and Calvin's Page

all kinds of great stuff!

(I had visited a couple of times on the fly, then forgot where the page was or what it was I've got a link posted on the sidebar.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

fasten your seatbelts

I learned today that, last Thursday and Friday, C's math class -- this is Math A, algebra 1 & some geometry -- covered the following topics:

  • how to set up and solve algebra story problems in general

C. has never done any of these things, and, I am sad to say, was absent on Thursday and Friday when the kids did them in class.

So he missed out.

Teacher says it's not a problem. He can come in for extra help.

selected problems, 9-17-2007 thru homework 9-24-2007

  • During the first 6 months of last year, the interest on an investment was $130 less than during the second 6 months. The total interest for the year was $1,450. What was the interest for each 6-month period?
  • Find three consecutive integers such that twice the smallest is 12 more than the largest.
  • Saratoga and New York are 180 miles apart. A truck traveled from New York toward Saratoga at the rate of 65 miles per hour. Another truck traveled from Saratoga toward New York at the rate of 55 miles per hour. How many miles did each travel before they met?
  • (by + 2) / 3 = c, solve for y

Chris has no idea, none, how to do any of this stuff.

I know from experience that he will not learn how to do this stuff in Extra Help.

Susan J does homework

During the first 6 months of last year, the interest on an investment was $130 less than during the second 6 months. The total interest for the year was $1,450. What was the interest for each 6-month period?

This problem seems much complex that it is because of the mention of "6
months" and "interest on an investment" which has nothing to do with the
question. Here's the same problem with a different story.

The boss paid John and Fred $1450 total. John received $130 more than Fred.
How much did each receive?
Answer: John got $790 and Fred got $660.
[I think you could do this with a bar model.] [NOTE: That's exactly what I said! I have a note to myself to show C. how to do this problem using a bar model. - CJ]

On top of the other skills, have the students been taught how to determine irrelevant information? [My guess is that such a thing has never even been mentioned, but I don't absolutely know that for sure. I do know that if this subject did come up it was discussed briefly at most5.]

Find three consecutive integers such that twice the smallest is 12 more than the largest.

Here again, there is what you might call extraneous information or at least a two-part problem. The first part of the problem requires understanding what consecutive integers means and also how to solve two equations in two unknowns. Both are pretty sophisticated.

Let S be the smallest and L be the largest.
2S = L+12 (Twice the smallest is 12 more than the largest.)
L=S+2 (Consecutive integers are S, S+1, S+2, etc.)

2S = S+2+12 = S+14
S = 14

Answer: 14, 15, 16

Check 2 times 14 = 28; 28-12 = 16.
[Here I'd like to point out that C. has never, to my knowledge, been taught how to write "let x stand for _____" He has never been taught how to translate a simple algebra problem into an equation using unknowns. Never. Suddenly, he is supposed to be doing this. Or so I gather.]

Saratoga and New York are 180 miles apart. A truck traveled from New York toward Saratoga at the rate of 65 miles per hour. Another truck traveled from Saratoga toward New York at the rate of 55 miles per hour. How many miles did each travel before they met?

Are they supposed to know the distance = rate times time formula? [answer: I believe they covered it in class last Thursday or Friday. Before that he he wouldn't have known it, though he may have seen it before. - CJ]
Also, the problem does not explicitly state that they started at the same time so it requires some thought to realize that the times must be the same.

D1 = 65 * T1
D2 = 55 * T2
D1 + D2 = 180

Since T1 = T2 = T, we can substitute the first and second equations into the
120 T = 180
T = 1.5

Check: 65 * 1.5 = 97.5
55 * 1.5 = 82.5

97.5 + 82.5 = 180

[C. has no idea how to set up a distance problem; nor does he know how to express one value in terms of another (e.g.. T1 = Ts). - CJ]

what my neighbor said

So I called up my neighbor to tell her C. had missed literal equations, distance problems, number problems, and general algebra story problems because he was out sick last Thursday and Friday, and, without missing a beat she said, "You need How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra. The section on number problems is really good."

"Yeah," I said. "It's supposed to be great. The Mildred Johnson book."

"Is it Mildred Johnson? How to solve algebra problems. That's the title."

"Yeah. It's Mildred Johnson. I have it on my desk."

"Oh, good. Use that."

This is an authentic Irvington school district conversation, mom to mom.

You call up your neighbor to tell her your kid missed out on literal equations, number problems, distance problems, and how to set up and solve a simple algebra problem and she says, "Use How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra."

This is why urban schools will never be high-performing.

How can urban schools be high-performing when urban moms have never even heard of How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra?*

presumably never heard of....

also on the beach

Here's a picture of Ed not studying algebra on the beach so he can remediate his child's ineffective mathematics instruction.

fun in the sun
on the beach
also on the beach

on the beach

Here's a picture of me studying algebra on the beach so I can remediate my child's ineffective mathematics instruction.

fun in the sun
on the beach
also on the beach

fun in the sun

I am back from Cape May, sporting my second sunburn of September.

