kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/6/08 - 1/13/08

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Do Public Schools Hire the Best Teachers?"

3. Public schools do not exhibit a marked preference for teachers whose academic backgrounds signal strong cognitive ability and command of subject matter. Analysis of the experiences of new college graduates during their first year on the labour market shows that graduates of more selective colleges are no more likely to succeed in obtaining a teaching position (if they seek one) than are applicants from the least selective schools.7 Among applicants for secondary school positions, an education degree is as helpful as a subject area degree. While it is true that schools are more likely to hire graduates with good college grades, there is no adjustment for the overall quality of the institution at which those grades were earned.


2. Changing the incentives facing school administrators might lead them to reconsider their priorities when hiring new teachers. The private sector, despite paying salaries substantially below those in most public school systems, employs disproportionately many teachers with strong academic records. This appears to be due, in part, to the greater emphasis on academics within these schools. Increased parental choice in the public sector might have similar results.

by Dale Ballou (pdf file)

I've always wondered why, here in Westchester, Ivy Leaguers & people with Ph.D.s, etc., are teaching for lower pay in private schools instead of for higher pay in the public schools.

Friday, January 11, 2008

2 to 1

I love it!

The average ed school, we found, has a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 1.82, meaning that it offers 82 percent more courses featuring social goals than featuring math. At Harvard and Stanford, the ratio is about 2: almost twice as many courses are social as mathematical. At the University of Minnesota, the ratio is higher than 12. And at UCLA, a whopping 47 course titles and descriptions contain the word “multiculturalism” or “diversity,” while only three contain the word “math,” giving it a ratio of almost 16.
Adding Up To Failure

Two years ago I looked at every single book on sale in the education section of the NYU bookstore. There were 3 books on teaching math. Out of dozens.

Of course, given the kind of math textbook an ed school is likely to assign, it may be just as well.

Honor without Honor

Our local Middle School (Grade7 & 8- Monroe, CT) publishes the names of students who make up the honor and high honor roll each semester.
It's a long list.
Actually, it is so long that I decided to count them. It turns out that 69% of the student population is either an honors or high honors student.
What was that quote about everyone being above average? Either that or Monroe is the new Lake Wobegon.
Has anyone else seen such a blatant example of "the walk to the center"? Or I am missing a big piece of this somehow?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

here's my question

I was just reading the comments on the Ted Kennedy & parental involvement thread (guffawed over this one from Steve: Darn those pesky tests that check only for an absolute minimum of knowledge and skills).

I've been wondering about something since I read Kennedy's op-ed.

What is going on with the whole "parent involvement" meme anyway? Why is it there? What makes it so important that Ted Kennedy would bring it up? To whom is he speaking?

As I understand it, NCLB was the result of a lot of horse-trading back and forth between Dems & Republicans.

So is it correct to conclude that the parent involvement section of the law originated in one party and not the other?

And, if so, which party?

Or is this one of those t.s. for the voters issues on which the two parties see eye to eye?

In short: what is "[NCLB] doesn't involve parents enough in helping their children succeed" doing in the middle of a Ted Kennedy op-ed in the Washington Post?

I need a magic decoder ring.

meanwhile, back on the ranch

Most parents have no clue that parent involvement is a current edu-world obsession. I didn't know it, either, until Vicky S pointed it out to me one day.

My own school district includes a line in its job ads saying we "welcome parent involvement." Every one of our ads announces this, along with "equal opportunity employer" or however it's phrased these days.

We are so keen on parent involvement that the middle school is now in its second year of deliberations over the question of how to increase parent involvement in the school. So far all they've come up with is that a couple of parents will be allowed to go along on the one field trip they have each year.

We aren't allowed inside the classrooms; we aren't allowed inside the school dances; we aren't allowed to attend school assemblies; by union contract teachers don't hold parent-teacher conferences; email responses are spotty at best; the principal has refused to share requested documents on the middle school model; the math chair refuses to give parents of "struggling" students the answer key so they can have their kids to do extra problems; both of the middle school principals we've had in our 3 years here have cautioned parents on their language and attitudes; numerous parent protests over repeated use of group punishments have been ignored; etc., etc.

But the district still can't figure out a way to foster parent involvement in the middle school.

Fluff, fluff, and more fluff

I don't mean to piggyback on Karen's post, but this writing gig has brought me into contact with some writing folks here, and I lunched with a couple of them today. The conversation was . . . interesting.

Process writing is like constructivism, collaborative work, and a whole slew of other things: It is a powerful pedagogical tool when done in the right circumstances, and with the right amount of guidance. So it's quite possible for me to sit down with these people and have a conversation about teaching for, oh, about fifteen minutes before hitting a logjam -- like the one today.

We were having a perfectly nice lunch, when one popped up with (this is from memory), "Oh, I just read an article proposing that we teach grammar! Some people are so stupid!"

I planned to keep my mouth shut, and I would have, except that the other three, like a Greek chorus, chirped their agreement -- not with her point about teaching grammar, but that anybody who thought teaching grammar might be a good idea has to be a stupid dolt.

I have been in these conversations before, and I know how not to disagree in these contexts. So I said, "But how do you analyze texts and talk about how they were written and why without grammar as a common language?"

Like I said, I've had these discussions before, and usually, bringing up that point leads to further, productive, and often interesting, discussion. But not today. The three just looked at me for a minute, and then one said, "What do you mean?"

Given that we had just done the Declaration of Independence in class so it was quite fresh in my memory, I told them what we had done. "Jefferson uses topicalization, active/passive voice, and topicalized cleft sentences, etc., etc., etc., in addition to choosing when to use personal pronouns and not to, etc., etc., etc., to shift the focus from the abstract, to King George III, to the Colonists. If students don't know what topicalization, or voice, or cleft sentences, or pronouns ARE, how, exactly, do you talk about how the document was written? Indeed, how do you talk about how ANY text is written if you have no common concepts to which you can refer? Sorry, but I don't see how you can approach a text even superficially without some shared understanding of grammar."

These three had no idea what I meant -- and they're all English composition teachers. I'm pretty cynical, but I was floored. I have had many conversations with many English composition folks, and nearly all of them are flaky, but never have I encountered any who were such clueless nitwits as these three. They just looked at me with their mouths hanging open. They didn't have even a syllable in response, because they had no idea what I was talking about. None.

To try to gloss over the rather uncomfortable situation, I asked them, then, what they did in their classes. That did get us past their unease, but it made me squirm. "Oh, we talked about the article in Time Magazine," and "We talked about the essay we're going to write about abortion," and "We talked about plagiarism."

Not sure that they weren't just incapable of expressing themselves precisely, I pressed. Yes, they all talked. That's what they did in their English comp classes. They talked. So what, exactly did they talk about? What was the topic of the article in Time? Why is it misogynist to oppose abortion? What is plagiarism? That's what they did in class.

The English comp/ESL writing split used to be rhetoric (that is, writing, and textual analysis) v. grammar correction. Now, it seems that it's meaningless fluff v. rhetoric. But what I can't get out of my head is that these three didn't have a clue what I was talking about. I find that amazing -- and depressing.

Fun With Writing

My ninth grader gave me a worksheet from her English Composition class (she thought I would like it, and she was right). That day's class had focused on writing concisely: how to combine sentences and make sentences stronger, etc. What I liked was that the exercises illustrated the lesson in a humorous way. I thought it would be fun to share a few of the examples:

The funeral director has doubts.
The doubts are grave.
The doubts are about Mortimer.

Combined sentence: The funeral director has grave doubts about Mortimer.

The baker kneaded dough.
The baker was hard-working.
The baker wanted to avoid bankruptcy.

Combined sentence: The hard-working baker kneaded dough to avoid bankruptcy.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

more, more parent involvement

I am not supposed to be here.

I am supposed to be upstairs going over C's algebra homework* and then, somehow, doing something about Earth Science. Also I have to get him going on tonight's Vocabulary Workshop & percent problems from Singapore Math.

So I'm supposed to be upstairs.

I'm not upstairs because I've just read this op-ed from Ted Kennedy on how to fix NCLB and when I saw this passage, I couldn't resist bopping over here to post:

[NCLB] doesn't involve parents enough in helping their children succeed.