Cape May was a blast. Wonderful! Wonderful, except for the slim, pretty young woman with the unplaceable accent at the check-out desk, who, when I told her I'd left my pillow behind, said, "It's not my fault you left your pillow in the room," and then, when I asked whether there was a manager around, smirked, called out, "Mark! Do you want to speak to the customer?" and snickered.

Carol Villa Hotel

Write that down.

Actually, the snickering part was arresting, in its way.

When's the last time you heard someone snicker?

High school?

Mark didn't seem too torn up about the whole thing, I must say.

fun in the sun
on the beach
also on the beach

“the kiss of death”

During a meeting with my daughter’s teacher last week, she told me that a spiral curriculum (used in our school, of course) is “the kiss of death” for a child such as my daughter who requires a lot of practice and needs to master a lesson before moving on to the next one. What typically happens, this teacher said, is that when the class revisits the lesson 6-8 weeks after the first introduction, it’s “like she never learned it”.

These comments followed my explanation that C. had been achieving great success doing Kumon, which follows a logical cumulative sequence of topics, provides abundant practice and applies formative assessment to ensure mastery at each level. The classroom teacher agreeably observed, “Oh, that’s good” before she made the comment about spiraling. And the resource teacher, also present at this meeting and apparently trying to demonstrate how helpful he would be this year, told me he’d be happy to talk with the tutor anytime if it would help.

[The sound you don’t hear at this point is a suppressed scream from mom.]

This is the second year that I have explained to the school about the type of instruction that enables my daughter to excel. And, apparently, this will be the second year that they will inform me they will not change the way they teach my daughter. Worse yet, this year the school is implementing a new constructivist math program, complete with group discovery and spiraling that I expect will only impede my daughter’s learning more than ever.

But, here’s the kicker. My daughter has an IEP! Isn't that supposed to ensure that the school provides an individualized education plan that will meet the specific learning needs of the student????

[Another suppressed scream.]

I’m not sure what I must do to make the school teach my daughter in a way that works for her. I can be more forceful in explaining to the IEP committee that the school should use methods employed in direct instruction and precision teaching because they meet my daughter’s specific learning needs. Maybe I can try having them incorporate mastery at each step within the IEP goals. Really, they should just pay for her Kumon and be done with it.

To me, this crazy situation is just another example of how it’s frequently the parents taking up the slack when the illogical methods that pass for “quality education” let our children down.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Search is Underway

I just received an e-mail from my son's private high school, reminding me that they are in the process of searching for a new Head Master. At the same time, my daughters' public school system is also searching for a new leader -- the superintendent. Both school systems are looking for a replacement to take over for the 2008-09 school year. I thought it might be interesting to occasionally compare the processes and procedures and progress of the two searches.

I'm posting first an e-mail that I and several hundred other parents just received over the weekend, edited only to remove identifying information.

Dear Parent,

I would like to give you an update on our progress in the search for a new head of school.

By the end of June the Search Committee and our consultants (name deleted) completed an outreach program designed to contact our many constituencies to get their advice and input. That effort resulted in our having had personal contact with almost 300 individuals through one-on-one interviews and small group meetings with current trustees; key faculty and staff members; some student leaders; and selected former trustees, alumni and parents. It also included receptions for alumni and parents in six cities. In addition, we have been receiving useful input through the special "Head of School Search" section of the school website. We very much appreciate the thoughtful participation of so many individuals in this important process.

By the end of July we completed the job description which forms the foundation for our evaluation of candidates and which we have been using to market the position. [Consultant] has been leading our efforts to identify and develop a pool of candidates. Since early August the Search Committee and [consultant] have met formally three times to discuss the candidate pool and most recently to begin to make decisions about the specific individuals we plan to interview. We are pleased with the size, quality and diversity of the pool. The response to our search indicates that [the school] is held in high regard in the marketplace, and while there are a number of other boarding school searches in progress, we are satisfied that we will be able to engage the candidates we seek out.

We are on schedule to begin interviewing first-round candidates by the end of October and to meet our target of being able to select the new head of school early next year.

I recommend that you check the school website for timely updates on the process and the opportunity for you to provide input. But please do not hesitate to contact me directly at [e-mail deleted] if you have any questions or want to provide any constructive guidance.

So far, I'm really liking the tone being set. There's some transparency, a sense that not only are they gathering input, but they are actually considering it as well.

As for the public school search, well, either they have taken no steps to begin the process, or they just aren't going to tell us about it. There's no indication on the website, the many communications home about everything else under the sun don't inform us of what is going on.

I'm not posting this to dump on the public schools, but I get frustrated by the lack of openness. The public district will be throwing money at the search and probably hiring a consultant (they hire consultants for everything, so this will be no exception). The public school arguably has an easier time of gathering input, as all the parents live here.

If there was one influence I could have at this point, it would be to get the schools far more transparent and more receptive to the opinions of the community.