When I saw this all I could think was: I am so lucky to live in a district where parents are involved every single day in helping their children succeed!

* Have I mentioned I've done every single algebra assignment this school year? Because the chair of the department refuses to give parents the answer key?

I believe I have.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Rubber Room

You've got to see the trailer for this documentary to believe it.

The Rubber Room

I dare you to keep from shaking your head in disbelief.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Possibly More Than You Want To Know About Private Schools

Originally posted at I Speak of Dreams January 5, 2005

Are the Challenger Schools "private schools"? What's the difference between traditional parochial schools and Sacred Heart schools? What makes a school a "private school", anyway? How are they different from public schools? Are all private schools better than public schools?

In the United States (at least in some circles) "my kid goes to private school" has become a chant of status. However, not all private schools mean "highly selective institution of highly rigorous and demanding curriculum".

The penultimate question, "How are they different from public schools?" is the easiest to answer: Governance, Fees, and Selectivity.
  • Governance: Public schools answer to the public, and have a complex layer of administration, including state-wide, county, and local (district) layers of managment, some of which are appointed and some of which are elected. A good description of elected school boards.
  • Fees Government schools may charge minor fees (an example being participation fees in a program such as music) but the cost of education is borne by the government. Private schools, on the other hand, typically cover costs by charging fees (tuition) and in the case of not-for-profit schools, also soliciting donations from the community.
  • Selectivity Essentially, government-run K-8 schools on the whole are not selective (in the sense of refusing to enroll students who do not meet performance or familial criteria) although they may have an admissions cap, and therefore a process for reducing the number of students who apply. Private schools may, on the other hand, set any number of limitations on the type of student they will accept.
Non-government schools have one of three types of governance: answering to a religious body; a for-profit structure, or a self-perpetuating, independent board.

The "private school" universe should be properly segmented into

    • Parochial schools of the Roman Catholic Church
    • Doctrinally strict Roman Catholic educational institutions independent of a parish
    • Religious-affiliation schools requiring (or putting a strong emphasis on) attendance at a given church, membership in a given sect, or a recommendation from an approved pastor
    • Religious-affiliation schools associated with a particular religion or sect, but which accept non-members of that sect (an example would be the Sacred Hearts, and schools run by the Sisters of Mercy and other teaching orders. In other words, these schools have a religious core and include a religion curriculum, but have humanist values and accept students of all (or no) religion.

  • PROPRIETARY OR FOR-PROFIT-- Unlike religious and independent schools, tuition includes a profit for the proprietors. Typically there is no board of directors, but a manager or owner (examples include the Carden Schools, Challenger Schools, Chancellor Beacon:
    • Stand-alone
    • Chain or franchise

  • INDEPENDENT--Truly independent schools, usually with membership in the National Association of Independent Schools Independent schools are non-public, not-for-profit, pre-collegiate institutions governed by boards of trustees. There are about 2,000 of these.

But What Does This All Mean?

First of all, what schools are we talking about here? I am restricting this discussion to kindergarten through 12th grade--elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. I am also restricting this discussion to schools for the more-or-less neurotypical--in other words, this discussion is not about schools specializing in education for dyslexics or people with autism or any other specialized population.

If there are these different kinds of schools, who determines if they are any good? There is a process called accreditation, which does and does not answer the question. In other words, if a school is not accredited, it may mean: 1. It is too young to go through the process; 2. The school declines to participate; or 3. The school won't meet the criteria.

(There are some very fine schools (Peninsula, on the San Francisco Peninsula, comes to mind) that have never sought accreditation for philosophical reasons.

What is Accreditation?

The United States has no centralized authority over educational institutions, whether public or private. To insure a level of quality in educational institutions and programs, there is a voluntary, peer review program, known as "Accreditation". This system has evolved over time. As it is used now, it tends to mean that the school has publicly announced some goals and has accepted some standard operating procedures, and has a plan for meeting those goals and certifying the procedures are being followed. A full description can be read at WASC's Accreditation Overview page.

There are six regional associations that accredit public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the United States: WASC(California, Hawaii, and the Pacific);, SACS(the American South), NEASC(New England); MSA (Middle States); NCACASI (North Central); and NAAS (Northwest).

The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) is a coalition of national organizations and state affiliates serving private elementary and secondary schools. There are 27,000 private schools in America; in fact, one in four of the nation’s schools is a private school. More than six million students attend them. CAPE member organizations represent about 80 percent of private school enrollment nationwide.

The National Independent Private Schools Association is an association of propriety elementary through high school institutions ineligible to join the National Association of Independent Schools.

Another type of private school is the proprietary academic school organized as a for-profit corporation. There are about 1,000 in the country, according to Jim Williams of the National Independent Private Schools Association.

"We are the tax-paying schools," Williams says. "Most schools start with an idea, the vision of someone. Many of the people who start proprietary schools are disenchanted public-school or disappointed independent-school teachers who don't want to deal with a board of directors or a school board." He points out that most of the elite prep schools of the 19th century began as proprietary schools with fees paid to headmasters. "People who get involved with proprietary schools are pleased with what they see," Williams says.

Other on-line sources of information

Private School FAQs from Robert Kennedy

A Partial List of Associations

How Do You Choose A School?

That is a huge subject. About Private Schools 101 has a pretty good start. NAIS has a thorough, online parents' guide.

Disclosure: I have been active in independent schools for the last 23 years, as an alumna, a volunteer fundraiser, as a board member, as a member of board committees, and as a parent. I do not believe that education is an either-or choice. Having a diverse set of schools to choose from enriches the community. I believe that the school's governance and fee structure (independent school or private school) is no guarantee of educational quality.

private school testing & enrollment

For those of you who haven't looked into private schools, the ISEE test, along with the SSAT, seem to be the two standardized tests all the kids take. Students applying to Catholic high schools take the TACHS. (I don't know anything beyond this, and would certainly appreciate hearing from anyone who does.)

I'd been wondering how many kids take the ISEE each year, so this morning I called the office.

The woman who answered said that approximately 42,000 students take the ISEE each year. The test covers grades 5-12 and the 42,000 figure includes all students who take it in all grades. I assume that the largest number is probably 6th graders, but I don't know.

The SAT is taken by around 1.4 million high school seniors each year.

private school enrollment

Last spring Ed asked a visiting admissions officer from Dartmouth what percentage of the student body attended private schools.

His answer was 30%.

NCES gives the following figures for private school enrollment across the country:

Among the 28,384 private schools in existence in 2003–04 there was considerable diversity as to orientation and affiliation. Of the three primary types of private schools—Catholic, other religious, and nonsectarian—other religious schools were the most numerous, followed by Catholic schools, and then nonsectarian schools, representing 48, 28, and 24 percent, respectively, of all private schools.


An estimated total of 5,122,772 students were enrolled in the nation’s private schools in the fall of 2003, a decrease of 218,741 from the estimated total of 5,341,513 students enrolled in the fall of 2001.

Private school students represented approximately 10 percent of the total public and private elementary and secondary enrollment in the United States in 2003–04.

Assuming I've done my math right, these are the figures I come up with for 2007 (from CAPE):

  • total number of U.S. students: 55,863,247
  • total number of U.S. students enrolled in private school: 6,536,000 - 11.7% of all US students
  • total number of U.S. students enrolled in Catholic Schools: 3,019,632 - 5% of all US students (46.2% of all private school students)
  • total number of U.S. students enrolled in nonsectarian schools: 1,173,480 - 2% of all US students (18% of all private school students)

Loveless report on private school conundrum (pdf file)
The second section’s study of public and private school enrollment is precipitated by another oxymoron. Public opinion polls consistently show that the public considers private schools superior to public schools. Yet private school enrollment peaked around 1960 and has declined since then. People express a belief in public opinion surveys that they apparently contradict when selecting schools. What is going on?


Most people assume that private schools are better than public schools. More than half of the respondents to a 2004 Kappan Poll said they would send their children to a private school if vouchers were available covering the full tuition. This section of the Brown Center Report is about two trends in private school enrollment that do not make sense in light of the public’s perception of private school superiority. The first is that private schools’ share of students peaked in 1959 and has subsequently declined. If private schools are so good and public schools so bad, why have private schools lost market share to public schools over the past few decades? And how could this happen at the same time that several well-crafted, well-publicized studies by eminent social scientists documented the virtues of private schooling? The second mystery has to do with the grade levels at which private schools lose students—in the transition to high school. Why are parents leaving private schools for public schools at precisely the time in a student’s career when academic achievement means so much for college admission and later prospects in life?

The Private School Advantage

In 1982, James Coleman published studies of private and public schools that rocked the foundation of the public school establishment. One of the most prominent social scientists of his era, Coleman presented data from “High School and Beyond,” a massive national study of students who were tenth graders in 1980 and in twelfth grade two years later. The headline finding was simple: private schools are better than public schools. Students attending private high schools, in particular Catholic schools, gained about one grade level more on achievement tests than students attending public schools. Critics charged that Coleman had not taken into account the self selection of private school students—that is, that kids in private schools may be better students initially or have parents more committed to education than the typical student. After all, parents go to a lot of trouble to send their kids to private schools, most notably, by paying private school tuition and supplying their own transportation despite having already paid taxes to fund public schooling. Coleman retorted that he had statistically controlled for selection bias so as to make a legitimate comparison.

Later studies also praised private schools. Bryk, Lee, and Holland found that Catholic schools not only produce higher achievement scores, but they also serve “the common good” by boosting the education of poor and minority children. Building on Coleman’s work, Bryk, Lee, and Holland estimated that minority students in Catholic high schools learn twice as much mathematics as their public school counterparts


These explanations rely on theories that depict parents as making rational choices when deciding where to send children to school. Favoring schools with a strong mission, seeking a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for college, rewarding quality when selecting from a market of schools—all of these phenomena hinge on what social scientists call “rational actors”—parents deciding to send their kids to private schools for clear, understandable reasons. Such behavior makes private-public enrollment trends mysterious, since they do not look rational if private schools offer a superior education.


The private school share peaked at 9.3 percent in 1960. Since then, it eased to 7.7 percent in 2000 (and 8.0 percent in 2004, not shown in the table). The public school share of 14- to 17-year old enrollment grew from 74.1 percent in 1960 to 83.5 percent in 2000. So this is interesting. At the same time distinguished scholars published study after study documenting the advantages of private over public schooling—with an emphasis on high school— parents were increasingly more likely to enroll their 14- to 17-year-old children in public schools, not private schools. The ratio of enrollments favoring public schools grew from about 8 to 1 in 1960 to more than 10 to 1 in 2004. High school enrollment is indeed the culprit in the loss of market share.


The famous studies documenting a private school advantage relied almost exclusively on high school test scores, and yet high schools are where private sector enrollment declines the most. Enrollment patterns in recent years pinpoint that the drop off is occurring at the beginning of high school.


Why are private schools losing high school students to public schools? Part of the answer is found in the difficulties faced by Catholic schools.


Factors other than religion also play a role. The fact that high school is the time when parents shift from preferring private to public schooling suggests something also may have changed related to child rearing. What has probably changed—and this point is admittedly speculative—are attitudes toward the schooling of teenagers. Parents offer their children more choices today and more say in schooling. Once children enter adolescence, they may prefer to go to school where kids in their own neighborhood go, not to a school across town. Moreover, parents want schools to offer more than academic learning. Social skills and “well-roundedness” are also very important. In a 1996 Gallup Poll, parents were asked to pick between the following: their oldest child being a straight-A student with only a few friends and extracurricular activities or a C student with a lot of friends and activities. By a two to one margin, they picked the busy, socially active C student. Perhaps all of the studies documenting higher test scores in private schools are identifying an attribute that parents find attractive but not decisive in selecting schools.

Council for American Private Education

"F" for Failure
The NCES Private-Public Study

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"she doesn't know a G-d thing"

Evan Thomas at the AHA conference.

Watch it all. You must. Incredible.

at the AHA

Ed just came in, back from the AHA conference.

Everyone there -- everyone -- is deeply unhappy with his public school.

Across the board. They're all living in high-performing districts.